By ABBIE BERNSTEIN / Employees Writer
Posted: August 14th, 2019 / 01:42 AM
Discovery Channel’s new Sunday-night miniseries SERENGETI is unusual. This is not because it is set in the Serengeti Nationwide Park in Tanzania, Africa, which accommodates giant populations of most of the continent’s most notable wildlife; the network has aired many documentaries made there. Nevertheless, SERENGETI shouldn’t be a documentary, but slightly a drama, created by Simon Fuller and directed by award-winning wildlife documentarian John Downer, each of whom are producers on the miniseries. Downer shot footage of real Serengeti lions, elephants, hyenas, baboons and different animals going about their lives, which has been edited into a storyline, narrated within the U.S. edition by Lupita Nyong’o and in the U.Okay. edition by John Boyega.
London-born filmmaker and writer Downer has photographed and filmed an unlimited number of animals, both wild and domestic. He is recognized for his SPY IN THE WILD packages, which plant unobtrusive cameras (typically disguised as animatronic animals) among teams of polar bears, dolphins, wildebeest and extra to watch the creatures with out disturbing them.
ASSIGNMENT X: Once you start out, how do you determine which particular animals you need to comply with you’re your cameras?
JOHN DOWNER: Properly, there are specific star animals that inevitably individuals need to see, lions and cheetahs, elephants, and Africa is simply filled with them. So we needed a stability between the long-lasting animals, and in addition those which are much less well-known. So that’s the place the baboons got here in. And in addition, writing themselves into the script all the time have been mongooses and warthogs, providing comic aid and surprises. In order you see the primary characters’ storylines progress, all these other characters are coming in. They have been by no means totally planned, but they only interact. And that’s what’s nice about SERENGETI, as a result of all the things is interacting on a regular basis.
AX: However there are, comparatively speaking, lots of lions in the Serengeti. How did you determine which specific lions to give attention to?
DOWNER: We knew SERENGETI needed to be about households. Prior to now, it was all the time the male stories. That was natural historical past – the large male lion is the hero. However all of the curiosity is in the female stories. And so we knew we needed to inform the female tales. The lion satisfaction is run by the females. The males might last there for three years maximum earlier than they’re overthrown by one other three or four males. However the one factor that’s secure is the females. So for the lions, there had to a feminine story. And with the elephants, the matriarchs, it needs to be the feminine story. But we didn’t want it simply to be females. So the story of a younger adolescent male who has to go away this female world for the large world outdoors was a pure. A new baby is available in, you don’t need to have an adolescent male getting really boisterous with the females and every little thing else – he has to go. So before we even began, we knew we needed to concentrate on those. However we didn’t quite know where the stories have been going to go, and the place it might take us. However at the core of it, it was all the time about families.
AX: So that you have been on the lookout for lionesses with cubs, after which going, “Nicely, which one’s doing one thing fascinating?”
DOWNER: Yeah, but more than that, we might concentrate on a female with cubs that we might return to every single day for months and months and months, and we’d comply with those storylines. So a lot of the events that occur have been based mostly on her story, and that was unimaginable. As a result of we needed the animals to write down the story, as a lot as potential. That feminine with cubs, as it continues in [Episode] 2, instantly, this male from her satisfaction is following her. We didn’t know why. And that turned the large storyline that resolves quite extraordinarily on the end. At this one second, she turns around and confronts this male. We’re not manipulating that story. These stories are coming from what we film. We’d add a scene, or we’d use an unimaginable occasion that we’ve captured [of a similar-looking lion’s actions] that would have been that lion. You don’t know [if it’s the same lion]but you recognize that is lion conduct. But most of the time, SERENGETI is informed by the animals that we comply with.
AX: So if, for instance, you will have footage of a chase, and you have great footage of your fundamental animal operating from Level A to Point B, but you don’t have footage of that animal operating from point B to Point C, you typically use footage of a similar-looking animal of the identical species operating from level B to Level C as if it’s your most important animal?
DOWNER: Yeah. Because it’s a drama, there’s a license that you’ve. Say you could have wild canine, and you’ve shot one other pack, it doesn’t should be the identical wild canine. It’s completely professional when it comes to the drama to make use of animals that are lookalikes. But that’s not likely what it was about, as a result of it was about these unimaginable moments of conduct. So for those who’re making an attempt to elucidate the conduct, you need the footage that makes that. SERENGETI has this entire totally different type of storytelling than a documentary, and that’s why we have been very clear how totally different it is. It’s based mostly on the actual lives of those animals.
