Aug 28

So you’ve watched all the BBC natural history & David Attenborough TV shows, you’ve been inspired by our filmmaker blogs and you have a fantastic film idea for Earthwatch’s Young Earthwatch Film Competition… but how to actually go about and make a film?!

With some help from the BBC and the educational charity IntoFilm, let us take you through some of the important aspects of filmmaking!

 

#1 – Storyboard

Story-what?! Storyboarding is an incredibly important aspect of filmmaking, it ensures your film has structure, no one wants to watch a bunch of random clips in no order!

 

#2 – Structure

The structure is similar to storyboarding, but goes a little deeper. We’ve established you need to have a beginning, middle and end, but why?

What is your story about?! What happens.. and to who? And how will it end?! SO MANY QUESTIONS!

 

 

#4 Lighting

Before you put all that effort into filming a magical moment.. make sure the audience will see it as clearly as you can. Lighting can really bring out the detail in a scene and make the viewer go WOW!

Equally, poor lighting can have your audience squinting at the screen wondering what they’re looking at..

 

 

#5 Sound

It may seem obvious, but making sure you’ve got clear audio is simply a must!

 

 

#6 Editing

You’re nearly there! Editing is all about choosing the best of what you’ve captured, and putting it all together in order.

Make sure it’s not too long, not too short, it’s your chance to add that extra polish to your scene: whether it’s a sound effect, cropping a scene, adding slo-mo or a even a time-lapse.

 

Hopefully these pointers will help you form a plan that finds you thoroughly enjoying the filmmaking process and not left scratching your head!

Entry for the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition is already open, and the submissions deadline is the 19th of September 2018, so if you’re feeling creative, then get to work planning that storyboard.

Remember, the winner of the film comp’ receives a prestigious Panda Award as well as a Panasonic Lumix DC-FT7  waterproof camera, and the two runners up grab a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT30!

ENTER NOW!

www.earthwatch.org.uk/get-involved/young-earthwatcher-film-competition

 

Aug 21

As part of our new Young Earthwatcher Film Competition with Earthwatch, we have been talking to producers and wildlife filmmakers about their experiences in the field, and what tips they would pass on to budding young filmmakers.

First up is factual TV producer Sophie Morgan, who has worked on a variety of natural history productions, from short wildlife films for The One Show to that scene in Blue Planet II, where Giant Trevallies were leaping into the air to catch seabirds in the Seychelles.

Sophie Morgan, Factual TV Producer

  1. Find Your Niche

Wildlife filmmaking covers a wide range of subjects. For new starters I would recommend picking a subject or skill you love or issue you are passionate about and running with it. Whether it’s following the lives of insects in macro detail, honing your timelapse skills or being an advocate for ocean conservation, being a specialist in one area will make you and your films stand out from the crowd. My specialism is underwater and my diving qualifications and marine knowledge are what landed me a role on Blue Planet II.

  1. Get Outside

Whether you have a relevant degree or not, nothing beats field experience. And you don’t have to go to Africa or the Coral Triangle to get it. I was fortunate enough to get field experience abroad, but I’ve subsequently learnt a great deal more from tracking, studying and filming wildlife in the UK. And my cold water UK diving experience is far more impressive to employers than my stints in the tropics. There are many local wildlife groups keen for volunteers – something I still do and learn from to this day. So whether it’s birding, mammal surveys, moth trapping or rock pooling, go outdoors, spend time with other naturalists, observe and ask questions. I’m always curious and always thinking about how things can be conveyed in film. I literally have a notebook filled with behaviours and ideas for potential future projects.

© James Warwick

  1. Get Inspired

Seek inspiration from other filmmakers. Watch and study both wildlife and other types of film. As technology and creativity pushes the boundaries away from conventional natural history documentary, there is far more of a crossover with other genres. Recently filming a macro sequence for upcoming series ‘Hostile Planet’, our team took a tea break to watch relevant scenes from both BBC’s The Hunt and Marvel’s Ant Man. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to others in the industry for advice – we were all in your shoes once and I’m still learning too.

