What career in conservation could have as much reach and impact as wildlife film making? For many people in most parts of the world, wildlife films are pretty much the only contact you have with the wild. As a source of education and inspiration, it's a powerful medium for making a difference. If you would like an insight into how the magic happens – This article is for you!
Are you interested in pursuing a career in wildlife film producing? Are you unsure about the skills set required, or how to go about getting into the industry? Would you like to know what a day in the life of this career entails? We have some expert insight and advice for you!
We recently sat down with Billie-Jean Parker, a vibrant, passionate and well-established freelance wildlife film producer who has produced work for National Geographic, 50/50, Earthtouch and many more. She has defined the production process, from start to finish, of producing a documentary as well as the necessary skills set required in this line of work.
As the film producer Billie-Jean is responsible for first and foremost the creative vision of the film, once this has been established she will decide on who best to collaborate with in order to achieve this vision. To produce a good documentary a good team of cameramen is essential, once this team has been put together they set off to capture the magic!
In the meantime, Billie-Jean immerses herself in research from observational papers, sensor counts, behavioral research on relevant animals, environments, communities and relationships to direct discussions with researchers and scientists. This exposure to relevant knowledge allows her to easily analyze the footage that is presented to her and helps her to find the story that is being told.
The story can range from feeding rituals and habits to mating practices and even live births! But sometimes the stories are not as clear to see, and this is why the pre-production research that Billie-Jean conducts herself is invaluable as a wildlife film producer, as it allows her to read between the lines and uncover spectacular wildlife stories. It is important to know that the producer has the power to change the viewers perspective on an animal which highlights the importance of interpretation and the need to really know and understand the animal that is being filmed.
Once the footage has been captured and the story has been uncovered - what next? The narrative is then written and collaborative space is created with an editor who helps in curating an organic effect for the viewer of the documentary.
Quite evidently the job entails many steps, lots of planning and hard work before any actual documentary is produced. There is a clear set of skills that are a necessity if you plan on pursuing this line of work. They are inclusive of, but not limited to:
- Must be passionately curious about the natural world and wildlife
- Storytelling skills
- Must have a clear understanding that the job is about the work and not the glory of the footage
- Good people skills
- Good time management skills
- Must have an ability to keep learning and be open to continue growing your skills
- Stay humble and be curious
- Show initiative – DO NOT BE AFRAID OF HARDWORK
- Be adaptive
Here are some Top Tips from Billie-Jean for anyone who wants to pursue this as a career:
- If you are proactive and hardworking you will get your foot into the door of filmmaking, and if storytelling is your passion then you have to take initiative to make it happen! Aim to be invaluable!
- Persistence is key – Keep knocking on those doors and become a valuable asset for the person who gives you a break
- Be prepared for a long journey in the industry, because it will be some time before you end up doing what you love
- Patience is key!
- Do your own thing - feed your passions and curiosity and let THAT drive your journey!
We had the pleasure of asking Billie-Jean a few questions!
Q: WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
Being able to immerse myself in information on subjects that I am passionate about and to tailor a story for a better understanding of often misunderstood wildlife.
Q: IS THE MOST FULFILLING PART OF THE WORK YOU DO?
I get to play in the natural world and do honour to the footage, the narrative and the reception of the videos.
Q: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE?
DUNGBEETLES! I had a documentary to produce on Dung beetles and in part of my research, I spoke to a professor from WITS who highlighted the importance of fresh dung for attracting dung beetles – YES FRESH DUNG! The shoot was conducted up the North Coast and on my way to the site I saw a herd of cows on the side of the road and decided to stop my car and approach the man who was looking after these cows. I asked him whether he would mind if I collected his cows poo (He looked at me as though I was completely crazy!), but I saw this as my best bet for making fresh poop balls to attract the dung beetles I needed for my documentary. After he watched me collect the poo for about half an hour he invited me into the cows kraal, which is a sacred place in the Zulu culture, to get the freshest of the fresh poo – hot and steaming! This was a crazy experience and by the end of it – with the freshest poop in town - we ended up with tons of dung beetles and beautiful footage!