A chat with cinematographer Bertie Gregory about capturing beluga whales, mountain lions, and polar bears on movie.
Chadden Hunter/BBC America/BBC Studios
A lot of what we see on nature exhibits, from Planet Earth to Shark Week, comes down to easily being within the precise proper place on the precise proper time. Wildlife cinematographer Bertie Gregory, whose work on the BBC’s beautiful globetrotting nature program Seven Worlds, One Planet landed him a BAFTA award, was merely a trainee when, due to being out there on simply the appropriate day with the appropriate gear abilities, he managed to get the sort of footage different wildlife filmmakers merely dream of.
Gregory had landed a digicam bursary place on Seven Worlds, which aired on BBC within the UK in 2019 and on BBC America earlier this 12 months (here’s the trailer), showcases every continent’s wildlife, a few of which has by no means been filmed earlier than. A final-minute tip led pointed him to a gaggle of not often seen spectacled bears (the kind of bear that kids’s e book character Paddington relies on) who had been exhausting at work devouring mini avocados within the South American cloud forest. Gregory was ready to make use of a drone to movie them climbing timber and gorging on fruit.
“The analysis staff on the venture had simply struck gold, as a result of an animal that you just normally see a number of occasions a 12 months, I used to be seeing on daily basis,” stated Gregory throughout a current interview. We additionally talked about filming nature with new know-how, his favourite animals on the sequence, and the craziest factor he needed to do to get the shot.
Thrillist: I’ve to inform you, one of many screenshots that I took of the sequence whereas I used to be watching it was of that one little shot of the spectacled bear sleeping on the department of the tree together with his legs hanging straight down.
Bertie Gregory: Yeah, that bear had had an extended day. Plenty of climbing timber.
What drew you to wildlife pictures and filming within the first place?
Gregory: Once I was actually younger, actually small, all my brothers and my mum and pop had been obsessive about water sports activities. So, from a extremely early age, I used to be inspired or pressured into the ocean, and spent quite a lot of my childhood arising and down on a surfboard, getting facefuls of chilly ocean waves. And I feel once you spend that period of time outdoors, you achieve an appreciation for being outdoors and for wildlife. I spotted if I took photos of what I noticed, that was a extremely great way of channeling my obsession, but in addition it was a extremely great way of explaining to different individuals who thought I used to be bizarre, what I used to be doing and what I used to be seeing. I discovered that that was a great way of convincing them that I wasn’t utterly bizarre. Undecided how profitable I used to be at that. But in addition I received an actual buzz about getting different individuals enthusiastic about one thing I used to be enthusiastic about.
I want that I might had pictures abilities once I was little, like once I was selecting up bugs far and wide and exhibiting them to individuals.
Gregory: Simply to make clear, I had zero pictures abilities at that time. It was quite a lot of quite a lot of trial and error.
I really did need to ask concerning the drones, as a result of I do not know something about drones, however I do know they are often fairly loud. How do you’re employed with that once you’re filming animals that you do not need to disturb in any other case?
Gregory: Clearly, the wildlife at all times comes first — one, as a result of it is actually necessary, you already know, morally. We’re speculated to be championing these animals, it would not be proper to be disturbing them. But in addition we need to movie pure habits. So, if the animal’s working away or staring on the digicam, that is, from a cinematography perspective as nicely, that is pointless. So yeah, you are proper. Drones have the potential to be disturbing as a result of they are often fairly loud. And in addition, they’re very quick. So, you would, in the event you needed to, chase animals. Plenty of the time the drone is quicker than the animal to allow them to’t even get away. In order that’s one thing that we take actually, actually critically. And we work with specialists and mainly do our homework to determine, okay, is that this an animal that we are able to successfully movie with a drone with out disturbing it? We work with scientists to determine what are the sorts of predators that these animals have? If they’ve an aerial predator, they’re in all probability extra more likely to be afraid of the drone. Are they used to being round man-made noises? If they’re, then they’re in all probability extra more likely to be accepting of the drone. After which additionally, the primary key mistake that is typically made is, if I am making an attempt to movie an animal on foot, I am gonna method actually slowly, over days or hours and even weeks, slowly shifting nearer and nearer. And that is since you’re making an attempt to get the animal used to you. I am going to burn via a bunch of batteries, simply hovering the drone 100 meters away from the animal simply so it could actually get used to that noise. And that is actually what was the important thing to the mountain lion, the puma sequence within the South America episode. We spent quite a lot of time simply hovering that drone an extended, good distance away from that feminine simply so she may get used to that noise. And by the top of the six weeks together with her, I could possibly be just about straight over her head, and she or he would proceed to hunt. Now, if I might began immediately making an attempt to movie straight over her head, she would not have been completely satisfied about that.
