Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership

The Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership Scheme aims to unlock and reveal the hidden heritage of the Westmorland Dales, enabling more people to connect with, enjoy and benefit from this inspirational landscape. Thanks to National Lottery players it has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Fund

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Jon Chappell has worked all over the world filming wildlife, landscapes, people and well known tv stars but most recently he has decided to concentrate more on the local area. We feel very lucky to have this highly experienced camera man working on some of our projects so we asked him what it means to him to film his local landscapes? Jon lives on the fell above New Biggin on Lune in the centre of the Westmorland Dales. Through the eye of the camera what does he see? Why is the natural, cultural and built heritage in the Westmorland Dales so unique and special?

Why have you decided to work more locally?

"I’ve been a cameraman for over 30 years and working away from home for so long is not ideal. Also international travel and UK roads have got massively busier in the last 10 years. So now I live in the Westmorland Dales which is such a peaceful and beautiful place I want to stay here." 

What do you enjoy most about film projects in the local area? Light, landscape? Peace, beauty, history, colours?

"I have always enjoyed filming wildlife. I did a few jobs for the BBC Natural History Unit (NHU) and I’m fascinated by the behind-the-scenes sections of Blue Planet and other such epic nature shows. I appreciate the effort the camera teams make just to get a single shot and they have an enviable technical expertise. Filming flowers or animals in Cumbria involves the same technical challenges as filming for the NHU but its nice to be close to home."

How did you go about filming wildflowers- technically?

"I use a Sony A7s DSLR to film the flowers because it’s small and I can get very low on the ground...down to flower level. I also use prime lenses which allow me to control the depth-of-field. This means I can have just the subject flower in focus so it stands out. Sometimes I also use battery LED lights to bring out the details in the shadows but it’s important that it still looks like natural light."

Why did you get into film making?

"When I was 8 years old I use to watch the Saturday morning children’s show, Tiswas, with Chris Tarrant (C.1974). I loved the way that Chris got the crew involved and occasionally a large studio camera and the operator would come into view, as they dodged a cushion or something else Chris threw at them because they we laughing. This looked like a great job and I was very intrigued by the glimpse behind the scenes. When I was 17 I wrote to BBC Manchester asking for a look around the studios and to my surprise they agreed. During my one-on-one guided tour (It wouldn’t happen these days) I confirmed to myself that I really did love the atmosphere of a TV studio and the camera crew looked so cool chilling in the Green Room between recordings. I applied for an apprenticeship and again, to my surprise, I got  one. And so began my career in TV."

Who have you worked with?

"I worked on many shows with big names such as: The Des O Connor show, The Mrs Merton Show, Red Dwarf, Stars in Their Eyes and Coronation Street. More recently I’ve been filming out on location with Ray Mears, Robson Green, Jane McDonald, David Jason and George Lamb. I have filmed in over 60 countries often spending time in remote locations and low quality accommodation with the big names. This sort of assignment is a real leveller and rapidly brings everyone down to earth."

Which film projects were your most enjoyable?

"The most memorable project but not that enjoyable at the time was Robson Greens Extreme Fishing. Filming this show in Bolivia, Mongolia, The Solomon Islands and other remote locations proved the biggest physical and mental challenge I’ve faced. Bandits with guns, very risky light aircraft flights, the jungle, limited food and water and millions of biting insects make the filming a lot harder."

What were your most unusual film locations?

"I filmed in Afghanistan for 3 months during the most recent war. I was based at Camp Bastion and Kandahar Air Base living in military tents in the desert. Transport was by armoured car or helicopter and we always had the support of the UK forces. They looked after us very well in this harsh and dangerous environment. We had to wear body armour and had special training before we left the UK. The noise, smells and lights in the dust of Camp Bastion on the night we arrived will be something I never forget. The place was so busy and noisy with dark helicopters constantly passing over a low level. I did not sleep much that first night."

What were the most beautiful film locations?

"I really enjoyed my trips to The Solomon Islands and Madagascar. For both we stayed in huts on the beach, filming mainly from small boats each day."