MA Wildlife Filmmaking

Awards Season, and My First Award

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As the traditional awards season draws to a close with the Oscars this Sunday, for me it seems like awards season has only just begun. I’m lucky enough to have had my film The Drills of Afi Mountain nominated for four festivals this year, the first of which occurred over the weekend. Wild Film Fest is a festival run by students from the University of Exeter, and in it’s second year of running it has a very professional small festival feel; speakers from the wildlife filmmaking industry, screenings and an exhibition of photographs spread across three days made for an altogether well organised event, culminating in a showcase of films and the presentation of awards on Saturday night.

The standard of films was very high, with films coming from both UWE and Salford wildlife filmmaking courses as well as from Exeter students, which is especially impressive when I remember how little I knew about filmmaking when I was studying there for my undergraduate degree. I particularly enjoyed the winner of the cinematography category, Medieval Monsters (produced by Oliver Mueller of the Salford course), which had some stunning macro shots and really did justice to the beauty of it’s insect characters, making me feel quite inadequate in my own camera operating skills!

I’m very flattered to have been awarded the best film for both the conservation category, and as the overall festival winner, receiving a new trail camera and a GoPro Hero 4 Session camera as prizes, both of which I’m hugely grateful for. It’s really nice to know that people like the film, and considering that it was while studying at Exeter that I realised this was what I wanted to do, I’m thrilled that it was Exeter students that presented me with my first ever award for a film I’ve produced.

In the mean time, here are the other festivals I’ve been nominated for, watch this space for news of how I do:

Animal Film Festival (27th February), California

International Wildlife Film Festival (16-24th April), Montana

Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (17-23rd October), New York

Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival 2015

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As I walked up the stairs in Jackson Lake Lodge to the lobby for the first time, my breath was taken away by the incredible view of the Teton mountain range through the 60-foot windows before me. And as if that wasn’t already enough, the murmurs from hotel guests about a grizzly bear outside eating an elk carcass confirmed to me that this was a place well suited to hosting America’s best known wildlife film festival.

This year’s festival was preceded by a conservation summit discussing elephant conservation, which featured awe-inspiring talks from speakers such as Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole and Iain Douglas-Hamilton on their experiences with elephants, and their respective projects working to protect them. The “UWE 5” (Alice Marlow, Ida May Jones, Ben Morris-French, Nick Poole, Tom Richards) were tasked mostly with filming these keynote speeches, and so we were lucky enough to listen as these giants of the conservation world warned us of what needs to be done, not just in conservation but in filmmaking as well.

As the week progressed it was hard to distinguish between conservation summit and film festival, not least because so many of the big films had a conservation message. Racing Extinction was one in particular that I was excited about, and it didn’t disappoint – I don’t think there was anyone in the screening who wasn’t visibly moved by the film, and it deservedly won the Best Theatrical award at the Teton Awards Gala. The winner of the coveted Grand Teton was former Silverback Films producer James Reed with his film about the life of a Bajau hunter, and it didn’t disappoint: a compelling tale of a man’s relationship with the ocean with stunning underwater cinematography, Jago: A Life Underwater is truly an enchanting film.

After a week of filming, driving, setting things up, taking them down, meeting people and watching great films, the “UWE 5” were suitably shattered. But after being in such an inspirational place among so many passionate filmmakers, we’ll all go back to work with much renewed vigour and aspirations to make films like the ones we’ve seen in Jackson.

The Drills of Afi Mountain

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On Tuesday I finished my Masters in Wildlife Filmmaking, and so from here I take the plunge into the big wild world of trying to get a job. Although that’s actually not really the case, as I’ll be travelling to America on Thursday to volunteer at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, but after THAT I’ll be trying to get a job…

Anyway, while I’ll be doing that I’ll also be submitting my film to film festivals, so wish me luck! Here’s the final film, and I’ll be posting more details on festivals as I hear back from them.

The Drills of Afi Mountain trailer

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So after nearly nine months of work, I’ve very nearly finished off my Masters film, which is now called The Drills of Afi Mountain. The film will be ready in the next few days (so watch this space!), but in the meantime here is my trailer. Remember to watch in HD, and enjoy!

