Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): The making of 'Frozen Planet'


Image Credit: Discovery Channel/BBC/Jeff Wilson

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Watching the series, there are moments that made me misty, either from being in awe at the beauty of a landscape or overwhelmed by the emotion of an epic battle. Does that ever happen to you in the field?
It’s not often that you get a chance in the field to just stop and reflect, but I think when you’re all back at camp and you all talk about the shots, the high of that feeling is pretty unmatched. I think a lot of it has to do with how much effort you put in to get it. When we filmed that wolf hunt, we worked so hard in -40° conditions, our eyes were freezing shut out on foot. So when we filmed that first hunt after weeks and weeks and weeks, you’re very emotional. That’s probably why our eyes are freezing. Too many tears. [Laughs]

BERLOWITZ: Similarly, I’d been waiting for, I think it was six weeks, to try to get up in the air to fly to the South Pole to the base where Chad and I were working in Antarctica. You wait for the weather forecast, and they go, “Nope, the weather’s still bad today.” Eventually, we got the go-ahead to fly to the South Pole. As Chad’s saying, you’re already so emotionally charged that you finally got this opportunity to film something. And then we fly over the Transantarctic Mountains, which are absolutely spectacular. We cross a pass and revealed in front of us is this huge glacier called the Beardmore Glacier, which is known from Shackleton and Scott. The great explorers traversed this huge glacier — it’s about 100 miles long, one of the longest in the world — and I had this moment where I was completely choked. I saw it, and I just went Ohmygod, that is what these men crossed on foot 100 years ago. There are moments like that that really stay with you forever.

Was there an animal you wanted to film but never captured the behavior you wanted?
My bête noire was wolverines. I became obsessed with wolverines. The iconic animals you know — like polar bears and killer whales — we knew they’d be stars of the series. So I went on a few wild goose chases, or wild wolverine chases. They’re wonderful hairy beasts with a lot of character. They were roaming on the tundra and attacking snow geese, and it was a remarkable sight. We tried to film it, we got lovely snow geese scenes, but the wolverines would just outsmart us most of the time. They kept me up at night. We did manage to get a lovely little wolverine story in the “Winter” program, which made me feel a bit better about it. But they became my red baron, my nemesis.

BERLOWITZ: In the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica, you get these congregations of krill, which are like shrimp, and that attracts all of the marine wildlife. You can get thousands of whales — blue whales, minke whales, fin whales, humpback whales — seals, penguins, in this kind of huge feeding frenzy. We tried to time some of our penguin and orca shoots to be there at the right time and go through the areas that we thought it might happen. It never quite did. Although I think one of the most frustrating texts that I ever got was from a scientist friend of Alastair [Fothergill], our boss, who was on a fishing vessel doing science work. This fuzzy picture came through, I looked at it and said, “What is that?” I started to realize it was a picture of thousands of whales. You can see fins right to the horizon. The note underneath it was, “Is this what you were looking for?” [Laughs] Initially, we were just so crushed. You have to be quite philosophical about it, there’s always got to be one thing out there that you aspire to get. If it’s not this series, it will be the next series. I worked on Planet Earth, the mountain show, and we got the snow leopard sequence. And I’d been trying across two previous projects to film snow leopards, and finally we lucked out and we got it on Planet Earth. Eventually, you get your moment.

HUNTER: And if it made it easy, it wouldn’t be special.

Does that kind of playful taunting go on a lot in your field?
There’s a lot of friendly competitiveness. If one team doesn’t quite manage to get a certain behavior and the next team is headed out… We all know each other very well, and you wish each other luck, but yeah, it’s a quite competitive industry. People have the hunger to get the shots.

BERLOWITZ: The worst is tourism, of course, though. You see these things on YouTube that come back like that famous clip of the crocodile, and the lions, and the buffalo. I remember the first time I logged on, and I was going, “That’s not fair. You know how many months I spent in Africa trying to get sequences like that, and some tourist who doesn’t even know what they’re filming has just captured it?!” [Laughs]

HUNTER: But the research is a massive part of how we make the series. We would research most of the stories for about one year before we actually send the teams out, making as accurate and almost military-like plan as you can.

Next: 3 a.m. polar bear sightings


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