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BBC’s Mike Gunton talks on making wildlife content that surprises viewers

MUMBAI: At the media trade event Frames organised by FICCI, British television producer and BBC Natural History Unit senior executive Mike Gunton shared his observations on making wildlife content that surprises viewers.

“The challenge we face is to raise the bar. Newness is key. They (audiences) want things that they have not seen before like new animals. Newness is the word that I live by and surprise is a way to generate newness,” he said.

Mike GuntonGiving the example of a rhino that people expect to be grumpy, he said that they found a location where rhinos socialise and party under the stars. “We often use the power of the lens to show viewers what they otherwise would not be able to see.”

For him, the personality of animals is important. “Personalities allow viewers to connect with animals. The individual personalities and characters of animals are more important than just discovering a new animal.”

In addition to personality, a strong visual perspective is also important. “You need strong visual ways. You have to see a visual perspective in terms of what camera to use and where you place it,” he said.

He offered the example of Planet Earth that offers a God’s eye view of the world. “Today having an aerial perspective is common. However, yesterday’s innovation is tomorrow’s cliché. Now you need to rethink on the aerial perspective.”

His company has used drones, also called opticopters, to do things like offer a unique view of the Amazon rainforest. “Technological innovation is a part of BBC Earth’s ethos. It has to be combined with innovative storytelling.”

BBC once used modified surveillance cameras to observe the behaviour of chicks. The challenge was not to disturb the nest. “We were able to get viewers immersed in chicks’ behaviour. We revealed new sides to chicks’ behaviour. We were trying to surprise audiences. People were surprised at the skulduggery going on in the animal kingdom,” he said at length.

He also spoke about an experience shooting in Africa, where the focus is generally on the lion. This time the unit decided to focus on a lizard tracking flies on a lion. “Viewers rooted for the lizard,” he said.

On the show ‘Life Story’, a unique situation happened that allowed the production team to have a camera on the shoulder of a cheetah. Naturalist filmmaker Kim came upon a pregnant but injured cheetah. By the time she gave birth, a bond of trust had been built. The story that needed to be shot was the young cheetahs being sent out by their mother to hunt for their food. Things were tough and the day came when the young cheetahs knew that they would either have to kill for food, or starve and die.

The good news was that they hunted in pairs. Kim shot the hunt running swiftly after the young cheetahs as they cornered their prey. “We push our technology further to show things in a different way. At the same time, the natural world sees new stories coming up constantly.”

As far as innovative shooting on water is concerned, the BBC once built a studio in water that included a special rig to capture a fish building something unique by using its fins. For Gunton, the fish was the world’s greatest animal artist. He noted that a video of that fish got 18.5 million views on Facebook. “Once the fish finished his construction, a female would view it. If it was not satisfactory, she would swim away. The fish would then tear down the construction and start all over again.”

The BBC Natural History Unit has recently started shooting in 3D. The advantage of 3D is that the content can be preserved in museums and in installations to make more money.