Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Autumnwatch 2008

It's started! Love-him-or-hate-him Bill Oddie and glowing BBC icon Kate Humble returned to our screens last night for the opening of Autumnwatch 2008.

Having just had one of the coldest Summers in years, some of us may feel cheated at how soon Autumn seems to have arrived, but the Autumnwatch team have already been hard at work for weeks preparing our new Autumn adventures for the screen!

Based at Brownsea Island, home to one of the last groups of red squirrels in the British Isles, Autumnwatch 2008 is promising to take us on a journey through the season's true wild mysteries unravelling stories on land and beneath the surface fo the oceans around Britain. For a start we'll be following the Autumnwatch squirrel challenge as the crew attempts to find out if the Red Squirrel can compete with the grey's famous agility and cunning.

Simon King has returned to us from the Masai Mara to take on the much less dangerous challenge of examining the rutting and lekking behaviours of the beautiful fallow deer population at Petworth. Last night we learned that a single male may mate with up to 15% of the females in the population. Using the Big Cat Live technology we saw images of the deer at night from the infra-red cams and followed them into the dawn to examine how and why a single male can be so successful! Simon tells us it all comes down to stamina(!) and we should stay tuned for more from Britains beautiful deer populations.

The lovely Gordon Buchanan has been struggling his way out to the Farne Islands to check up on the grey seals out there whose freshly born pups are learning to suckle and of course to cope with the elements. These pups will have to become completely independent in just three weeks in order to cope with the loss of thir parents to the annual migrations. Autumnwatch are promising us serious drama from the grey seal populations where the pups are at the most vulnerable time of their lives.

Another exciting first, we'll be seeing reptilian behaviours this Autumnwatch as Dorset is home to all six of the UKs native reptiles...and some invaders!

TUNE IN TONIGHT for a look at the famous Hannibal the cannibal barn owl as well as some amazing slow motion footage from the bird feeder cameras.

If you want to get involved in Autumnwatch check out the Autumnwatch website, at which you can upload your own footage of Autumnal behaviours, chat on the messageboards about your sightings and even contribute your photos to their Flickr group.
Missed an episode?! You can catch last night's Autumnwatch now on the BBC iPlayer.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Not for the faint-hearted: China's Killer Zoos news report

This report won the Wildscreen 2008 News award.
The judges stated that this was a report everyone should see.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteering Uncut: Day 5

The final day of Wildscreen

A new format for Wildscreen, Speedpitching gives filmmakers the opportunity to attempt to get their ideas commissioned by some of the best in the industry.
Understandably this can be a difficult and intimidating process for pitchers when they have only three minutes to present their ideas to commissioners such as Tim Martin the series editor of Natural World, Shannon Malone from National Geographic, David Glover from C4 and Animal Planet International's director of programming Mark Wild. However, the opportunity to pitch to commissioners that would usually be difficult to get hold of, and in an environment where critiques and advice are freely given, is one not to be taken lightly.
A pitch must always be commissioner specific - a hurdle at which many pitches can fall by the wayside - but with such a valuable resource available, many Wildscreen delegates found themselves adapting their pitches on the spot to have the chance to push their ideas at other exciting commissioners.

Throughout the week delegates have access to all the Wildscreen Film Festival entrants at the videotheque. This is open every day allowing delegates to drop in at any time, with the biggest rush hours between workshops and talks. In previous years DVD players have been used but this year Wildscreen has upgraded its Videotheque to use an online library for much easier viewing: a major benefit being that more than one delegate can view a single programme at once!
The final day of Wildscreen sees the videotheque packed with delegates hoping to see the winning programmes which were announced at the Pandas the night before.

Wildscreen's final day is busy everywhere with queues throughout the Watershed for the closing talks, debates and screenings.

The Watershed on Bristol's waterfront has yet again been the perfect host and is well worth a visit on Friday for the screenings of the Panda Award winners...
Alastair Fothergill at Wildscreen
...and it's always nice to see a few familiar famous faces in your favourite cafe!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Wildscreen 2008 Panda Awards

And the winners are...

