Wildlife photographer and cinematographer Jaimen Hudson.

Jaimen Hudson: From Sky to Sea Interview – The Majesty of Wildlife Through the Eyes of a Masterfully Driven Drone

Drone cinematographer and wildlife enthusiast Jaimen Hudson has made a splash online with his videos of the South West of Western Australia. Pristine waters are embraced by an aerial eye that gleans the joy from dolphins leaping out of the waves, and encourages awws with the warm motherly care of a whale and her calf. His videos have been seen by millions, and have opened up a slice of the world that many may never visit.

He also is in a wheel chair, living a life with quadriplegia caused from an accident in his youth. Now, with friend and documentarian Leighton Barros, Jaimen is embarking on the journey of his life: to enter the waters he so eagerly films, and to swim once again. In From Sky to Sea, Jaimen takes us through his day to day life, his drone work, and through the experience of swimming once again.

Andrew caught up with Jaimen to discuss his drone work, the film, and what he hopes people take away from From Sky to Sea here:

Andrew: Thank you for your film. Thank you for your story. I really appreciate it. It’s a beautiful story.

Jaimen: Thank you so much mate, I really appreciate it. It’s a bit surreal to be sharing your life in a documentary that’s going to the movies, but it’s something I’m extremely thankful and honoured to be a part of really.

Andrew: What’s it like? This film covers quite a fair chunk of your life, so I imagine that Leighton (de Barros – director) was with you for a period of time making this film?

Jaimen: We’ve known each other for a long time. Before I was ever into drone photography, when I was walking around, he actually used to hire my family’s boat to go down and do some whale filming. And, we just happened to cross paths again when we were doing our drone licences together just by fate. And then at that stage, some of my drone videos have been quite popular online. And he said, ‘I really love your story, we should catch up sometime’, and then we just sort of got to chatting and Jodie, his wife, and he really believed in this story. And now it’s a real thing. So it’s crazy.

Andrew: I want to talk about the actual the drone footage and the cinematography and what kind of drew you to that in the first place because there is beauty in WA’s nature in in our aquatic life. And I want to know what you get from our nature.

Jaimen: Absolutely, man. For me it was at first just a means to a hobby, really, because I had a motorbike accident when I was seventeen, and could no longer could access surfing and skateboarding, diving, all those things I used to love, and one day this guy came into our shop and he wanted to go to Lake Hillier the next day, which is that beautiful pink lake that is off of Esperance, which you may have seen in some of my vision or photos. And he basically wanted to go there the following day, and a lot of people don’t realise it’s about 130 kilometres away. It’s about a five-hour boat ride in one direction. So it takes quite a while to get there. But sure enough, he’s like now I want to leave at 3am in the morning, and so he booked it all in.

Turns out he was like the Marketing Officer for DJI. They’re the drone manufacturing company. And this was back at the launch of the Phantom two, I think so very early on in the drone realm. And when he got back in he showed me the footage, and I was just completely blown away by the cool perspective it gave you and immediately I thought maybe this is something I could do and started researching if I’ll be able to use a remote controller. Eventually, my family, my now wife then girlfriend, Jess, mum and dad just said, ‘look, just buy one. And if you can’t fly, then we’ll just sell it.’

So I bought one. And then I was just hooked. The main thing I wanted to try and film… Obviously, we’ve got beautiful beaches and everything down there, but the wildlife just fascinates me because it is so… it’s one of those things that’s like, it’s right there. But they lead this completely different life to what we do. They’re just always migrating, basically on the hunt to get food. And they’re these ginormous creatures or dolphins is so similar to us in the sense that they surf waves, and, they jump out the back of it, and just look like having a grand old time.

Upon sharing my videos with people, I started to realise that not everyone has access to that because me personally, growing up with it, you take it for granted, whereas a lot of people that comment on my videos, they’ve never even seen the ocean before in real life, you know, so to see that is a whole other world. So now I’m just addicted to trying to film wildlife really and share the photos that I get.

Andrew: As you got into the whole drone filming, did you teach yourself how to frame shots, how to film things? As we see in the in From Sky to Sea you’re manipulating and guiding the drone, but I’ve never driven one myself, so I would not have any clue on how to make the beautiful stunning shots that you do because they are just overwhelming in their beauty and everything.

Jaimen: Yeah, I did. I guess practised and got slowly better at it. And then you start to watch your vision back and you realise what you don’t like about it, like jerky movements and everything like that. So you’re trying to get better at doing that.

And that’s the one thing with wildlife, there’s never another [take], you can’t ask them to go do it again, you know what I mean? You have one shot at trying to do it. So, I just practice my flying so that when the time was right to film the wildlife, I just try and position the shot. And then over time, I’d play it on my laptop and everything would be going on down in the bottom left corner instead of in the centre of the screen, so then I got to make sure I get it [the action] in the middle.

And yeah, it just it took time, but it’s just what it’s like. It becomes an obsession doesn’t it? It’s like a hobby, but I just love doing it. So now my time is just any bit of spare time spent out droning really.

