Clubhouse Conversations — Secrets of the Whales

In this new 59-minute episode, underwater cinematography veteran Pete Romano, ASC talks with executive producer-writer-director Brian Armstrong and director of photography Hayes Baxley about shooting their Disney+ nature documentary Secrets of the Whales.

The primary cameras used in the National Geographic project were the Red Gemini and Helium, DJI Inspire 2 with X7, Phantom Veo and Phantom Flex4K, recording in 8K or 4K RAW.

Canon CN20 50-1000mm lenses were employed for topside Gyro-Stabilized Systems gimbal work, while Canon stills lens were used for underwater work — often relying on compact 11-24mm optics. 

Nauticam and Gates underwater housings were used for the Red camera setups. 


A newly constructed, 10-foot jib arm mounted with the GSS. (National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley)


DJI drone setup and controller. (National Geographic for Disney+/Hayes Baxley)


Brian Skerry photographs a pod of three sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) off the coast of Dominica. (Photo by Steve De Neef)


A custom, motorized pole-cam rig that can shoot partially submerged whales while traveling up to four knots. (National Geographic for Disney+/Brian Armstrong)


Filming from the helicopter. (National Geographic for Disney+/Sam LeGrys)

An award-winning filmmaker, producer, journalist, author, and environmental advocate, Brian Armstrong has been a creative force in media for more than 30 years. Since launching Red Rock Films in 2010 — after an extensive career with National Geographic and before that as an Australian news journalist — Armstrong has built the U.S.-based production company into one of the world’s largest providers of natural-history content. The company’s projects include an eight-part wildlife series for Netflix to be released this summer. Armstrong also spearheads Red Rock International and Red Rock Kids. He is the author of The Exotic Booze Club, a memoir of adventures in expedition filmmaking and is a mentor for National Geographic’s Field Ready diversity program.

Director of photography Hayes Baxley is an Emmy award-winning producer, cinematographer and director specializing in filming with the stabilized GSS Cineflex system, DJI Inspire2 drone, Phantom cameras and underwater in difficult environments. he learned his craft as an in-house producer and shooter working at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC. This experience taught him the importance of finding powerful stories and how to execute complicated shoots all over the world. His credits include Planet of the Whales, Man vs Octopus, Great White Shark Babies and Big Pacific.

The founder of HydroFlex — makers of innovative underwater camera and lighting gear — interviewer Pete Romano’s extensive feature credits include Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Minority Report, The New World, Inception, The Tree of Life, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Mission: Impossible - Fallout Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood, 6 Undergroundand A Quiet Place II. With an interest in photography, he learned his craft and the specialized techniques required for underwater cinematography in the U.S. Navy while serving in the Combat Camera Group. He then transitioned those skills into narrative filmmaking.

You’ll find all episodes in our ASC Clubhouse Conversations discussion series here