Keo films have had this ground breaking documentary in the making for almost 3 years and had it commissioned by Amy Flannagan, Deputy Head of Factual at Channel 4. The team at Keo developed the idea of filming a polygamous Mormon family and their community in a very remote part of Utah south of Salt Lake City. The Complete Camera Company quoted to facilitate the shoot at the end of 2015 and were delighted to be asked to film the series following an initial recce at the start of 2016.
This particular Mormon community, Rockland Ranch, has been established for many years by a group of fundamentalist Mormon’s that wanted to build homes that were isolated, but not completely cut off. After a 25 minute off road drive into the desert there is a huge rock where the local community have blasted large holes out of the rock face and homes have been built within them. These structures are incredibly efficient at keeping the homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter, which helped to keep all the kit installed protected from the elements. We knew we would need to consider the very extreme conditions when rigging kit outside and creating a gallery for the production team and camera crew.
The rig element of the show took place over a two-month period as part of a longer shoot using handheld cameras to follow the wider community. Our initial recce took place in January when Moab, the small town about 40 minutes from the Mormon community, was covered in snow. We would be rigging Abel Morrison’s house in order to film life at home for a family made up of three wives and 12 children, in 3 apartments with 3 front doors, all conjoined to make a complete house. As each wife effectively has their own house it was important that we were able to cover a greater number of areas and people all at the same time. We settled on 15 cameras and 18 different camera positions, using Panasonic AW-HE60 remote heads. These were rigged strategically around the three living areas, with approximately 3 cameras in each room except for the bedrooms and bathrooms. We were greatly helped by the fact that the living areas were mostly open plan so we could cover a wider area with fewer cameras.
We used 10 atmospheric microphones and had 8 personal microphones for the contributors to wear. It was most important for Keo to have the parents with mics on, with the remaining four mics distributed on a day by day basis depending on the events of the day or who was at home. With many of the younger children in the house we were able to pick most of their conversation using well placed atmospheric mics.
A total of 1.5 tonnes of technical equipment was prepped and packed at The CCC warehouse before being air freighted to America. The most challenging thing about travelling kit to the USA is the requirements of a carnet. This incredibly detailed import and export list needs to be stamped separately at customs and with such a huge amount of kit it is very important to get the carnet right so that there are no delays.
We rigged the Rockland Ranch over a 5-day period using 4 members of crew in temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees. It was vital that all of the technical equipment was protected to the best of our ability, so we rigged any outdoor cameras in cool-domes to prevent the sun from damaging them. The remote location of the project provided countless challenges that needed to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Vehicles got stuck regularly, often damaging tyres miles away and with no phone reception so it was important that everyone was flexible and willing to adapt to varying time constraints. In order to connect the cameras to the gallery we fed our cabling underneath a 12-foot hole dug into the desert in front of the house. The gallery was built in a shed nearby and equipped with 4 air conditioning units and 12 fans to keep the production team and camera operators as cool as possible. We ran the entire fixed rig off solar panels during the day that charged a huge bank of batteries, when these batteries got low the generator automatically kicked in to supply the rig with enough power to finish the day.
One of the biggest challenges when filming the family was understanding how they used the space, where the action would be taking place and therefore how best to cover the content. With three different kitchens and lounges, and the Father of the family spending a night in each home on a three nightly rotation, it took time and sensitivity for us to establish some of the routines so that the family could continue with normal life without too much disruption.
We were dealing with events that are culturally a world away from the UK – it was important that we remained as sensitive as possible to the beliefs of the contributors we were filming. We were keen to inhabit their space as unobtrusively as possible and film them being as open and genuine as they would be without us there. The access we had, thanks to the team at Keo Films, was unprecedented and the shoot became an incredible experience for all of our crew.
The result was a highly controversial, ground breaking series that took the audience on a rollercoaster journey of emotions. We would like to thank Keo Films for this truly once in a lifetime experience and the Morrison’s for their courage and honesty in telling us their story.
Facts & Figures
Facts & Figures
Filmed: April – June 2017
Aired: March 2017
Channel: Channel 4
Location: Utah, USA
Viewers: 1.47 Million
"The latest, brilliant offering from Keo Films, Three Wives, One Husband is full of surprises."
"I imagine an awful lot of time and effort went into developing a relationship with and gaining the trust of the community. And it pays off, they clearly do trust the crew, and open up, their homes and their lives."
"This eye-opening new documentary follows different families, deep in the middle of the Utah desert."