Yeah, I bear in mind there was this viral video that went round, I feel final 12 months, of a bear mom with cubs and it was taken from a drone.
Gregory: Was that the one on the actually steep snowy cliff?
Yeah, and certainly one of them fell down.
Gregory: Yeah, the grizzly bear. I imply, once I noticed that video for the primary time, the very first thing I assumed was, Whoa, that drone’s actually shut! And that feminine is certainly reacting to the drone. Yeah, I bear in mind all of the headlines had been like Wonderful Video Reveals Dedication of Little Cub, and it is like, no! The entire purpose the state of affairs has been created is as a result of somebody’s being an fool with the drone. After which everybody type of caught on, you already know, individuals that are not used to seeing how animals react to things and issues. And yeah, it was sort of corrected.
Yeah, there was undoubtedly a shift of perspective fairly rapidly.
Gregory: I imply, I assume the factor I ought to say is, I’d undoubtedly not encourage individuals to fly drones round animals. We’re fortunate sufficient to have the time and work with the most effective scientists on the planet to determine how to do that with out disturbing them. As a result of some animals is not going to visually present you that they’re disturbed. You realize, their behavioral cues are extra delicate, and it actually takes an professional to interpret that they don’t seem to be completely satisfied, or that they’re completely satisfied.
It is actually good to listen to concerning the care that you just guys soak up filming this and in ensuring that you just’re doing all the things proper. The puma sequence, the place the feminine puma hunts a herd of guanaco to feed her cubs, was completely superb. That was like watching a film.
Gregory: It is a harmful animal for her to hunt. Fairly nuts how, like, in the event you and I need to eat we go to the grocery store. This puma actually has to threat her life, day after day, to get one single meal. And as quickly as she’s performed that, she then has to begin over again. I feel essentially the most particular factor about that sequence was that we actually received to know a person animal. Usually, that is not the way it works. We get to know many various people of the identical species, so that you get a connection to the species however to not the person. Whereas with that mountain lion, that feminine was known as Sarmiento. We had been in search of her on daily basis and we discovered her most days, simply to get to know her and study her territory. By the top it was like, Ah, nicely, we have seen her on this spot earlier than, and normally she makes use of that little gully as cowl to get across the again of that prey. Getting in her head was actually particular.
One thing I appreciated was that you’ve segments after every episode the place you clarify how sure sequences from the episode got here collectively, which I like as a result of I take into consideration that the entire time I am watching it. And within the one with the belugas and the polar bear —
Gregory: You imply that fool who was singing to them?
Was that you just?
Gregory: It was. [Laughs]
What a dream, although, to sing to a beluga whale. That is superb.
Gregory: What’s loopy is that that really works. Once I was informed about that once we received there by our boat captain, he was like, “Yeah, in the event you sing to them they’re going to come over.” I used to be like, yeah, you simply need to make me look silly. And he was completely proper. Some songs work rather well, and a few do not. It have to be to do with what frequencies they’re able to making. I bear in mind Jurassic Park and Adele labored rather well. Star Wars did not work in any respect. The nationwide anthem did not work.
They’re so personable on digicam. They actually look good.