  1. Think About Your Story

Try and be different to what’s come before you – whether it’s a new story, a new angle or a new way of filming it that delivers a unique perspective. It’s also really important that your story can be visualised. So many animal behaviours are fascinating to me, but if they are so subtle you have to explain them with narrative then your audience will turn off, or your producer will tell you to ditch them before you even start! If you are tackling an environmental issue you have to work especially hard to create visual engagement, so be creative – use illustrations, archive and stunts to keep the audience on board. I find creating a shotlist or storyboard in an advance of shooting is vital to work this out.

  1. Do Your Research

Once you’ve decided on your story immerse yourself in relevant content – articles, scientific papers and videos (and always make a note of your references for when it comes to checking your facts). Make time to contact and speak with experts in the field. If you are looking to film a behaviour than there is nothing more useful than an eyewitness (ideally you want to speak to several as they may have different takes) – these can be scientists, but also people that spend time in the area or with the subject – for me it is often also divers, photographers, fishermen and watersports operators. Remember that these people don’t often make films, so ask them specific questions. A good one, handed down to me from a senior producer, is ‘If I come for a week, how often would I expect to see the behaviour?’ – remember this needs to be a decent number of times to get a camera on it and cut a story. Make sure your research also tackles your approach to filming and how you will avoid disturbing the animal – for example, will you need a hide? I often have to navigate filming animals that are disturbed by scuba divers by utilizing closed circuit rebreathers (no bubbles!), free diving or even pole cams.

Just remember – a fed crew is a happy crew! | © Shannon Wild

  1. Planning and logistics

Not the most entertaining part of the job, but it is vital that you have a plan for access to the site and the time spent filming, and that your crew are adequately briefed on this. It will increase your efficiency. Build in enough time for things to run over (as they will), but also knowing when to move on is an important skill. Do not underestimate the importance of arranging food – a fed crew is a happy crew. Safety is important, even on a personal project. Ask the question – ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ and make sure you know how to react in most situations – at minimum have access to basic first aid and emergency numbers.

  1. Invest Time and Effort

Whilst working on Blue Planet II I filmed the story of a lifetime – Giant Trevallies leaping into the air to hunt birds in the Seychelles. I nearly wrote the words ‘I was lucky enough…’ to precede this, but let’s face it, it wasn’t luck. It was months of thorough research and planning. And once on location we were blighted by strong winds and figuring out how to put a camera on a behaviour that could happen anywhere and was over in the blink of an eye. The patience required here was a learning curve for me; it took us over a week, working with an experienced local fisherman, to learn to read the behaviour and get our first shot in the can. Wildlife filmmaking is not glamourous, its hard physical work and long hours spent in often harsh environments. I’m sure that as soon as I mentioned the Seychelles my friends pictured me with a cocktail in hand on a sun lounger, when in reality I spent my long days dragging kit around a hot, windy, bird poo covered island. It just happens I’m mad enough to love that kind of thing.

  1. Always shoot B-Roll

It’s easy to get engrossed in your main story when shooting, but remember to shoot around your key shots. Whether it’s the gesturing hands of your contributor, a boat passing in the background, or a non-leading animal giving a comical look it will all add depth to your film and can even make up for missing something you thought was vital. You’ll be thankful in the edit. If you have any editor friends ask if you can observe them cutting to understand what shots they find useful.

  1. Expect the Unexpected

Inevitably, the unforeseen can and will occur. Contributors will get stuck in traffic, animals will behave in mysterious ways and, if you are me, the fish you came to film will have been completely removed from the area by local hobby fishermen on their summer holidays (true story). Keep a cool head and be creative. Also allow yourself to be flexible in your story – being on location can lead you to find another interesting twist or behaviour if you aren’t too blinkered. And sometimes you may find a story that betters yours – don’t be so rigid to your plan that you miss out.

