Elements of Cinema: Into the Wild


Wildlife documentaries offer a glimpse into a world untamed, where inhabitants act
on instinct, form alliances, fight the forces of nature and at times display
characteristics which are not dissimilar to our own. In reference to this scene from
Gangland Killers: Hippo Gangs, the team at Aquavision breaks down what it takes to
produce these rare and breathtaking moments.

Peter Lamberti on producing:

Creating an exceptional final product like this is about collaboration, brainstorming,
maintaining integrity as well as drawing on 25 years of wildlife filmmaking and
what I have learned from pitching to international broadcasters.

When we start on a wildlife series we first look at what our camera crews, who are
positioned throughout the year in various places of interest, have captured. We look
at what the wildlife is doing and we use that as building blocks. We then develop a
concept, decide where to ground the story and send a dedicated crew there to get
more extensive footage.

Craig Gardner on creative direction:

After Peter briefed us I created a very broad thread to tell the story of these hippos
living along a river. I always think about what characters we can extrapolate to tell
a particular story in a way which uses all the behaviours we want to showcase, but
doesn’t anthropomorphise the animals.

It’s different to a movie, where you would write a script and then go shoot footage
accordingly. It’s almost backwards – you’ve got to take all this disparate footage
and create a cohesive story with a through line and characters which the audience
can follow and empathise with.

Este Nortje on editing:

The challenge with wildlife is that you don’t have actors to tell what to do – the
behaviour has already taken place. I have to find a hero figure, which in this
instance was our bull, and I have to stick to that character.

I planned my edit around key sequences identified from the footage and plotted
scenes to build momentum for the major event. When I saw this amazing fight
which Peter was lucky to get, I thought: this has got to be the ending for the story;
and from there I worked backwards. In this scene the bull is victorious, so I went
back over the footage and selected shots which demonstrated key developments in
his journey such as him taking over the pod and conquering the females.

Peter Lamberti on cinematography:

Anyone doing wildlife camera work needs to understand the body language of
animals. Common sense lets you know when you are getting close to trouble. There
are rare occasions where an animal will just charge you all of a sudden but most of
the time you know it’s coming. I find if you move a few metres back, the animal
sees it as submission and calms down.

I’ve always been a Sony fan – we shot this in 4K on the Sony F55. They are reliable
and durable which is crucial for this kind of filming. I’ve used them while climbing
Kilimanjaro, in snow, at 60m underwater, in the wet and rain; and we’ve never lost
a day’s shooting.

Martin Ferreira on sound:

We always want to give the viewer a highly immersive experience and whenever
possible try to keep the original sound. It sometimes happens that we need to
replace sound – for example, some footage is captured 300 metres away from the
action, but appears to be close-up on screen. In that case I would recreate the
sound using animal behavioural noises from our extensive library, which we’ve built
over the past 10 years.

Similarly, I’m careful not to overpower the narrative with music or sound effects
being used to drive emotion of the story with an ambience track. It’s a balancing act
– highlighting emotion without overpowering any specific elements. In this scene we
managed to capture great original hippo fighting sounds, so I just enhanced them by
placing them in a surround sound, sound stage.
– Compiled by Carly Barnes


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