FOR TOURISTS & NATURE LOVERS:
You may already have visited Morocco: Sunbathing at the phantastic beach of Agadir, seen the funny magicians at the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech and been shopping in the UNESCO-world heritage-registered souk of Fes. And yet, there is another very attractive side of Morocco that you may have missed: Over the past 600 million years mother nature has installed plenty of natural wonders in the country. Lunar granite landscapes, enchanted gorges, high waterfalls, adventurous caves and 400 million year old fossil grave yards. The film "Natural wonders of the Maghreb" takes you on an expedition through time, illustrating and explaining the various landscapes of Morocco and their geological origin. When we finally arrive back home, you will have discovered a new dimension of this fine Maghrebinian country.
A film featuring the Silurian hydrocarbon source rock of North Africa and Arabia. The main characteristics of this unit, ecological controlling mechanisms and a predictive depositional model are presented based on animated graphics and video footage from the Ghat outcrop belt in Southwest Libya. Don't miss this film if you are interested in Libyan petroleum geology, black shale ecology or shale gas exploration.
Seven-continents.com (7C) is a young science production company. Allow us to take you to the seven continents of our planet, on breathtaking journeys through time and space. We will be travelling through spectacular landscapes, pituresque rock formations and vast meteorite craters, to the rhythm of the ever-changing climate and restlessly moving coastlines. The beauty of nature as we see it today is a product of a multi-million year development. We offer to explore this natural history with you, hopefully opening up a new perspective on the various corners of this world.
7C is run by qualified geoscience professionals with a strong research and petroleum background. Video productions include films for the general public (GeoExplorer Series) as well as specialised projects, mainly for the international oil & gas industry (Petroleum Series). Films of the first category may be of interest to e.g. TV stations, national park visitor centres and schools. The petroleum films are suitable as training material for oil & gas exploration staff, integrating typical outcrop scenes with characteristic subsurface data.
7C makes best use of new advances in multimedia and video technology to create affordable, audiovisual documentaries and training courses for the applied geoscience sector.
Take me to the Rocks
by Sebastian Lüning
I am a geologist by profession. I work rocks from nine to five. Looking for oil and gas in the Sahara and beyond. Every day. For the last 19 years. Sometimes it is stressful, sometimes really enjoyable, and sometimes annoying. Like in any other job. But may I tell you a little secret? Would you guess what I do in my limited spare time to refresh my mind and charge my battery to be fit at work the other day? A little hint: It is not bird watching and not learning Swedish. It is- more geology. I am afraid to have to tell you that I am so much in love with my rocks that I am a professional and hobby geologist at the same time. It may ease your shock, however, to hear that my other hobbies are my family and marathon running.
There are plenty of interesting fields available to hobby geologists or hobby palaeontologists. Most popular may be collecting minerals and fossils, visiting quarries and searching beaches for nice new specimens. My geology hobby, however, is focused on regional geology. I love to understand the earth history of a certain region from A to Z, visiting the outcrops of the region and studying the regional geological descriptions. Looking behind the scenes of modern landscape, understanding how it was shaped and what lies underneath. Driving and walking through my study object to understand dimensions, distances and height differences. Paying attention to millimetre-sized fossils, and a few minutes later enjoying the panorama across kilometre-scale valleys shaped by the ice age.
I am convinced there are many other hobby geologists out there who share my passion for an integrated view of regional earth history. Their background may be manifold. Fossil collectors who want to understand the geological context of their finds. Hikers who want to know more about the nature they are traversing, mining fans who want to understand how the coal, gold or iron ores formed that are worked deep in the belly of the earth.
Regional geology can be real fun. Just get a geological excursion guidebook and enjoy the tour stop by stop. See and touch the rocks yourself. Understand the context. Buy an ice cream in the next town and reflect what one has just seen. It’s really good fun. See the real thing. On the other hand, it is also quite time consuming. Travelling, logistical preparations, obtaining and reading the right literature. All of this takes time and reduces your yearly holiday allowance. And not to forget, it costs quite a bit of money. On top of this, in some regions there is a pending weather risk. Regional geology in pouring rain is not a good idea.
