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Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom

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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 th 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.


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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 th 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.

30 review for Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    This is less an insider's account of making movies in the animal kingdom and more a thoughtful meditation on the ethics and strategies of doing so. I can see why they chose that as a subtitle; it makes it sound as if you're going to get all sorts of salacious gossip about David Attenborough. However, this book is plenty dishy enough. Palmer walks us through the evolution of nature films, and the various philosophies used in creating them. He discusses the tricks of the trade filmmakers use to cr This is less an insider's account of making movies in the animal kingdom and more a thoughtful meditation on the ethics and strategies of doing so. I can see why they chose that as a subtitle; it makes it sound as if you're going to get all sorts of salacious gossip about David Attenborough. However, this book is plenty dishy enough. Palmer walks us through the evolution of nature films, and the various philosophies used in creating them. He discusses the tricks of the trade filmmakers use to create more engaging and popular movies and television shows. It's quite an eye-opening experience. How ethical is it, for example, to film animals in zoo or game farm but not tell the audience that's what you're doing? It's apparently (far) commoner than you would believe. Is it OK to lay out a food item to tempt an animal into the shot? What if the food item is still alive? Does it matter whether it's a bird, a spider, a fish, a bird, or a deer? How much anthropomorphism is OK? Should humans be present on the screen with the animals? How close should they get? Does it matter if they're "scientists?" It being impossible to observe something without changing it, how much change is allowable? What sacrifices can wild animals be asked to make for the good of the species? For the planet? These are extremely important questions and an extraordinarily important conversation to be having, and this book should be mandatory reading (or at least these practices mandatory discussion material) for anyone interested in animals, outreach, conservation, ethics, science, or animal welfare. Palmer presents questions, information, and perspectives I'd never even seen hinted at anywhere else. To paraphrase a line from the book, it's up to filmmakers where to draw their ethical lines; but audiences may be surprised to find out where they've been drawing it lately. My main issue with this book was the grade-school-textbook approach it took: outlining what was to be covered in each chapter, and making frequent use of the phrase "but more about he/she/it/that/them later" which just frustrates the reader. If you're going to tell me, tell me if you're not, hold off on teasing until it's really time to discuss this issue. This is symptomatic of a book with a sketchy structure (perhaps what he was trying to avoid, or compensate for, in the textbook tone.) That flaw is not enough, though, to ruin the book. The meatiness of the information and philosophical material more than made up for it. My only other quibble has to do with his judging of ethics: if he personally liked a person, they tended to get a pass on more eyebrow-raising behavior than anyone he didn't particularly care for. The whole point of ethics is that they apply regardless of your personal feelings toward the players involved. Overall, this is a very important book, and I'm about to insist that many of my friends read it, so that I have someone with whom to discuss its implications.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Omar Manjouneh

    A dedicated call on action guide to the future wildlife filmmaking industry and wild life in general. Chris Palmer could sound harshly radical at some points, but what you can not miss from the very start is how wholeheartedly he is passionate when it comes to the advocacy for what he believes in, even when it comes to questioning his own past decisions and beliefs he would take no shelter from expressing himself clearly without ignoring the notable oppositions he has for his opinions. I find so A dedicated call on action guide to the future wildlife filmmaking industry and wild life in general. Chris Palmer could sound harshly radical at some points, but what you can not miss from the very start is how wholeheartedly he is passionate when it comes to the advocacy for what he believes in, even when it comes to questioning his own past decisions and beliefs he would take no shelter from expressing himself clearly without ignoring the notable oppositions he has for his opinions. I find some of his thoughts a bit conservative, following "by the book ethics" which stands out as a true challenge when it comes to applying his code of ethics out in the field, and also the technique content falls short against his consistent need to reflect an ethical explanation for everything. But, overall he successful delivers a strong message that it's totally worthy every moment of your time with this book, not to mention the highly valuable resources -and film list- he provides for any who might be interested to dig deeper later on.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lynda

    Very interesting and candid insiders look at the wildlife film industry. Palmer makes excellent points, observations and asks questions to make you think. Great read if you want to know more about the history of wildlife film making as well as present day.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Zaccaria