Time-lapse of Priddy Pool

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Went out for a recce of Priddy pools in the Mendips last week for a new project, and took this time-lapse while I was there. I’ve not done a huge amount of time-lapses in my time and I’m still learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t so criticism is very welcome! In the mean time, enjoy!

Inspiration and High Standards from Last Year’s MA Wildlife Filmmakers

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After a year of honing their wildlife filmmaking skills, on Thursday the day finally came for last year’s students to show their films at the BBC Natural History Unit. Eager to see how high the bar would be set, this year’s students sat among employees from both the BBC and the independent sector as they came to consider the standard of the next generation of filmmakers.

Introductions from BBC Executive Producer Julian Hector, and UWE’s Susan McMillan and Peter Venn set the stage, and attendees were provided with some extra reading: profiles and CVs of each student, as well as a collection of press releases written on the talks they were given and the many extracurricular projects they were involved in throughout the last year. The booklets listed impressive sets of skills and experiences gained throughout the duration of the course, which made for some exciting reading for my colleagues and I – an exciting snapshot of what the rest of our year might bring.

The films were diverse in both species and location, ranging from a studio-based film about mice to one featuring snow leopards shot in the Himalayas; a number of them were very impressive considering that the films were made on a shoestring budget. The three films chosen to be screened first were Walking with Wolves, Wildlife, Who Cares? and Wild Dreams, and between them they showcased abilities to tell a range of different stories from the conservation-based, to the goings on of a wildlife rescue centre, to being able to put together a story when the original plan becomes impossible. Looking at the quality of films that we saw I couldn’t help but feel inspired, but also daunted at the prospect of making films that live up to the same standard. The bar has been set for the year to come, better get back to work.

Results!

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So last week I heard back from UWE about the results of my MA interview and… I was successful! There’s not much else that I can say at this point apart from the fact that I’m obviously really excited, and if you want to hear more about how the course is you’ll have to stick around and try not to get bored of my blog before I start the course in October!

Other than that, last week was my training for my new job fundraising for the RSPB down in Hove – a fun 3 days learning about some of the fantastic work the RSPB do, practising trying to persuade members of the public to sign up, and finishing with a visit to Pulborough Brooks to see some of the resultsof successful conservation. Pulborough Brooks is a reserve down in East Sussex, and it has some really nice wetland, woodland and heathland habitat bursting with life – the sounds of nightingales (amongst a chorus of other birds) followed us down the path, and a young rabbit sat grazing not 2 metres from us as we walked by a clearing in the woods. By far the best thing about our visit in my opinion though, was a large pool in the middle of the wetland area of the reserve, alive with a diversity of  bird species using the water in different ways. Mallards and shelducks bobbed along the surface, house martens swooped down to catch insects flying above the water, Canada geese sat in the surrounding foliage, a lapwing waded in the shallows; all centred around a small island where a solitary spoonbill stood preening itself, occastionally stumbling down the banks to feed – walking awkwardly as it moved its head from side to side.

Now until recently I’ve never really been much of a bird watcher, but I’ve been getting into it a lot more and I’d like to get better at identifying different birds. So, starting next week I’m going to set myself a challenge: every fortnight I’m going to go down to Nonsuch Park and identify as many birds as I can by both sight and sound, trying each time to identify more than the time before. Hopefully this will motivate me to improve my bird identification skills, as well as learn some of the bird calls and songs I don’t know. So far, apart from the obvious pigeons and crows, I only really know the robin (because I see them so often), the chiff-chaff (its call is its name), and the great tit (sounds like its saying “teacher”), so I’ll have to get listening to more BBC Radio 4 Tweet of The Day to expand my knowledge of the aviary lexicon, as it were.

