Filming a nature documentary: What could possibly go wrong?
Seven Worlds, One Planet is a new nature documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough.
The documentary looks at wildlife in each of the world’s seven continents and took almost 1800 filming days in 41 countries to complete. That got us thinking: it can’t be that hard to film a nature documentary, can it?
Well, filming wild animals isn’t exactly a walk in the park, especially when you add in challenging weather conditions, difficult terrain and the odd piece of equipment breakage. The production crew need a lot of patience and go to great lengths to get the perfect shot.
Here are some of the times when the filming of Seven Worlds, One Planet didn’t quite go to plan, and some of the creative tricks the team used.
The master of disguise
Filming a nature documentary means getting close to wild animals without scaring them away, and sometimes that means thinking outside the box.
This was the case when the crew were filming with pelicans in the Danube Delta of Romania, the home to the largest colony of pelicans outside of Africa, so getting close was going to need some creative thinking.
One of the camera operators was the master of disguise when he swam in the Danube with a fake swan on his back. We don’t know if the pelicans fell for it, but it was worth a try nonetheless.
Using a disguise to fool a pelican is one thing, but using a disguise to fool a team member sitting right next to you is a different level. Two of the crew wore camouflage onesies to get close to a musk ox in Norway. Not only did they deceive the ox, their outfits blended into the surroundings so well that they were sitting right next to each other and didn’t even realise.
Bad timing and equipment failure
The team spent seven weeks in Antarctica searching for an aggregation of fin whales - that's basically lots of whales coming together. On the one day it happened, the crew found that their helicopter was broken and unusable.
They used a drone to capture around 100 fin whales, arguably the largest great whale aggregation ever shot. Their bad luck got worse when they nearly lost all the footage as the drone malfunctioned. The camera operator had to crash it into the ship to save the memory card. Just shows that even with the best plan possible, things can still go wrong.
Dedication to get the perfect shot
Picture this: you’ve found the perfect place to film a female alpha dingo, you set up the camera and start recording, life is good.
Then imagine the one place you decided to film happened to be on top of an ants nest. This was the unfortunate case for one of the team who was being bitten by ants, who found their way inside his clothes.
In a desperate attempt to stay quiet and not disturb the dingo, he stripped down to his underwear in the Australian wilderness whilst trying not to scream. It seems that dedication and persistence can pay off, but maybe it’s best to always check your surroundings. Lesson learnt.
Animals can sometimes be a bit curious when it comes to film crews with their cameras, as the production crew found out.
The crew were filming underwater with some friendly manatees in North America. They tried hard to keep their distance from the mammals also known as ‘sea cows’ but the manatees were having none of it - they rolled around with the crew and even hugged one of the camera operators.
Your dog might bark when its favourite song comes on the telly or your bird might chatter when it hears the radio, but what songs do wild aquatic animals like?
The crew say that polar bears and belugas are a fan of the theme song to Jurassic Park and the tune to some Adele songs. Who doesn’t? They are classics. The crew hummed a few different tunes to attract the animals in North America and found success with these catchy tracks. As it turns out, they weren’t the biggest fans of the UK’s national anthem God Save the Queen.
Bears can be destructive
If you’re going to be hauling lots of filming equipment around a cold, rocky mountain at 4000 m (13000 ft) high, then it better be worth it. Unfortunately for the production team, on one occasion, it wasn’t.
The team carried kit through the Andes mountain range and set up camera traps to capture Andean bears on film over the next few days and nights. The plan sounds good in theory, but when the team returned, they found that the bears had messed around with the cameras and one was thrown down a hill. It seems like the destructive bears outsmarted them on this occasion - maybe they were camera shy?