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?

May 18

Daniel Craven is Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust‘s Volunteer Manager, based at Jersey Zoo since 2001. A former professional footballer, Daniel is a lover of travel, animals and conservation. Durrell’s Underdogs is his first film and was made with the fantastic team of Dean Maryon, Bex Bohea, Shaz Syed and Marc Mitchell. It is an official selection at the 2017 Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York. This is his story.

Daniel Craven © Craig Jones

Daniel Craven © Craig Jones

My journey to India to make a film about the smallest and rarest pig in the world is one I will never forget. It was a wild ride but nothing compared to the epic journey of survival the pygmy hog, an animal once thought to be extinct, has had to go through.

‘Durrell’s Underhogs’ traces the origins of Gerald Durrell and ‘The Durrells’, in India, before joining up with conservationists Durrell inspired and who today are giving the pygmy hog a fighting chance. My journey started in Jamshedpur where Gerald was born. There I discovered more about the life of Gerald’s father, Lawrence Durrell, an ambitious and gifted civil engineer who ran the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway before working for TATA steel, as I learned more about his father it became clearer where Gerald’s drive to save species from extinction came from.

Pygmy hog © Craig Jones

The ‘underhog’ is fighting for survival © Craig Jones

The pygmy hog is one of the rarest animals in the world. It’s a typical Durrell project – a so-called “little brown job”.

These nest building bullet shaped mini pigs struggle for survival alongside the big mega fauna of tigers, rhinos and elephants that share its habitat and hog the limelight. Raising awareness, conservation support and funding to save this little hog is tough. It’s a real “under-hog”.

Pygmy hogs build and live in nests made of the grasses found in their vulnerable grassland habitat © Craig Jones

Pygmy hogs build and live in nests made of the grasses found in their vulnerable grassland habitat © Craig Jones

The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) has been running since 1996 and is made up of a team of partners; Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN SSC Pigs Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, Ecosystems India, Government of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Arriving at the PHCP centre in Guwahati, Assam was fantastic. It’s one of the only places in the world to see pygmy hogs.

Hogs are bred at the centre to be released into the wild. It’s like a kindergarten for baby hogs with hoglets learning the basics from their mothers and siblings in a controlled, supportive and natural environment.

Mother and hoglet © Craig Jones

Mother and hoglet © Craig Jones

The second stage is more like being at university. Support is gradually taken away from the older hogs and they are expected to stand on their own four feet! This environment is similar to the wild areas where they will be released. Before graduating, the hogs must know how to feed themselves on insects, roots and tubers, similar to what they would seek out in the wild.

Baby hogs or hoglets are about the size of a computer mouse with legs! © Craig Jones

Baby hogs or hoglets are about the size of a computer mouse with legs! © Craig Jones

The project team, keepers and support staff that have been running the programme for the last 20 years are a breed apart. They share the same unwavering commitment to conservation as Gerald Durrell. They’re proud of the work they are undertaking to save a species from extinction. And step by step, they’re winning that battle. Massive restoration work has been done in Barnardi Wildlife Sanctuary to revive an area of grassland habitat where they once roamed. This beautiful area bordering Bhutan is the very park where the hogs were rediscovered in 1971 and can once again call their home.

The Durrell team enjoy a light moment during the catch-up and transportation of the hogs © Craig Jones

The Durrell team enjoy a light moment during the catch-up and transportation of the hogs © Craig Jones

Witnessing the 100th hog released back into Bornadi was a great example of how scientific evidence together with dedication, planning and hard work can pay off.

Pygmy hogs © Craig Jones

Pygmy hogs © Craig Jones

Durrell experts know how to save this species and they are doing it with the continued support of people who care about this remarkable little creature, thanks to them this “Under-hog” species has a fighting chance. If you would like to give pygmy hogs a helping hand, please consider donating to Durrell or becoming a member.  The documentary ‘Durrell’s Underhogs’ can be viewed through the Durrell website www.durrell.org/underhogs

To watch Durrell’s Underhogs film, visit their website

Find out more about pygmy hogs on their Arkive species profile

 

May 16

Arkive would like to introduce The Wait, a short film from production company Contra, which follows the journey of a wildlife photographer on a hunt to document the elusive European bison in its natural habitat of the Romanian mountains. The story details how it can take weeks to capture a shot, and the patience required to wait for this moment.