Just reading about regional geology is a challenge. While this might satisfy the initial need for basic information, it nevertheless makes some tough reading. Places one has never heard before of and dozens of formation names. Confusing. At university I hated earth history and regional geology lectures. I really got bored.
Is there another chance to enjoy regional geology, see the outcrops, listen to the exciting story of how the rocks and landscape once formed? At a price of a cinema ticket, also available, including rainy and cold November nights? The answer to all this is geo movies.
One day my friend and colleague Markus suggested to me that film making could be good fun. He even had researched a bit and had found out which camera to buy and which software to use. I knew nothing about the whole filming subject. But I liked the idea and said yes, let’s do it. Had I only known at this point in time what film making really meant –I might have thought twice about this “yes” before embarking onto this multimedia journey. But honestly, I still don’t regret it despite all.
Initially, we needed filming equipment. Because we wanted to make documentary films to be viewed by a larger audience, we couldn’t just take the cheapest kit. Top of the shopping list was a good camera. We went for the Canon XM2, a small semi-professional model that TV crews used to take with them as backup camera. And we needed a fast computer, and lots of monitors, and video editing software and microphones and tapes, and, and, and... I told my wife that these are business investments and soon these costs will be recovered and profit would be waiting just around the corner. Geology movies are exactly what the world has been waiting for.
As a first filming project I chose a one-week geological fieldtrip to Morocco, organized by the Manchester-based North Africa Research Group. I filmed a lot. It was all very exciting. I tried to show the viewers as much as possible. I moved the camera from the horizon from left to right and back to the left. Then I zoomed through the whole zooming range, back and forth. I took the viewers with me while walking around. Of course I hadn’t brought any tripod with me. Tripod? What’s a tripod for? As it was a geology film, there was no space for people, only rocks. Mostly distant shots. I was convinced that this was exactly what the viewers were looking for.
We had chosen the hard way of learning. Initially we had no idea how to compose a picture, which shots work, which don’t. No idea about how to move a camera without causing sea sickness in the audience, how to tell a story in a movie format that captures people’s imaginations, attracts both their brains and hearts. It was early days. Back home, it was a good training exercise to edit a film out of all those video shots. To add commentary and some music. Admittingly, the best scene probably was the 10 minute recording of the snake charmer show at one of the evenings in the hotel. I am pretty sure, only a handful of people probably have ever watched this trial-and-error film from beginning to end.
Film making after all is not that straight forward I found out. There was still a lot to learn on the artistic side. But also the technological side was full of traps. Software that refused to talk to the camera, unintentionally deleted audio tracks just before completing the movie, strange interlace stripe patterns on the final master DVD, numerous error messages. It takes a while to get the film making work flow fully under control. And problems usually surface when you least expect them or just before important presentations. The only thing that went smoothly during this phase was - the geology. The love for the rocks kept us going.
According to a certain film making beginners book, it takes about 10 films before the first really good movie comes out of the productions line. This encouraged me to start straight away with movie number 2, even though there was no light to be seen at the end of the tunnel. I shot the scenes of movie number 2 during a 5 day trip to the southern Libyan desert where some colleagues and I carried out geological fieldwork. This time I had learned my lesson and took a lightweight tripod with me. The quality of the scenes improved dramatically. I avoided wild panning and zooming and mixed panorama scenes with lots of close-ups. And I had learned another thing. Even in geology movies, there has to be more than just rocks. Rock footage wants to be mixed with shots of interesting people, funny animals, fast-racing four-wheel drive cars, sunsets and lots of other non-geological items. We were quite lucky because the research of the Libya trip was fruitful and we discovered signs of an important Silurian petroleum source rock at outcrop that has been never described before. We had an excellent story at our hands.
