BBC 1 Dynasties: Chimpanzees

For much of the last 3 years I have been filming a new series currently called Dynasties, it is 5 x 1hrs for BBC1 starting on the 11th November, and for one of the films I took on the task of filming a program on Chimpanzees in Senegal and being part of another Team of DOP’s filming the Lion program in Kenya.

Filming chimpanzees is no small undertaking, the last time I did was for a BBC series called Africa. I found myself in the middle of the Congo Jungle for 5 weeks, trekking the equivalent of a half marathon to full marathon everyday for fleeting glimpses of chimpanzees and losing 2 stone of weight in the process.

So I thought about taking this film on with some trepidation, but they are such amazing animals it was a tough decision. There really is nothing like spending time with chimps, there are moments when you film them that you really see and feel how closely related we are to them and this was a chance to spend the next few years making a film documenting the drama unfolding of their lives, so I could really only make one decision and that was to accept.


The chimps here unlike the ones I filmed before in the Congo, these live in a far more extreme environment. Unlike the Jungle of the Congo the environment here is far more Savana and patchy woodland, appearing far drier and less forgiving. But because of this they have lots of very interesting behaviour, from Spear hunting Bush babies to digging wells for water. But they can also move even bigger distances each day if they choose. Im no stranger to hard physical shoots and have spent many years in deep dark jungles or trekking in deserts to wading through waist deep snow in -35, but the first 3 days of filming these guys were the most sobering in my career. The days starts at 4am as you need to get to the chimpanzees before they wake up and move as it could take days to find them again and it ends when it gets dark. It was frequently over 40 degrees C, my Backpack weighed in at 33Kgs, holding camera batteries, water, food, lenses, and strapped to my front was a Red Dragon Camera with a Canon 50-1000mm lens. Those first 3 days i was physically broken and genuinely for the first time in my career i wondered if i could actually do this project, fortunately they took it slightly easier on me for the rest of that week and I got over the initial shock and was able to physically recover and carry on. That started the next couple of years filming. Often there were just 2 of us in the field day after day, Myself with the amazing Michel, he was a field assistant for the scientist who had been following these animals for years. An amazing man, he could recognise all of them often from a kilometre away just from the sound of their voice. without him none of this film would have been possible, he got us to places where we were able to see and film amazing behaviour.

Filming chimpanzees is hard enough as you are often lagging behind trying to keep up with them, they cover the distances so much faster than we can, you don’t get the same opportunities as with many other wildlife subject of working the light angles with them as you are often lucky just to filming anything at all, and they have the uncanny knack of managing to place a branch or blade of grass right between their faces and the lens, sometimes it really not fair and i could have sworn it was deliberate :-).

But we wanted to push the boundaries of how we can film these animals and bring their story and characters to the forefront.

To do this my third shoot was all about trying to use the Freely MoVI with Red Dragon camera and try to follow them, I didn’t even know if it would be possible to be honest as the distances covered and some of the terrain makes doing it and adding cinematic movement to the film incredibly difficult. The Gimbal system has to be hand held and instantly able to respond when something happens.


Its probably one of the hardest subjects Ive ever tried to use the MoVI with, chimpanzees go from fast asleep to marching you 10 miles in the blink of an eye, they can also be incredibly explosive, giving very little warning that something is about to happen and at that time of year the temperatures are brutal and from about 11:00 on most days are about 46 degrees, so I had my work cut out for me. But despite these challenges I believe we filmed some extordinary shots for the program, it wasn’t easy and they made us work hard for every shot, but to me it instantly felt different and new. We were suddenly going on a journey with these amazing animals, and the movement really allowed me to follow their story in a more immersive way and help their environment come alive on screen.