    Very fascinating and while perhaps too detailed in parts for the average reader, a must-read for anyone looking to get into the wildlife photography field.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    When I was in Peru a couple years ago, we were on a tour of the Colca Canyon. On the way to our destination we passed a man who would allow you to take a photo with a magnificent bird for a couple soles. My first reaction, looking at the happy man smiling at his girlfriend while she laughed and captured a photo of him with a giant bird on his head was something like, "oh, how funny". I was then embarrassed when our tour leader suggested that no one pay the man because we didn't want to encourage When I was in Peru a couple years ago, we were on a tour of the Colca Canyon. On the way to our destination we passed a man who would allow you to take a photo with a magnificent bird for a couple soles. My first reaction, looking at the happy man smiling at his girlfriend while she laughed and captured a photo of him with a giant bird on his head was something like, "oh, how funny". I was then embarrassed when our tour leader suggested that no one pay the man because we didn't want to encourage the abuse of animals. Whoa. I love animals. I would never encourage their abuse. So how had it not immediately occurred to me that the man selling bird photos was in fact a horrific abuser? Later that afternoon we arrived at the canyon, famous for being the home of the great Andean Condor (the largest flying bird in the Southern Hemisphere). I sat on the edge of a stone wall for 3 hours waiting to spot the great bird, but no luck. I was freezing. I was hungry. It started to rain. To kill some more time and warm up we went on a walk along the rim of the canyon, and just when I had given up hope of seeing the Condor a "teenage" condor came swooping out from the Canyon. We were so excited we whipped out our cameras and ran as fast as we could to see it up ahead. To our surprise, that beautiful bird turned around and flew past us 10 times! It was amazing! I took 50 photos and we were all totally blown away by the experience. Reading Chris Palmer's book allowed me to delve further into the question I later asked myself - "where do you draw the line between entertainment and animal abuse?" and appreciate and respect wildlife filmmakers who "wait for the condor". I will never view another environmental or wildlife program again in the same way that I once did, but I think I and the planet will be better off for it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    A book about nature filming is outside my normal area of expertise, but filmmaker Chris Palmer has made many extraordinary movies about the natural world and some of them have changed my view of life, the universe and everything. So when I learned that Chris had written about his experiences in wilderness films, the business of it, its ethics, and how it's done, I was prepared to make an exception. And I'm pleased to report that the book is absolutely fascinating. Chris is a wonderful storytelle A book about nature filming is outside my normal area of expertise, but filmmaker Chris Palmer has made many extraordinary movies about the natural world and some of them have changed my view of life, the universe and everything. So when I learned that Chris had written about his experiences in wilderness films, the business of it, its ethics, and how it's done, I was prepared to make an exception. And I'm pleased to report that the book is absolutely fascinating. Chris is a wonderful storyteller, and the book is filled with hair-raising tales of escapes and misadventures in the wild, as well as funny collisions with that most dangerous of wild creatures: the celebrity spokesperson. Moreover, he raises important questions about the rights and wrongs of nature filming. What about staging something and calling it natural? How close should you get to the animals in search of a great shot? Should you use tame animals in order to lessen the impact of filming on wild animals? Should you let the viewer know when you've done that? Anyone who has ever watched a movie or TV show about the natural world and gasped at a scene of beauty -- or violence -- should read this book. It's thoughtful, intelligent, witty, and a compelling read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I had hoped for a collection of stories from a wildlife filmmaker, relating his personal experiences in the business, and ideally expanding this into wider realm of wildlife films. While there are some of his own anecdotes, this is much more of a call to action for wildlife filmmakers to hold themselves to a set of ethical standards. Despite his promises, Palmer only gives limited insight into how to spot "fake" scenes in documentaries (and there's a disconcerting amount of "they almost certainl I had hoped for a collection of stories from a wildlife filmmaker, relating his personal experiences in the business, and ideally expanding this into wider realm of wildlife films. While there are some of his own anecdotes, this is much more of a call to action for wildlife filmmakers to hold themselves to a set of ethical standards. Despite his promises, Palmer only gives limited insight into how to spot "fake" scenes in documentaries (and there's a disconcerting amount of "they almost certainly staged this" and "it appears as though they did such and such" without anything to back it up), though he does provide broad outlines of the kinds of techniques these films use to create the illusion of a consistent storyline. In some ways, it's a very disillusioning book, even though some part of me was well aware that many scenes had to be staged. The fact that sound is almost always added in post-production totally caught me off guard, though it does make sense, given the nature of microphones. I just find it disturbing that the sounds I associated with animals could be a foley artist's interpretation rather than the real thing. Overall, this is a pretty cool overview of the history of wildlife filmmaking, though Palmer's tone is a tad tiresome.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jan Canterbury

    Quantum physics has shown us that the scientific observer actually becomes a part of the system being observed… no longer external and neutral. Humans, indeed, change what we observe… especially, when the ulterior, financial motives of powerful, anthropocentric media-moguls drive the research. Palmer’s work extends this sad reality to even the laudable goals of field biologists and wildlife photographers trying to educate nature-deprived, coach potatoes about the awesome beauty and mystery of the Quantum physics has shown us that the scientific observer actually becomes a part of the system being observed… no longer external and neutral. Humans, indeed, change what we observe… especially, when the ulterior, financial motives of powerful, anthropocentric media-moguls drive the research. Palmer’s work extends this sad reality to even the laudable goals of field biologists and wildlife photographers trying to educate nature-deprived, coach potatoes about the awesome beauty and mystery of the wild world… via elaborate video productions funded by media corporations cashing in on wildlife manipulation. As more of us live in cities… never exposed to the balanced beauty of raw wilderness… we deeply appreciate the desire of ecologists trying to engage and educate about a natural order that most humans will never have the opportunity to visit or experience, firsthand. Yet, what is the price we pay for this voyeurism? This revealing expose offers a fascinating perspective that allows us to contemplate the balance our culture’s profit-obsessed values… versus that of the extinction-destined wild kingdom “Shooting in the Wild” is next on our Book Club’s list of Must Reads. I just wish Rachel Carson or Donna Meadows were alive to share in this intriguing discussion!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alec Klatchko

