Pandemic Forces BBC to Take New Approach for David Attenborough’s The Mating Game | Wildlife
African bullfrogs converging on pools in South Africa and fighting like bar brawlers; a school of ghostly manta rays congregating off the Australian coast; vivid footage of amphibious glanders otters working cooperatively in a cold North American river.
These are all scenes from the new hit BBC One series David Attenborough The Mating Game, filmed during the Covid crisis using a markedly different approach to the proven 50-year-old way of doing things.
The pandemic meant Bristol-based Silverback Films was unable to transport its crews to remote parts of the world and instead relied on local filmmakers. Series producer Jeff Wilson said he not only kept production on track, but also improved the chances of capturing some wonderful moments that will wow audiences this fall.
Wilson said: “You always try to put your field team in the right place at the right time. This is the key skill and it is limited by budgets and weather windows. If you can reduce the risk of being in the right place at the right time by having someone around for longer, you give yourself the opportunity to create something even more magical.
One example was scenes of bull frogs. “African bullfrogs come out for their mating play at a very specific time after there has been a certain amount of rain to create pools big enough for them to congregate in. You get a whole bunch of stuff. ‘huge frogs that congregate as if they were gathering in a bar on a Saturday night and fighting for access to women. It only happens over two or three days and when it does, anyone can guess, especially with climate change. ”
South African filmmaker Russell MacLaughlin lives near the location in Limpopo province and so could be there when the right rain hits. McLaughlin said he began to wait for the moment in November of last year, but it wasn’t until February that two cyclones hit the African coastline in rapid succession. The pools filled up and the frogs appeared. “We were based two hours away. We have to react very quickly. It’s absolute chaos and then it’s all over, ”he said.
Silverback, which is part of All3Media, hired a young Australian, Alex Vail, to film manta rays off Australia. He spent 16 weeks waiting for their arrival. Vail was also responsible for some of the extraordinary scenes of hermaphroditic flatworms from the Persian carpet “fencing” with their penises on the Great Barrier Reef.
Wilson said that doesn’t mean UK-based filmmakers won’t be traveling anymore, but the use of locals helps balance the gamble of being in the right place at the right time. He said that meant greater risks could be taken with another footage – for example, you might feel confident enough to send a cameraman from the UK to spend 15 weeks in a cache in Russia if you knew you were you could count on a local person to be ready for action in another part of the world. “It gives us more leeway to wow people’s minds,” he said.
Another highlight of the series are scenes of snotty otters, also known as Masters of Hell. Males allow each other to fertilize a female’s eggs, an unusual piece of selflessness. Wilson said, “You couldn’t have done the streak we have without some guys based on the terrain in North America who know these rivers and the nuances of behavior and have spent a lot of time with their faces in a mask in. very cold weather. River.”
Keith Scholey, co-founder and CEO of Silverback, said that over the past decades, hard-to-use high-definition cameras have become the normal tool for animal filmmakers. In recent years, investments have been made to teach people around the world how to use them.
Better communications – it can be as easy to get a 4G signal in the wilds of South Africa as it is in the United States – means keeping in touch with local teams just getting easier. “We’re a lot more aware of the carbon cost of travel, so it all makes sense,” Scholey said.