And despite all technicalities, an exciting story is of course always the most important basis for a good geology movie. In addition we received unexpected help by our desert guide who on day 3 lost his way and guided us straight into the sand sea. We struggled for 3 hours to get back out, fearing for our life, but it gave us great action footage no film script author could have ever better imagined. Back home, editing of the film was good fun, but took ages. Partly, because this was all done during numerous, short evening sessions in our spare time. Partly because we had to illustrate some complex geology requiring extra graphics. We had to show simplified drawings of our geological field sections, facies maps and animated clips of the depositional history. Markus created some wonderful flash animation for this which turned the film into an easily digestible scientific paper in multimedia format. And the viewers seem to like the film, judged on the favourable feedback we received. The only question we received again and again was about the purpose of a certain sleeping mattress that featured strongly in the gamma ray measurement scenes. While this was only to protect the instrument from overheating, it showed us that our key geological messages were all fully understood, therefore mission accomplished. Admittingly, the target audience of such a multimedia paper is rather small. Oil explorers interested in Saharan geology and people who like organic rich sediments. And there few of those around. And most of these few people usually have no idea that this film exists. Nevetheless, even years after its publication, the film is still being sold, at a rate of 1 copy per 3 months. Content-wise it was a good start we thought, even though the project earned back only 10% of its costs.
It was clear, the next geology movie was to address a larger audience. Tourists and friends of nature who like to know more about the origin of the landscapes they are visiting. Morocco, again, seemed suitable. Firstly because there are millions of tourists in Morocco every year coming from all over Europe. Secondly, Morocco’s geology is diverse and exciting. And thirdly, at that time we had a research project in Morocco so we had to go there anyway. From the previous project we had learned that one needs a lot of video footage so that later during the editing process one can choose the best scenes and not run out of footage on certain subjects. We planned for two weeks of non-stop filming. We consulted travel guide books, Natural Wonders of the World books, scientific papers, asked people and searched the internet to identify geological sites that were attractive for tourists and covered the entire earth history. Already this planning phase was hugely exciting and nearly as enjoyable as the trip itself. We sketched out a route starting at the coast in southern Morocco, through the High Atlas and terminating in the Middle Atlas in the north.
Highly motivated we fly out to Casablanca, ready to film fascinating waterfalls and deep canyons in the High Atlas the next day. Unfortunately, the airline managed to lose one of our bags. And this was the bag with our new tripod that we had invested in for optimum camera support. We were shocked. The next morning we visited nearly every photo shop in Casablanca in the search for a decent tripod. Most shops offered toy-type tripods which were good for stationary video scenes but unsuitable for pan movements. So we decided to wait for the delivery of the bag instead. Nevertheless, as the time table was tight, we had to start filming immediately. We drove over to Marrakech and into the Jurassic limestones of the High Atlas. A hotel pillow served as camera support. This was not ideal but it worked somehow. After a good day’s filming we called the airline. But also on day 2 the bag had still not arrived. So we purchased one of the toy tripods. The hotel must have been happy to have received back their pillow, even though it now looked a bit different than before. The rest of the trip ran rather smoothly and we enjoyed the great Moroccan geology, visiting caves, volcanoes, blow holes and many more geology highlights.
We produced an English and a German version of the film and received a lot of very positive feedback. It looked as if we had succeeded in producing an entertaining documentary movie on a geology subject for a wider non-specialist audience. And yet, the project struggled greatly because of our inability to market the movie. We attempted to sell the DVD through our webshop which more or less failed due to lack of marketing skills and budget. We also could not interest any TV station to broadcast it because we did not have any connections and were too shy to hunt editors down by telephone or personal visits. And maybe the subject was still too specialised. How much geology can normal people cope with? It dawned on us that one should not call it geology when attempting to sell geology…
But we were far from giving up. Somehow we always found little sponsor sums here and there, made use of business trips and kept on using the existing equipment. And we were thinking hard, how to sell geology stories successfully. Checking out the TV program it became clear that 90% of all earth science on TV focuses on the Big Three: Volcanoes, earthquakes and dinosaurs. Make sure you have at least one of these guys in your movie and you are fine. Or better include two of them, to be extra sure.
