Rental House Review by David Heuring
February 2001 Issue
Aquatic cinematographer Pete Romano organized HydroFlex during the early Eighties when he discovered that equipment he needed on underwater shoots just didn’t exist. He solved that problem by designing and building his own gear. In 1984, Romano built his first underwater housing with the name HydroFlex emblazoned on it. HydroFlex began renting equipment in the late-Eighties. Romano and then-partner Richard Mula developed the SeaPar, an underwater HMI unit, which was deployed in scenes of “The Abyss”. That light later earned Romano and Mula a Technical Achievement award from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.
“Demand for underwater lighting and camera equipment seems to go in cycles,” notes Romano. As of late, the HydroFlo® underwater fluorescent lighting gear introduced by HydroFlex on “Alien Resurrection” has been in great demand. “Initially, we provided individual four-foot fixtures and also light boxes that take four or eight four-foot HydroFlo tubes,” says Matt Brown, operations manager of HydroFlex. “Since then we’ve also created four- and eight-bank panels that the tubes go on, which are a bit less directional than the light boxes.”
HydroFlex equipment isn’t always utilized under the surface. “The Perfect Storm” (see ICG Magazine, July 2000) is one production that featured plenty of waterwork above sea level. HydroFlex supplied the moviemakers with 80 eight-bank light panels and more than 600 individual HydroFlo fixtures. Many of these sources factored on a huge bluescreen-backed tank set. The firm also supplied more than a dozen custom splash bags for various Panavision cameras. “We are proud to report that they had no damage to and zero loss of camera equipment due to water,” says Brown.
Another recent development designed to fill cinematographer requests is the RemoteAquaCam, as designed for use by Caleb Deschanel, ASC on “Message in a Bottle”. “He had specific requirements for shots that he had to do from boat-to-boat in a heavy storm sequence,” remarks Brown. “He wanted to get the camera right at water level off of a moving boat and do some in- and out-of-the-water shots. Caleb had to be able to manipulate the camera and lens remotely and view remotely with video. So we created the RemoteAquaCam for use with the Arri 35-III and 435. Since then, it has become very popular. It can be used on a crane, a jib arm on a remote pan-and-tilt head, or handheld in the water.”
Last year, HydroFlex introduced HydroHead®, a completely waterproof pan-and-tilt head, on the upcoming Michael Bay extravaganza “Pearl Harbor” as well as on “Jurassic Park III”. “The HydroHead, in conjunction with the RemoteAquaCam, has really opened doors to doing a lot of different things on and under the water that were not possible before.” HydroHead is also proving itself for above water filming in rain, snow or in sandy desert locations. When used with our custom splash bags, you have a completely sealed camera and remote head.
Romano emphasizes that one key to his business has been listening to the cinematographers. “I’ve worked on a lot of productions, so I really do bring some experience to the task,” he adds. “I know what works out there and I know what doesn’t work. But foremost, we listen and we try to address their needs. Necessity is the mother of invention here. Some of our stuff is truly collaboration, as with the splash bags. We worked a lot with John Seale [ASC], Don Burgess [ASC] and first camera assistants Trevor Loomis and Tony Rivetti during the filming of “The Perfect Storm” and “Castaway”. It was the perfect marriage of experience, technology and cinematographer’s input. It’s an evolutionary process and we’re always looking for ways to make things a little better.”