Filmmaker: Lou Astbury (UK)

CAMPAIGN AWARD: Rethink the Shark
Save Our Seas Foundation (Switzerland) Co-produced with Saatchi & Saatchi

Commissioned by Al Jazeera International

PRESENTER-LED AWARD: Adventure Yukon: The Long Journey
Studio Hamburg Produktion GmbH/NDR Naturfilm (Germany) Co-produced with Parthenon Entertainment and ORF
Presenter: Andreas Kieling

Southern Star International (Australia) An Oxford Scientific Films production for Animal Planet International

EARTH SCIENCE AWARD: Earth: The Power of the Planet – Atmosphere
BBC (UK) Co-produced with National Geographic US, ZDF & BBC Worldwide

NEWS AWARD: China’s Killer Zoos
Sky News (UK)

ARKIVE NEW MEDIA AWARD: Earth-Touch weekly podcast
Earth-Touch (South Africa)

Ammonite Ltd (UK) Co-produced with the BBC in association with Off the Fence and Big Squid New Media

Seyed Mani Mirsadeghi (Iran)

Wildlife Films (Botswana)

Mike Birkhead Associates (UK) Commissioned by BBC Natural History Unit

THEATRICAL AWARD: The Theatrical Award was not presented this year. After much deliberation the judges did not feel that this year’s finalists met the criteria of the award, and so have not put forward a winner.

Mountainside Films Ltd (Canada) Commissioned by CBC

CHRISTOPHER PARSON’S AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Masaru Ikeo – Executive Officer, Business Development, Media International Corporation
(Formerly of NHK, Japan)

BEST EDITING AWARD: Expedition Guyana (Programme 1)
BBC Natural History Unit (UK) Co-produced with BBC Worldwide & Discovery
Editor: Peter Brownlee

FILMS AT 59 AWARD FOR BEST SOUND: Galapagos: Born of Fire
BBC Natural History Unit (UK) Co-produced with BBC Worldwide & National Geographic US

Mountainside Films Ltd (Canada) Commissioned by CBC
Scriptwriter: Michael Parfit

BEST MUSIC AWARD: Christmas in Yellowstone
Thirteen/WNET New York (USA)
Music: Lenny Williams

Disappointment for the crew of Life in Cold Blood as Smalltalk Diaries takes their only nomination...
BEST SERIES AWARD: Smalltalk Diaries
Ammonite Ltd (UK) Co-produced with the BBC in association with Off the Fence and Big Squid New Media

AGB Films Ltd (UK) Co-produced with BBC Natural History Unit & BBC Worldwide
Camera: Warwick Sloss

JURY’S SPECIAL PRIZE: Lobo – The Wolf that Changed America
Brian Leith Productions (UK)
A BBC and Thirteen/WNET New York co-production in association with PBS
Scriptwriters: Steve Gooder & Brian Leith

GOLDEN PANDA: Life in Cold Blood - Armoured Giants
BBC Natural History Unit (UK) Co-produced with BBC Worldwide, Animal Planet & the Open University.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteering Uncut: Day 4


Watershed Cinema 2 runs screenings of nominated films daily during the Wildscreen Film Festival.

"Can We Save Planet Earth?", nominee for the Earth Science Award, is a fantastic film about the future of our planet. It includes an amazing guide to a possible solution to climate change. "Can We Save Planet Earth?" just missed the deadline for entries to the 2006 Panda awards; lets hope their message is still in the front of our minds enough for them to take a Panda home. It should be noted that "Can We Save Planet Earth?" might be better suited to the Natural History Museum Environment Award, but with so many great entries competition is fierce!

"The Wolfman"
was nominated for the Five Award For Popular Broadcast. This features Sean, a British wolf enthusiast who has gone so far in his attempts to understand wolf behaviour that he has brought up and lived with three wolves, learnt their language and become integrated into their pack. This astounding story follows their way of life, and how the pack dynamics change when Sean must go away for a while. A definite must see!

The afternoon's debate "Too Little, Too Late?" saw Sir David Attenborough and the legendary Gaia theorist James Lovelock on panel with John Hanke (Director of Google Earth and Google maps) and HRH Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme. Queues for this event spread the length of the watershed but fortunately all were able to find a seat.