We have been speaking with Michel d’Oultremont, wildlife photographer and subject of the film, to learn about his motivations for wildlife photography.

Who are you and what is your profession?

Hello, my name is Michel d’Oultremont, I’m 25 years old and I have been a wildlife photographer since the age of 10 – I have had the great fortune of starting very young with an unconditional love for wildlife!

Michel d’Oultremont

Michel d’Oultremont

 

We found The Wait to be very emotive. Can you tell us more about your relationship with the natural world and why you wanted to photograph the European bison?

My relationship with nature is very special – I spend hours and hours in the wild trying to find and observe wildlife. It’s a way of life for me! Since the WWF (Worldwide Wildlife Fund) has started to reintroduce wild bison into the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, it has been a dream of mine to explore this region and to see these spectacular beasts. I’ve always been quite drawn to big animals like bears and muskox, so the bison is the next logical progression of that passion!

European bison © John Ford

Your creativity with the landscape shows through your work, do you have a specific image or style in mind before you begin shooting?

It all depends – I like to capture the animal in its natural habitat, so often I have to relocate to find the best light and environment. Once I’m set up, I wait for an animal to pay me a visit: a nature photo is a meeting – you just have to wait for it to happen. Although sometimes I do think more about the image and I try to realise it in any way I can.

What do you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?

It may sound stupid, but I try to capture beauty in my photographs, to show the beauty of wildlife. So I try to take photographs that highlight this beauty and make for aesthetically pleasing pictures. When I manage this it is a real pleasure, but it doesn’t happen very often – maybe four or five times in a year.

Short-eared owl fight over a mouse during winter in France, no bait used © Michel d’Oultremont

Is focusing on a reintroduced species of particular importance to you? Do you feel any extra pressure when capturing images of a rare creature?

This type of project is very important because it allows wildlife to come back to its stomping ground. The work of the WWF is very important – they make the reintroduction of wildlife into the mountains possible! I don’t seek out rare animals especially, I photograph everything that happens to pass in front of my lens so it’s more that I am opportunistic.

This picture was taken in Belgium right next to my house, this nice owl decided to nest in a tree that I know very well, a real treat to be able to observe them naturally  © Michel d’Oultremont

Which animals and landscapes would you most like to photograph if you had no constraints?

That’s a really difficult question, there are many species I dream of photographing, like the Persian panther or the Siberian tiger. I would also love to go to the Canadian Arctic to see Polar Bears! There is still a lot to see, and that’s what’s great!

The Wait conveys a sense of solitude and at times loneliness, what is the longest and hardest time you have spent waiting for a subject?

I have had to wait several weeks before finding the subject and light I’ve been hoping for! But this isn’t restrictive because there are always things happening. The most difficult conditions I’ve experienced are without a doubt winter in Norway, where I was caught in a huge snow storm, but I love that these difficult conditions bring a sense of poetry to the images.

“I stayed at a location in Sweden for a week waiting for the singing black grouse. One morning the whole area was frosted, the sun was reflected on a cloud and in the drops of water, which gives these incredibly magical colours!” © Michel d’Oultremont

What is one thing you may recommend in wildlife photography?

The best advice, I think, is to know and research the species well, and do everything you can not to disturb the wildlife.

Top three items you never travel without?

The three things I always travel with – apart from my photographic equipment, of course – are my binoculars that I always take with me, my knife for quickly making a natural shade, and my notebook to try and write down everything I experience in the field.

Romanian Mountains © Michel d’Oultremont

Romanian mountains © John Ford

We’d like to thank Michel for speaking with us. If you’d like to see more of Michel’s work you can visit his website, or find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also visit The Wait website to watch the film and read more about the team behind it.

Apr 14

This week Arkive has been celebrating the US premiere of the environmental documentary Tomorrow, (Demain le Film). We’ve been featuring a guest blogs throughout the week, with documentary contributors discussing the global issues featured in Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s US premier is in San Francisco TODAY! 14th April 2017. Find the Tomorrow Facebook or visit the website for a full run-down and trailer.

