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Keeping Camera Crew Rolling

Underwater-video maker Ken Berry always has his team travel together. He arrives at airports early because of all his equipment.

October 07, 2006|James Gilden | Special to The Times

Ken Berry does not travel light. As the executive producer of underwater videos and photography for the Rancho Santa Margarita-based Professional Assn. of Diving Instructors, Berry has never been the kind of business traveler who could roll up to an airport with only a carry-on bag and jump on a plane.

"We are probably taking a couple tons of gear," he said in an interview days before a recent trip from Los Angeles to Ireland. "We're not just taking a bag of clothes."

Not only must he and his crew of 10 to 12 actors, photographers, videographers and gaffers take along their regular luggage packed with clothing and toiletries, but also their gear. That includes all the scuba, photography and video equipment necessary for photographing and videotaping 35 feet underwater.

Getting to exotic locations such as Grand Cayman Island; Cancun, Mexico; and the Pacific island nation of Palau may sound glamorous, he says, but is far from it.

"When we pull up to the curb at airports and start unloading," he said, "the baggage handlers look at us and see big tips."

Given today's heightened attention to security at airports, traveling with nonstandard items means being subjected to extra scrutiny by Transportation Security Administration screeners.

"Our stuff is atypical," he said. "Metal scuba gear, odd-shaped underwater lights that look like big, big flashlights. They just look strange when they get scanned."

Usually the screeners are very careful when they examine the expensive and complicated equipment, he said, but sometimes it is just too much. On another recent trip, this time to Curacao, a screener disassembled a battery pack for underwater lighting and had trouble getting it back together.

"They're serious-looking batteries," Berry said. They had been laid out and carefully packed. The screeners "99% of the time are just excellent and try their best to put it back together. This one particular guy was just a little less careful."

As all business travelers know, when you are hurrying to catch a plane the last thing you need is to be stuck in security.

So Berry gave himself and his crew lots of leeway at the airport on the recent trip to Ireland. For their 5 p.m. flight, they arrived at 12:30 p.m.

Berry always has his team travel together, even if it means some colleagues must fly to Los Angeles from another part of the country so they can all depart on the same flight from L.A. Two members of his crew flew in from Atlanta.

"Going on the airplane together builds camaraderie," Berry said.

Putting together a compatible team is crucial when you spend all day together either underwater or on a 35-foot diving boat.

"I spend a lot of time picking the right people to go on these adventures," he said.

Finding actors who can scuba-dive is apparently not difficult. They list it on their resume along with other skills such as sword fighting or speaking French. But diving in the open ocean is quite different from diving into a swimming pool on a studio back lot.

"Up in Hollywood for the 'Poseidon Adventure,' they're diving in a tank in a studio," said Berry, who was a professional videographer with no diving experience 13 years ago when he began working for the diving instruction group. "It's a little different when you're about to jump into the North Sea."

Berry recruits actors who can deal with the unpredictable environment of an ocean dive and can navigate the wrecks that are popular spots for diving and for filming dives.

The films and still photographs that Berry produces are used for training or marketing and are distributed through dive shops. The still photography is also featured in Sport Diver magazine.

For Berry, all the hassles of travel fade from memory as soon as he reaches his destination.

"It's a lot of work moving that many people and that much gear through airports around the world," he said. "But this Friday, I will be underwater in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and you forget instantly every travel problem you have had.

"I get to spend time underwater seeing God's creatures up close, and the only price I have to pay is dragging a few bags through a few airports."



Ken Berry

* Job: Executive producer of underwater videos and photos

* Business travel nights per year: About 75

* Frequent-flier programs: American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines

* Preferred airline: Domestic, American Airlines; overseas, whatever carrier can get him there the fastest.

* Preferred hotel chain: None. His shoot locations around the world are so varied that he's "just happy to get a clean room near whatever water we're about to jump into."

* Next business trips: In November, to Orlando for the dive industry's annual convention, a "normal" business trip for a change. In January 2007, to Thailand for a video and photo shoot.

* Next planned leisure trip: La Jolla for his wedding anniversary weekend.


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