    Amazingly Revealing, Brutally Honest Insights – I LOVE THIS BOOK! “Confessions…” pulled me in like a page-turner as Prof. Palmer bravely employs the trajectory of his own career (and, should we say, his own lessons learned, personal and professional) to weave morality, humility and respect into a fun read that still stimulates examination of thornier issues. I found myself wondering if it’s wrong to use computer graphics if accurate and it prevents disturbing of wildlife and environment? Prof. Pa Amazingly Revealing, Brutally Honest Insights – I LOVE THIS BOOK! “Confessions…” pulled me in like a page-turner as Prof. Palmer bravely employs the trajectory of his own career (and, should we say, his own lessons learned, personal and professional) to weave morality, humility and respect into a fun read that still stimulates examination of thornier issues. I found myself wondering if it’s wrong to use computer graphics if accurate and it prevents disturbing of wildlife and environment? Prof. Palmer resolves this arcane mix of filmmaking, finance, marketing and ethics into thoughtful and understandable components. Nobody, including himself, is exempt from Prof. Palmer’s no-nonsense-trademark examination. In the end, Prof. Palmer presents ways out of what may seem to be a zero sum game: we can, in fact, move beyond trading-off disturbing bloodlust versus eviscerated documentaries for alternatives that are at once creative, informative and engaging.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    When Fonzie on Happy Days got a library card, the next day millions of kids went out and got library cards! Lemmings don't jump off cliffs to commit suicide - some species do overpopulate, migrate en masse and sometimes drown crossing streams. A Disney film perpetuated the myth. Nature movies & TV shows often use enclosures, zoos, animal famrs, etc. for footage. Wild Kingdom staged a fight between captive wolves and cougar - they placed a dead deer in an enclosed area. Cousteau invented the Aqua-Lu When Fonzie on Happy Days got a library card, the next day millions of kids went out and got library cards! Lemmings don't jump off cliffs to commit suicide - some species do overpopulate, migrate en masse and sometimes drown crossing streams. A Disney film perpetuated the myth. Nature movies & TV shows often use enclosures, zoos, animal famrs, etc. for footage. Wild Kingdom staged a fight between captive wolves and cougar - they placed a dead deer in an enclosed area. Cousteau invented the Aqua-Lung - Scuba. Newer fills sometimes use CGI to stage events.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brandur

    A book about the logistics and ethics of doing wildlife documentaries by a veteran to the business. A few interesting things to know about the industry around filming wildlife: * Many photographers and videographers use "game farms" who put animals out into wild looking areas for the duration of the shoot * Many videographers are highly motivated to get the perfect shot and jump into dangerous situations with little forethought Examples of industry disasters: * Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter * Timo A book about the logistics and ethics of doing wildlife documentaries by a veteran to the business. A few interesting things to know about the industry around filming wildlife: * Many photographers and videographers use "game farms" who put animals out into wild looking areas for the duration of the shoot * Many videographers are highly motivated to get the perfect shot and jump into dangerous situations with little forethought Examples of industry disasters: * Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter * Timothy Treadwell, the grizzly man * Brady Barr bitten while chasing a python through a cave

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    I wasn't particularly drawn in and engaged by Palmer's writing style, perhaps tailored to reach a wider audience than some of the books I crack (I did find out about it through multiple mainstream interviews online). However the content and arguments the author puts forth, coupled with insider's anecdotes and on-the-ground realities regarding how financing and corporate interest (not to mention viewer demand) dictate documentary content, is solid and well worth the time spent. I wasn't particularly drawn in and engaged by Palmer's writing style, perhaps tailored to reach a wider audience than some of the books I crack (I did find out about it through multiple mainstream interviews online). However the content and arguments the author puts forth, coupled with insider's anecdotes and on-the-ground realities regarding how financing and corporate interest (not to mention viewer demand) dictate documentary content, is solid and well worth the time spent.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This book is very interesting as it looks at how wildlife films are made but beware it may cause disillusionment of the Mutual Omaha's Wild Kingdom and the Disney film with the lemmings that we all saw each year before the Christmas vacation. This book is very interesting as it looks at how wildlife films are made but beware it may cause disillusionment of the Mutual Omaha's Wild Kingdom and the Disney film with the lemmings that we all saw each year before the Christmas vacation.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alpha

    3.5 stars. This felt like it really could have been much shorter. The self-referential nature made it seem like a paper, but it covers wildlife filmography in a a manner that i had never looked at before. Definitely worth reading if you like wildlife filmography at all.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jake Willers

    Very interesting read. Opens up much of a closed industry and sheds some light on otherwise withheld practices.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nate Hendrix

    This is a how to book and how nature movie could be made better. I was hopeing for more behind the scenes stories. Good not great.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bobbie Nelson

    Way more stuff than I was interested in. Found the tricks-of-the-trade stuff interesting though.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chris Palmer

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Tracton

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alix Stott

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wes

  23. 4 out of 5

    Crystal Riley Koenig

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joel Youngberg

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kino McFarland

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stockfish

  27. 5 out of 5

    Middlethought

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cameron Linderman

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marlete Parientes

  30. 4 out of 5

    Griffin

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