And we found the ideal story. The exciting history of the volcanic island of La Palma. Beautiful nature, excellent outcrops, one of the world experts on this island sitting in our own institute. And on top of this the great shocker of a possible Tsunami threat caused by potential collapse of the volcano flank. Shooting the movie on La Palma was very enjoyable. Nevertheless, we kept on learning the hard way as we had not paid enough attention to the seasonal weather forecast. January-February are generally the wettest months on La Palma. We hiked down the fascinating Caldera de Taburiente, which in fact is not a caldera but a collapse feature. Walked along the 20 km long Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge, full of young volcanic cones. Back home we mixed the volcano scenes with expert interviews. And to further improve the human element side of things we featured strongly the eruptional history of the island and effects on the population. Another improvement was the upgrade from 2D to 3D animated clips. We have made a good film, people told us. The first comprehensive volcanic summary of La Palma, for people who love geology and nature but are not geologists. And still, our lack of marketing skills and efforts may have strongly contributed to the overall economical failure of the La Palma film project.
So what are the true chances of geology movies? What has to be done to make it a success, scientifically, artistically and economically? First of all, the science put into the film has to be checked and double checked. The initial draft is based on various sources. As every journalist knows, not all sources are reliable. And the fact that the same piece of information can be also found in other articles, websites or books, may mean nothing. Authors tend to copy content from each other, include factual errors. In order to be on the safe side, it is absolutely necessary to run the script past one or several experts. Filmmaking is very time consuming and it will be complicated to impossible to correct any mistakes later on. Even if the film is a great piece of art and fascinates the viewers, if the facts are wrong, the film has failed.
The artistic side of filmmaking takes time to learn. There are some good books around, on how to make good video shots and how to edit the scenes nicely. The script has to be based on a good story that is arranged in an interesting manner, including suspense and humour elements. Complicated technical issues have to be simplified to a degree that they become readily understandable to the audience without losing their original character. Geology filmmaking involves lots of different artistic challenges.
Finally, the business side of things should not be neglected. The easiest thing would be to finance all technical equipment, music rights, travel expenses, narrator recording and DVD production by oneself and treat it all as a hobby. Good if you can afford it. If this is likely to explode your private budget, it is a good idea to look for sponsors. Companies, museums, organizations. For my last film I managed to get five oil companies on board who kindly sponsored the production of a training movie on the petroleum geology of southern Libya. The companies benefited by receiving useful training material and associating themselves publicly with the production of such materials. For me it paid the expenses, although not my time spent on the project. If production costs are covered by sponsoring partners, there is no need to generate large revenues on the sales side. Prices can be kept at reasonable levels and a certain number of the DVDs can be even donated free of charge to students and interested researchers. Distribution is best done through a publishing house. They have the infrastructure to distribute the DVDs professionally, get them onto Amazon and deal with payments and shipments. They also have the marketing skills and connections that help to inform the interested target audience about the existence of the videos. Less hassle for the author who now has more time for making new movies. Alternatively, you may simply upload the movie onto websites such as Youtube to reach a maximum audience.
Because I enjoy it so much, I continue making geology films. Only recently I completed a draft version of a film giving an “Introduction to Drilling for Non-Drillers” which I filmed while working for one week on an onshore drilling rig in the Saharan Desert. The training movie attempts to give an overview of petroleum drilling technology, showing the tough tools in action and running through a typical workflow cycle.
Another project I am currently working on is a comprehensive documentary on the geology of Lower Saxony in northern Germany. Based on popular geological sites such as cliffs, caves and canyons, the movie runs through the northern German earth history. Starting from Devonian atoll island limestones, via Permian salt lakes to the post-glacial evolution of the North Sea coastline and the Frisian barrier islands. This geology film did not require far distance travel. The sites were just around the corner. I was surprised to see how interesting local geology can be. Researching the story, writing the script and going out there to capture the scenes on video was extremely great fun.
Could this be something also for you? Landscapes and rock formations have an interesting earth history to tell. Challenge your creativity and show us your favourite sites. I am still convinced: There are lots of people out there who just wait for your film to come out and share your passion.