Tomorrow is the day that I finally begin the long awaited start of my Wildlife Filmmaking career. Just 6 months ago I received the email:
I am pleased to confirm that we recently made you am offer on MA Wildlife Filmmaking."
This course is the stuff of dreams for anyone with a passion for wildlife. Connected to the world-leading BBC Natural History Unit we have a line-up of top filmmakers coming in to speak with us and train us to be the next generation to film the wild world - next week James Honeyborne, series producer of this years 'Africa', is visiting, and in weeks to come my favourite cameraman, Doug Allan. We are to attend all the big wildlife filmmaker events and will even possibly get opportunities to get some work on current programmes (perhaps just getting coffee, but I really don't mind)!! Our final projects will be making our own professional standard 20-30 minute films and will be linked with a mentor who has worked on similar projects.
If you are interested you can find more details about the course here.
I'm not saying all this to show off or make you seethe with jealousy. I just simply cannot believe it myself that I am having this opportunity and putting in down in words makes it somewhat more real. 16 people world wide have been chosen for a place in the second year of the course running. Goosebumps cover my skin as I realise the life I am about to embark on... Could this dream really become a reality?
My plan for this blog now is to write twice a week - one post continuing to write as I have been for the past 4 months on wildlife and conservation issues, and one as an update on what is going on with my course. Although there will likely be a few weeks where work takes over and this is not possible!
So, in beginning my life as a Wildlife Filmmaker I have been reading up about past documentaries made by the BBC and I wanted to share on here what I have learnt about the recent series "Africa" and the struggles, and amazing moments that the filmmakers faced.
"AFRICA - Eye to Eye with the Unknown" is written by Michael Bright covering all the amazing footage we saw in the documentary first shown in January.
In the forward written by David Attenborough he depicts the main issues facing the research and production team: "Big television series need new, un-filmed stories". The problem is Africa is possibly the most filmed continent on Earth, so finding new stories to uncover was never going to be easy: it took 18 months of research before they began to find stories of animals behaving a little, well, differently. This meant working closely with scientists and conservationists who have been studying and caring for the animals, ones who would go into places no one else would dare to travel. But this allowed them to film behaviour which has only just begun to be researched and discovered - such as the Fork Tailed Drongo's learning to trick meerkats out of a meal, and chimpanzees using up to 4 different tools to extract honey from a bees nest.
Another way of making things look different to past series was, alongside the latest camera technologies, adopting a series wide filming style. James Honeyborne, series producer, made the decision that every animal should be filmed at eye level and seeing what they're seeing from the perspective they see it. This meant crawling down in the dirt with ants and even, for cameraman Richard Matthews, sitting on the back of a dead whale as thirty great white sharks fed on it. A new generation of miniature remotely operated cameras were also used - although some of these took a battering from curious lions and elephants.
The filmmakers did not have an easy or a luxurious time - they would spend all the hours in a day for up to thirty days waiting to get the shot that fitted in with the required story. This sometimes meant sitting covered in a swarm of angry bees, or out in 50 degree temperatures when all animals except one species was hidden away from the killer heat. The majority of the crews food consisted of bread, rice and pasta... cameraman Alastair MacEwen and assistant producer Rosie Thomas were presented with fish porridge every day. In some parts of the country the crews faced enormous dangers, such as Felicity and Barrie Britton who were one day surrounded by men carrying AK47's and arrested for 24 hours on suspicion of illegal entry and subversive activities.
But at the end of it all the team captured some absolutely incredible footage, and saw things that they will probably never experience again in their lives. The entire series was an incredible piece of work with some absolutely stunning scenes. It was put together with a gentle ease with which you entirely forget all the struggles and difficulties that went in to making it (or at least we, the audience, do)! This series contains some of my very favourite sequences of wildlife films.
James Honeyborne closes off the book with a wonderful paragraph about the future of Africa:
"Our hope is that as Africa continues her inevitable journey towards modernisation, what has kept her wild places so special is not completely lost, both on a practical level, because we know there are still so many scientific discoveries to be revealed and amazing stories yet to tell, but also on an emotional level, because Africa will always be our motherland - our ancestral home. Surely her wild places, the land where we ourselves were made, deserve our respect and our protection for ever."