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Read this: The Magic of Natural History

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The Magic of Natural History…

BBC sounds music Radio podcasts from BBC Radio 4 hello today talking about natural history on TV after what might have been a few frazzled days with family who knows a common natural history might have given you a much needed reflection from sweeping cinematography to the most incredible close-up these programs that inspire wonder am I guess today other people who make them happen.

We have three of the best in the business Alastair fothergill series producer behind Blue Planet Earth and much more and the man who attempted David Attenborough Netflix Alistair co-founded silver films of the decade at the BBC natural history unit also another Vanessa was behind frozen planet planet Earth 2 and she left the BBC to CO5 films of Vanessa I think you actually work with some of those programs.

I guess that shows what small world.

It is yes, we will work together in some capacity in some way.

It's the right out community and Crawford is also here.

She is a series producer who does still work at the BBC's renowned unit the latest show dogs in the world is launching on BBC One this evening welcome welcome to you all and I called them at the top calming programs, but actually is that fair Alistair is that what they are they can be often are full of action some people think there's a little bit too much predation in them.

Too much drama, but I think the ability to take you out of your daily life to escape to the beauty of the Natural World can be coming for many people do you see the most calming they sometimes are they sometimes actually terrifying find it very calming to feel like I'm part of the Natural World and feel like amongst other animals which we are so I think that's possibly with some of you is a really deep leaking into maybe without realising and I'd like to ask all of you Ronan start with you yet.

What do you think makes a great natural history programme? I think being transported into another world is really what you want to feel when you watch the shows and and just been able to understand how animal my approach a predation and wild animals that does a certain something at the certain times? I think is a really thrilling thing to be able to.

And so those of the two things that I really enjoy and make great natural history if you can learn a little bit about that species and feel like you've entered the world and I think it's a good program and two of the three of you use this time very early on in the programme probation can somebody just explain for people who don't know what is a predation and happy to explain that it's when it's when one animal kills another so largely for food, but you know sometimes it might be indiscriminate depending on the species all part of the cycle of life for you Alistair what makes a great natural history programme the most important thing that actually wasn't there is story and nature has some of the best stories there are and the best wildlife films combine amazing photography wonderful behaviour and a really strong story they also I suppose look like they cost an awful.

Lot of money and Alistair the last time you on the media show you would just taken David Attenborough to Netflix for the our planet series have the stream has revolutionised this kind of programming.

Play certainly have I mean on the BBC was traditionally the main audience in the UK the series of always sold around the world has always been a massive international market for natural history, and I think I recognise that they realise that natural history does travel dude appeals to every age and economic group and and that's why they were and there's no doubt that Netflix initially but more recently Disney plus an apple have injected a lot of new money into the business.

Does it feel like boom time for York are you busy than ever we are busy.

I don't know but I would say I think the bubbles probably bursting the stream is generally have invested a lot and in many many areas were seeing them draw a little bit and I wonder whether to them.

I think she must have to be distinct to you have to know why I'm going to pay an extra subscription for an extra Strimmer and I don't think that your history is Neston

Distinctiveness, but they might have hoped it would have done nothing now.

Would you agree with that? I think that's right certainly what we're experiencing at WildStar is the commissions all the ideas that we've been developing that are more innovative and that really appreciate the genre further in as Alistair said the storytelling was the continuing to be commissioned and where we are sort of collaborating with the Titans of drama or from the comedy world in Hollywood ways of working on a series where we reinvent genre from the ground up so from day one we write scripts together with a comedy team.

I can't say who that will be announced in January but it's just making natural history totally different way because your company grow really fast and I think you've got 165 staff now and you had six at the beginning not that long ago was actually basically sitting on each other's knees with.

Between us in 2018 and today yes as you say we've got a very big team and I think we did actually catch the crest that that way visit grew.

Did you expect it when you left the NHS you could you have believe that you would get that big that fast no way thought that we get is faster quickly and we actually with my husband.

I went off to Africa family out there to make a film about elephants for 3 years and it was very lucky to have done that but when we came back.

We kind of did a couple of Productions to keep one production going she had enough staff and then actually was we've been away the streaming boom it happened so fast and furious which was really exciting and continues to be from your perspective.

You know you're still your within the Natural History mean it unit but how is the streaming Boon

Did you have has it feel from that side? It? Is it has been a boom time and we know the Natural History unit meat content for the same as well as the BBC so we are just as much under pressure in terms of the companies are as well and I think it has really be exciting because those those those platforms bring different demands.

They have different expectations.

They have different commissioning and with that do they want the programs more quickly or they happy for this sort of long term conditions the amount of time it often takes to make these programs.


