Careers in Wildlife Filmmaking
Reviewed by James MacGregor
Publisher; Wildeye ISBN 978-0-9541899-3-8
It has the elements of all good screen stories; the long slow build of anticipation, the tension, the frustrations and finally, the reveal. Yet the wildlife film is film art in a class all of its own, requiring painstaking research and endless patience, often in less than comfortable surroundings a long way from home. An hour of footage may result in one useable shot, so this is not a film career for anyone who likes to see a quick result.
Television exposure has made wildlife films one of the most successful forms of documentary. People are fascinated by the wild creatures around us and are probably more knowledgable now, about more of our planet's fauna than at any time in the past, thanks to the skills of wildlife filmmakers.
How though, do you become a wildlife filmmaker? Do you just pick a likely spot and put up a hide, set up your camera a whirr away? Well you could, because a lot of accomplished wildlife filmmakers have done just that, but routes into the profession and into the many and varied roles within it are as numerous as wildebeest on the march to meet the rains, so a few pointers to some of the tried and tested routes in are not amiss."The playing field is more open than ever before. Digital video cameras make it possible for anyone in the world to consider him/herself a filmmaker" - Amy J Hetzler
Piers Warren was a science teacher and a musician who became a recording engineer, but his passion for wildlife drove him in new directions. He now trains wildlife filmmakers and edits the Wildlife Film News website. As a world-class independent wildlife film trainer, he has access to many career filmmakers and offers this distillation of their routes into an exceptional profession. His first 2002, edition of Careers in Wildlife Filmmaking sold out very quickly. Now updated and republished, it was well worth the wait.
For anyone contemplating a film career with wildlife at the heart of it, this is essential reading. Unique personal stories, each one a case study in career development, show the variety of access routes into the profession. Man of those featured are well known to us from their screen credits, but for everyone wielding a wildlife camera, there are many more people behind the scenes backing up their efforts or helping to bring them to an appreciative audience.
All those roles, from research to distribution are covered and examined in this guide, including writers, composers, directors, producers and sound recordists, with case studies on people in each role, showing how they got there. The basics are not forgotten, so there's also a good clear exposition of how a wildlife film is taken forward from conception to the screen, to put it all in the correct context.
The future is not neglected either, because the whole scenario of wildlife on screen has changed dramatically with the explosion of channels, opening up new opportunities, but at the same time, cutting available budgets as content is spread wider to niche instead of mass audiences. In this book, Warren has persuaded some of the most respected and influential members of the profession to look into their crystal balls and tell us how they see things shaping.
These are times of huge technological change, with all visual media getting a thorough shake up, but this needs to be seen in the context of the new opportunities it presents. Jane Krish of the Wildscreen Trust puts this very succinctly, including the need for all wildlife filmmakers to be proactive in driving the changes, raising wildlife profile and pushing conservation issues;
"Keep coming up with ideas, ideas and more ideas. If we don't raise awareness of the natural world in as many different ways as we can, frankly, there won't be any left to film anyway," she says.
"If we don't raise awareness of the natural world in as many different ways as we can, frankly, there won't be any left to film anyway" - Jane Krish
The opportunity to develop wildlife filmmaking and taking it to the next level is wide open with the arrival of high definition television, Blu-ray and HD-DVD, but even in the lower technical strata, opportunity abounds, as Amy J Hetzler of Filmmakers for Conservation is quick to point out;
"The playing field is more open than ever before. Digital video cameras make it possible for anyone in the world to consider him/herself a filmmaker. Lowered standards and budgets from the broadcast end of things further opens up the field, so the competition is keen."
Undoubtedly, for anyone contemplating a career move in the wildlife direction, Piers Warren's book is an indispensable guide, giving both an overview of the industry and unique insights into how it works and how many distinguished career makers have created their niches within it.
Careers in Wildlife Filmmaking gives excellent value. Websites, wildlife film festivals and wildlife film training guides are all included, as well as a very valuable list of contacts, often quite specialised, that a wildlife filmmaker may need to call upon in their future profession.
As man manages to continue wreaking havoc on our planet, with deforestation and climate change leading the way, the delicate balance of nature is inevitably threatened and with it, the wildlife we all enjoy observing on our TV screens. So does wildlife filmmaking really offer long-term security as a career? Hardy Jones of Blue Voice, in his crystal ball, hones in on precisely this issue. He sees the wildlife filmmaker as more in the role of eco-warrior:
"The only relevant question we can ask about the future of wildlife filmmaking is, ‘What is the state of the natural world and its animal populations in which we are making films?' and, ‘Am I using my talents and abilities to address what is literally a threat to life on earth, or am I doing the greatest job on earth in isolation from all the facts?'" he says.
"It is nonsense to say that programming about the threats to the environment is boring or causes people to reach for the remote control. Pedantic diatribes do not work but adventurous stories about dedicated people fighting the battle to save species and ecosystems - ecosystems on which our lives depend - can be made to work through a partnership of filmmakers, distributors and broadcasters. The alternative is that wildlife filmmaking will be reduced to well-deserved irrelevance, joining cop shows, cartoons and sports in distracting us from the difficult choices society must make."
That chilling reminder is an indicator of the depth that Careers in Wildlife Filmmaking explores within in its 154 pages. Like a well-crafted film, it considers its subject from every angle and focuses clearly on the issues that really matter, whilst still communicating the essential basic information that anyone with predelictions to go wild needs to have close to hand. Wise counsel, delivered with insight and understanding as well as passion. Don't go wild without it.
Order from: Wild Life Film Careers