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
A couple of weeks ago I left my trail cam set up on a bird feeder in the apple tree in my garden, and for a week I’d totally forgotten about it. Some 6000 photos and videos later (it was rather a windy week, so the majority were of leaves…) I’ve managed to sort through, identify all the birds, and begin to put it all into a video which I will put up soon on my videos page. Unfortunately my trail cam is a bit faulty and doesn’t record sound, which is a shame – I would have loved to have heard some of the exchanges around the feeder – but nevertheless there was a fair bit of interesting behaviour and a diversity of species that I didn’t expect from my garden, so all in all I’m pretty happy with the results!
The species I had visit the feeder include robin (including juveniles, which I never realised had such a beautiful plumage), dunnock, blue tit, woodpigeon, magpie, greenfinch, a juvenile goldfinch, a family of great tits and a charming family of house sparrows who I’ve grown to love. As you can see in the video the sparrow family often feed together, and it looks like the parents brought up 3 chicks. They rarely ever bring all 3 to feed – usually just 1 or 2 – and although the juveniles are clearly capable of feeding themselves they do tend to act a bit spoilt from time to time and complain until the mother feeds them. The other interesting thing I noticed is that the juvenile robin (or robins) doesn’t appear to like landing on the feeder for long if at all; it sometimes even hovers by the feeder to feed.
Today I spent a lovely afternoon chasing foxes around my neighbours’ front gardens and taking photos of them (the foxes, not my neighbours). While I realise I do probably look like a bit of a weirdo, luckily the foxes were kind enough to stick to areas away from people’s windows so it didn’t look like I was taking photos of people inside their homes. I managed to get a nice photo as one poor fox was startled by the sight of me peering at it from behind a bin – a behaviour, you might say, echoes the typical behaviour of the urban fox!
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!