Tom Richards found out a little more about Alastair Fothergill, the producer of Blue Planet, Frozen Planet, and Planet Earth, documentaries which allow all of us to explore our planet with him.
Alastair Fothergill has produced some of the best natural history films to come out of the BBC, and in the last decade has emerged as one of the genre’s most prominent pioneers. On Thursday, he gave a talk about some of his finest films in aid of the Starfish Pool Appeal, a campaign to raise money for a hydrotherapy pool for children with disabilities at Claremont Secondary School. A presentation of both footage and the stories behind the making of the biggest landmark series produced by Fothergill, the evening was entertaining for everyone in attendance, from families to filmmakers.
Introduced as a “true legend in Natural History film making”, Fothergill began the evening by sharing some of his early career aspirations, explaining that he wanted to make natural history films to paint a portrait of our planet, and the complex animals, plants, and landscapes that make it so beautiful. Before Blue Planet, there hadn’t been many films made about the oceans, and with footage such as that of the deep ocean viewers were shown new landscapes and behaviours they had never seen before. Five years later, Planet Earth was a series of portraits of different habitats, and viewers were blown away by sequences such as that of the snow leopard, the first time the animal had been caught on camera. Equally as enthralling is the story behind the camera, sharing the area of the Karakorum mountain range with US soldiers looking for Osama Bin Laden, the cameramen had to wait a year for the area to be cleared.
Fothergill admitted that he owes much of the success of Planet Earth to the technology, for instance new gadgets like the gimbal-stabilised helicopter rig allowed for complete sequences to be filmed from the air for the first time. New camera technology which allowed cameras to work in extreme cold conditions meant that filming for Frozen Planet could continue throughout the year, allowing the story of the seasons at the poles to be told. Despite this, someone still had to be present to operate those cameras, and Fothergill told stories of cameramen floating away on ice sheets, and even recording messages for their wives in case they didn’t survive one particularly bad blizzard.
The end of the talk brought a range of questions from the audience, and we learned that Fothergill’s favourite animal is a chimpanzee, and his favourite place is South Georgia, despite the cold. He also told of his frustration that the big spectacles that he sees when on location are often not done justice being shown on small screens, something which has recently caused him to move into feature films for Disneynature. His desire to reach a large audience however has brought him back to television, as he believes it is important to inspire the younger generation to connect with and respect the natural world – and if he keeps making films like he showed on Thursday, I do believe he will continue to do so.
By Tom Richards