Gregory: What’s cool about them is that they’re one of many few cetaceans — so, whale or dolphin — not all of their vertebrae are fused. Most cetaceans, their vertebrae are all fused, however beluga aren’t, and meaning they’re able to turning their head to allow them to look over their shoulder. It seems actually human. Dolphins usually have to show their entire physique to love see behind them, whereas these beluga can flip their head. So that they’d swim previous you after which like, offer you slightly look over their shoulder like, “Whassup?” After which they hold swimming.
I feel one thing that one other cinematographer stated in the course of the behind-the-scenes section was that it was troublesome for you guys to observe the polar bear searching the beluga after which ultimately getting one. How exhausting is it, typically, to not need to do one thing once you’re in that state of affairs?
Gregory: I feel that is a standard query of wildlife filmmakers. Do not you need to get entangled? Do not you need to cease it? I imply, on this explicit case, in the event you needed to cease a polar bear leaping on a beluga whale, you possibly can’t. So let’s simply clear that one up. Even in the event you needed to, you possibly can’t, it is a polar bear. And the opposite factor I ought to say, which is extra necessary, is nature is in a really positive stability, and dying and surviving is on such a positive stability. These polar bears have gotten to outlive too. Usually individuals ask that query when it is a actually cute prey animal. And my argument towards that’s, if you wish to base this solely on cuteness, typically predator infants are actually cute. For those who cease that predator searching the lovable prey, the even cuter predator infants are going to starve and doubtlessly die. Our job is as journalists, we’re observers. That stated, if an animal is in misery due to people, we’d intervene or discover a means of intervening. For instance, if we got here throughout an animal caught in a fishing internet or one thing, we might intervene. However when it’s pure wild habits, particularly with a predator-prey state of affairs, our job is to report what occurs, it is to not get entangled. That does not imply to say that it is not troublesome to observe. I imply, within the case of the beluga, they seem to be a massive charismatic animal that we received to know they usually’re actually pleasant within the water. So then to see one die is clearly actually unhappy. However, on the similar time, it’s extremely spectacular to observe. The foresight and planning and intelligence that that polar bear wanted and exhibited to get even an opportunity at searching a whale was actually outstanding. And so, certain, it is troublesome to observe, however unimaginable to observe as nicely.
What was the craziest factor or similar to the longest wait you needed to endure as a way to get an animal on movie?
Gregory: In that first episode that you just talked about, which is about Antarctica, proper on the finish of that episode, there is a massive whale gathering with about 150 fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet. Myself and director Abby Lees spent two months on a German analysis icebreaker known as the Polarstern with, like, thirty German scientists. It was an absolute hoot, they had been all loopy. We had been mainly opportunistically filming whales. Getting a whale gathering in Antarctica has been a holy grail for wildlife filmmaking for years, they tried to movie it for the unique Frozen Planet, however failed. And a few new analysis emerged in the course of the making of Seven Worlds that gave some clues as to the place these gatherings may be occurring. Abby and I spent two months on this ship and we had been filming with a helicopter, looking for these whale gatherings, and we had been type of teased, we had a number of glimpses of mini gatherings. After which proper in the direction of the top of the 2 months on the boat, we had this one afternoon the place it simply kicked off and went loopy. And, in fact, the helicopter had an oil leak that day, so it was grounded. So I ended up having to movie it with a drone flying off of the ship. And yeah, actually, two months of ready boiled down to simply a few drone batteries. Simply a few flights. Simply to see one thing that, you already know, I might heard a lot about, so many rumors about, however to really see it in particular person, 150 simply large whales. They’re practically 90 toes lengthy. And there is 1000’s of penguins and albatross and seals all on this massive feeding celebration. It is one factor to see it after which go, oh, how do I do justice to this with my fingers on these controls? Let’s not mess this up. So luckily, it turned out okay.
In direction of the top of that episode, David Attenborough has that narration about how decimated they had been by whaling and the way they’re solely simply now type of coming again, nevertheless it’s nonetheless nowhere close to the numbers that they was. I actually appreciated how this present, like many of the new nature programming that the BBC does, could be very definitive about how we people have performed quite a lot of injury. And it is actually our job now to both do one thing about it or not.
