Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wild talk

So, as I am now 24 and far too mature for my own good, I attended a lecture last night (in my own free time!) at UCL by two members of the BBC Natural History Unit, Paul Williams and Chris Howard, on 'How to make a wildlife documentary' - which focused mainly on the history of wildlife filming, as well as interesting divergences about their experiences on location.

They started by looking at some of the first filmed wildlife shots - primarily these involved people shooting animals and then standing over the carcasses. There was some fairly graphic examples, including a tribe spearing a lion to death, and a female rifle hunter squaring off against a rhino and, as it charged at her, she shot it, point blank.

There was also a fascinating piece of film in which one of the early pioneers of wildlife filming - Cherry Kearton (pictured above) - was shown visiting an island inhabited with penguins, or "little Charlie Chaplins" as he called them with a wonderful turn of phrase. He also filmed the 1911 movie 'Roosevelt in Africa' (nearly an unintentional pun on veldt there...) in which President Roosevelt, yes you've guessed it, shot and stood over various wildlife.

From here we moved forward through the advancement of camera techniques and technology, including examples of the use of cameras attached to animals - such as golden eagles or tortoises - and the stunning footage that can now be captured with super-slow motion cameras - most famously the recent footage of a great white shark catching a seal and leaping clean out of the water in doing so. We also saw some early footage of David Attenborough, contrasted with some footage from one of his latest series, Life in Cold Blood, in which he came across the smallest chameleon in the world. It was quite moving stuff as you could see just what it meant to the great man.

We also saw the footage made by Disney of the infamous lemmings myth - in which the film makers just pushed a bunch of lemmings off a cliff and created an entire generation of lies. You could see some of the lemmings scrabbling like mad to stop themselves falling. This is all part of the 'drama' wildlife documentaries usually involve, to create moments of tension and so forth - but this was a case too far, obviously.

We then got a few sneak preview shots of a new BBC series coming out soon called 'Life' (large in scope then) and these are known as "Blue Chip" documentaries - the type only the BBC can make due to the cost and time invovled. We heard from Paul how he had spent four weeks camping wild in the Arctic, only to miss the shot they were after - even after one 60 hour wait at one point. Never work with children or animals.

We also learnt why they now insert these 10 minute 'diary' segments. They sell the show to the US sans the diary segment - so it comes in at 50 minutes, for ad breaks presumably - and to make up the hour for us, add in these bits. Makes sense.

Afterwards there was a free glass of wine and a chance to look around the Grant Museum of Zoology - where Darwin lived / studied - which was very interesting too - lots of weird and wonderful skeletons and pickled animals in jars, and there was a chance to talk to these speakers, both very nice chaps. Overall it was a very interesting and enlightening talk from two very amiable, interesting presenters. And, as it was all for free, was credit crunch value for money too. Perfect.

Note for London based people - I found this via a great website for interesting, quirky, under the radar events - updated weekly. Worth keeping an eye on for things of this nature.

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