September 30, 2010
Nature Documentaries: Staged In "The Wild"
By Chad Love
Ever watch a nature program and wonder how the filmmakers managed to capture those awesome and allegedly authentic scenes? This is going to come as an absolute shock, but a lot of them were...wait for it...staged!
From this story on NPR:
Wildlife documentaries come with the promise that what you're seeing and hearing is genuine—but that's not always the case, according to a new book by a veteran environmental filmmaker. In Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom, Chris Palmer exposes some of the dirty secrets behind nature documentaries, like manufactured sounds and staged animal fights. Palmer tells Weekend Edition host Liane Hansen that after 30 years in the business, he had become haunted by what he had seen and felt the need for transparency.
"I've seen a lot of good things, a lot of great films," he says. "But I've also seen animal abuse, animal harassment, audience deception, the demonization of animals, like in Shark Week [and] Uncut and Untamed," shows which he says carry an anti-conservation message.
Palmer is guilty of deception himself. While working on an IMAX film about wolves, the film team found it was too hard to get shots of roaming wolves, so it went to a game farm and rented them. Palmer tells Hansen that his wife was outraged when she learned that the sound of water dripping off the paws of a grizzly bear in one of his films was actually the sound of an assistant ruffling his hand and elbow in a water basin. "He recorded those water sounds and then cleverly match[ed] it to the video that we shot with a long lens," he says.
The sound of an eagle's wings beating as it takes off majestically from the top of a mountain? "That sound will invariably be made by an umbrella opening and closing," Palmer says. Whenever a film shows a close-up of a big animal like a bear, Palmer says, the viewer should be on alert: Chances are high that the animal came from a game farm or has been trained. "When it plunges its head into the entrails of a dead elk it could be there are M&Ms that have been put into the elk so that the animal feed on it," he says. "It could be that it's been made hungry. It could be that behind the cameraman there's a trainer giving it signals."
This of course begs the question of how authentic do you think most hunting and fishing shows really are? Do you think they have a better or a worse track record for authenticity than straight nature shows? I mean, do you think Joe Cermele really catches all those fish, or is there some dude down there in the water with a bucket of chum? Discuss.