If Sophie has inspired you to try your hand at wildlife filmmaking, why not enter the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition and put her top tips to the test?

Aug 16

This summer, environmental charities Earthwatch Europe and Wildscreen are looking for the UK’s best young environmental filmmakers. For the first time, the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition invites teens to create inspiring and informative conservation media to be shown at the world’s leading international festival celebrating natural history filmmaking – the Wildscreen Festival.

Open to UK residents aged 14 to 17, the competition calls for short, creative films highlighting any environmental issue and presenting a solution or action people can take to help meet the challenge. Steve Gray, Chief Executive of Earthwatch Europe, said: “Young people today will inherit a world shaped by our actions over the next decade, so engaging young citizens in environmental issues is key to a sustainable future for all. We hope the competition encourages young people to explore the natural world around them and inspire each other to find innovative solutions to pressing challenges.”

Through the process of making their film, participants will not only benefit from connecting with nature, getting creative and developing their communication skills, but will also play a valuable role in motivating their peers – the next generation of Earthwatchers.

“At Wildscreen we are passionate about nurturing the next generation of natural world storytellers and we are particularly eager to encourage a greater diversity of voices,” said Lucie Muir, Wildscreen Director. “The Young Earthwatcher Film Competition is part of this: a way for young people to explore and report on the environmental issues that concern them, inviting fresh ideas and new perspectives.”

The winner of the Young Earthwatcher Film Competition will walk away with a prestigious Panda Award – the ‘Green Oscar’ of the wildlife filmmaking world – and receive a Lumix DC-FT7 waterproof camera, courtesy of Wildscreen Festival sponsor Panasonic UK. Each of the runners-up will receive a Lumix DMC-FT30 waterproof camera. All competition finalists will receive an invitation to the Earthwatch event for the premiere of their films during the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol in October.

What are we looking for?

The film must:

  • – Introduce an environmental issue
  • – Present a solution or action that people can take
  • – Be no more than two minutes long

Further details, rules and registration can be found at www.earthwatch.org.uk/filmcompetition.

Dates for the diary:

  • – Competition deadline: 19 September 2018
  • – Finalists announced: 24 September 2018
  • – Earthwatch event at Wildscreen Festival: 17 October 2018
Aug 15

Since its inception in 1982 each Wildscreen Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide each year with a unique and memorable visual identity.  As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are incredibly excited to introduce the illustrations will become the face of this year’s Festival!

The 2018 Festival focusses on telling the story of biodiversity – the amazing diversity of life on Earth, from species to ecosystems.  We value the world’s more underappreciated and endangered species and habitats, and have therefore chosen five to showcase as the 2018 Festival Mascots!

Here, photographer and conservationist Robin Moore recounts his expedition to search for the lost salamanders of northern Guatemala, including the incredibly striking Muller’s Mushroomtounge Salamander.

Muller’s mushroomtongue salamander. Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

In July 2014 I was lucky to join an expedition to the cloud forests of northern Guatemala in search of lost salamanders. Among our team were Paul Elias and Jeremy Jackson, who had discovered and described many of our target species some 38 years previously, and Carlos Vasquez, a young Guatemalan biologist who had rediscovered two of these salamanders over three decades later.

Elias first ventured to Guatemala in 1974, when he made discoveries so remarkable that he was compelled to return. He writes of that first visit, “I was 18 years old and had a chance to visit Guatemala, and so I went to eminent herpetologist Dave Wake to ask what would be of use to him. He gave me a one-page photocopy of a map of Guatemala and circled the Cuchumatanes.” The Cuchumatanes mountains were, according to Wake, a final frontier for exploration in Central America.

After being dropped off by his parents at a road rising sharply up to a karst plateau, Elias hitchhiked as far as he could away from civilization and into uncharted territory, sleeping nights on a dirt floor among “bugs, predatory spiders, scorpions and centipedes that had gathered”. He found a couple of hundred salamanders in three weeks. “I had no guide to the species in Guatemala so I had no idea if I had anything of value or not,” he says.