Andrew: You are quite lucky to be living in one of the best places to be on an Earth. I know that being a WA person that…. I love Perth, I love WA as a whole, we’ve got so much beautiful nature and just being part of it is nourishing, it really is. And I think that for me, that’s the main driver of this particular film, the journey to get you back in the ocean, getting you back out there into the sea and getting to experience that.

Not to get too down in the darkness and things like that, but what’s the feeling like for you? As somebody who prior to your accident, you obviously did a lot of swimming and adventure things, so what’s it like not being able to go into the ocean? What’s it like not being able to have that feeling of, of the salt water in your ears and your eyes and things like that?

Jaimen: I think the ocean, like you said, is very grounding. Really, you can have a tough day or whatever, and you go to this beautiful place, like an amusement park for adults really, and you can really start to feel better about yourself. And that’s what I love about the ocean.

Growing up, we were very lucky, my mum and dad owned a house directly opposite West Beach, so it’s a great location. But then it almost worked against me in a sense after my accident because I would sit there and I’d see everyone getting ready to go out surfing and I remember crying, just wishing that I had that access to it again.

Droning definitely filled that void.

That’s what I loved about being out. And now that was my thing: I’d go out while everyone else was surfing, I’d be trying to film them surf or I’d go out and do a search for the wildlife, but being able to go back in the water was…

I just honestly remember the moment that salt water hit my lips, it was just like this moment of euphoria, really like I was like, wow, it’s just as I remembered it, even though it had been nearly thirteen years. It was just like I remembered it.

Andrew: It’s a really beautiful moment and I’m grateful that we got to experience it and to share your story and get to see it happen. Obviously as somebody who does a lot of drone work and capturing footage how important is it for you, with a young family, to capture these stories to capture your life events on film?

Jaimen: That’s a funny one. I’m very grateful to have people capture it, because that’s like… one thing my son is obviously, he’s not going to remember any of this stuff, so for him to hopefully see it, and not only for him, but I hope a lot of people get this out of it, that sometimes in life shit happens and you do get setbacks. And you can feel really down and out, and then I was only seventeen, but I was just lucky to just have a right mindset that I wanted to go out and still make something for my life.

I always wanted to do something great with my life.

I’m not gonna let that stop just because I had my accident. And the fact that we can document that and now share it with… the beauty is I’ll be able to show my son when he is old enough to remember and he’ll see all these great things we did. But I hope other people out there who have never met me before will see that every morning, it takes me an hour and a half with carers to get ready for the day.

And I still try and get out there and make the most of that day. I’m just grateful there’s people that are willing to come and get me out of bed and assist me. I just hope people will maybe watch it and feel motivated, not necessarily inspired but motivated to make the most of their life while they still have their life because you never know what can come. Life can be unfair to people and it can be cut short, you know?

So try and get out there and make the most of that way you can.

Andrew: If you don’t mind me asking how did you mentally deal with the unfairness of life? And the the accident you went through? What kind of hurdles did you get through to get to where you are today sitting here talking to me?

Jaimen: I think a huge part of me being able to deal with it well was like I told my mum, I wanted to hate going to work on Mondays just like everyone else. (laughing) And she would always remind me that when I didn’t want to go to work on Mondays, but I think working was a huge part of it. If every day is a day off, how are you going to appreciate the days off?

If you work, you appreciate the time you do get off. And it also gives you something to focus on getting into work and knowing that you have tasks ahead of you that day, you’re contributing, and then also you’re earning your money, so you can go out and treat yourself to different things, you know, buy a drone, for example. I really do credit work massively for that.

And then also just having great people around me that were willing to take me out and about. I was seventeen when I had my accident, I had my eighteenth birthday in hospital. Going out and still partying and doing all those things, like not coming out until late… you know, my family would get up and put me to bed when I get home. So I’m very grateful for that.

I have to wake up, but just trying to live as normal a life as possible. And there’s this weird stigma around in, I think, almost in Western Australia or Australia that people are too hard on people with disabilities, but I’ve just never experienced anything like that. Everyone’s just so overwhelmingly supportive. Like, if you go out and you’re trying to get up a step someone will come over and give you a hand and people are I think more than happy to help.

It’s just trying not sit at home all day. Just get out there. And even if you don’t feel like it going, be a ‘yes man’. You know that movie by Jim Carrey? The Yes Man. And it’s so true. You think like, ‘no, I don’t want to go do that’, but then you go and do it, you have such a good time, or you have a good experience. So just try and if people offer to assist you go out and do it. You know, if you’re feeling down in the dumps, call a friend up and go catch up with them. Just surround yourself with people that are positive and happy.

Andrew: As we see in the film, you’ve got a great social network, and you’ve got a great support network of people who are there helping you out and getting your dream, making your dream happen, which is fantastic. It’s great to see.

I know that the challenges along the way, there is a moment where one of the people (an unknown doctor) says, ‘you know, look, we can’t go ahead with doing the swim or anything like that’. But your determination there in that moment is so powerful. You’re like ‘no, no, I’m I understand I take on board what’s going on, but I still want to do the swim’. How did you deal with that kind of not defeat but that hurdle in a way?

