According to Ashish Chandola, wildlife filmmaker, the most important prerequisite to be a wildlife filmmaker is an in-depth understanding of nature. “One needs to know the habitat, mammals, birds, their calls, intra- and inter-species responses, etc.,” he says.
Wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri adds, “Such knowledge does not come from simply reading books or earning a degree in biology, but through years of watching and studying wildlife in its natural habitats. Indeed, the best wildlife filmmakers are invariably dedicated naturalists who have developed filmmaking skills rather than filmmakers who’ve decided to make films on nature.”
A filmmaker needs to do extensive homework on the subject of the film and should conduct a recce before starting to ensure that filming is possible, Besides capturing shots, filmmaking involves a huge gamut of processes – the art of storytelling, proposals, budgets, arranging equipment, post production and much more. “Making a wildlife or natural history film adds another layer of complexity, since the filmmaker rarely has any control over the subject. Unlike an advertisement film or a feature film, where one starts off with an extremely detailed script and storyboard, the wildlife film has to contend with the unpredictability of nature. Animals in the jungle cannot be made to perform for the camera according to one’s wishes,” says Dattatri.
This profession is not an easy one to enter, especially in India, considering the lack of support and interest, the massive costs involved, the high rate of competition, expensive equipment and advances in technology. Only the most dedicated, perseverant and talented can survive in this field. A film cannot possibly be made without funds, and hence, Indian wildlife filmmakers have to turn to international sources because Indian production houses have not yet acknowledged the value of wildlife films. In some cases, the Indian arm of the Discovery Channel and the Asian arm of the National Geographic Channel buy films created by Indian wildlife filmmakers, but they do not commission programmes yet. To add to the list of impediments, government filming fees are exorbitantly high and access into Protected Areas highly restricted. Also a wildlife film can take months or even years to shoot. All these hurdles, it seems “are sounding the death knell for this genre of filmmaking even before it has a chance to bloom properly,” feels Dattatri.
But all is not lost. Wildlife filmmaking is an exhilarating career nevertheless. If you are committed to wildlife conservation, are interested in filmmaking and have the patience to sit quietly for hours in the forest to get shots, then experiment with a short, low-budget film. Enrol in a course in environmental and wildlife filmmaking. You could also try to apprentice with an experienced filmmaker, though opportunities are limited. If you have a good idea for a film, research thoroughly and perhaps you could sell your idea to an established filmmaker. Remember that as a free lancer, there is no job security and that monetary gains can be a long time coming.
To the budding wildlife filmmakers out there, in the words of Shekar Dattatri, “Do your homework thoroughly. Treat your subjects with respect. Be passionate. Don’t wait for rewards and recognition. Your involvement is your reward.”
Here are a few colleges that offer wildlife filmmaking:
For more information visit: www.shekardattatri.com
By Ragini Singh, February 2009