However in a documentary, in case you movie this animal, it all the time, all the time is identical animal. However then, when an event happens [that is not captured on film]you could have a problem. You’ve missed one thing fairly vital in their life. And so then it becomes a disjointed story. That’s high quality, but I feel using a dramatic framing, you’ll be able to inform an entire story that is truly doing something past, “Take a look at this, and we missed this bit, and we’ll need to guess what occurred.” You possibly can tell the story of a place in a method that is really trustworthy to the place, and trustworthy to the animals that reside there, as a result of events that have occurred to at least one animal, or a really comparable animal, are occasions which are occurring, and may occur, to any animal. So that you subsequently get a much bigger and a greater understanding of the whole ecosystem than you may by way of pure documentary.
AX: Did you ever have something the place you thought, “Oh, we should always alter the story a bit to incorporate this unimaginable shot we obtained,” or anything where, “We’ve to vary the storyline, as a result of for this to make sense, we’d like this shot, and we don’t have it”?
DOWNER: Nicely, as a result of SERENGETI was a drama, yes. Typically, they have been pivotal moments within the story that turned really necessary. Once we captured that, which may fill in a bit of the story jigsaw. We are making a drama, so it has to have a narrative you could comply with. So we stored the script fluid. We’d have this superb occasion – “That may inform that bit of lacking story.” And in order that’s how we built it. We wish to assume that the animals are telling us their story. We didn’t attempt to pressure it, and we didn’t know exactly where they have been going with our story, typically. We went with a plan, after which the plan just modified and altered. And I feel the place I’m happiest is, we didn’t know even what the top scene was going to be. However when it happened, there was no different. I gained’t say what the top scene was, however for the entire collection, it type of just introduced every thing full circle. And that’s the sort of magic of it. In the event you’re open to what you’re filming, what it’s telling you, then you’ll be able to create one thing that transcends what you have been anticipating.
AX: In the primary satisfaction you’re following, there are a selection of males. Is it uncommon to have that many male lions in the same delight?
DOWNER: No, under no circumstances. I feel there were five on that one. That was fairly massive, however it can be eight – I’ve recognized eight. Three is sort of widespread, 4 is sort of widespread. It’s a coalition of males, in order that they’re all the time beneath menace from outsiders.
AX: Are they often siblings or cousins?
DOWNER: The males that are available are sometimes related, however they may meet other males to extend their power. They are typically related.
AX: Did you shoot SERENGETI any in a different way than you’d a documentary? Do you acquire footage any in another way?
DOWNER: Yeah. I’ve all the time tried to shoot, even for a documentary, from that animal viewpoint. In order that hasn’t changed. What’s modified is that we have been capable of push the know-how and the ways of filming beyond what we might usually do with the number of cameras. We’d have four or five cameras in one car, typically filming on the similar time, but they have been all getting totally different photographs and totally different angles. There are things that you simply don’t often use in a documentary, similar to subjective viewpoints, and multiple angles on the identical occasion. So we geared our entire digital camera techniques to offer these a number of viewpoints. And, as I say, there’s a subjective fashion that you would normally only see in human drama, and we’re making use of that to the pure world. And so it becomes an entire totally different experience, and it’s a heightened experience. But then, that world really is a heightened expertise. So what we’re making an attempt to do is seize the truth of being there.
AX: Did you ever run into any human interference, sad locals, or hunters, or just government individuals asking, “Who are you?”
DOWNER: There’s a tremendous reserve that joins the nationwide park. It was so well-protected. There’s low-level poaching – once I say “low-level poaching,” it’s usually for meat – but that does have an effect on the whole ecology. But the best way that place is run is sort of extraordinary in that the native individuals are employed to police that park, and subsequently the individuals are invested in it, and invested within the success of it, because they’re incomes a dwelling from it, they usually understand the worth of these animals. We met very briefly some poachers as soon as, they usually soon ran, but there is a actuality, and you need to be careful.
AX: Is there one specific species of animal that you simply like as a result of they are more adventure-prone?
DOWNER: [laughs] Nicely, I suppose if anyone had requested me what my favorite animal was before we shot this, I in all probability would have stated the cheetah, because I feel the cheetahs are really superb. The story picks up on the feminine cheetah together with her first litter, and her having to cope with being a brand new mum or dad and every part that brings, and the best way she does issues is totally turned over, and nothing is strictly as she expects. She has to additionally train her babies to outlive, so there’s a huge amount of complicated issues happening. So I really admire cheetahs for that, because they’re lone mother and father, they’re doing it on their very own. They usually’re not robust, they typically need to do it by wits. They will run, however they will’t run with the cubs. So there are loads of conflicting issues.