James Lovelock debates whether our impact on climate change has gone too far...

The debate? Whether our impact on the planet is irreparable. David Attenborough made the point that this question is dependent upon how we define "far" in that we may be able to change our ways in time to save 25% of the species on the road to extinction but greater percentages are out of reach. James Lovelock, whom many might expect to predict serious doom stated that he does have hope for the next few decades but they won't be easy.
All agree that the nature of our planet's future is dependent wholly upon our actions from now and that immediate action is the key. No one has all the answers but so long as wildlife imagery and tools like Google Earth can make the issues known to the public, the politicians can not escape their responsibilities.
John Hanke demonstrates the astounding uses of Google Earth in conservation
John Hanke emphasized that with ever-improving technology and exponential increases in access to information, the public are able to do what NGOs have been doing for years, and are able to discover environmental truths for themselves in order to make politicians accountable.

A fantastic debate and a brilliant day!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteering Uncut: Day 3


Research Workshop
Tigress APs and researching gurus Laura Harvey and Natalie Dunmore led this workshop on production research.
With information on the role of a researcher, where to find ideas, fact cross-checking, phone call checklists, handling cold contacts and logistics, this is by far the most thorough workshop I've attended this year.
Laura and Natalie, a highly approachable pair, have over 10 years in the industry between them and were absolute fountains of knowledge when discussing production research.
Outsiders approaching the industry may find it difficult to fathom the actual day-to-day duties and pressures of specific roles in film-making: I left this workshop excited, with a clear concept of what is required of me if I am to push myself into the researcher role.

Masterclass: Sound - The Cinderella Craft

This afternoon masterclass session featured advice from experts Martyn Harries (BBC Dubbing Mixer), Kate Hopkins (Freelance Dubbing Editor), Joe Stevens (BBC Sound Recordist) and Patrick Morris (BBC Producer).
Now I don't know much about sound but after just an hour of intense listening, I was intrigued. I had no idea how a soundtrack was put together, who would be involved in the process and where soundbites might come from, never mind which microphones are used for what and that sounds obtained can influence the footage used as well as vice versa.
Patrick Morris described a fantastic example of where a recording of locals singing about a bird's behaviour was built upon to produce a soundtrack which changed the entire format of a visual sequence - and with a beautifully moving result.

This evening's debate upon whether "People must be kept away from endangered animals" saw intriguing arguments from both sides. The conclusive vote turned in favour of the motion with 205 votes for verus 132 against.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteering Uncut: Day 2


Today I was scheduled in to be on the front desk for Workshops. Whilst some of these are based off-site around Bristol, most take place in the Marriot Royal Hotel conference rooms.

The first was "Breaking out of the box: A guide to multi-platforming" run by Paul Williams (BBC NHU researcher and founder of TheNatureWatch.com) with guest speakers Paul Deane (Senior Content Producer: Big Cat Live) and Jody Bourton (Radio AP: World on the move, BBC Wales).

This was a fantastic hands-on workshop directed at those new to the world of blogging, RSS feeds, youtube, flickr, twitter and all manner of online content outlets! This was perfect for many of the delegates attending this workshop but a bit basic for me so, as with many aspects of a volunteer's duties, I ended up assisting with the activities being run.
It was easy to be reassuring and helpful as, having only started blogging a few months ago myself, I know how daunting HTML and other gadget codes can be, and how easy it is to find online advice. There are even blogs about blogging!

Importantly it was noted at the beginning of the session that the BBC's use of the phrase "Multiplatforming" tends to apply to all web-related content. Paul Deane, Senior Content Producer for Big Cat Live took us through the BBC's use of online feeds, blogs and video uploads for the Big Cat Live event, focussing on the importance of a community feel for the success of such programmes. With Twitter technology the Big Cat Live team could text in their latest news as it happened...

Wow - we've just had the most amazing lion kill live on webcam1. Sorry we pulled away - it was getting quite gory. Anything could happen!
Big Cat Live Twitter feed

Jody Bourton, Assistant producer for Radio 4's World on the Move discussed the benefits of small camcorder video feeds from the field and gave us tips on directing our videos to be suitable for the web. We were given a chance to try our hand at this and told to concentrate on framing and lighting, being careful to keep shots simple for faster uploads. The results can be found at the Wild Wildscreen Website.

