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November / 2001

Jim Kozmik csc Takes HD Underwater
Late Summer Project Shoots Sunken Wrecks in Georgian Bay

by Don Angus

“The wrecks are non-renewable time capsules, which only video can preserve.”

“The water is moving, the camera is bobbing, the current is running at two knots with a three-foot chop. Just another day in the marine world,” said underwater cinematographer Jim Kozmik csc.


UNDERWATER CREW: Jim Kozmik csc and his team take a photo break on the dive boat at Tobermory. Front row from left: 2nd Sarah Moffat, DOP Kozmik, and 1st Ted Overton; back row from left: operator Aaron Szimanski, Steve Weir of Diver magazine, dive supervisor Scott Stitt, and HD technician Jasper Vrakking of David J. Woods Productions.

Kozmik, a muscular adventurer who works out of his home in Ajax, Ont., with his wife Lorna, was describing the start of his Sept. 7-15 shoot in the cold waters of Ontario’s Georgian Bay just off the picturesque town of Tobermory, some 200 miles north of Toronto. The area, part of Fathom Five National Marine Park, is renowned for sheltering over 20 “incredibly well-preserved” shipwrecks from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Kozmik’s assignment was to photograph four specific wrecks for a Parks Canada documentary on Canada’s marine heritage.

His camera was the new Sony HDW-F900 CineAlta from David J. Woods Productions Inc. in Toronto, which marked the first time he had taken a high-definition camcorder on an underwater shoot and, he figured, one of the first times anyone had dived with a CineAlta. “At least the first time in the Great Lakes,” he reckoned.

“Originally,” the director of photography said, “Parks Canada wanted to go with Beta SP, but Diane Woods talked them into the groundbreaking CineAlta. Diane, who is also a diver, was consultant and underwater HD assistant on this project.” Kozmik operated the CineAlta underwater, shooting at 29.97 progressive, while the rest of the crew included Aaron Szimanski as the above-water camera operator, underwater 1st assistant Ted Overton, underwater 2nd Sarah Moffat, dive supervisor Scott Stitt, and HD technician Jasper Vrakking of David J. Woods.

Kozmik said another five days will be needed next June to complete his work on the documentary, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of Fathom Five National Marine Park, the first underwater park in Canada and still the only one in Ontario.


HEAD ROOM: Dive supervisor Scott Stitt in Georgian Bay.
The four shipwrecks that Kozmik and his team photographed were the 119-foot schooner Sweepstakes, built in Burlington, Ont., in 1867, and submerged since 1885 in Big Tub Harbour; the 214-foot steamer W.L. Wetmore, built in Cleveland in 1871 and wrecked during a storm in November, 1901, off Russel Island; the 132-foot barque Arabia, built in Kingston, Ont., in 1853 and which foundered off Echo Island in October, 1884; and the 182-foot tanker Niagara II, built in England in 1930 and which was deliberately sunk in May, 1999, as a dive site. She lies close to shore just outside the park’s boundaries.

Kozmik, who has been diving off Tobermory since he was 16, said the park’s various underwater wrecks rest 10 to 180 feet below the surface of Georgian Bay. The Sweepstakes sits only 20 feet below the surface, the W.L. Wetmore is 25 feet down, the Arabia is at a depth of about 120 feet, and the Niagara II lies in about 90 feet of water. Not only do the wrecks exude a sense of history, he said, but they are “non-renewable time capsules, which only video can preserve before they decay and fall apart with time.”

He is well qualified for the task. Besides being able to paper a wall with diving licences, diplomas and certificates, he has extensive education and training in conventional and underwater cinematography and has earned dozens of photographic awards and underwater credits in documentaries, commercials, sports shows and series such as The Relic Hunter, and feature films like Sylvester Stallone’s Driven, Jackie Chan’s The Tuxedo, and Perfect Pie, working with DOP Paul Sarossy csc bsc.

He said that “to date I have shot 228 underwater shows around the world, including 100 episodes of Sport Diver TV and Undersea Explorer on OLN and TSN.” He has dived in all seven seas, logging a total of 6,000 dives and counting.

‘Many other wreck
documentaries in the works’


Kozmik — a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who has been a deep-sea and oil-rig diver, a police officer, SWAT team leader, intelligence officer, and undercover motorcycle gang operative — maintains a package of underwater lighting to go with his six-figures worth of scuba equipment, accessories and diving boats. He is also the Canadian representative, running out of Panavision Canada, for Pace underwater camera gear, such as the new aluminum housing for the Sony HDW-F900 he used in Georgian Bay.

On the Fathom Five shoot, Kozmik used a pair of Fujinon lenses on the CineAlta camera, a 5.2mm-to-52mm zoom and a 7.5mm-to-150mm zoom. Among other gear were a Sony DSR-PD150 with underwater housing, a Sachtler tripod for the Pace housing, an O’Connor tripod, two HD monitors (nine-inch and 20-inch), a wave-form monitor, a variety of underwater and “topside” lights, underwater speaker systems, a Honda generator, 10 sets of scuba gear, and a 40-foot aluminum work boat. And that’s just the meat of the list.


TESTING: Jim Kozmik csc and his daughter Cory take the Sony CineAlta HD camcorder for a pool test.
“It is always crazy when taking this type of equipment underwater,” the DOP said, adding that “some of this heavy gear had to be lugged through rugged terrain for on-land shots of cliffs, caves and rattlesnakes. We also filmed park wardens, Cove and Flowerpot islands, and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry that runs between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island.”

The CineAlta worked well in its new underwater environment, he said. The footage looked good and the HD camera posed no additional problems to those already inherent to underwater shooting. Diane Woods explained that at her suggestion, the Pace housing was fitted with a flat glass port rather than the dome port Kozmik was used to shooting with. The reason, she said, was to make full use of the high-quality zoom lenses, focusing directly on the wrecks and wildlife instead of making allowances for the shape, refractions and imperfections of a domed glass.

The choice of the 29.97p setting, Woods said, was to achieve the highest quality video image by using the progressive format and a speed faster than 24p. The client does not plan to transfer to film but needed footage to be compatible with down-conversion to other formats. The progressive format also fulfilled Parks Canada’s requirement to pull still images from the tape.

Kozmik said he was looking forward to the rest of the Fathom Five shoot in June, which will include footage on geological formations and petrified tree stumps as well as more work around shipwrecks. He said he understood the documentary may have a TV run on the Discovery Channel and that stills pulled from the video may be used in a Tobermory-area pavilion to be built at some time in the future.

In the meantime, he has “many other wreck documentaries in the works, with some wrecks as deep as 300 feet.”

(Editor’s note: Jim Kozmik sits on the underwater committee of IATSE 667, which, with the assistance of the Ontario ministry of labour, has produced a brochure and a Diving Code of Practice to assist productions in understanding provincial safety laws and standards pertaining to dive operations. IATSE 667 says: “It is not the intention of the underwater filming community to create undue stress, delays or increase costs. It is our mandate to follow the law and work under the directive of the ministry of labour. We hope that with the introduction of our publications and those already available that underwater production may become an integral part of the production, including pre-production planning. Many issues such as water safety and special equipment must be addressed in pre-production in order to eliminate problems and delays at location.”

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