“Without question, this is absolutely the best and most creative film on the future of humanity and the environment.” – Paul Hawken, leading environmentalist

Tomorrow trailer

Tomorrow trailer

Who are you?

Cyril Dion. Almost 39. French. Married with two kids. I’m a filmmaker, writer, poet and ecological activist.

I also wrote and co-directed Tomorrow, it is my baby! It took me five years to make this project a reality, and I never thought it would take me to 17 countries and more than 120 cities.

I have always tried to find ways to express myself artistically and to be as useful as possible to people and the planet. First, I was an actor, then I studied and practiced natural medicine. I organised Israeli-Palestinian congresses including the very first two world congress of Imams and Rabbis for peace. I co-founded and directed an ecological NGO for seven years, created and ran a magazine, wrote three books, and now directed a movie.

Problems facing your field of expertise from an environmental/sustainability perspective?

Basically, a part of humanity could disappear by the end of the century if we keep on living as we do, especially in the western world. A few years ago, a study conducted by one of NASA’s lab showed that civilisations usually collapse when two factors combine: when we destroy natural resources faster than they can restore themselves, and when social inequality become unbearable.

We currently experience both problems. Unfortunately, this study is not the only one. Hundreds of them have been published all around the world warning us of the dangers of climate change, mass extinction of species, pollution, exploitation of people and nature.

Climate change effects include sea levels getting higher, ice melting at the poles, and extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts becoming more common. Many animals are also struggling to survive as their habitats change.

If the current rate of deforestation continues, it is thought that the world’s forests will be gone in just 100 years.

Do you have any suggested solutions to the problems Tomorrow confronts?

I can build on what I have learned while travelling the world for the film. We need to shift from a material-oriented society where making money, buying stuff and creating economic growth is the main goal, to a world where we are living meaningful lives; being in harmony with nature and with each other is our priority. The good news, is that we have the know-how to gather everything we need: food, shelter, healthcare, money, great job, and community we can rely on.

One particularly interesting way could be to replicate what nature does and adapt it to our human organisations: circular processes, efficiency in networks, creating no waste, restoration abilities, nurture a very high level of diversity. Diversity is the key, if you have a forest with only one type of tree, when disease strikes, the whole forest is gone. But if you have different type of trees, some variety will resist more than others and the ecosystem has much better chances of surviving. It is what we call resilience.

Concretely, this means that we must not encourage monocultures, whether it is in agriculture (growing only one kind of crop on huge fields), in economy (having just a few big businesses trusting the all world with their food, clothes, furniture and so on), in energy (relying on fossil fuels), etc. It is too fragile.

We need to develop greater autonomy and diversity everywhere: organic food systems, local renewable energy, strong local economies with a lot of diverse independent businesses and to link all these territories to each other to have millions of local, ecological, economies interconnected.

Cyril has presented Tomorrow across the globe, including screenings at screened at the UN in NYC and at the European Parliament, during the COP21 in Paris.

Please describe your personal feelings on the importance of conveying Tomorrows message, and what impact you hope for it to have upon its audience?

We may face the biggest challenge human race has ever experienced. So, to me, nothing could be more important than empowering people to fix our ecological, social and economic problems! To do so, we tried to do something different from scary, depressing, and catastrophic documentaries pointing fingers at culprits.

I think Tomorrow is the first 100% solution-oriented documentary about ecology, economy, education, democracy… It carries another vision for the future. It is also trying to tell a story, our story: young parents preoccupied by the future of their children, trying to find new ways to make the world a better place. We wanted the movie to be pedagogical but as the same time moving and pleasant to watch with a lot of music, nice photography.

It has been released in more than 20 countries already and had a lot of impact in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada where it has been seen by almost two million people… It’s been screened at the UN in NYC, at the European Parliament, during the COP21 in Paris.

We continuously receive hundreds of messages of women and men telling us what they’ve been doing after seeing the movie. We even opened a section on the French website called « the day after tomorrow » to collect these stories and actions. People start permaculture gardens, change their electricity supplier, move their money to local or ethical banks, start new jobs to be useful to their community or to the planet, some businesses are being launched, some local governments are taking actions… It would take a book to tell everything! So I hope it will happen in the US also.