So I nonetheless love cheetahs, however I feel the baboons have been one of many largest surprises for me. They’re the only animal that I didn’t know that a lot about, and I’d by no means filmed them before. They usually have been continuous surprises, and naturally, they’re so close to us, we’re so close to them. And so the conduct and their motivations and every part, you see a direct mirror. They are all the time calculating their position, they’re scheming, they’re making an attempt to work out what they need to do. That’s what their society is like, and there are parallels in [human] society. They’re not all the time being straight with other baboons. There’s plenty of planning and techniques happening, and you need a really highly developed mind to try this, which they obviously do have.
AX: Is there any distinction between the model of SERENGETI narrated by Lupita Nyong’o and the version narrated by John Boyega?
DOWNER: [The narration] is equivalent. John Boyega is British, so there is a connection there. Lupita’s obtained an American connection, but she’s additionally acquired Mexico, and she or he spent all her childhood in Kenya. So it was not a type of one is best than the opposite, they have been just totally different decisions for the broadcasters, but they have been each my favorites, when you see what I mean. They both deliver something absolutely distinctive to every model. I’m very fortunate as a filmmaker to have the ability to make two versions of the same film. There is a totally different really feel to them, they usually’re each fantastic. I feel with Lupita, she has a magical connection, and a genuine connection to that world, as a result of she was introduced up in Kenya, she knew those animals. She was telling me how within the village, they needed to be cautious at night time, as a result of in case you went out, you may meet a hyena. And so she was very aware of nature at an early age. At college, she was taken out on safaris in the national parks, and she or he fell in love with the animals, and she or he’s actively involved in conservation of those animals. So in the U.S. version, there’s a religious aspect of it that is simply fantastic, I feel, that’s real, because that’s the place her roots are.
AX: How was working with Simon Fuller? Did he say, “These are usually the stories we need to tell, so go discover footage that does that,” or did you come to him and say, “We have now footage that we will do that, that or the other,” and he would say, “Properly, do this, but not this or the other”?
DOWNER: It’s type of a unique relationship, as a result of for me, what was fantastic was, Simon was coming from a completely unrelated to pure historical past world, however what he felt this movie must be, and what I felt this movie ought to be, we simply got here collectively on it. I know the doubtless storylines, which he wouldn’t fake to know that a lot about, except what he’s heard. So I might be telling him, “These are the stories I feel we ought to be going for.” I might contain him in that. But he was bringing other parts to the show which might be actually his specialty, the sort of emotional connection that music brings, and even songs. You never have songs in natural history, but why not? As a result of you will have them in drama now, you could have them in each other type. So he would all the time say, “Nicely, why can’t we do that?” And I really like individuals once they say, “Why can’t we do this?”, as a result of the reply is, “Nicely, we will.” And he all the time had that, “Let’s push it even further. Why don’t we do this?” And also you assume, “Might that work?” And naturally it will possibly work, in case you’ve acquired the arrogance in doing it, and you perceive what it could actually deliver, it’s one other degree of emotional involvement.
We have been actually eager for individuals to feel emotionally related with the animals that we’re filming, and thru that connection, that folks value them differently. There’s a type of summary thing that we know we’ve obtained to protect these animals; there’s nothing like having that emotional investment of their survival. And so that was one of many overriding, driving forces when it comes to the storytelling, what we have been making an attempt to do.
AX: If SERENGETI is an enormous hit, would you need to do another season?
AX: Do you’ve gotten some other tasks happening that we should always find out about?
DOWNER: Properly, I’ve received one other SPY IN THE WILD collection, the place we used numerous animatronic animals [to conceal cameras]in order that they’re in among the many lions and other animals. And that was massively successful. That was, as I say, exploring feelings. We’ve acquired one other one going out simply after Christmas that looks at international gatherings the place we take our spy cameras and spy creatures. And that’s a completely totally different type of film, but it is fantastic.
AX: And what would you most like individuals to know right now about SERENGETI?
DOWNER: Properly, I hope individuals shall be intrigued and excited by the tales. What we would like individuals to get from SERENGETI is to know how close those animals’ lives are to our personal, and never overlook the fact that we are animals, and that we have now a connection. And [because of] the truth that we now reside in cities, principally, and virtually everyone seems to be alienated from the natural world, we’re hoping that SERENGETI will at the very least reignite a connection, and assist individuals perceive that we’re all a part of the complicated net of interactions, where once we have been in that world, and every little thing relies on the whole lot to make it work. And we overlook that at our peril.
This interview was carried out throughout Discovery Channel’s portion of the Summer time 2019 Tv Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
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Article: Unique Interview with SERENGETI producer and director John Downer on new Discovery drama collection