A world of won­der:

Sir David At­ten­bor­ough re­turns with Planet Earth II.

The TV Guide - - News -

He has made wildlife shows all over the globe and fea­tur­ing some of the world’s dead­li­est crea­tures. But it’s not the an­i­mals that Mike Gun­ton fears – it’s the peo­ple.

“Men with guns. Drug-crazed peo­ple with ma­chine guns. Seven­teen-year-old boys with ma­chine guns in Africa. Yeah, that’s quite scary,” says the cre­ative di­rec­tor of the BBC’s Nat­u­ral His­tory Unit of some his more fright­en­ing en­coun­ters.

Not that he had to con­tend with any­thing like that dur­ing his lat­est project – the Sir David At­ten­bor­ough-nar­rated Planet Earth II.

The se­ries, a se­quel to 2006’s ground-break­ing Plant Earth, aims to get even closer to the an­i­mals than the orig­i­nal. While that was shot mainly from he­li­copters – al­most, says Gun­ton, God’s per­spec­tive of the nat­u­ral world – the fol­low-up is man’s view.

“The un­der­ly­ing con­cept is the same in that it’s how an­i­mals cope with the chal­lenges the dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments throw up,” he says. “The dif­fer­ence is that in Planet Earth one, how you re­veal the land­scapes and the chal­lenges an­i­mals faced, and how they

over­came them, was very ob­served. The great sig­na­ture of that se­ries was to shoot us­ing a he­li­copter – an ob­served per­spec­tive and quite a dis­tant per­spec­tive.”

Fast for­ward 10 years and im­proved tech­nol­ogy al­lows film mak­ers to come down to earth and get up close and per­sonal with an­i­mals rang­ing from snow leop­ards and sloths to glass frogs and igua­nas.

“So rather than ob­serv­ing from on high you are now see­ing the chal­lenges in the land­scape through the an­i­mals’ eyes be­cause you are with them,” says Gun­ton.

But just how close is too close? Film­ing a lion hunt is, after all, a lot dif­fer­ent from cap­tur­ing fun­gus grow­ing on a tree.

“If you are putting a cam­era­man into dan­ger you have al­ready screwed the se­quence,” says Gun­ton.

“Be­cause if the cam­era­man is in dan­ger, he is too close. That means the an­i­mals won’t be­have in a nat­u­ral way. If they are dis­tracted enough to feel threat­ened they will at­tack you. Then the whole thing has fallen apart.”

Shot over three years us­ing ultra-high def­i­ni­tion (4K), Planet Earth II

takes in more than 40 coun­tries and at­tracted more than 12 mil­lion view­ers when it screened in the UK.

Such au­di­ences make Planet Earth III a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

But if it is an­other 10 years be­tween se­quels, pro­gramme mak­ers have to face the pos­si­bil­ity that Sir David At­ten­bor­ough, who turned 90 last year, could well be miss­ing from the mix. So how do you re­place one of the most fa­mous faces and voices in broad­cast­ing? It’s a ques­tion that has oc­cu­pied the BBC for 30 years. “What is prob­a­bly il­lu­mi­nat­ing is when I joined the nat­u­ral his­tory unit in 1987,” re­calls Gun­ton, “the first unit meet­ing I went to ... the head of de­part­ment said, ‘We need to talk about re­plac­ing David. Who’s go­ing to re­place David At­ten­bor­ough?’. “This con­ver­sa­tion comes up ev­ery few years and the an­swer is you can’t re­place him. He is irreplaceable in the nor­mal sense of the word. “So the only way to do it is you have to re­think how you make th­ese types of shows. You can’t make an At­ten­bor­ough show with­out At­ten­bor­ough, ob­vi­ously.

“And I think that he would agree that that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. It may well be time shortly to think of a dif­fer­ent way of do­ing th­ese pro­jects.”

In the mean­time, though, get­ting At­ten­bor­ough to sign on to a pro­duc­tion is no easy task.

“You al­ways have to pass the test,” says Gun­ton. “Whether he thinks it’s good, whether it’s go­ing to be worth­while do­ing. His time is pre­cious. He likes to do good things. He likes to be as­so­ci­ated with things he thinks are go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing and suc­cess­ful in terms of what the au­di­ence will en­joy. “I had to go and talk to him about

(Planet Earth), what the project was. Ex­plain to him the struc­ture and the ap­proach. It’s a huge re­lief when he says it’s a good idea.

“I don’t know what I would have said if he said, ‘I think it’s a ter­ri­ble idea’.”

But even if you pass the ‘test’, there are still ob­sta­cles to over­come.

“When you start to film stuff you show him footage and he says, ‘Yes, that’s amaz­ing. I haven’t seen that be­fore. You’re get­ting some good stuff’ – which makes you feel good. You’re kind of a bit like seek­ing ap­proval.”

Like show­ing your work to the head­mas­ter? “Or dad or some­thing,” con­cedes Gun­ton.

“He’s very en­cour­ag­ing but also very de­mand­ing in a good way. His stan­dards are very high which means your stan­dards are very high. He’s a kind of guardian I sup­pose. Guardian of qual­ity.”

Sir David At­ten­bor­ough

Planet Earth II –  Prime Sun­day

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