Gregory: Yeah, the normal method was, yeah, to faux that we stay on this Backyard of Eden, the place we’d convey onto the screens these untouched, pristine locations, however the actuality is, only a few if any of these really exist anymore. And I assume it is simple to at all times go down the doom and gloom route, however within the case of those whales, it is really one of many few conservation success tales that we now have. Sure, we hunted them very near extinction in lots of species’ case. However, since defending them, they’ve come again. And I feel that is a extremely thrilling idea, that if all of us work collectively and defend these items and care sufficient, wildlife has a tremendous means to bounce again. Whales are an amazing instance of this. Why cannot we apply that to extra locations and species world wide?
To your level about how there are now not very many pockets of wilderness left, I bear in mind, within the Europe episode, to get footage of the wolves searching the deer, the filmmakers thought that they had been going to be out within the woods, however they’re really fairly near the village.
Gregory: Yeah, I used to be on that shoot, really, for the Europe episode. I bear in mind within the lead-up to the shoot, we had this one explicit location that we had been going to stake out, which was this mountain facet that was actually wild and remoted on this nationwide park. And, yeah, it turned out that was not the most effective place to movie them. They had been nonetheless searching wild prey, they had been searching the purple deer, however round this little village. And, in precise reality, the wolves had been doing a tremendous job of staying out the best way of individuals. I feel within the 4 weeks, 5 weeks I used to be there, I feel I noticed a wolf as soon as within the day. The remainder of the time it was pitch darkish and with out navy know-how, the thermal cameras we had been utilizing, we would not have seen them. They do an amazing job at residing alongside us and out of our hair. I feel we are able to study quite a bit from them for certain.
I’ve by no means seen evening imaginative and prescient footage like that earlier than. And the digicam is massive.
Gregory: Yeah, it seems like one thing out of an Austin Powers film, the [imitates Dr. Evil] laser tractor beam. It is mad. The best factor was really — so, the wolves present up black-hot with the white chilly floor. There was one time when a wolf got here actually, actually shut, really snuck up behind us. We heard it, I spun the digicam round, received an enormous close-up shot of his face, which is used within the sequence. However then, because it turned and walked away from me, I simply needed to get some photographs of its toes strolling, and I seen that when its paw was down on the bottom and it lifted up, for a number of seconds there was a black scorching spot the place its paw was, so its footprints had been heated for a number of seconds after the animal walked off.
Do you could have a favourite sequence or a favourite animal that you just received to place into this present?
Gregory: The mountain lion one was fairly particular. I actually like animals that individuals underestimate. And I feel within the case of the South America episode, we frequently consider fish as not being very brilliant or not having a lot persona. I used to be filming the fish, the piraputanga within the jungle rivers of Brazil. They’re able to recognizing fruit above the floor of the water, calculating the place that fruit is, after which, bearing in mind refraction, leaping up out the water, selecting the fruit off the tree after which touchdown again within the river. They’re actually, actually intelligent little fish.
So surprising too! I had no thought what was gonna occur in any respect.
Gregory: Often they’re following the monkeys round. Anytime that one thing hits the floor of the water, they’re going to go over and test it out. So, within the case of the actually messily consuming monkeys, they’re going to be spilling a great deal of meals. However, no, that is not all. That is not their solely trick. They have a secret weapon for when the monkeys aren’t round.
Is there an animal that you have not gotten to movie but, that is type of like your — I assume this can be a dangerous phrase to make use of at this level, however — white whale?
Gregory: Yeah, it would be humorous if I selected beluga for that would not it? [Laughs] I imply, there’s tons. There are many animals that I have been fortunate sufficient to have filmed and it is really these animals that I might like to return and movie earlier than filming others. Often, by the top of the shoot, you discovered the right way to movie an animal after which it is time to go residence, which is inconvenient. I might actually prefer to revisit a few of the animals I’ve gotten to know, significantly the people. Sarmiento, that feminine mountain lion that had three cubs, she’s now rumored to have a brand new set of cubs, and certainly one of her cubs has additionally received its personal cubs now. That’d be fairly cool to revisit the household tree of an animal I’ve met earlier than.
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