Like most people who work day and night aboard crab vessels in the Bering Sea, Doug Stanley has stories.There was the time he couldn’t get his footing on an ice-covered deck in minus 20-degree temperatures. “Every time the boat would stall, you’d be looking at an ice slide, straight down to a 4-foot railing separating you from the water,” he said.And the time Stanley jumped in to untangle a line from a buoy. “I can tell you what it’s like to be in the ocean staring at a ship. It’s like a building is dancing in front of you.”
He’s broken his ribs. He’s smashed his teeth. And he loves his life at sea as much as any crusty adventurer who mans Alaskan fishing vessels. “I cannot explain to you how wonderful and incredible it is for me.”
But Stanley isn’t a crab fisherman. He is director of photography for “Deadliest Catch” – Discovery Channel’s most-watched and Emmy-nominated show last year, now in its third season. It airs Tuesday nights.
Filmed in the cold, wet darkness of the heaving seas, the documentary-style show demands more from a camera crew than typical reality or wildlife programs. The “Deadliest Catch” cameramen work in close quarters with the fishermen, sometimes 30 hours at a stretch. Their cameras get wrecked by saltwater, lenses are constantly fogged or iced over.
“You have to be able to do everything they do. This stuff is very testosterone-oriented,” cinematographer Eric Lange said. “You have to go blow for blow with them and get that respect level. Then they don’t care if you’re there and what they’re saying.”
Doubling as producers, the cinematographers also must capture the characters’ stories. That the Emmy-nominated episode was shot with a lens blasted with ice, cod fish and salt water supports that “it’s a story-driven show,” Stanley said. “It’s not about the photography.” He wore his smelly orange fisherman’s slicker to the red carpet.
Johnathan Hillstrand is captain of the Time Bandit, one of several boats followed in the third season of “Deadliest Catch.” (Los Angeles Times photo by Gary Friedman.)Johnathan Hillstrand, captain of the fishing vessel Time Bandit, was filmed pulling off one of this season’s two rescues at sea. “Me saving that guy – I don’t know if there’s anything like that on film,” he said.Hillstrand said he hadn’t even realized how dangerous his job was until he saw it on TV, and he has become close friends with some of the photographers. “I have a lot of respect for those guys,” he said.
Crab fishing is considered “deadly” – for anyone on board – mostly because ballast is tricky to control on fishing vessels that can tip over with the extra weight of ice or too many 700-pound crab pots. Lengthy seasickness also can be dangerous if the person doesn’t make the effort to eat or drink enough. But rewards can be high: If all goes well, a fisherman can earn $250,000 in six months. If it doesn’t, he might not come home at all.
The cameramen said the only comparable job would be a war correspondent.