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

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BERLOWITZ: We’ve talked about the competition, but you also share information. So you start to get an instinct that okay, if you’re gonna find a polar bear mother and cubs, how much time do you book to camp out in the Arctic to locate them? There’s a body of experience, and you go, “I think we’ll need two weeks.” I’d say 90 percent of the time we’re spot-on with the planning. For that polar bear shoot, I was pregnant at the time and a bit grumpy, as you would expect. Grumpier than normal.

HUNTER: [Laughs] I was gonna say…

BERLOWITZ: My back was aching. Polar bears have a massive territory. After about Day 8, I was thinking when are we ever gonna find a mother polar bear? You have 24-hour daylight in the Arctic summer, so you don’t have that convenient oh, thank goodness, we can sleep now nighttime. So it was about three in the morning, and I was being quite grumpy, and I was like, “Okay, should we go back, guys?” And literally at that moment, the pilot spotted something on the ice and said, “I think that’s a polar bear and I think it’s two cubs next to it.” So I was like [sighs] “Okay.” A little bit of me was like –

HUNTER: “Why did you have to spot that?”

BERLOWITZ: We flew over and it was actually what we were after, a mother and two tiny, tiny cubs. My tiredness went, my backache went, and suddenly, we were locked into this magical scenario. I stayed up in the air for three days — that was sections of four to five hours filming, land, refuel, sleep in the helicopter, and then go back up again. It was one of the most precious times in my life because you just got this kind of window into a mother polar bear’s life. It’s a really tender, cute side. I mean it’s quite serious for her, because she’s really, really having to try to get food for her cubs. And the little cubs are like, Mom, this is fun. I’ve never been out in the sea ice before. They’ve just come from their den, and they’re mucking about and biting her bottom, tagging behind, and spoiling her hunt. She’ll be in stealth mode, and then suddenly one jumps on her back, and she’s like, Ugh, get off. I was crying with laughter when she knocked the little one into the hole [for a time-out]. I had my baby in my tummy, I thought okay, that’s what polar bear moms have to do, it’s probably what I’m gonna have to do. [Laughs]

HUNTER: Scribbling notes. [Laughs]

BERLOWITZ: She was a great mum. My son had a three-hour time-out this weekend for spitting in his nanny’s face. [Laughs] Time-out is definitely an important part of parenting.

Who’s the best character you each encountered in the four years of production?
The polar bear mother. Following one female for that time was such a privilege. You have to be careful not to anthropomorphize too much, but you cannot help but really identify with this personality. I do believe animals have personality, definitely.

HUNTER: When we were with the Emperor penguins, they’re a lot more chilled out and graceful than the little Adélie penguins that poop on all your equipment and steal each other’s rocks. They’re really feisty. They remind me of New Yorkers. They go [pretends to waddle and flap] Outta my way.

BERLOWITZ: They remind me of Danny DeVito. [Laughs]

HUNTER: We had one that accidentally turned up at the Emperor penguin colony, so he was hundreds of miles from where he should be. He rocketed up out of the water, and we laughed and laughed. We have 50,000 Emperor penguins, they’re like the supermodels of the penguin world, and then this little Adélie that comes up to their thigh going, What’s going on here?

BERLOWITZ: It’s like a New Yorker turning up on Malibu beach.

Next: Part II — Life on the ice


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