Its been an extraordinary series to have been involved with and feels like an exciting change to the already amazing landmark series i’ve been involved with for the BBC like Planet Earth 2, BP2. Really following individual animals lives, through the highs and lows, some moments have been the most emotionally involving things i’ve seen and some of the very toughest to stay impartial about in my career. Returning each time it felt like you were coming back to old friends, as wed got to know the individuals characters, there are genuine moments when filming chimpanzees were you can feel a connection between you. One looking into your eyes while you look into theirs it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I really hope we’ve done these incredible animals justice and you enjoy the series starting this sunday BBC1 11th Nov at 8:30pm.

The Trailer is below :-)



Home Bound

Wood Carving river

Its been an amazing two and a half months filming from India, through New Zealand down to the Sub Antarctic Islands on its southern tip, and now I'm sat in an airport on my home to the family, cant wait, its been a long time. I just need to remember how to be a dad and husband again.

Ive filmed Macaques, Langurs, Holi festival, Albatross, Tuatara (reptile, bit like a lizard), Giant Weta, Maori Wood carving, a sheep muster on some of the steepest mountains I've seen for a while, and finally Sooty shearwaters, its been a blast. We used every mode of transport i can reasonable think of other than a train, but cars, helicopters, planes of almost every size.

Sheep Muster


Sheep Mustering as it turns out down here, happens just before winter sets in, the farm we filmed at has some of the most amazing scenery I've been in and Kate and her shepherds get dropped by helicopter to the top of one of the more impressive mountain ranges and over two days navigate their way through this landscape trying to bring down 7000 sheep from the steep summer grazing. All while wearing shorts !!!!! It was too cold for me to think about doing that.


But the final part of the shoot was spent on a small boat in a large stormy ocean, trying to find the elusive Sooty shearwater before this amazing little bird starts it migration from the sub antarctic tip of New Zealand all the way to the California coast, a journey that means it covers roughly 47,000miles a year. The chicks spend all of there time in the nesting burrow until their parents leave without them and then embark on this amazing journey.  We only had a few days to film them and spent the first day clinging onto the boat in incredibly rough seas, but Ive never seen the number of Albatross we had like that before, well over a hundred, Buller Albatross, White Cap and the occasional Southern Royal and all within touching distance.

Incredible India

This was my first time in India and it did not disappoint, Ive been all over the world filming and the sights, sounds and smells of india are going to stay with me for a long time.  Its probably the most colourful and sense assaulting place ive experienced, and ive got to say I loved it.  I got slightly overexcited about eating curry for a month as well, so much so that i made it every day at home the week before we left, (my poor family), I hadn't quite thought it through, i was to be eating curry 3 meals a day for the next month. Turns out you definitely can have too much of a good thing !!!

My new favourite monkey, The Langur

I was here for a BBC landmark series currently called ‘One Planet’, and we wanted to film two sequences on Urban Monkeys across india, Macaques and Langurs, and experience Holi festival.  This filming took us from rooftops to ground level, suing long lens, MoVi and Cable Dolly, trying to follow our characters from Jaipur to Jodhpur. there is nothing like seeing your gear on a long rope suspended above a city to concentrate the mind.

Cable dolly

Holi came at the end of the shoot, which in many ways was lucky as having now experienced it, it definitely posed the greatest risk to the equipiment, I was falsely under the impression that Holi was all about paint powder, but it appears water has just as much of a part to play and its one of the main things that cameras and MoVI’s don’t like so myself and Louis Labroom came up with our slightly heath robinson Paint and waterproofing. Also we hadn't thought about the fact that the local children had also been planning for a long time their own plans for Holi, mainly focussing on water balloons filled with paint solution, fiendish !!! But we bobbed and weaved, duck and dived and took the occasional hit for the team and the kit survived, although has looked better.


We were lucky that we had the chance to have 2 attempts at filming Holi in different locations and after the first run we quickly revised our paint proofing as within the first 10mins its inadequacies were shown up. So it was back to the drawing board, to prepare for the next onslaught which would be far less tame. Resulting in a full on street party, paint everywhere and was a complete blast !!!!! And is one of the few time I've been expected to dance while operating the MoVI :-)