CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Using a state-of-the-art high-definition camera mounted to the nose of a helicopter, the Smithsonian Channel will begin filming sites of scenic, historic and cultural significance across West Virginia starting on Wednesday, as part of the cable network's "Aerial America" series.
West Virginia will be the 27th state to be filmed thus far in the series, which can be seen on DirecTV's channel 565.
"We use a pretty unique format -- all aerial cinematography, all of it freshly shot, with no other elements but narration and music," said Toby Beach, Aerial America's executive producer/director.
Before each state is photographed, Beach said, a team of researchers develops a historical timeline and identifies sites where important events occurred. They also find locations of unique geological and ecological features, and sites where recreational and industrial activity is taking place.
"We try to paint as broad a picture of each state as we can," said Beach. "We average about 50 locations per state, and spend about a week shooting them."
West Virginia locations to be photographed for "Aerial America," Beach said, will include everything from legendary basketball star Jerry West's home place in the Upper Kanawha Valley to the Greenbrier Valley and the site of the John Henry legend at Talcott's Great Bend Tunnel.
"We like to capture something about the daily lives of the people who live in each state, so we may show something like the morning routine of people heading off to the mines to work," Beach said.
Mountaintop and other types of coal mining are expected to be photographed, along with the Mount Storm wind energy project in Grant County and Harpers Ferry's historic district in Jefferson County.
Sites will also be photographed in the New River Gorge area, the Greenbrier Valley, Potomac Highlands, Northern Panhandle, Ohio River Valley, and the Charleston-Huntington area.
The public is invited to recommend sites for filming by using the Smithsonian Channel's "Aerial America" Facebook or Twitter pages at: www.smithsonianchannel.com/site/sn/show.do?series701. Scenes and complete episodes from previously filmed sites may also be viewed at the site.
"The suggestions people have been making can be extremely helpful -- you get a sense fairly quickly of what they're proud of, and they're almost always things you'd want to cover," Beach said. "And then some people just want you to fly over their house."
Beach, who rides in the helicopter during most of the shooting, said the aerial cinematography crew often encounters show-worthy sites not included in the shooting script, and adds them to the program.
"You find amazing surprises in every state," he said. "Just recently, we were flying in the Dust Bowl area of Oklahoma, and we came across a field of lush green wheat. There, running through the middle of it, was a single antelope. It's exciting when something like that appears on the horizon and you know it will be terrific for the program."
On the other side of the coin, bad weather and bugs are the bane of the "Aerial Adventure" production crew.
"We're pretty conservative about flying in marginal weather," Beach said. "And when a bug hits the camera lens, you have to find a place to land and clean it off." Under certain climatic conditions, squished bug clean-off landings can be almost nonstop, according to Beach.
Beach said the Smithsonian Channel makes use of local pilots when filming a state.
"They know the terrain -- and where the power lines are -- better than anyone, and they can often lead us to locations we didn't have on our list," he said.
The Smithsonian Channel is a joint venture between Showtime Networks Inc. and the Smithsonian Institution.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.