A colourful bus wends its way through cloud forest in northern Guatemala en route to the Cuchumatanes mountains | © Robin Moore

His hard work and discomfort paid off. When Elias returned to Berkeley he left some of his specimens to soak in water before preserving them. It was here that Wake happened upon them, and he was astonished. Elias recalls, “both, which would later be named, the Long-limbed Salamander and Finca Chiblac Salamander were in that collection and turned out to be significant missing links in the Neotropical lungless salamander radiation. Word traveled to me by rumor in the next day or two and I suddenly discovered that I had found something extraordinary”.

Elias launched further expeditions to the Cuchumatanes the following two summers, bringing Jeremy Jackson with him to help. Rain-soaked weeks spent crashing through cloud forest and lifting rotting logs resulted in the discovery of Jackson’s Climbing Salamander, named by Elias in honor of his friend. They called the salamander the “golden wonder” because of its brilliant colouration. But over months of fieldwork only two individuals of the species were ever found, and neither Elias or Jackson could have predicted that, a quarter of a century later, none of the three salamanders that they had discovered would have been seen again.

In 2009, during an expedition led by local biologist Carlos Vasquez in collaboration with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, the Finca Chiblac Salamander was rediscovered, 32 years after it was last seen. The following year the Long-Limbed Salamander also re-appeared. The still-missing Jackson’s salamander, however, climbed its way into the top ten “Most Wanted” amphibians in the world in 2010.

A Long-limbed Salamander on a mossy trunk in the Cuchumatanes mountains | © Robin Moore

As I sit with Elias and Jackson in a rural village near Laguna Maxbal in the remote Cuchumatanes mountains in July 2014, Elias pours over his original field notes — every page photo copied and bound, noting how things have changed in the 38 years since they last set foot here. It is day 5 of our expedition, and we have yet to find a salamander – and spirits are beginning to dampen. Expectation is heavy in the air, as is the bitter prospect of disappointment. As a heavy afternoon downpour subsides, we don our headlamps and head into the forest and to an area with large buttressed trees. As soon as light has drained from the forest the Long-limbed Salamanders emerge from among the tangle of roots to scale the trees — our best chance of seeing them is soon after they have emerged and before they climb out of sight.

We quickly strike gold. Jackson describes the moment: “When I spied that oh so familiar pose of a Long-limbed Salamander basking in the rain with feet splayed and spine bent with that beautiful long tail hanging down, I was thrilled. It really brought back much of what it had been like in ‘76; going out night after night in the rain. Finding this salamander is as rewarding as it was years ago.”

The next day we found our first Finca Chiblac Salamander under a rotting log. Elias shared Jackson’s excitement at seeing the salamanders again, telling me after the expedition, “I was really moved to see both the Long-limbed Salamander and Finca Chiblac Salamander alive and happy in their forest. The Long-limbed Salamander in particular is just an extraordinary animal; its high speed agility, and its goofy polka dots make it something almost unlike a salamander. I never thought I would see one alive again. The fact of these two missing links living in that primeval forest on the ancient karst uplands makes one think that the Cucuchumatanes were the old cradle of the great salamander radiation of Central America.”

A Finca Chiblac Salamander | © Robin Moore

Our search continued for Jackson’s Climbing Salamander and other species including the beautiful Muller’s Mushroomtongue Salamander. We spent our days with our backs arched sifting through leaf litter, and under the cloak of darkness illuminated leaves and mossy trunks in the forest with our headlamps, willing salamanders to appear before us.

The golden wonder eluded us, as did Mullers Mushroomtongue Salamander, but on our final day before leaving the remote reaches of the Cuchumatanes we were treated to a surprise. Locals from a small town proudly presented us with a salamander that they found close by – a beautiful Müller’s Mushroom-tongue Salamander, an uncommon chocolate brown animal with a splash of yellow running down its back. It looked as if it had walked under a leaky tin of royal yellow paint, and was undoubtedly one of the most striking salamanders I had laid eyes on.