That's a good question.

I think that's some of them.

I worked on a series 2 years ago.

There was very well funded and for a streaming service and the expectation and the demand was to deliver much much more quickly than you would have done for perhaps the BBC and client and that does put on the programme makers you know the flip side is the budget is there to potential employer bigger team that you might have in the past what you can't do is make animals do things faster than you want to so that's something that you always.

To put back to commissioning teams and put back to clients to to make clear because you can't you know you can't make her a giraffe give birth when it's not ready absolutely let's come onto the animals cos I want to know how you actually make these programs in terms of the production process Alice that you how do you decide the story you want to Fillmore what animal behaviour will be in the film what word beginning with employee a fantastic team of researchers who spent a lot of time often on a big landmark series that the likes of the planet Earth or the present planets, which will take 405 years to make the first year is literally chasing stories and we've got amazing contacts within the scientific world and we were a lot of stories out of scientists already come up with then we riding the scripts and you no working at Downham in the average episode of a landmark series only has 10.

Maybe 11 sequences and the Natural World is unbelievably varied and I think.

Heelys to decide, what are the key stories to tell you nothing they have you got any examples of sort of innovative storytelling in that way or in the ways of producing these programs because there are so many more of a doubt they're all joking for the same content and extend.

I was in 2020 film The Hunchback and we were telling a story that you know ultimately has been filmed before the female and male and interactions leading to what we believe is meeting and I suspect Alistair I think you've potential were the same time for for the meeting game which was a show that was going out not long after so we just had to think how do you tell that story differently so traditionally it has been told from a male perspective what the male whales the chasing a female they're fighting with each other there is aggression is very dynamic and dramatic but actually there's a lot of research now going on and see what the female is doing is the female.

Miss tourism factory enticing emails to chase her is she controlling the group rather than the males control in the group and and we found somebody interesting behaviours that the scientists believe in an order to prove it.

That's the case you know she changes Direction the group changes Direction she stops the group stops it can be as simple as that just put in a lens and you have a whole new story the appeal to audience Vanessa you nothing there.

I mean do you think I know you've got a series coming out called Queen's to tell us a little bit about that and whether the story that you'll tell you.

Are you leaving the science or the scientist leading you? How does it work? It's really interesting with Queen's actually the first landmark.

Series that looked at female power in the Natural World and it's often taking species that we know quite well and radio waves like elephants and lions which are actually matriarchal societies and and as references to flipping the lands has more into what the female leaders are doing and

Manifest that leadership and to do that.

We've actually gone back to a lot of scientists and ask them to revisit some of their science and amazing things are coming out really surprising new science that so shedding light on a lot of human behaviour, so what sort of thing well we found the first examples of how significant female can centres in many animal species and how does the female consent working animal species where the female hyenas actually have an appended they have an extended so the female has to withdraw her clitoris to make space for mail to enter her which only happens after extended period of course it and so she basic controls when and how that happens and gives a consent other things that been really astounding is how many societies not just female driven societies and females.

To be valuable post menopause and have incredibly significant roles in these societies and in fact in the cultures that exist in our societies, so we're finding new ways of sharing familiar species digging out new science and we're also we think making a series that's really contemporary reflecting many of the issues that are part of our own behaviour in society that will tackling with reluctance to anthropomorphize animals in the past is that changing? What do you think about that although? It's tricky area in a sense if you don't do it the audience.

Do it anyway.

Yes, we've all watched programmes or programs probably got all that's just like me or that's just like you we made a series of movies for Disney on under new labour Court disneynature when they commission those they said very clearly we want movie and a movie has a story in a movie has engaging characters and they were.

Play Hard films to make because the animals cheerleader strips clearly and so we chose animals which we knew very well.

We knew what they were like me to do and we predicted.

What would be the challenge and there's an example would be a film that actually made with Vanessa's husband mark on chimpanzees and we decided to follow that a baby chimpanzee ever the 5 years of his life and that was because we knew that 50% of chimpanzee babies die within that time but we didn't expect was the mother of that the baby boy died when she was 3 and something completely extraordinary happened the alpha male and MailChimp have very little to do with the baby's as little as possible and he stopped in this baby boy and and the Santa's you been working with these chains for 25 years couldn't believe it and for us.

It was extraordinary had almost rang up Disney and said I'm sorry it's the end of your film because of course Disney film.

Happy Endings and miraculously we got we got the best ending that we could possibly ride and so I think the one rule that we have is all films have to be 1% scientifically accurate and as long as they are and as long as we are true to nature a certain amount of anthropomorphism is no problem because if we don't do that the audience will do it and Vanessa and when you were both nothing really.

