What does it take to film, produce and finance a million dollar breathtaking natural history production? What are some of the challenges in producing such a film along with some of the unknown rewards? Are there ethical responsibilities by the cameraman, producers and networks? Is there a more practical approach to nature conservation in the film industry and do big productions like Planet Earth justify the amount spent for what is portrayed?
Few would know.
But for over 25 years Chris Palmer has been doing just that—producing prime-time natural history television documentaries and theatrical releases.
In his book: Shooting in the Wild, An Insiders Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom he covers issues raised in this very specialized industry from the beginning history of wildlife filmmaking, to where the future of wildlife programing is headed today.
If Chris Palmer wrote this book to shock readers about the genre of natural history productions, then his approach is effective. He writes of the deception played to viewers in such shows as Wild Kingdom and Disney’s White Wilderness where staging animals to get a specific shot was common practice; he writes about when shoots go wrong resulting in injury and even death to the cameramen; and how budget cuts, the role computer animated graphics (CGI), “Wildlife” game farms, conservation, reality shows and corporate sponsors are shaping what we see in natural history productions today.
The author could have stopped there. But he continues to expand on the subject.
“Good wildlife films feed the public’s strong curiosity about the natural world.” Chris Palmer
He criticizes his colleagues in the industry for the tactics they have used in the past, but he also doesn’t hesitate to point to to his own past short comings as a producer and cameraman. He himself admits when writing about the shooting and story line in the 1996 IMAX film Whales: “Yet I believe I was wrong to deceive the audience, and I regret it.”
This could have been the conclusion to Shooting in the Wild. But instead the author chooses to raise the level of accountability in natural history productions.
He points to the mistakes made by the late Steve Irwin and Tim Treadwell so that we can all learn from them. He writes about today’s “nature” reality shows and the “shock and awe” approach to wildlife production and what it means to the viewer and nature conservation. In chapter ten, he dedicates the section to wildlife filmmakers, cameramen and women that are making a difference today. He writes of how the Planet Earth series crossed all natural history production boundaries and broke new ground.
The last and final chapter looks towards the future and offers eight steps to reform wildlife filmmaking. Suggestions in ethics, conduct and filmmaking that will better inform the public, make better conservation films, and better wildlife programing.
Shooting in the Wild, An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom is a book long over due. It is the book to read for anyone who enjoys watching nature programs of any type. For those just breaking into the business of wildlife programing, it is the book to be studied.
“Good wildlife films feed the public’s strong curiosity about the natural world;” writes Chris Palmer. We can’t ask much more from an author that takes us from behind the scenes to the front stage informing us and encouraging us to ask questions about the inherent responsibilities in wildlife programing.