Coywolves are elusive and intelligent creatures. The biggest challenge in producing a documentary about them was finding a way to get footage of them as they went about their daily business in a variety of different habitats. Although they live amongst us in cities, including Canada's biggest city, Toronto, they are nocturnal and very camera shy.
It took director Susan Fleming and her team over a year of research and trial and error to get the right camera system working in the field for the film. They tried every remote camera system they could find on the market and found them all lacking. So they opted to design their own from the ground up. And it was a global effort!
The backbone of the camera system is an infrared beam system that came from a company called Parabeam in New Zealand. The system was originally designed to alert the property owner when a car crossed the beam on its way up the drive but the owner of the company was kind enough to customize his system to work for our purposes. With the help of a brilliant, local computer programmer named Daniel Eisner, Fleming's assistant Georgia Kovalik worked night and day to re-write camera code and devise new trigger systems so that the splitting of the infrared beam, by say a coywolf crossing the beam's path, would turn on an array of cameras. The CAMremote, a minature remote control device from Finland that allowed us to control our infrared cameras was also integrated into the system. Fleming says, " It was an incredible challenge to bring all the elements together. Georgia really took the reins and put together an amazing team to figure out how to create something that had never been done before."
Once Kovalik came up with a test model, Fleming's camera team spent many days and nights testing it in the field. They spent over 3 months setting up variations of Georgia's camera system in a location where coywolves gathered nightly only to pick up the cameras in the morning and find that there was no footage or a battery had died, or a cable had come undone, or that motion sensors didn't trigger the cameras or the IR lights didn't turn on for some reason. The list of disappointments were endless.
Fleming recalls, "During this time, I honed my listening skills while I slept and as I learned to wake up at the sound of the faintest drip of rain. That was my cue to jump out of bed and dive for my pick up truck, no matter what time of night it was, so I could rescue the cameras before they got ruined by the rain. We had learned the hard way that double plastic bagging even scuba bags were no barrier to rain drops that would inevitably to find their way between a lens and a camera."
After five months of research and test models and five months of field testing Fleming and her team were finally ready to bring in the big guns. Camera system designer Mike Johnson, who works on big budget feature films, took all the working prototypes - the taped and gumshoed together contraptions to the next stage - field models that could withstand the elements and reliably get the prize shots.