“The Challenge” director of photography Bruce Ready is no stranger to braving the elements for the MTV competition series. But for the show’s 37th season, titled “Spies, Lies and Allies,” Ready faced one of his biggest challenges yet navigating the minefield challenge in Episode 5 — during a torrential rainstorm.
The episode required each team to start at a detonation station in the middle of a field and race through different obstacles, collecting puzzle pieces as they went. The last piece of the puzzle was locked inside a safe. Not only did Ready have to create a visual signature that was unique to each challenge, but he was also filming in the Motovun Village in Croatia, a village that sits on top of a mountain and is often subjected to unpredictable weather.
The night before filming, a torrential rainstorm turned the muddy terrain into a swamp, which in turn led to swarms of mosquitos. Ready was prepared to handle the challenge. “Rain, mud, slush and an advancing electrical storm forced the camera department to become a part of the struggle,” Ready says. “When we are so viscerally connected to the stories we are telling, it inevitably becomes visually compelling.”
Ready instructed his operators that the most important thing was making sure the audience saw all the action of the challenge. Ready explains, “I asked operators to… try to create barriers to cleanly execute a shot. We needed to see the action, but if the foreground made it harder to make that clean shot, you were forced to reach harder to ‘see.’ The audience too, [as a result] is drawn into the scene more compellingly.”
Coverage of the action needed to be in zones, with the main camera operators covering it close-up but also being mindful of the wide shots being filmed from scaffolding surrounding the playing field and the overhead drone. Explaining his setup, Ready says, “We also had two dollies buried in the grasses. These dynamic angles were enhanced by pyrotechnics, because it’s a minefield.”
Filming in Croatia and in nature, Ready and his crew also used sunlight to create visually striking shots that took advantage of the Croatian landscape. “The sun would come and go, almost at a minute’s notice, but served [us] yet again to enhance the imagery with sharp pops of light,” Ready says.
His gear of choice was the trusty Sony Z 450, a handheld camera that allowed him and his crew to use very long lenses when needed. Ready says, “We would at times over crank these cameras alongside strategically placed DSLRs and we used gimbals. We used a crazy number of GoPros at various frame rates as well as the 360 version.”
Ready continues, “With the stunning backdrop of the Croatian landscape — a little-seen country — and the brilliant set design work of James McGowan, complemented by the lighting direction of the gifted John Gumina, it all made for a unique and captivating visual style.”