Jaimen: That was very frustrating to me, because that lady or gentleman, whoever it was, had never met me, but I get where they’re coming from. They’re just trying to cover their arse. I guess if something were to go wrong, you know what I mean?

But, personally, I mean, I’ve dealt with so many hurdles. I think now, once you’ve had something like what happens has happened? To me, like, there’s no fixing me, you know what I mean? Unless there’s some major advance in modern science. I mean, I can’t even open and close my hands anymore. So if someone goes and crashes my car… those things can be fixed. So I’ve experienced the depths of loss and sadness. And so everything above that is not as bad, to be honest with you. So it doesn’t seem that bad sometimes. Frustrating? Absolutely. In that scenario, but I wasn’t going to let it spoil the party, that’s for sure.

Andrew: Obviously, your videos have reached millions of people. What’s that like to have your work essentially reach a wide array of people who would never either get to see it? Certainly now in COVID, lockdown world, they may never get to see this part of the world or ever be able to come to Australia. What’s that like for you to connect to this broad audience?

Jaimen: It’s amazing, surreal. I’m so grateful for social media. I know people give social media a bit of a bad rap. And it does have its downsides by all means, but for me, it’s been just incredible.

It’s helped me become the photographer that I am because I get to share, and it encourages me and inspires me to want to share more. I get comments from people all around the world. And once the world surf league put up my video, it got more than 120 million views or something like that. And no one would know I filmed that other than the fact that they tagged me at the bottom of the page, but certainly, it’s still their most viewed video of all time, and they’re surfing website! They’re not a wildlife page.

But it’s just surreal. And I’m truly grateful. I feel so grateful for all the positive feedback. I mean, I’ve only had a few experiences where people are negative, but I guess, it’s like in an online world there’s always someone out there, but the majority of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive for me, so I’m just super grateful. And it only encourages me to want to do it more.

Andrew: As you saying, there are negative aspects to social media, but it’s videos like yours that are the positive things. I continually say to people, you’ve got to start liking pages that are going to give you the good content, the stuff that the dopamine hit that you need in the morning, because it’s so easy to doomscroll.

Jaimen: It’s so easy to doomscroll. I don’t watch the news that often because it’s so easy to bring you down. Like you turn on the news, and it’s car crash in this place and you think like, I don’t really need to know that… it’s just always negativity on there. And I think if you want to fill your body with a positive mindset, you’ve got to try and take in things that are going to help you achieve that.

Andrew: Obviously I’ve kind of spoiled the ending of this film, but I feel it’s a big thing to talk about because it’s such a great moment and part of the selling point of the film is getting to see you out in the ocean and seeing the joy in your face. It’s so tangible. It’s so real. Do you get out to go for swims all that often?

Jaimen: Not as often as I might like. We filmed that up north in Exmouth and as you can imagine, that’s a big trip so we had my mum and her partner Colin, and my wife and then we had Leighton who was cameraman but also would help assist get me into my dry suit and everything. Chartering a boat is not cheap for several days to get out there. So I haven’t done anything crazy like that yet.

After that, we came home to Esperance and because we run a tourism business it’s just been pretty much seven days a week so I haven’t had a chance to get in. The water in Esperance is a bit cooler and because I can’t regulate my body temperature, I need it to be a good like 30-degree day before I prefer it goes splashing around in the ocean. Usually we just have a beach chair and we will be right down to the water’s edge and let the water wash around my face and then my son can run around and everything.

Andrew: So it’s been busy for you guys down there?

Jaimen: It’s been awesome. COVID for local tourism has been the best ever really. I’d never been to Exmouth before but we went up there and that was that was a place we could get to. And I just loved it and Monkey Mia was the same. And then I’ve had so many people coming into the shop, either staying in our accommodation or booking a cruise. And I’m so glad that they got here because they normally they’d be going overseas or something.

Andrew: For people who are heading long to go and see this beautiful film, what kind of message you want them to take into the film going to see it?

Jaimen: It’s not like a ‘poor me disability film’ or anything like that. There’s a lot of beautiful scenery in there, beautiful wildlife shots. And it’s just telling the story about a guy who’s got a high-level disability, I’m a quadriplegic, so limited mobility, and he’s trying to get out there and capture these things. So I hope people just go in there with a bit of an open mind, and come to see something cool and, and I hope they get out of it, whatever they like. They might just watch it and think that was cool, or with a bit of luck, I want to motivate people to…

I really am a firm believer that you only get one shot at this life.

I feel like before I had my accident I didn’t… I wasn’t getting up early and going for runs. I remember, not long before my accident, my dad wanted to help me clean up some bricks in the backyard. And I was like, I can’t be bothered doing that. Whereas now I’d love to help.

So it’s one of those things that you don’t appreciate what you got till it’s gone. And I just hope people can maybe compare their lives to mine. Not saying I’ve got it worse by any means. But just my limited mobility may be different to what they have, and hopefully it’ll inspire them to get out and go see some and do some great things.

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