What inspired you to write Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom?
I was dead-set on writing an insider’s account of something, and this is the industry I’ve been in for the last 25 years, so it was pretty much my only option.
Alright, but why did you think anyone else would be interested in reading about wildlife films?
We have all seen these programs – whether National Geographic documentaries, March of the Penguins or Shark Week – but very few people know how the films are actually made. I’ve spent my career as a film producer collecting stories, experiences, and opinions about the realities of nature filmmaking.
And have you ever written a book before?
Let me just say: Shooting in the Wild is full of beautiful photos. As to my writing ability, you’ll have to be the judge of that.
In this interviewer’s humble opinion, the writing is truly exceptional.
Thank you very much. I’ll take that for what it’s worth.
Your book has a number of stories about working with celebrities. Which is easier: making movies with animals or making movies with Hollywood stars?
One of the toughest things about filming wild animals is getting all the cameras set up and getting everything ready to go, and then having to wait forever for them to show up. So, in that sense, it’s very similar to working with celebrities.
The animals probably also have fewer wardrobe issues.
That’s true. What’s fashionable isn’t always the best clothing option for filming in the African desert. But in reality, celebrity hosts can be essential for attracting viewers to wildlife films.
So what makes a good wildlife film?
It should be as dull and boring as possible. No, actually I think part of what has made nature programming so successful in recent years is that filmmakers understand the importance of entertaining the audience. While wildlife films need to educate the viewers, they can’t afford to make viewers feel like they’re back in school. They have to draw in viewers with stunning images, compelling drama, humor, and, yes, celebrity hosts.
So is this recent success a good thing?
It’s a great thing that so many people are interested in learning about animals and the environment. The problem is that too many shows have completely given up on trying to educate at all. These shows are built on graphic footage of feeding frenzies and bear attacks. Why tell the truth when depicting animals as man-killing monsters gets higher ratings?
So you would rather we see them depicted as warm and cuddly?
Not at all. The tragic death of Timothy Treadwell shows what can happen if we do anthropomorphize and get too close to wild animals. We can’t pretend that animals don’t fight and kill, but this is only one small part of their lives. It’s important for nature shows to entertain, but it is wholly irresponsible to misinform the audience.
What would you like readers to come away from your book with?
I hope that they can look at wildlife films with a more critical eye. I hope they gain an appreciation for how difficult it is to make these films and also how important it is that the films be made in the right way.
I hope they laugh. I hope they get caught up in the adventurous stories of working with wild animals in the world’s most remote locations. I hope the book changes how they look at the world. And, if that’s asking for too much, I hope they at least enjoy the pictures.