The camera's rolling - and so is the boat
Fresh from his latest seafood shoot, Jonathan Crosbie talks to Laura Joint about life as a cameraman.
TV cameraman Jonathan Crosbie has had his fill of fish for one year. Jonathan, who lives in Yelverton on the edge of Dartmoor, has spent much of 2013 globe-trotting with some of the nation's top chefs, capturing those images that get us all drooling on our sofas when we watch the telly.
Location shoots this summer took him on a trip along the Amazon and then, after a brief pit stop back home in Devon, straight out to Italy, Spain and France to film a new TV series with Valentine Warner and Cornwall's two-star Michelin seafood chef Nathan Outlaw.
Jonathan calculates that his work in the past 15 years has taken him to "around 35" different countries, many of them in exotic locations. As well as Valentine Warner and Nathan Outlaw, he has also worked with Heston Blumenthal, Simon Rimmer, Andy Bates, Gary Rhodes and Westcountry-based trio Dick Strawbridge, Mitch Tonks and Michael Caines.
He says he "doesn't mind" fish but "isn't crazy about it". He's had to stomach a fish diet this year though because most of his work has been on boats, filming fish being caught, cooked in a variety of ways and then eaten. And when you're on the Amazon, a fishing trip can prove a bit dangerous: "I was filming with Andy Bates for his Street Feasts programme and we were fishing for piranha. The guy who caught it said he'd been bitten only the week before. It was a scary thing, actually. But piranha is a speciality over there. I thought it tasted just like chicken.
"Apparently, about 10-15 years ago, crocodiles were walking up and down the street in Manaus, which is where we were filming, but thankfully things have changed since then!"
The month-long trip took Jonathan and the rest of the team from the Food Network show to some of Brazil's major cities, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where they witnessed the summer riots: "That trip was quite an experience. It was also very hot and humid, which caused problems with the camera."
Jonathan recently returned from a 21-day tour of southern Europe with Valentine Warner and Nathan Outlaw for a new series called Hook It and Cook It, which will air later this year on Fox TV's 24Kitchen: "That was great – two lovely guys, in competition with each other to catch and cook fish and the winner was judged by local people. We visited some beautiful places like Imperia in Italy and San Sebastian in Spain and we did river fishing in the Pyrenees. It helps not to suffer from sea sickness, because staring down a camera for five hours at a time on a boat wouldn't be much fun."
So how did Jonathan get into this line of work in the first place? After completing a Photographic Media BA course at Plymouth College of Art, Jonathan – who works as a freelance – did some work with established South West independent TV production companies Denham Productions and TwoFour.
"I cut my teeth on a major filming project in 2001 with Chris Denham and Ron Bendell – Slow Blokes in South America, which was a 16,000 mile classic car rally.
"And then my involvement in food programmes started to take off. I visited some stunning places filming with Gary Rhodes in China, the Caribbean, India and Italy, for his programmes on the Good Food channel. We took half a day off to go and see the Great Wall of China, which was miraculously beautiful, and the islands in the Caribbean were great too. We also went to India for four weeks in 2007 and I saw some amazing places there, including Mumbai.
"I had great fun with Mitch Tonks and the former England rugby player Matt Dawson in a programme called Big Fish for Good Food. Basically, they'd catch some fish and serve it up from the back of a vintage VW camper van. It's been replayed on the Dave channel and it's the programme everyone always talks to me about because it became a big hit. I'll never forget Matt Dawson re-enacting Jonny Wilkinson's World Cup winning drop goal with me; he threw the ball to me – as he did to Jonny in the game – and I kicked it. Great fun!
"I love working with Mitch. I had a phone call one day to say could I get out to Australia straight away and meet him to do some filming for a programme. I'd never met him before but by the end of the week we were great mates. Again, I was very lucky in that I went on a boat in the Southern Ocean and we did some filming on Kangaroo Island."
More recently, Jonathan was the cameraman for the ITV programme The Hungry Sailors with Dick and James Strawbridge. And in 2012 he travelled across the US, filming for a Channel 5 programme about Operation Tiger called The Great D-Day Cover-Up. "One minute you can be filming a documentary with war veterans and the next you can be doing a music video or a film with a TV chef. The variety is great.
"TV has changed a lot in the 15 years I've been doing it – you don't get the big crews nowadays. I'm a lighting cameraman so I do both the lighting and the filming. For most of the time we have a sound recordist with us, although occasionally I have done that as well.
"Usually, the crews now comprise the presenter, director, sound recordist, me and an AP."
Jonathan's work comes to him via the network of contacts he has built up over the years: people who know and trust his ability to get the right shot at the right time. "On location, you often only get one chance," he says. "You need an eye for lighting and for composition. And you need to get on well with the presenter!"
Does Jonathan have a say in the end product? "No! The first time I see my work is the same time as the viewers – when it's on the telly."
For all his travelling and filming in exotic locations, Jonathan's favourite spot and film are both set much closer to home.
"I did the music video for Seth Lakeman's song Kitty Jay," explained Jonathan, who also filmed the Devon star's concert at the Minack Theatre at Porthcurno.
"The Kitty Jay video has had more than a quarter of a million hits on YouTube, which is pretty cool. We did the filming for that on Dartmoor, obviously, because that's where the story was set.
"And my favourite location to film is the Isles of Scilly; it's the most beautiful place when the light is just right."
Finally, the big question is: has all this time with celebrity chefs rubbed off on his cooking? "My wife would say definitely not – I'm more of a fry-up or barbecue man!"