For Scott Wilson, the underwater mysteries of the Solomon Islands were a highlight of 13 one-hour “Descending” documentaries he produced along with business partner Andre Dupuis for the Outdoor Life Network.
There, they explored wrecks of vintage Second World War aircraft on the ocean floor. “The artifacts are still there,” says Scott, a pilot and aviation enthusiast. “It throws you back in time.”
While they also saw submarines and ships on the bottom, it was the aircraft that intrigued Scott. They included a B-17 (a four-engine bomber), Zeros (Japanese long-range fighters), a P-47 Thunderbolt (a single-engine fighter-bomber) and a Corsair (a carrier-based fighter).
But the wreck of a PBY Catalina, an American flying boat used during the Second World War for transporting cargo, search and rescue, convoy escorts, patrol bombing and anti-submarine missions, was special to Scott and Andre.
“The guy who took us is the only one to see it before us,” says Scott. “The flaps were down so it crashed either on takeoff or landing. The Solomon Islands (due east of Papua New Guinea) were a wonderful location for me. I was in my element, checking off these wonderful aircraft.”
Another of his favourites in the Descending series was Iceland. When it comes to diving he is ordinarily a “wreck person,” but in Iceland they were diving for geological purposes. This included the Silfra dive site in inland Iceland, where two tectonic plates – one North American and the other European – had separated and created a crevice in the Earth. It was only about 25 to 30 feet wide and 100 or more feet deep. “It is filled with glacial runoff water and the horizontal visibility is great. You can see forever. It’s a surreal dive – amazing.”
In Iceland, they also dove into the crater of a volcano that was filled with water. “Gases were coming off. You could see it bubbling.
The roots of Descending, a spinoff firm from parent company Echo Bay Media that Scott and Andre founded and own, go back to “Departures,” their first series. Departures, a travel documentary, involved 42 one-hour programs. One of them was a trip to Brazil, where they first experienced scuba diving. “Andre and I came out of that experience having fallen in love with diving.”
After training and getting their certification, the Descending series was a natural follow-up to Departures.
The two business partners became friends when they were both students in the media arts program at Sheridan College. They observed that many of the students wanted to emulate the full Hollywood movie process with enormous crews.
“We found when we were working together that it worked better with two people. If we needed a third person for lighting we would get somebody. The other side of it is we are kind of perfectionists. We want to edit it, colour correct it . . . we have a hard time letting it go. Sometimes that’s a negative.”
They started their company as a partnership in 2000 and incorporated it five years ago. As owners and creators of their shows, they have the luxury of choosing their own path. Decisions are made only after a lot of research.
“We wanted to show in Descending that diving wasn’t just seeing pretty fish in warm places,” says Scott.
It is also about sharks, diving in places such as South Africa, Iceland and, in Canada, in the Great Lakes and British Columbia.
“We wanted variety. We wanted to show there are lots of reasons to get into the water and see the other 70 per cent of planet, which is water. We would try to do it from a diver’s perspective. We would seek out local knowledge and have people take us to the best sites.”
If a dive required a greater knowledge or skill set, it was important to the two producers to make that point. On a dive to a wreck that involved risks, the film makers would go down with someone who knew the wreck. “We don’t want to send the wrong message.”
But they also wanted to illustrate there are plenty interesting dive sites to explore that don’t require someone to be a technical diver.
Ironically, the only injury Scott suffered in travelling the world for their documentaries involved an accident involving his passion – flying. They were at a marine sanctuary in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, where oceanographers have been setting records of counts for fish species and corals on a single dive. It is quickly becoming a hotspot for divers.
Andre had just completed an aerial photo shoot in a small ultra-light type float plane and suggested Scott fly with the pilot next. They were flying low over dugongs (large marine mammals similar to manatees) and decided to take another look. The pilot pulled the plane into a climb before making a 180-degree turn. The aircraft stalled in a fairly steep bank and crashed nose first into the water.
Fortunately, both survived. Scott had lots of scrapes and scars on his legs but no broken bones. There would not be a new aircraft-wreck dive site.
Their contract with Outdoor Life Network completed, Scott Wilson and Andre Dupuis will now seek markets for Descending elsewhere.
For the Hamilton-Ontario-based film makers, that job just became a little easier. In January, they learned that Descending had been nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards (formerly known as Geminis).