A striking Mullers Mushroomtongue Salamander brought to us by locals on the final day of our expedition | © Robin Moore

The 11-day expedition helped to shine the spotlight on the incredible value of the forests of the Cuchumatanes, but it also uncovered impending threats to this remote area. Some core forest habitat was slated for coffee cultivation by international investors within the year. A global consortium of conservation groups rapidly formed and responded. Global Wildlife Conservation partnered with the Amphibian Survival AllianceRainforest TrustWorld Land Trust and International Conservation Fund of Canada to quickly raise the support needed to create a sanctuary for the salamanders of the Cuchumatanes – a 2,000 acre parcel of land to be managed by local group FUNDAECO in collaboration with local communities. Elias said of the outcome, “to see this reserve take shape under the imaginative genius of Carlos Vasquez and partners, and to be able to help that happen in a small way, is the culmination of a forty year dream for me.”

Vasquez didn’t give up on his quest to find the golden wonder. He launched multiple expeditions, and brought photos of the beautiful animal to show reserve guards, urging them to keep an eye out. In October of last year, as I emerged from a quest to find and photograph the Javan Rhino in Indonesia, I received incredible news. As one of the reserve guards sat down to eat his lunch on the edges of the reserve, a yellow and black salamander on a nearby tree caught his eye. He had just rediscovered, after four decades, the Jackson’s Climbing Salamander.

Global Wildlife Conservation leveraged the attention garnered by the rediscovery to raise support to expand the salamander reserve, and are now working on protecting more tracts of valuable forest habitat in northern Guatemala, home to unique salamanders among other wonders. The future for the golden wonder, Mullers Mushroomtongue Salamander, and other threatened species that call these cloud forests home is starting to look brighter.

Jul 31

Since its inception in 1982 each Wildscreen Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide each year with a unique and memorable visual identity.  As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are incredibly excited to introduce the illustrations that will become the face of this year’s Festival!

The 2018 Festival focuses on telling the story of biodiversity – the amazing diversity of life on Earth, from species to ecosystems.  We value the world’s more underappreciated and endangered species and habitats, and have therefore chosen five to showcase as the 2018 Festival Mascots!

Flying the flag for the insects is Queen Alexandra’s birdwing and we’ve been speaking to Dr Mark Collins, Chairman of the Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust, about conserving this legendary butterfly.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly. Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

Firstly, tell us a bit about the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing – we’ve heard it can get pretty big!

It’s the biggest butterfly in the world with females reaching a wingspan of up to 30cm! They fly high in the forest canopy of Papua New Guinea, so high in fact that the first specimen, discovered by Albert Stewart Meek in 1906, had to be shot down with pepper-shot and the rather ragged specimen, stored in the Natural History Museum, still bears the scars! The males are rather smaller at 20cm wingspan but make up for it with their amazing iridescent blue and green colours, contrasting with the predominantly brown and cream females.

This butterfly has a very grand name, who is it named after?

Albert Meek was a professional collector who worked for the second Baron Rothschild (he famously put together the collection in Tring, now part of the Natural History Museum). When Walter Rothschild described the species in 1907 he recognised its beauty and rarity and named it in honour of Alexandra of Denmark, the wife and Queen Consort of King Edward VII. A memorial to this statuesque and remarkable lady may be seen in London’s Marlborough Road, opposite St James’s Palace.

Male Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly | © Francois Gilson

How endangered is this species and what threats does it face?

This is one of the most endangered species of butterflies in the world and it faces a very uncertain future indeed. Confined to four sub-populations in secondary forest fragments scattered across only a few thousand square kilometres in Northern Province of Papua New Guinea, and with fewer than 10 females per square kilometre, it is a very difficult species to find. Much of its former habitat in the Popondetta region has been lost to deforestation, agriculture and oil palm plantations. Its stronghold is probably now the Managalas Plateau, a remote and rarely visited area of highland forest.

