How They Film the Underwater Footage on Bering Sea Gold

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Written By Monica

Have you ever wondered how they get those incredible underwater shots on Bering Sea Gold?

Some of the best action on Bering Sea Gold happens underwater with the divers. Hands down it’s the most dangerous part of working on a suction dredge in the Bering Sea. The talented cameramen have captured some of the divers’ heartstopping close calls with danger over the years – one of the things that makes Bering Sea Gold so unique and real.

“Filming diving scenes is tough because diving is tough,” Executive Producer of Bering Sea Gold Eric Lange says.

According to Eric, every crew gets one cameraman (AKA “field producer”) that follows them around to catch all the action above water. But underwater is a different story.

There’s only one underwater cameraman who rotates between the crews depending on where the action is happening. That diver shoots the guys operating the suction dredges underwater, excavator buckets and sea-level views of the operations.

To cover those times the diver is with another crew, the field producers will put strategically-placed GoPros on divers’ masks to catch some footage of them sucking up that shiny G or striking out.

Gold Divers using Gopro

The dive team is an independent part of the production team whose job changes depending on if they are filming during summer or ice season.

In the summer on the production side they have the cameraman under the water, plus the production boat, with a producer and a driver on board for safety and for getting external shots of the operations.

During the ice season the dive team has an arctic production tent with a hole through which they deploy two divers at a time to film scenes. One diver films and the other one is there in case of an emergency – something that can easily happen under the thick Bering Sea ice pack. Another producer and a safety coordinator sits in the tent during shooting.

Since there is only one dive team, that means the field producers need to stay in steady contact with the production team at Production HQ in downtown Nome to alert them to anything interesting going on with any of their crews. According to Eric, the captains will help by letting production know if there is something worth catching on film underwater like a new diver, new equipment, or some type of problem they’re monitoring.

Baring Sea Gold Dive Team

The cameraman diver has the ability to hook into the communications system of whichever crew they’re filming which allows them to listen to and talk to the tender and the gold diver during the shoot. Eric says that sometimes the cameraman has to prod the gold divers to talk a bit more about what is going on and what they are seeing – because they get so focused on the hunt for gold.

“The gold miners up here (in Nome) spend so much time underwater that they see a crab walk by or a seal, they just don’t care because they’re mining gold. But for us that’s amazing and for the person at home who’s cracking a beer and watching it’s like ‘Oh my God, man, I’m in space!’ It looks like space. So, they’ll push those questions, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, look at that crab.’ and then the diver will talk about it.” Eric said, sharing his production secrets with us, “That’s how we integrate the story under the water into the top side stuff where the tender’s like, “Hey why don’t you find some gold instead of dorking around down there with the crab.’ That’s how we do it when we have the dive team there.” 

Underwater shooting isn’t all fun sea creatures and riches, though. There have been times where the cameraman underwater has had to step in to help save a miner’s life. One memorable moment was when Kye Park, a new diver on Vern’s dredge, almost drowned and was saved by Trent, the cameraman underwater filming him in the first episode of Season 13. His umbilical caught his mask and pulled it up, allowing water to rush in. In a panic, Kye tried to reach the top but came up under the boat. Trent dropped his camera and grabbed Kye, pushing him to the back of the boat where he could get some much needed air and help out of the water. 

Here’s the scene:

“Sometimes when you’re underwater, you can get disorientated,” Eric explained.

The gold miners aren’t the only ones who have close calls. Eric told us about an incident that a production diver recently had under the ice.

“We have a lot of these guys running equipment underwater that is great for TV but can be a little bit sketchy. In the winter we had a screen come off a foot valve. The foot valve is what primes the pump and sucks up the water. The foot valve sits in one hole while they dive in a different hole. We had a diver who bumped into that foot valve and it sucked his hood up into that foot valve, and by the time he had extracted his head the hood was like *sucking sound* and it pulled his mask off. Once you lose the seal on your mask like that, you’re holding your breath at that point. He went to a back up regulator, purged and then Kelly, our safety diver in the water, grabbed him and pulled him up to the surface. That was the only real incident we’ve had, it was a random incident but one in that many years is pretty good.”

How they film divers underwater

One of the reasons why they have such a good record is because the production team takes safety extremely seriously. While the gold miners use a hookah breathing system – getting air through a tube that supplies air from an air compressor – the production crew uses scuba tanks. This allows for them to move around easier to get those amazing shots and less likely to get wrapped up in the cords that the dredge divers have to contend with. They also carry a backup regulator with them in case something happens.

Even with safety being a top priority, diving is dangerous for everyone involved. Every time a diver goes under the Bering Sea, whether it’s a gold miner or a cameraman, they’re risking their lives to bring us those amazing underwater shots that make Bering Sea Gold stand out from all the other gold shows out there. 

Real Bering Sea Gold Paydirt from Emily Riedel

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