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Shooting in the Wild
Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom
$24.95
Paperback
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • May.11.2010
  • 9781578051489
  • Sierra Club Books

Chris gives an overview of the book:

Wildlife and nature films are a hugely popular entertainment genre: networks such as Animal Planet and Discovery are stars in the cable television universe, viewers flock to IMAX theaters to see jaw-dropping footage from the wild, and the venerable BBC still scores triumphs with series such as Planet Earth. As cinematic technology brings ever more breathtaking images to the screen, and as our direct contact with nature diminishes, an ever-expanding audience craves the indirect experience of wild nature that these films provide.But this success has a dark side, as Chris Palmer reveals in his authoritative and engrossing report on the wildlife film business. A veteran producer and film educator, Palmer looks past the headlines about TV host Steve Irwin’s death by stingray and filmmaker Timothy Treadwell falling prey to his beloved grizzlies, to uncover a more pervasive...
Read full overview »

Wildlife and nature films are a hugely popular entertainment genre: networks such as Animal Planet and Discovery are stars in the cable television universe, viewers flock to IMAX theaters to see jaw-dropping footage from the wild, and the venerable BBC still scores triumphs with series such as Planet Earth. As cinematic technology brings ever more breathtaking images to the screen, and as our direct contact with nature diminishes, an ever-expanding audience craves the indirect experience of wild nature that these films provide.
But this success has a dark side, as Chris Palmer reveals in his authoritative and engrossing report on the wildlife film business. A veteran producer and film educator, Palmer looks past the headlines about TV host Steve Irwin’s death by stingray and filmmaker Timothy Treadwell falling prey to his beloved grizzlies, to uncover a more pervasive and troubling trend toward sensationalism, extreme risk-taking, and even abuse in wildlife films. He tracks the roots of this trend to the early days of the genre, and he profiles a new breed of skilled, ethical filmmakers whose work enlightens as well as entertains, and who represent the future that Palmer envisions for the industry he loves.

Read an excerpt »

Larry Engel Filming in Africa

In 1996, I commissioned film producer Larry Engel to make a National Wildlife Federation film called Wildlife Vets. Engel was to follow wildlife veterinarian David Jessup as he globe-trotted the world as a wildlife biologist for the state of California. One assignment sent Jessup to Africa to look into the causes of a horrible disease that was afflicting female elephants along the shores of Lake Zimbabwe. These elephants slowly lost their ability to hold things with their trunks, hence the name “floppy-trunk syndrome.” As the disease progressed, the suffering elephants could no longer forage and eventually starved to death, the process of decline sometimes taking a year or more. African vets would shoot the debilitated animals well before the end to stop the suffering. Jessup helped mount an international effort to examine the animals in order to gain a better understanding of the disease. 

“We all worked fast and efficiently,” Engel recalls. “Part of our concern was that when filmmakers are around, the work tends to slow down. Elephants are really big creatures. They do not naturally spend much time lying on the ground, for a good reason—if they spend too much time on their sides, the weight of their bodies will start to kill internal organs. As adults, elephants stay on their feet even when they rest or sleep. An animal on its side is an animal in jeopardy. With the first patient, everything went fine. They tranquilized the elephant to perform a biopsy and fit it with a radio collar. The film’s host, actor Alicia Silverstone, participated; the vets and helpers worked as quickly as possible. When an antidote to the tranquilizer was injected into a vein in the elephant’s ear, she quickly rose. “We ran from her as she awakened and rolled awkwardly to her feet,” says Engel. “Shaking her head a few times, staggering on all four legs until she regained her balance—and looking ominously in our direction—she finally trotted off to rejoin her herd, bellowing along the way.” 

Near sunset, however, a second ailing elephant had been down for more than half an hour while the vets and Silverstone worked on her. She was given a dose of the antidote and responded by shaking her head and trying to roll but couldn’t regain her footing. Instead, she just lay there with her eyes open. 

The vets waited patiently for the antidote to take effect fully, but nothing happened. Then they yelled at her until they were hoarse and slapped her on the rump until their hands hurt, but the elephant did not respond. She remained in a stupor. Silverstone retreated to the Land Rover, staring at the unfolding scene with one hand over her mouth in disbelief. Engel kept filming. 

The vets decided to take more drastic action. They tried to drag the elephant into an upright position by looping ropes around her tusks and tying them to one of the trucks. But, even in four-wheel drive, the truck did not have the horsepower to lift an elephant. She had been down now for almost an hour, and hope was rapidly slipping away. 

“Toward the end, I was thinking that we, or I, had become responsible for this sick animal and that we had killed it,” Engel recounts. “In our zeal to film another darting and exam, perhaps our decision-making had become clouded. If the camera were not there, perhaps the vets would not have chosen to do the procedure, realizing that the disease had weakened the elephant too much. I kept saying to myself, ‘I have never killed an animal before; this is not what we’re supposed to be filming.’ ” 

Jessup decided to administer one final dose of antidote and enlist everyone to push the elephant up—a dangerous gamble. The extra dose could kill her. Or, if she awoke and rose to her feet quickly, she might charge her would-be helpers out of frustration, fear, and anger; Engel, Jessup, Silverstone, and the whole team might not have a chance to escape. Seeing no alternative, the vet injected the second antidote and the group pushed mightily. Even the assistant cameraman stepped to the other side of the camera to help. It was all hands on deck. Trying to right an animal that weighs so much is no easy task, but for some reason, she responded to the touch of her rescuers. 

“The elephant shook her head,” says Engel, “struggling to get to her feet. But she couldn’t get up. We all had tears in our eyes. We were screaming, begging, praying. Then, miraculously—nearly an hour after being sedated and after she probably should have died—she got to her feet. Everyone ran back to the Land Rovers, afraid that she might still attack.” Staggering on all fours, the elephant regained her balance and bearings as the crew cheered her on. She sniffed the air and bellowed, then slowly turned her back on her human friends and walked off into the dusk. Engel adds, “We named her Lazarus because she came back from the dead.”  

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Chris

Chris Palmer is an environmental and wildlife film producer who has swum with dolphins and whales, come face-to-face with Kodiak bears, and camped with wolf packs. Chris has spent 25 years producing more than 300 hours of original programming for prime time television and the...

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