 Final words to convey to the audience?

Just that we have the power to change the world if we want to.

You can follow Cyril and his work on Twitter, Facebook or on his website. All that’s left now is to say thank you to Cyril and the many other who worked tirelessly on Tomorrow to share with us a message which many would consider the most urgent problems facing our planet to date. We hope you all go out and watch it!

Apr 13

This week Arkive is celebrating the US premiere of the environmental documentary Tomorrow, (Demain le Film). We’ll be featuring a guest blog each day this week, with documentary contributors discussing the global issues featured in Tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s US premiere is in San Francisco this Friday, 14th April 2017. Find the Tomorrow Facebook or visit the website for a full run-down and trailer.

“Without question, this is absolutely the best and most creative film on the future of humanity and the environment.” – Paul Hawken, leading environmentalist

Tomorrow trailer

Tomorrow trailer

Who are you?

My name is Robert Reed. I am a spokesman for Recology, San Francisco’s recycling and kerb side composting collection company. I am a writer and an advocate for zero waste, and former journalist. I am very enthusiastic about recycling and particularly about urban compost collection programs.

What is your field of research?

I do a lot of research. Much of my focus centres on urban compost collection programmes. That means collecting food scraps and plant cuttings separately from other trash, turning this organic matter into finished compost, and using it to feed microbial colonies in topsoil to grow cover crops that fix carbon and nitrogen in the soil. I believe this is our best chance to slow down climate change.

Robert and part of his team at Recology

Please could you describe your connection with Tomorrow?

The filmmakers contacted me and asked me to tour them through our recycling and compost programs. They decided to feature me as one of the citizens in the film who are engaged in programmes that help achieve environmental/social benefits.

The film Tomorrow is a great achievement because, unlike other documentaries, it focuses almost exclusively on solutions. The world is hungry for positive narratives and this film is central to a new movement to highlight solutions. For these reasons and more I am very enthusiastic about Tomorrow.

Problems facing your field of expertise from a sustainability perspective?

First problem: More than half of the trash in the world is incinerated. Another big portion is buried in landfills. This destroys resources. The U.S. is home to 3,000 active landfills, but less than 300 facilities that are permitted to compost food scraps. So we have in infrastructure problem. Many cities and universities want to replicate San Francisco’s urban compost collection programme but they can’t because we don’t have enough compost facilities.

Many wildlife species are forced to move from their habitats due to the increase of human impact, many try to adjust to but often die in the process, where it is more and more common for birds to be found having ingested plastic bags, bottle caps, synthetic clothing fibres.

Second problem: We need collectively to shine a bright light on the compost solution – cities sending food scraps to farms in the form of compost and farms using that compost to grow cover crops. This combination turns farms into carbon sinks. I believe doing so is our best chance to try to slow down climate change. I have very experienced and skilled friends and acquaintances who believe this solution is so effective that if implemented widely it could reverse climate change.

Do you have any suggested solutions to the problems Tomorrow confronts?

I try to live by example. When Trump was elected I made a personal commitment to do an additional 12 days a year of community service. The solutions almost never come from large governments or corporations. They are making money off they current structure and, therefore, resist change. I, and countless others support the approach of local solutions. A city makes a zero waste goal. A nearby city also makes a zero waste goal, and many others do they same. Then they form a union. They link. That is how you build a movement. That is how you achieve positive change that benefits all.

Tomorrow shows many examples of how this can happen, of how we can create a healthier world.

It is not a question of ‘can we do it?’ it’s an ‘I’m-paying-attention, eyes-wide-open’ perspective. If you are open and honest you know this – we have to do right by the planet and society. It is the only choice.

Please describe your personal feelings on the importance of conveying Tomorrow’s message, and what impact you hope for it to have upon its audience?

The larger message of this documentary – that solutions exist, that we can create a healthier world is tremendously important. Please take a friend to see this film.

The people who made this film worked extraordinarily hard. They had a small budget and impossibly tight schedule. On the morning I met them they were exhausted. But when asked to get up and do more they did exactly that. They suffered so we could have the opportunity to watch this film. Watch it!

 Thank you, Robert, for speaking to us. We’d like to heed his words and say, go watch it!

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