I just start with you and that is very interesting particularly.

No given the number of clients out the number of of platform content of fuse on a very different tastes different people want to see you or want you to write a show you know to me so Disney as I said very much once there was happy Endings classic elements in the BBC or TVs in the US and and and and ECU they're very interested in the scientific and take her to the facts that one already and this to make their own mind up about.

What the emotions might be and that's kind of part of the challenges that the program make at the Beginning when you use it out to make that shows is finding out.

What will the pound rise and not creepy in One Direction or the other but I think to be truly scientific and truly kind of keep stick to scientific and take it to eat.

We shouldn't answer them off rise and of course we we due to extend engages our audiences giving giving her animals character engage the audience more.

I do I do think that science has moved the long way from the days of treating and scientific subjects without personalities and without characters and certainly I think Jane goodalls.

That's brilliant piece of work in the 60s which kind of Revolution science has opened the door to filmmakers to legitimise characterising animals and it is ok to do that and actually Disney extremely strict about.

Having scientific veracity and we work very closely with all the top scientists in the way that we characterise the animals so whilst they might prefer that we don't show too many consequences or data sequences.

There's definitely no distortion.

It's ok.

These animals.

Are you making programs about they may be like us.

They certainly could also kill us and kill your camera people and you know some of them anyway, but Alistair you made a programme about polar bears and then they are notoriously dangerous.

What you've been your hair if the experience on your polar bears are probably one of the most dangerous animals you work with because they're one of the journal.

She want to eat people so you have to be very very careful.

I mean safety is everything in our business.

That is actually because if you're upsetting animal.

Are you if you're getting into an interaction with it and which one is going to attack you then? It's not behaving naturally in my most, Brighton

This moment was coming polar bears, but it wasn't the bear it was I was in a tractor vehicle and we very nearly it fell through the ice and jumped out at the last minute and likely to come and the driver jumped out in time but within seconds.

I saw this track vehicle go to the bottom of the ocean to a hole in your nice and if we had gone down.

We would have been what we would have definitely died.

So always actually driving to Heathrow is one of the most dangerous things.

We do it's sitting in a hide waiting for an animal that can smell you Vanessa how do you balance that sort of awareness of risk and commitment you need to get a good material for example.

You know you're following a pride of lions around you have to push it and you rely on these incredible local people often local to the country who have the real knowledge and understanding of the animals and we had a wonderful experience actually Romans and

Where Alliance some Lions take on elephants which is a very very risky thing for a lion to do and I normally by day a lion would never take that nights at the peak of the dry season when elephants a week, so well and recently with a few years ago.

We had that there was a proud that was doing this again and this is one of those high-risk behaviours hard to get there's not that much information on it because it's at night and it's difficult to study so we had to cover off multiple prizes with different teams all in place of small mobile camps and I was with one that was in the side of northern wild end of the park with a hard any terrorist or scientists and decide his thought that because they were strong lionesses.

They were probably likely to switch into elephant hunting mode and when we arrived.

We found them all sitting on stinking old elephant carcasses, so we knew that switch Aegon often.

Friends and you know at the point when we had a puncture within about 30 m into desk and we have openside cars because we have to we have cameras mounts.

You know there are moments when you think what the hell am I doing about 30 ml are elephants and we'd have to get out of the car to change this flipping tyre all I can say is it's the fastest tyre change.

I've ever seen in my life and I mean as a producer presumably the most important thing is that you know you make it work you have there ever been tired where you just totally missed the shop that you needed happens that not unusual you know never work with animals or children right because they don't do what you expect them to do and but you know we are storytellers and we are you know the imperative is to to to to make to make.

Some series that we work on have you know two bags of the cherry may be free if you're lucky enough to get multiple Seasons that you can return and film that's pieces again and others that do you know not so lucky.

We've just done completed will be broadcasting very short leaving dogs in the wild and we had one season and it was squished tighter and tighter and tighter and because of colvard your the pandemic pushed and pushed and pushed when we were able to get any cruise out into the field filming which made the you know we were under pressure and every single sequence 3 filmed to come away with something you could make into a story and that's testimony to you know the producer is the research assistant producers and the people who work with on the ground that we did actually cheaper and we really strong propionate episodes for that series and but not all the sequences are present potentially what we set out to film and that's where you can have a look at what you've got anything right.

How do I know mate?

The beginning middle and end and that's part of the fun.

That's part of the fun of the adult when you actually get the material back and talking of getting the other girl.

