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Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom Paperback – May 11, 2010
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Longtime producer Palmer provides an in-depth look at wild animals on film, covering the history of wildlife documentaries, safety issues, and the never-ending pressure to obtain the “money shot.” Marlin Perkins, Jacques Cousteau, Steve Irwin, Timothy Treadwell, and many other familiar names are discussed along with their work, accidents, and in some cases, untimely deaths. Palmer is highly critical of Irwin, and offers fascinating revelations about game farms used by exploitative filmmakers and photographers looking for easy shots and willing to use caged animals to obtain them. He also considers the subliminal messages of many wildlife films, considering everything from Shark Week to Happy Feet and how they manipulate audiences toward preset conclusions about animal behavior. In all this is an engaging and exceedingly timely look at a form of entertainment the public has long taken for granted and which, as Palmer points out, really needs a fresh and careful reconsideration. --Colleen Mondor
A well-reasoned yet passionate argument for changing wildlife filmmaking practices and creating ethical guidelines, this is an accessible and engaging read.” Library Journal
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The book not only points out many of the questionable techniques involved in the process, it also suggests a path toward more ethical and sustainable practices that will (hopefully) lead to better, more authentic films, while reducing the impact on animals and ecosystems.
Consumers and filmmakers alike will benefit from the information. The book should be required reading for anyone contemplating a career in the field of wildlife and natural history filmmaking. Finally someone on the inside has had the courage to address these issues and offer solutions on how the future of wildlife filmmaking might change for the better. A great read.
I came across this book as an Amazon recommendation based on a few purchases over the holidays. I thought it was an interesting topic and bought the book after its five-star rating and pages and pages of praise from the who's who of the wildlife world and a preface by Jane Goodall. Chris presents the book very well from the management perspective of the wildlife film making business. However, it's like listening to a politician's speech, which I guess is the flavor of talk for someone who's well-connected in D.C, Wall Street and various lobby groups? :)
I took offense to calling Perkins' pitching for Mutual of Omaha in his pioneering documentary series as "prostitution" for a sponsor. This coming from Chris who says he uses the fame of celebrities to sell this movies and the fame of seasoned wildlife luminaries to sell his book (I wouldn't have bought this book if not for the praises). Chris mentions Attenborough several times and never once very positively. And he goes on to say that no one in Africa watches Attenborough anyway because it's all in English (during his praise of Cynthia Moses' work). I'm not so sure I get that argument, unless of course Attenborough's work cannot be translated to any African language.
The book skims on some interesting but controversial topics. Raising funds for making a film suits someone who's got name, fame or connections to those with the required traits. Obviously, it's something which Chris is really good at but there's not much advice for someone who does not want to take that route. Not much was said on what happens with the money. For example, the movie 'Whales' took $1 million from NSF and $3 million from NWF and made more than $50 million. Is it ethical to gamble on money paid for by tax-payers (NSF) and members (NWF)? What happens to profits? Who are the buyers? Why not consider giving out documentaries for free as the are already paid for by sponsors? I was expecting more depth on this topic as this is where Chris' expertise would be as a manager/executive. Other topics that just scratches the surface is science versus filmmakers and wildlife management versus filmmakers. There's a lot more people-management skills involved in wildlife filmmaking than naturalist skills and I wished there could be more about that.
I'm not a fan of personal attacks and the "my way or the highway" attitude that is a regular theme in the book. I wondered how many of those that were attacked for their documentary styles worked for Chris (Attenborough, Irwin, Brady Barr for example). Perhaps none? Not everyone likes or enjoys Brady Barr or Steve Irwin but there are also those that don't enjoy celebrity-hosted wildlife films as well, so it's probaly not fair to criticize different styles of wildlife films IMHO. Popular presenters are rebuked for not doing enough for conservation. This comes when none of Chris' films have taken on organized big-money big-power industries like oil or mining companies, instead frying little fish like poor sustenance hunters, fishermen and ranchers for conservation's sake.
In the beginning Chris talks about sensationalism in a negative way, however nearly every discussion reeks of sensationalism from alligator chasing boats in a storm(really?), to elephants almost dying on film (sounds overly exaggerated) and other dramatic real-life experiences. Science seems to take a backseat except for a few superstars. Apparently all superstar scientists study primates, predators or other such totem species and successful wildlife films revolve around those. It is unfortunate given that we have millions of species and not much is known about them outside the science world. This is a sad state because of the money involved - right from raising funds to making profits. After all, other than the most diehard fans of nature, who wants to watch a documentary on naked mole rats or gut nematodes of a zebra? There's also the occasional hypocrisy in topics ranging from staging to shooting ethics. For example, in the ethics discussion Larry Engel chooses to just shoot a dying elk so as to not interfere with wildlife, but in the next few pages a cameraman's act of removing whale louse (whale lice) from a whale is praised.
It's still a good book to read but it is misleading to think it's the state of the industry (if it is, then I'm horrified). It's more like a personal philosophy on making wildlife films. I only have more questions about the "secrets" of making wildlife films after reading this book and thought it was very biased.
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