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Old August 7th, 2010, 10:51 AM   #1
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Getting Into Wildlife Films

Hi. I'm finally at a point in my life where I want to bring the dream of making nature films from the back burner to the front one.

I initially went to collage as a marine bio major, but left with a degree in journalism. I left the assignment desk in a TV newsroom, to get back to school to pursue a wildlife and conservation bio degree. I had some family issues that caused me to withdraw from school and I started a video production company.

Now, I'm just trying to figure out the best way to get into this field. I'm planning on relocating from Rhode Island to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. I've been contacting TV stations and news contacts I have down there...but have never shot wildlife before and just want to go through the most effective process!

I welcome any advice you all can provide!

Thank you in advance!

~Miraj
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Old August 8th, 2010, 07:08 AM   #2
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Miraj,

Are you going to have your own gear or will you use a broadcast stations gear?

Are you going to focus on a particular area of wildlife?

Al
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Old August 8th, 2010, 11:41 AM   #3
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Your best bet is an internship/entry level position with a West coast or East coast company that specializes in natural history production. You also should immediately start shooting your own work in the area that interests you. As you know you are looking for a job in a very specialized and small part of the documentary world.
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Old August 8th, 2010, 12:51 PM   #4
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My opinion: First thing you need to do is make sure you're at a sufficient standard in terms of both working with animals and using a camera - a lot of people wanting to do this are woefully inadequate at one or both. This means knowing how animals behave and react to humans in their proximity and how to deal with them to allow you get close. And camera-wise this means being able to make steady, in focus shots with the 35mm equivalent of 1200mm lenses, on erratically moving targets - this is not easy, but it is essential.
The only way to do this really is to get out there and shoot. Ideally you'd do this on the sort of kit you'd hope to work with - so full-size broadcast video cameras typically at the moment. For this reason I'd say you'd be better off practising on an old DSR500 than a modern EX3 or the like. Working with a full size heavy camera set up on a big tripod is very different from a little EX3 with an 800g lens on a little Manfrotto head.

The other thing to do is to watch and study as many wildlife progs as possible. Take note of the sort of shots the camera team is getting - that's the sort of thing you need to be getting. If they're getting tight head shots of a certain species and you got out and only get tiny specks then you need to do something different. Then take note of what constitutes their sequences - shot size, variety, pacing etc., to get an idea of what you need to provide for the editor to make a sequence work.

Then haul your showreel around, offer to assist and do jobs for free, and try to be as friendly and amiable as possible.

Good luck.

Steve
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Old August 8th, 2010, 05:08 PM   #5
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Wow! You guys are awesome! Thank you so much for the advice. So much to consider. I have been obsessed with watching nature films for about 20 years, but haven't really, truly paid attention to composition and technique. I will continue to study as I take the advice I've been given. I'll also get out there and start shooting! Thanks again for your attention and advice!
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Old August 14th, 2010, 11:06 AM   #6
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Three words and an acronym: BBC Natural History Unit
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Old August 23rd, 2010, 05:00 AM   #7
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Miraj: "I've...never shot wildlife before..."

I agree with Steve. No amount of textbook studies, courses or diplomas beats time spent working in the field. "The only way to do this really is to get out there and shoot."
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Old August 23rd, 2010, 10:28 AM   #8
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I believe you will find everything you need on this amazing site:WildFilmHistory - Home page
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Old August 23rd, 2010, 05:25 PM   #9
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Interesting website, David. I'll have to find time now to visit it again and view more! :)
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Old August 30th, 2010, 09:25 PM   #10
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Dave thanks for the web site!!\\


Miraj,

Get out in the field and always take a camera anywhere you go!!! You just never know what you will come across!!!

One book worth getting at the library or buy would be "The Art of Photograping Nature"by martha Hill and photographer Art Wolfe. It in not a how to book but deals whith artistic aspects there of!
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Old September 4th, 2010, 08:40 AM   #11
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Hi Miraj

I'd also add to this. Film festivals and competitions. These are great platforms for you to get exposure, make contacts and start to get a career moving. From personal experience this has really propelled things forward for me this year!

Mat
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Old September 13th, 2010, 11:48 AM   #12
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Mat,

I would like to ask you to tell a bit more about this. I have more or less the same question as Miraj, but seem to be a few steps further in the process. Made a documentary a few years ago with a prosumer handycam and managed to get it broadcasted on Dutch national television. Shot a documetary about kingfishers with the same equipment, that has recently been published in conjunction with a photobook, and in cooperation with BirdLife Netherlands. However, I still consider myself as a starter, anxious to make a living out of it as a filmmaker/producer. What are the things you have done? What festivals and competitions did you refer to? What did it bring for you?

Maybe Steve Phillips can also add some advice to my questions.

Cees van Kempen
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Old September 13th, 2010, 02:27 PM   #13
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I think most of the wildlife film festivals take submissions from "beginners", so Wildscreen, Jackson Hole and the others. Cees it seems like you're heading in the right direction, now you have something to show producers, and if you have any amazing ideas they may take you up on them.
Assisting is also a great thing to do, though with shrinking budgets it might be something you need to do for little pay or for free. Best of luck.
Steve
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Old September 13th, 2010, 04:21 PM   #14
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Hi Cees
Steve certainly nailed it for me and certainly has lots of experience to back it up! The fact you've had material broadcast in some way must mean your getting something right. I'd be interested to hear more about the type of broadcast your films fell under?

Me...well I've recently been short listed for Wildscreen (BBC Newcomer) Wildscreen Festival 2010:*Home - WIth a film I produced independently over the last 3 years. - You can see a thread for it further down in this forum.

After the nomination I was asked to assist on a number of shoots including one with the NHU and Chris Packham. I've now furthered one of the relationships and I'm now shooting a number of sequences for a BBC Natural world film. Its really a huge step forward to be involved in something of this profile and some of it is about meeting the right folks at the right time BUT...the spark was the nomination. I'm of course hoping to build more contacts over the festival week!

Best of luck
Mat
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Old September 14th, 2010, 09:34 AM   #15
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Dear Mat and Steve,

Thanks for your posts. Very helpful.

Mat: the film that was broadcasted (by RTL Netherlands) is a documentary I made, when traveling with my mate on an angling expedition in Ethiopia/Sudan/Kenya. We lived with a tribe, still hunting for crocodiles with spears. Though it was a fishing trip, I consider it more as an adventure/nature documentary. It is by the way not the type of films I intend to make in future. These will be 'true' nature films, like the Kingfisher documentary I produced afterwards.

I am trully interested in the perspectives of film festivals. Though my first movie was broadcasted and the second one became a succesful (independent) publication with a photobook, I still consider myself as 'beginner'. All has been done as a side activity and it is only this year I invested in more or less professional equipment. I have high ambitions in becoming a filmmaker/producer. The 'problem' is that I am owning a small management consultancy. At the age of 46 and having a family to support I do not want to give up my business, just following my boyhoods dream and without knowing where to go. So I intend to learn as much as possible about filmmaking and producing (techniques, markets, commerce etc.) for the coming years, hopefully to be able to make the switch. Any advice is welcom, and I might get back to you with more questions in time. For now, Mat, succes in Bristol next month!

Sorry Miraj for taking over the discussion with Mat and Steve. Hopefully it is for your benefit as well. I will draw back now.
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