Conservation news

Meet one of the filmmakers behind Planet Earth 2

  • Planet Earth II, produced by the BBC, involved 40 different countries and more than 2,000 days of shooting.
  • The six-part series showcased some of the rarest footage of wildlife from remote islands and deserts to high mountain ranges, forests, grasslands and bustling cities.
  • Mongabay interviewed one of the filmmakers involved, Sandesh Kadur, to understand what it takes to film captivating sequences of animals in the wild and within cities.

Last November, BBC returned with a sequel to its hit nature documentary series — Planet Earth.

The new six-part series Planet Earth II, presented by Sir David Attenborough, showcased some of the rarest and most spellbinding footage of wildlife from around the world: from remote islands and deserts to high mountain ranges, forests, grasslands and bustling cities.

For the series, which involved 40 different countries and more than 2,000 days of shooting, wildlife filmmakers used some of the latest technology to get more intimate with wildlife than ever before, bringing breathtaking shots of animals in action. Take for example, the now-viral scene of marine iguanas being chased by snakes, and those of two male snow leopards fighting over a female high up in the treacherous nooks of the Himalayas.

Sandesh Kadur, director of Felis Creations, a visual-arts company based in India, was one of the filmmakers behind Planet Earth II’s gripping shots. His team helped capture footage of rhinos, elephants and tigers in India’s tall grasslands, and monkeys and leopards within jam-packed Indian cities.

Mongabay interviewed Kadur to understand what it takes to film captivating sequences of animals in the wild and within cities.

Cameraman Sandesh Kadur (R) in field with Dr. Chadden Hunter (L), producer of Planet Earth II – Grasslands episode. Photo copyright: Felis Images.

AN INTERVIEW WITH SANDESH KADUR

Mongabay: How did you come to be associated with Planet Earth II? Which parts of the series did your team film? 

Sandesh Kadur: I’ve had a wonderful working relationship with the BBC for a number of years now, and this opportunity actually came up when a long-time friend of mine — Dr. Chadden Hunter — rang me up sometime at the end of 2012 and said he would love to come visit sometime when I’m up in the Northeastern part of India. Sure enough, in early 2013, he came over and we visited Kaziranga where he was absolutely stunned at the height of the grassland. This was also around the same time when he was just beginning his work on the Grassland Episode for the show. After that, we planned for nearly a year, discussed what the story elements would be and how we were going to bring out the claustrophobic world of tall grass and show that even elephants can get submerged in there.

Our team at Felis, in particular Adarsh NC, also worked with the BBC to get all the necessary permits for all of the episodes that were to be shot in India — that’s Mountains, Grasslands and Cities. I helped shoot the Jodhpur Langur chase sequence and the Mumbai-city establishers in the Cities episode, and shot the Kaziranga sequence in the Grasslands episode.

A tiger gives the Planet Earth II – Grassland crew a fleeting glimpse amid the tall elephant grass in Kaziranga national Park. Photo copyright: Sandesh Kadur | www.felis.in.

Mongabay: In the Grasslands episode, sloth bears, tigers and elephants continually rip out your camera traps in Kaziranga National Park in Assam. How frustrating was that?

Sandesh Kadur: Incredibly frustrating. First, because you invest so much time and energy in setting up each and every camera-trap and then to have the tigers and elephants… and bears [just] rip them apart was just so frustrating. But we learned a lot during that exercise and slowly came to figure out the animal patterns and behavior, and then finally did manage to get a tiger properly on camera trap months later!

Mongabay: You also sat in a camouflaged hideout overnight for the Grasslands episode, waiting for a tiger to come feed on a dead rhino. Was it scary?

Sandesh Kadur: Most times we don’t sit out in the hide overnight as that would be outright suicidal in some cases and absolutely freezing cold in this case. Also, we need to come back to charge up cameras, download footage, and so on.  So, we come back each day at a time we think is appropriate and wait out the whole day.

It wasn’t the tiger that scared me whilst in the grass hide in the middle of the grassland. It was more the other living rhinos running around, chasing each other, crashing through the grass that was more frightening.

Cameraman Sandesh Kadur in the camera hide while on shoot for the Planet Earth II – Grasslands episode. Photo copyright: Felis Images.

Mongabay: What are some of the challenges of shooting wildlife in cities?

Sandesh Kadur: Filming wildlife in cities is actually great fun. Firstly, the animals are not scared of you at all. In fact in most cases, animals like the langurs ignore your presence, even when you have a camera right up close to them! And, after a few days, it almost seems like you become a part of the troop and they just walk around you, jump right over you, so it’s great to establish that bond and work so closely with the animals in the cities.

Shooting in cities is less of a challenge than shooting in the wild. The real challenge here is to keep people in the background from just staring at you and then looking straight through the camera!

Mongabay: If you had to choose one favorite moment from your shoot, what would it be?

Sandesh Kadur: Can I pick two? Filming the tiger walk down to the rhino carcass was an absolute heart-stopping moment and one of those really exhilarating moments when you know you’ve managed to capture it on camera. The second most fun moment was working with the langurs in Jodhpur city, where the injured male was defending his troop from the bachelor boys.

The stars of the Planet Earth II – Cities episode, the Hanuman Langurs against the backdrop of the blue city of Jodhpur. Photo copyright: Felis Images.

Mongabay: Broadcaster Martin Hughes-Games recently suggested that nature shows like Planet Earth II provide “an escapist wildlife fantasy which glosses over the damage humans have done to the natural world.” What do you think about this? Can films like Planet Earth II inspire conservation?

Sandesh Kadur: In the world of broadcast, there’s plenty of room for everything. I agree that more conservation films need to be made and stories need to be told, but I also strongly believe that films like Planet Earth II, that celebrate the diversity of the natural world around us, need to be made. They are meant to inspire, regale and refresh us. Especially in the current political scenario around the world, we need a show that provides us an escape, and if that escape is to a natural world of wildlife fantasy, then so be it. But understand that this world still does exist out there and do all that you can to respect and protect it.

Moreover, it is films like Planet Earth II and many others by the BBC and Sir David Attenborough that have, in fact, inspired many generations of conservationists working in the field helping protect the environment and educators/filmmakers like myself who, at some point in the past, was influenced by these epic documentaries.

Mongabay: What advice would you give to people who would like to follow in your footsteps?

Sandesh Kadur: In photography (or filmmaking), one must religiously follow the 3 P’s – Have a lot of Passion, followed by hardcore Perseverance, topped with bucket-loads of Patience.

There may be as few as 3500 snow leopards left in the wild. They are famously elusive and difficult to film and have become increasingly threatened by climate change and human disturbance. Photo copyright: David Willis Copyright BBC NHU 2016.

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