Ever since its discovery, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing has been highly sought after by collectors and it was declared totally protected from all trade by CITES in the late 1980s. Some poaching and smuggling is believed still to go on, but not enough to threaten the species in the wild, where habitat loss is the real issue.

What conservation projects are the SBBT working on to protect this species?

In 2017 the Trust voluntarily advised on the establishment of a new three-year project, now financed by the Sime Darby Foundation of Malaysia and operated entirely by New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (NBPOL), which has plantations at Higaturu in the Popondetta region.  NBPOL is in the process of setting up a breeding facility there within its secure residential and operations compound. Security is an issue because the butterfly can be so valuable in the wrong hands. The project is now in the process of building its advisory and management infrastructure with local and national government, local NGOs and community organisations. The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust is not directly advising the project at present but may do so once it becomes more fully operational.

In a parallel initiative, SBBT has proposed to the Animals Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that birdwings in general could benefit from a “Periodic Review” of the current CITES listings of birdwings. There are differing opinions on the value of these listings. Dating back to the 1980s, it has been argued that the blanket regulations have a tendency to suppress a range of scientific and educational activities for the many quite common birdwing species while at the same time driving the international trade in the more endangered species underground. One problem is that identifying the various species is a job for experts and rare and valuable species being internationally traded could be unscrupulously labelled as common ones.

Female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing feeding on hibiscus flower | © Francois Gilson

Why was it important for the SBBT to work in partnership with New Britain Palm Oil Limited (NBPOL) when the palm oil industry is so often involved in controversial conservation stories?

The political, economic and scientific circumstances in the region that Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing inhabits are complicated and it has proved difficult to adopt traditional approaches to conservation, for example by setting up secure reserves and parks in suitable areas. The Wildlife Management Areas system in PNG requires the support of local people and communities who own the land under traditional rights of tenure and they have been challenging to establish and protect for the long term.

Companies such as NBPOL have for many years been able to obtain land for oil palm production but within their vast monoculture estates there does remain a residual complex of riverine and topographically dissected habitats that are difficult to access but have potential for conservation of butterfly communities. NBPOL has its own charitable Foundation and is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which requires its members to act as responsible stewards of threatened species on their properties. In reports on the Higaturu palm oil estates published by RSPO in 2016, NBPOL identified some high conservation value sites on its estates that might be suitable for protection and used for the butterfly’s safety and reintroduction. In May this year, the Rainforest Alliance awarded NBPOL its Sustainable Pathfinder Award, stating that “NBPOL’s diligence in adopting the FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) in its oil palm development and climate change adaptation as well as mitigation measures to improve farmers’ livelihoods in PNG are some of the works that entitled the company for the award.”

NBPOL is now in the process of building and equipping a new laboratory, flight cages and some foodplant nurseries to try to breed Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, with a view to releasing it into areas that it once inhabited and that can be enriched with additional foodplants. An entomologist, Dr Darren Bito, has been employed to run the project and he is gaining some hands-on experience at the Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary in Cairns, which has a breeding facility for the Cairns Birdwing, Ornithoptera euphorion. Hopefully he will also visit the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society in Brisbane, where a ground-breaking project on the Richmond Birdwing (Ornithoptera richmondia) has much to offer the PNG project.

Have there been any conservation breakthroughs since the start of this project?

Clearly it is early days for this project and at this point NBPOL is still building the laboratories and accommodation that it needs. There remain some fundamental questions that need to be answered as the breeding program gets into full swing. For example, we don’t know how much genetic variation there is between the four sub-populations. If they are fairly distinct they may have different ecological requirements, even in terms of their specific foodplants, which is clearly vital information for breeding success. Also, before any releases can be contemplated, surveys of existing populations need to be consolidated in order to establish a baseline against which future success can be measured. NBPOL’s recently-recruited CEO James Graham is charged with ensuring that the Queen Alexandra’s Butterfly project goes from strength to strength.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing feeding | © Francois Gilson

To find out more about SBBT’s work with the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, check out their website.

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