Monday's evening event was the Parthenon Party, with a Russian theme: Pictures coming soon!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteering Uncut: Day 1!


Wildscreen is upon us!

A volunteer's day starts early. You will never see the Clifton Triangle or Park street looking this quiet at any other time of week but Sunday morning!

My first duty of the week? Registration desk! This is where it all begins for delegates attending Wildscreen and it's really important that they get given all the right information and literature, and there's a lot!

From 9am every morning a delegate's first view of Wildscreen will always be a smiling volunteer and the following thrust into their arms...

1. Delegate badge: VITAL! Without this the delegates can't get into the Watershed to enjoy all the festival events and activities. There's usually a dashing photo or two with the occasional celebrity who needn't be pictured because everyone will know them. This year's white space faces include Sir David Attenborough, Bill Bailey and Joanna Lumley!!

2. Invites envelope: This has all their evening event tickets including those to the prestigious Panda awards, that is, providing they've bought one. All the other evening events are free to delegates but for the Pandas there are limitted spaces, invites only!

3. Wildscreen bag: This is a classic eco-friendly shoulder-bag containing their Wildscreen goodies; including pens made from recycled car parts, USB sticks, notepads, sweeties, sponsor literature, maps, the festival diary, and the much sought delegate directory. The delegate directory lists all the films submitted to Wildscreen with those nominated for awards highlighted and gives every delegate's contact details, so when you bump into that life-changing career-making producer, you know you'll be able to get hold of him or her, with just a flick of the fingertips!

4. Directions: This is an obvious one! Wildscreen film festival is spread across various areas of Bristol with many workshops being off-site. Delegates will need to know either where they can meet their guide to a workshop or how to get there themselves. And of course volunteers are always giving directions to the nearest toilets!

5. A Buddy!: Wildscreen has had the great idea of helping newcomers to find their way around and kickstart their networking by introducing them to a buddy. Buddies have to be pre-booked in order to match up pairs but there can be the occasional delegate loitering at the registration desk hoping to just sign up!

Being on the registration desk is great fun! You get to meet loads of people on whom you will automatically make a good impression, and there's usually a few who like to know your name or are keen to take a business card!

"Oo she sounds useful - are we short a runner? We should get her in for some work experience!"

Tomorrow I'm on workshops: Multi-Platforming and Managing Production...stay tuned!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteering Uncut: Day -2!


A visit to the Wildscreen office this afternoon found me in the company of the Wildscreen Festival Heroes all working hard and late into the evening!

Volunteering at Wildscreen is an amazing opportunity to hobnob with the best in the wildlife filmmaking business and to learn about working in the industry. It's an opportunity not to be taken lightly and one for which I am truly grateful!
For this reason you frequently find volunteers spending the days prior to the festival in one of the Wildscreen meeting rooms getting repetitive strain injuries as they do the fill-in jobs that the festival managers simply do not have the time for.

My festival diary starts in this meeting room where I spent but a few hours putting delegate invitations into their welcome packs, ordering these packs for registration and stapling together volunteer guides.
There's so much happening at the festival: the coordinators need to be sure that the volunteers will represent their presence throughout; checking that delegate-only rules are applied, health and safety issues are sustained, and talks and workshops are run smoothly.

It's a large amount of paperwork that the festival coordinators get through but I am reassured that numerous recycling bins are placed around the festival to make sure we don't waste this paper - they've thought of everything!

I stay until just before 8pm (having only arrived around 5) but the office is still busy and bustling when I leave.

I can't wait for the festival to commence!!!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

' Twas the week before Wildscreen...

Wildscreen Film Festival is fast descending on Bristol and we mustn't forget its focus. The Panda awards are known as the Green Oscars and represent the cream of the crop from the natural history filmmaking industry.

New to the awards this year we have the Natural History Museum Environment Award, the Animal Planet International People & Animals Award and the Presenter-led Award.
If it wasn't for this event we couldn't have imagined the leaps and bounds this industry has taken to be possible.

