Filming wildlife documentaries couldn’t have happened without John Stainton, our producer. Steve always referred to John as the genius behind the camera, and that was true. The music orchestration, the editing, the knowledge of what would make good television and what wouldn’t--these were all areas of John’s clear expertise.
But on the ground, under the water, or in the bush, while we were actually filming, it was 100 percent Steve. He took care of the crew and eventually his family as well, while filming in some of the most remote, inaccessible, and dangerous areas on earth.
Steve kept the cameraman alive by telling him exactly when to shoot and when to run. He orchestrated what to film and where to film, and then located the wildlife. Steve’s first rule, which he repeated to the crew over and over, was a simple one: Film everything, no matter what happens.
“If something goes wrong,” he told the crew, “you are not going to be of any use to me lugging a camera and waving your other arm around trying to help. Just keep rolling. Whatever the sticky situation is, I will get out of it.”
Just keep rolling. Steve’s mantra.
On all of our documentary trips, Steve packed the food, set up camp, fed the crew. He knew to take the extra tires, the extra fuel, the water, the gear. He anticipated the needs of six adults and two kids on every film shoot we ever went on.
As I watched him at Lakefield, the situation was no different. Our croc crew came and went, and the park rangers came and went, and Steve wound up organizing anywhere from twenty to thirty people.
Everyone did their part to help. But the first night, I watched while one of the crew put up tarps to cover the kitchen area. After a day or two, the tarps slipped, the ropes came undone, and water poured off into our camp kitchen.
After a full day of croc capture, Steve came back into camp that evening. He made no big deal about it. He saw what was going on. I watched him wordlessly shimmy up a tree, retie the knots, and resecure the tarps. What was once a collection of saggy, baggy tarps had been transformed into a well-secured roof.
Steve had the smooth and steady movements of someone who was self-assured after years of practice. He’d get into the boat, fire up the engine, and start immediately. There was never any hesitation. His physical strength was unsurpassed. He could chop wood, gather water, and build many things with an ease that was awkwardly obvious when anybody else (myself, for example) tried to struggle with the same task.
But when I think of all his bush skills, I treasured most his way of delivering up the natural world. On that croc research trip in the winter of 2006, Steve presented me with a series of memories more valuable than any piece of jewelry.