Have you ever seen a wildlife film and wondered to yourself, who is the person behind the camera? Enter Rich and Richard Kern – the dynamic wildlife filmmaking father/son duo who capture incredible imagery of Florida’s magnificent wildlife and ecosystems and share it with over 1.5 million students! They are a more-than-worthy team to conclude Arkive’s Conservation Heroes series.
Rich (left) and Richard Kern out in the field.
If you find Rich and Richard’s story inspiring, then click on the blue button below or at the end of the interview to see Rich and Richard’s “Wish List” of actions that would help them continue sharing their films with the world. Working together, we can support and promote conservation.
Can you share the story behind the beginning of Odyssey Earth and how the pieces came together?
Rich: I began as a filmmaker and I showed the films that I produced to travel adventure audiences all over the United States and Canada. In 1977, my wife and I started the non-profit Encounters in Excellence to teach students in the Miami-Dade area about Florida wildlife and ecosystems. This soon became a large series to over 50 schools per year.
Rich Kern and his wife, Judy, founders of Encounters in Excellence
However, I also wanted to find a way that students could have access to this type of educational material year round. My son, Richard came up with the idea of creating a website for the films he and I had produced. Teachers and students could now navigate this site and explore and discover the different resources available to them for lesson plans which became Odyssey Earth.
Richard: Our typical film presentation series runs from the Fall through early Winter. This past year my dad visited 25 schools and I visited 50 schools. We give 2-3 presentations for each school totaling about 130 presentations each year. We create different presentations for elementary school and then middle school and high school students reaching about 40,000 students each year.
Can you share a filmmaking moment that stands out to you whether it was a connection you made with a species you were filming or a moment of enlightenment about nature?
Rich: I was in Silver Springs, FL filming fish and I was quite focused. I didn’t realize that there was an alligator swimming behind me. I didn’t see it until it was practically in my lap. Once I understood that the alligator was more afraid of me than I was of it then I started following it and filming.
American alligators abound in Florida, USA
Richard: When my dad got home, he started going through the film, and my mother promptly told him that he should buy life insurance.
Have there been ways that you can measure the impact that your work has on students both in Florida and around the world?
Richard: One way that we measure our impact is through questionnaires and evaluations that we hand out to teachers and students.
Rich: The average rating we receive from teachers is a 95% “excellent” for our presentations. I think it also significant that we fill our quotas for teachers and schools that want us to present. We recently made some films that dealt with the food web as well as more specific issues like the rise of sea levels.
Richard Kern snorkeling and filmmaking in creek
Can you share your typical kit (equipment) list?
Rich: Back in the day, you needed 16mm film equipment and changed your film every 3 minutes.
Richard: With new technology, however it’s changed what you pack. First off you need a backpack to carry all your supplies. Usually we take a fluid head tripod, a small hi-def Canon camcorder, and a digital single lens reflex camera. Getting into specifics though, I always pack a light shotgun microphone, lenses, and an external digital sound recorder. As for essentials in Florida, water to stay hydrated, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent is a must.
Sometimes, a filmmakers kit can be just as interesting to the subject as it is to the filmmakers themselves!
Can you also share your equipment tip list for amateur filmmakers?
Richard: If you already have a handheld camera, then that is a good place to start. I would recommend a fluid head tripod.
Rich: It makes your shot smoother, which makes the film less distracting for the viewer. You can also get a pan-tilt cradle where you can place your camera to get wide angle shots. You also should get a camera with a wi-fi capability which allows you to use it remotely.
What would you advise someone who is starting to look at how to get into wildlife filmmaking?
Rich: Go to college and study biology. Filmmaking you can pick up as you go. As a filmmaker, you have to learn to craft a story. You want to make sure that you get the science right and that you engage your audience. You should also take a journalism course or English course in college, it helps you to effectively create the narrative.
Rich Kern filming seals early in his career
In your opinion, what is the advantage of visual media compared to other ways of storytelling?
Richard: The written word comes in many different languages that cannot be understood by everyone. Meanwhile, the visual is universal. It’s a universal language. Visual media can be easily digested and seen by everyone.
Finally, what do you find most rewarding in your field of wildlife filmmaking?
Rich: I love it when I capture a rare species behavior. To get it on the screen and get it right the first time is worth a lot of excitement.
Richard: You can look at flora and fauna as puzzle pieces. Seeing how those puzzle pieces work together, finding the relationships is amazing.
The Kerns have been fortunate enough to film a variety of species in incredible global locations
From reading about Heroes to becoming one yourself
Inspired by Rich and Richard’s story to take action? Please click on the button below to make a pledge today to take an action like sharing their story socially, helping to spread the word further, to donating to their work to educate others about Florida wildlife and ecosystems! Whichever you choose, your pledge to take action matters to the Kerns, to Arkive, and to the incredible species and habitats of Florida.