Time and time again we see the BBC Natural History Unit raise the bar for wildlife filmmaking with pioneer blue-chip programmes and unique multi-media ventures, but without this review of their competition would they push so hard and so far? Would their competitors have been left straggling behind?

Here's a quick look at the BBC NHU entries to the Panda Awards this year.

Extreme Animals: Sports Stars has been nominated for the UWE Children's Choice Award. Extreme Animals: Sports Stars examined who would win the race to be the tip top fastest fittest animal from ten contenders. Although the fastest animal is the Peregrine Falcon, reaching speeds up to 200km/h, the Cheetah took the top position!

Galapagos: Born of Fire is up for the Panasonic Award for Cinematography for its spectacular images of outstanding natural beauty and the camerawork that brought them to the public eye. This Award actually marks the competition between three nominees all produced or co-produced by the BBC NHU: one of which involves co-production with previous Panda Award stars Halcyon media. Wye: Voices from the Valley has similar undercurrents and tone to the award-winning My Halcyon River which wowed the judges at Wildscreen 2004, and, like Galapagos: Born of Fire, was nominated for both best cinematography and the Films @59 Award for Best Sound.

Expedition Guyana (Programme 1) is a hopeful nominee for the Best Editing Award. Expedition Guyana followed a group of adventurers and scientists into the unexplored depths of the jungle to seek out new species and behaviours. The team made exciting discoveries and conquered dangerous landscapes to make this fantastic programme but the editors had to wade through hundreds of hours of footage and reduce them to a few succinct episodes!

Buddha, Bees and the Giant Hornet Queen, one episode of an outstanding Natural World series by the BBC, is up for the Parthenon Entertainment Award for Innovation. This programme shows the unique and mysterious connection between a monk, his bee colony and the hungry killer hornet army that amasses on his doorstep. Definitely a strong contender for this award and definitely worth finding on DVD or borrowing from your local video library.

Elephant Diaries (programme 4) has been nominated for the Five Award for Popular Broadcast Programme. The diary format is one with which we are all familiar and the recent successes of the BBC NHU with Big Cat Diary demonstrates how popular their work in this genre will continue to be. Competitors in this category are up against the best in the business!

Life in Cold Blood: The Cold-Blooded Truth is a strong nominee for Best Series Award. What would a Panda Award ceremony be without David Attenborough? And yet they may find themselves pipped to the post by Ammonite Ltd's fantastic series Smalltalk Diaries which makes up for in character, what it lacks in cinematography.

All in all this year's nominees represent the consistently improving quality of Wildlife film being churned out around the world. Without Wildscreen we couldn't qualitatively scrutinise such programmes to push them forward in their own creativity; and without the BBC's NHU who would set the bar to get the rest of the industry to keep their socks pulled up?!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Wildscreen Volunteer Diary

With the Wildscreen Film Festival fast approaching GiantsOrbiting is bringing you an insight into what goes on behind the scenes where the real heroes of Wildscreen work.

As a volunteer you have access to almost every area of Wildscreen from cinema screenings to the celebrity green room, from workshops to the watershed cafe, from the registration desk to the prestigious Panda Awards!

Sir David Attenborough with volunteers Jonas Stenstrom and Samantha Dixon at the Panda Awards 2006.

Nikki Waldron (volunteer coordinator) is responsible for making sure the 30 strong volunteer team maintain order at the festival to keep it running smoothly. The volunteers must man events, screenings, talks and workshops and check that only those who've paid (dearly!) for the Festival's activities are permitted. Nikki is there to ensure that the excited volunteers keep to their schedules and ensure an enjoyable event for all.

Wildscreen Film Festival is a whirlwind adventure for everyone especially the volunteers! Keep an eye on GiantsOrbiting to find out all about the goings on behind the scenes for the Wildscreen 2008 volunteers.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

'Glowing' jellyfish grabs Nobel prize

Brainbow: A fantastic array of colours is now possible
A clever trick borrowed from jellyfish has earned two Americans and one Japanese scientist a share of the chemistry Nobel Prize.

Martin Chalfie, Roger Tsien and Osamu Shimomura made it possible to exploit the genetic mechanism responsible for luminosity in the marine creatures.