I mean how much does developing technology getting something new telling the story in a different way technology over the years has been critically important David's famous series private Life of Plants which brought plants alive for the very first time I used amazing time-lapse photography which was then Revisited in an extraordinary improved way for green planet recently and low light cameras for the Lion and elephant sequences that was talking about and actually probably most recently drones have been absolutely critical to our filming for the polar bear film.

I just completed for disneynature.

We found that some polar bears would accept the noise of small drones and that was amazing.

What about in a natural habitat yeah absolutely I think it's about getting closer to the Alice the animals experience and something we've been doing is a lot of guys cameras and remote cameras for example getting really close to tigers in the Den using a remotely operated camera that's on a crane with the man sitting on Mr mile away so that you're seeing behaviour in a way that you would never normally observed because however experienced and talented teams are they said I will have a tiny effect and impact on what the animals doing.

It's only when you're so far away that it can't be affecting them that you realise what completely wild natural behaviour looks like now.

We will go on a journey, but it feels like natural history programmes have as well in terms of telling the story of climate change which now often is front and centre of your programs for the girl do it is it.

How to balance bringing bad news not wanting to lecture but at the same time presumably what you've seen over the time you've been doing your job is a huge transformation in in the Natural World is a relatively recent story in a sense.

I mean I think the first landmark show on the BBC was the last episode of frozen planet series that Vanessa and I'm because we realise that with the polar regions warming faster than any place on the planet.

We couldn't honestly do a series on the polls without featuring it and yes pretty well.

Everyone of the Land areas that have been made since have dealt with it and climate change to the front and centre of your documentaries.

I think you know whether we are actively writing a story or looking for an inner stories.

We can ignore it is changing on over here all across the globe and and and it's not just affecting what you might see on the screen, but it's also affecting.

Programs in dogs in the world during the last year filming we had a number of of Suits that were really quite radically affected by undressed and into the weather and that was directly associated climate change and what year then seeing is animals adapting some successfully and some not and to those changes we can't ignore that it is now just Becoming Part of the story.

Does it feel more more uncomfortable to be sending your British people off around the world to make these programs when they must be plenty of people who are there plenty of people around the world could be making them happen to travel on Queens that we've committed to is sort of transferring are skills back to you aspiring filmmakers in within country with the long-term ambition that ultimately they can make films about their own wildlife and maybe have a different kind of creative relationship and partnership with us in the UK

Talking about young up-and-coming Talent we couldn't get to the end of this program without talking about the Legendary obviously his name is come up many times because he is almost synonymous with your kind of programming but the David Attenborough the legend that is Sir David Attenborough Alistair however, you work, so closely with them over the years how important has he been through these decades in your line of work in these programs completely I mean every who today work in this business wear inspired by David Weir work almost all the scientists.

We meet around the world were inspired by David's work.

I think we play The Doors shows David shows have been watched by billions of people around the world and of course in the last 1015 years he has become extraordinary advocate for the reminder by diversity climate change does it feel that one's David Attenborough did start talking about climate change I wonder what what impact.

Do you think that had so hugely significant?

Point but David's nailed his colours to the mast and spoke deliberately and Whately about climate change everyone sat up and listen cos he's created that trust over decades and we could see the ripple effect through the all the young people that we work with the policy level it had profound shock waves and I think has open the door for more programming that is a Birtley environmental in its emphasis, I know you've been working with him on your latest programme in the UK presumably.

He's never going to retire say David is he might not we've got a very lucky that he doesn't do any international travel.

He did travel whilst on the UK which took into a marble Island skomer off the west coast of of where else and night he had Manx shearwaters tiny albatross.

Licking off flying to lighten Tina the camera.

He did Ben was classic magic Attenborough Attenborough pieces his interaction with the animals.

I think what people don't extraordinary skill as a animation writer and deliver in just two days ago.

I recorded a 50 minutes narration with them anymore.

We did it down the line ab duvets around his dining room in one of the engineers goes up and record it locally but it in two minutes into hours.

He records a 50-minute narration and it's perfect Hollywood actors out of work with you would spend the whole day at leaving that so that is quite extraordinary and he's no intention of stopping doing that and were very very lucky that he continues to be a w and in many ways actually better than that is a person O2 end on lucky us to still have David Attenborough that is I'm afraid always got time for this week.

Thank you so much too although Alice 24th.

Silverback films with series wild Isles will be on the BBC next year Vanessa berlowitz from WildStar films Who series Queen's is also out next year this one on Disney plus and the BBC's Rowan Crawford who's new dogs in the world launchers on BBC One this evening.

Thanks to all for listening good.

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