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I’m building my career as a wildlife camera operator. I’m currently making my own productions with my company Wild Films, which I run with my partner. At the moment we do the whole process ourselves – directing, producing and editing everything. Wildlife cinematography is notoriously difficult to get into and you have to be able to show your work before you get hired. People want to see that you can produce a story as well as working the camera.
The Tigers of Scotland is our first full length feature film – it tells the story of the severely endangered Scottish Wildcat . It’s been over a year in production and has been a real labour of love. Wildcats are elusive and incredibly rare – there are only about 95 of them left in the wild – many people where we’ve been filming don’t even know that there are Wildcats in the area.
I studied film making at university. I wasn’t set on wildlife cinematography then, but kept coming back to it. Originally I worked in commercial and event photography. During one job I got to photograph falconry birds – that sparked the idea that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I went on to make a 2 minute film on red squirrels and it just progressed from there.
It’s strange but sometimes you go back to what you were interested in as a child.
The one tip – even from established nature photographers such as Gordon Buchanan – is to keep on doing your own thing. Keep on plugging away. Technology has gotten so good that you can create a decent film on your smartphone. Photograph what’s nearest to you – in your garden. Also, really research your animals – the more you understand them and their behaviour the better your films will be.
You can spend months researching something but when you see it in the flesh it still surprises you. For example, I wasn’t prepared for how tiny puffins are, or that the wildcats are completely silent – they only make sound in breeding seasons.
You also end up getting really excited when you see poo! When you’re working with elusive animals, it’s often the only sign that they’ve been around – wildcats are light on their feet so they don’t really leave footprints.
We started in March last year – so it’s been well over a year including research and pre-production. We want to submit for film festivals too so have had to work our timescales around that. Post production has been reduced from 2 years to 8 months as we want to be ready for the Jackson Hole film festival which includes an environmental summit – this year on wild cats!
Scary! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started it. It’s addictive when you start to the see donations roll in – I always have a tab open checking it. I have a friend who helps with our PR which is great for spreading the word.
Yes – I’ve joined the Natural History Network which is the international industry body for the wildlife film industry. Most of the wildlife film industry is run down in Bristol and a lot of people have told us to move there, but the benefit of locating outside of a hub is that – whilst you may get a bit less work – you’ll also have a monopoly on the work in the local area.
Yes – I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. There are a lot of grants available for nature documentary making – the problem is meeting the conditions and finding them at the right time – for example some need to be in eight months before you start filming.
When you’re on a shoot you’ll be wild camping for weeks on end – and you can’t predict the weather. In April, whilst camping in Scotland, we woke up to six inches of snow! From a filming point of view, the longer the lens the better. We use very sensitive dark cameras – not infrared, but full colour – which are ideal for shooting animals that only come out in dusk or dawn. On this project we definitely underestimated the value of camera traps – wildcats are incredibly hard to spot, but with a camera trap even if you don’t see the animal, the motion detector will! We also need to get a camper van in future – if only to charge our camera batteries. Technology is getting better – you can now get solar panels which allow you to charge things in the middle of nowhere, but we’ll still end up going to friend’s houses and using their chargers.
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