Today, countless scientists use this knowledge to tag biological systems.

These glowing markers will show how brain cells develop or cancer cells spread through tissue.

Jellyfish will glow under blue and ultraviolet light because of a protein in their tissues. Scientists refer to it as green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

From the BBC News

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Neil Nightingale: a follow up to Life in Cold Blood responses

As a follow up to the earlier discussion, I found this interesting comment by the Head of the BBC's NHU in response to a damning article on in vitro Wildlife filming:

Neil Nightingale writes
Steve Hewlett's piece Is It OK For Natural History Programmes to Use Fake Footage? gives a false impression of both the motivation for and our openness about filming animals in controlled conditions. He also suggests this is done for "entertainment". While the great majority of our footage is filmed entirely in the wild there are some animals and natural behaviours that are virtually impossible to obtain in the wild. If we did not sometimes film in controlled conditions we would be unable to bring these fascinating stories to audiences. It is for reasons of enlightenment and education that these techniques are necessary.

See Neil's letter in full here

You also might be interested in how open some productions really are about their studio filming. We can find out al about Wild China's filming techniques online where they give clear reasons for the use of non-wild clips.

Thank you for your comments.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Big Cat Live: On your screens now!

Big Cat Live leapt onto our screens last night with an introduction to the presenters, the cats and the local wildlife we'll be following over the next few weeks.

I hope I speak for many when I say that after seeing her out of her usual habitat I'm reassured that Kate Silverton will do Saba proud as the new presenter on the savannah!

You can watch last night's show online here and stay tuned for episode 2 tonight at 7.30 on BBC1.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pushing it too far...

I know the title of this post may be ironic given that I have almost over-discussed the use of studio footage in wildlife filmmaking now, but I couldn't resist bringing you this. It seems that wildlife filmmaking has far to go before becoming true masters of faking it!

The world saw Lin Miaoke, right, sing at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony - but actually heard the voice of Yang Peiyi, left.

The world saw Lin Miaoke, right, sing at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony - but actually heard the voice of Yang Peiyi, left.

The real singer was deemed too "flawed" to be seen in the ceremony! I know this was in the news ages ago, but I feel it illustrates my point.

Sorry for the digression...back to natural history!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Wildlife Film News: Gorillas!!

The BBC Natural History Unit has been granted unprecedented access to the world of the critically endangered mountain gorilla for a landmark documentary series for BBC Two.

Set to be the most intimate and revealing portrait of gorilla life to date, the series will chart the plight of a species in "intensive care".Just a handful of families cling to existence on the forested peaks of three isolated volcanoes in a small corner of Africa, surrounded on all sides by a growing human population.

Over three 60-minute programmes, cameras will enter this fragile world and follow the life of one gorilla family as they go about their day-to-day existence. From the joy and happiness of a new birth and worry for a sick infant, to the tenderness of relationships built over decades and the horror of a violent death, the films will explore the real emotion entwined in the various aspects of life for one of the most charismatic species on the planet.

The series will meet the team of experts dedicated to caring for them – "the gorilla doctors" – a group of vets, conservationists and local rangers who work tirelessly to care for the species. It will also explore the fascinating history of the mountain gorilla, from their discovery only a century ago, through their ongoing struggle to survive to the bleak future they face today.

Executive Producer, Sara Ford, says: "We will have privileged access to one of the planet's most emotionally engaging animal characters. This will be the definitive series on the endangered mountain gorilla as well as an intimate family portrait set against a backdrop of human conflict and passionate endeavour."

Neil Nightingale, Head of BBC NHU, adds: "Mountain gorillas are some of our closest relatives and yet, as a species, they have been reduced to no more than a few hundred individuals in a small corner of Africa. The fascination of their current lives, their turbulent past and the uncertainty of their future, makes for one of the most dramatic and emotional wildlife stories of all."

Gorillas is being made by BBC Vision Productions and was commissioned by Emma Swain, Head of In-house Commissioning, Knowledge. Executive Producer is Sara Ford. The three-part series will go out in 2010 on BBC Two.

From the BBC Press Office.
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