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At BIAFF 2010 Ken & Jean McRonald FACI's won a Three Star Award with
Here, Kitty Kitty.
These two intrepid travellers stepped into a cage full of tigers !
As we visit Thailand every year, January/February to miss some of the Scottish winter, we are very familiar with the country. These days we spend our time in Chiang Mai in the north and it is a particularly good centre for a wide variety of activities. Although we spend a lot of time being lazy, a change from our hectic home life, we are always on the look out for something new to film.
Two years ago, we found just that. We had seen advertisements for a fairly new venture just outside Chiang Mai called Tiger Kingdom and decided to investigate further.
We found that this is basically a project to reverse the fall in tiger population and help preserve the species. Currently there are only three to four thousand of these beautiful animals left worldwide. The project needs funds and so, as well as breeding the animals, visitors are given the opportunity, for a fee, to enter the enclosures, get close to the tigers and touch them. Perhaps a little daunting!
decided to take the plunge we contacted a friend who is also a guide and
arranged for him to take us to the venue. There were a number of options
available regarding the age and size of tigers you would like to experience.
After some discussion we opted for the nine month old animals who, as we
found, were quite big. We did think about the cubs as a starter but wondered
if they might be a bit playful and likely to accidentally scratch. We are
always wary of any such injury, however minor, in a tropical climate. We
then purchased our tickets and at that point we had to sign a disclaimer
in the event of any injury! A little worrying! However, we went ahead. There
is no arguing with the fact that we were both a bit nervous and Jean says
in her commentary that she had taken a spare pair of pants with her. She
was not joking!
We were then led to the appropriate enclosure. Before entering, the keepers, who would be with us all the time, gave us some instructions. We were told not to approach the tigers from the front because they would think we wanted to play. We must not touch their faces, heads or paws as they dislike that except, perhaps, from their keepers. And so, with that, the gate opened.
There was a moment of slight panic as the gate clanged shut behind us and we did feel distinctly vulnerable. However, the four tigers showed no interest in us. Two were asleep, one was more interested in cubs playing in a nearby cage and one was just sitting. We believe that they are only fed chickens, so they never get a taste for red meat! They say!
We were only allowed fifteen minutes in the enclosure and so there was little planning that could be done and it was a case of shooting as much as possible. Jean first went to the sleeping tiger and stroked it.
Then she moved around the others. I got some good close-up shots of their heads and paws. Not until this visit did we know that all tigers have a white spot behind their ears, just as if someone had put their thumbs in white paint then daubed it on to them. Seen this close they really are very beautiful animals. Little wonder that poachers hunt them for their coats.
At one point one of the tigers rolled over on to Jean's foot and she could not get it out. One of the keepers had to lift the animal by the back of the neck and the "seat of it's pants" to release her. By this time we were beginning to feel quite confident and then my nerve was put to the test. I was down on one knee to get level with the tigers when one decided to have a close look at the camera. He swung round and I had this vision of a tiger's head getting bigger in the viewfinder. I held my ground but I'm not sure if this was determination to get the shot or if I was paralysed by fear! Anyway it kept coming until it banged into the camera. The poor animal got his nose smacked by a keeper for that.
Sadly, our fifteen minutes was up all too quickly and we had to leave the enclosure, but it was with a feeling of great achievement and we were so glad we had done it.
Now that that bit was over, we set about shooting some establishing shots.
Filming was done on my trusty Canon XM1 which is now ten years old and still going strong. It is, perhaps a bit out of date now because although it can film in wide screen, there is a quality drop. But it is a sturdy machine. As well as surviving that bang from the tiger's head, I once passed out, falling on top of it on to a hardwood floor. It also fell out of its bag once on to a carpeted floor. On all these occasions I thought that would be it ... but switching it on, he camera worked perfectly every time.
This was done in Adobe Premier and as always it was a question of deciding what to leave in and what to discard. Having had to film on the fly, so to speak, it was not the easiest edit I have done but in the end it became a five minute film. As usual, Jean did the commentary, being the voice over artist for all our films where this is required. After the film had been in one competition, the judge gave some good suggestions on how it could be improved and so as it was still in the computer, I went back and made alterations in line with those comments. This, did indeed make a better film. I think that one of the great benefits of competitions is getting an independent view of the production as we are all too close to our own work.
The following year on our annual visit, we did go back to Tiger Kingdom and did go in with the cubs this time. They were no problem as they had just been fed and all they wanted to do was sleep and get cuddles!
- Ken and Jean McRonald FACIs
Watch Here, Kitty Kitty - in Bijou BIAFF 2010