Wildlife and Epic Adventures
4/28/07 And then… He Ate A Snake
Josh Bernstein, Digging for the Truth (History Channel)
Les Stroud, Survivorman (Discovery)
Phillippe Cousteau, Ocean’s Deadliest (Animal Plannet)
Sara Robertson, Nature (PBS)
Boyd Matson, Moderator, National Geographic Explorer
I have a confession to make. I went to this panel because I think Josh Bernstein is super cute. And to shake his hand after, he’s also very nice. I got into Digging for the Truth because his voiceover is always so tentative and sincere.
Story IS what matters, even in what they do. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s also challenging, production-wise. You’re usually on Plan E by noon—you have to think ahead and all the while, having the story in your head. Often it takes days/weeks/months to get some shots.
You learn that each animal has a personality. You have to give them time and space to acclimate to you and certainly don’t pet them. When dealing with people, as Les did with a stone age people in the Amazon, you really do have to sit with the lead anthropologist and sense whether or not they’ll kill you.
There are risks in this kind of filmmaking. It’s in their soul as individuals to be in the jungle and all over the place and they have to stand by the idea they’re put themselves at risk for. Besides, sometimes it’s more dangerous walking around NYC. Phillipe was saying that even production is dangerous—one time he was booked to fly the next morning after a dive and that’s really bad.
Capturing moments take many passes. Then, outside of what they have to capture, they have to worry about batteries, tape changes, lens cleaning, etc. It takes more than one take. And as much as HD has rebirthed a lot of these nature series, there’s also a whole new host of problems that come with it.
They talked about how essentially, the host of the show is an epic adventurer and the audience needs him/her to take physical risk. Sometimes they even have to play cameraman and shoot them, but that’s not to downplay the risks the people off screen take as well.
Josh didn’t want to tell us what he keeps in his little brown bag except what he’s already revealed: a compass and a flashlight. Les said that he picks his destinations on what he wants or feels like doing next, then finds a way to pitch it for everyone else’s entertainment.
In closing, they summed up these thoughts… To be a wildlife filmmaker, you have to bring the executives the idea and know that the smaller the budget, the better chance you have. The story is the language of learning. There’s the pitch and then there’s actually pulling it off. You have to be a renaissance person doing it all. And fight what you think is real.
These experiences they have in life, these are what they live for.