Interviews and Garden News

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It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I returned from Lagos, and I have been pretty busy. I’ve had 2 interviews – one for the RSPB and one for my MA Wildlife Filmmaking course – and while the preparation for them hasn’t been too difficult, it has been rather time consuming, involving watching a lot of wildlife documentaries to familiarise myself with some of the finer details of my favourite programmes. I’d totally forgotten how awesome some of the really early Attenborough stuff is – the first episode of Zoo Quest for a Dragon where a young David brings home Charlie the Orangutan is incredibly heart-warming, and if you haven’t seen it before I suggest you go watch it here.

Anyway, so the first interview was last Friday morning, and it was the more important one – the one for my Masters. It was a lot shorter than I expected being only about 25 minutes long (I thought it would be an hour at least), so I didn’t have enough time to talk about all of the things I wanted to, but it was interesting and I really enjoyed it. I was interviewed by 2 BBC employees, and they started by explaining that we didn’t have very long and that the interview would last about 20 minutes followed by a short writing task, so that set the pace. We briefly talked about what interested me about the industry, why I wanted to do the course etc (all the obvious questions), and then went on to the more challenging part which was more of a judge of my creativity and teamwork. They asked me about what I liked most about my favourite programmes, and then asked me about what other mediums I thought I could use to connect with an audience: I talked about sound (I realise now that was probably meant to be more of a question about multiple platforms, but you can’t win them all…), and how most people don’t really think about sound in wildlife documentaries but that its crucial in creating atmosphere (the foley sound in Hidden Kingdoms, for example, made it more likeable for younger viewers). That seemed to get a good response and they mentioned that they’d read in my application that I like to DJ, so I talked about different layers of sounds and how mixing music could be similar to producing the sound for a wildlife documentary – having the right blend of atmospheric sound with the sounds of the main characters of the sequence coming through. Then came my favourite part of the interview, where they created a production scenario to see what I would do…

“Imagine you’ve completed your masters, it’s 5 years down the line and you’re directing some filming in South Africa. You’re on a boat off the coast filming sharks, and there’s only 2 days left available to film. A storm is coming, and you aren’t getting on with the guy driving the boat. What do you do?”

I mean, that’s a pretty awesome question to have in an interview! Although I didn’t really have any idea what to say, as it’s not the sort of thing I’ve ever come across before. I said a few things about asking people’s advice and different options (is there another team somewhere that can get footage? Is it the sort of thing there might be stock footage of?), and then we moved on to looking at some of my photos and the written task, which was a short synopsis of a chapter in a book about a man hunting with his dog. It’s always difficult to gauge how well you do in an interview, especially when it’s so short, but I think it went OK and I guess we’ll see before the end of this week…

The second interview, which I had on Monday, was for a job selling membership to the RSPB. Again, it was actually pretty enjoyable – mostly just talking about wildlife and a few different scenarios testing how friendly and persistent I might be with people while out in the field. I had to give a short presentation about a project the RSPB are currently running, so I chose the “Birds Without Borders” campaign, which is all about protecting our migrant species internationally across their migration routes. It’s supported by Chris Packham who has been in Malta trying to raise awareness about the “Spring hunting” (read: indiscriminate shooting of anything with wings, including many of our protected migrant species), something which he is now being held by the Maltese police for filming. If you haven’t already been following his Youtube series, Malta – Massacre on Migration, you should definitely check it out.

Anyway, with the results of my RSPB interview back I’m excited to say I have a new job, which I start training for next Tuesday. In the mean time, I’ve set up my new Bushnell trail cam that my mother bought me for my birthday, which I’m hoping will give me a bit more of an insight into some of the nocturnal goings on in my garden. It’s mating season for the foxes at the moment, something which is hard to miss as the distinctly unromantic, scream-like cries they make cause our dogs to go mental; so I thought why not see if I can get some good photos or even footage? So far I’ve experimented with a couple of different places looking into neighbours’ gardens (the presence of our dogs means foxes don’t come into our gardens as much), and while I haven’t got anything mindblowing yet, I did get the below shot of a fox so at least I’m looking in the right place! This weekend I’m taking the trail cam down to Cornwall to put out and see what we can find around her farm, so check back in next week and I’ll put up any good photos we get!