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13 April 2011

Humans Who Live in Wild Places

Human Planet, the BBC Natural History Unit’s new eight-part epic series about humans who live in the wild places, follows in the footsteps of the acclaimed Planet Earth and Life.

With over 70 stories produced over a three year period, the series explores the lives of people who have adapted to some of the remotest places on earth. Series producer Dale Templar was recently in South Africa to promote the release of the DVD box set.

Narrated by John Hurt, each of the episodes focuses on a different habitat: oceans, desert, mountains, rivers, jungles, grasslands, arctic and cities.

“Human Planet needed to be epic so we utilised the dramatic nature of the styles and techniques the BBC have used before, but we combined this with a very intimate documentary style. We’ve blended and brought the two styles together. The photography must be stunning but we must also get to know the characters in a very short amount of time. By bringing together these two different styles of programme-making, we did something very challenging, but I think it explains the phenomenon this landmark series has become.”

Superlatives fail in attempting to describe the sheer scale and innovation of this series. Astounding cinematography and location sound ensure the viewer feels as if they are alongside the characters, experiencing the adrenaline of a last-minute escape from dangerous waves crashing against a cliff or the desperate isolation of an underwater diver waiting on the seabed for relief from the bends. “We brought together skills in anthropology, documentary filmmaking styles and blue-chip wildlife, so the look is a combination of the hand-held, on-the-shoulder style of documentary blended with the epic shots you expect from BBC wildlife films,” says Dale.

In designing the series style, Dale says: “I always wanted every episode to be a rollercoaster ride: the viewer should be excited, then terrified, and experience an emotional journey through each episode, but always feel very connected to the characters.”

In terms of post-production, the series is edited at a slightly faster pace than usual in The BBC’s natural history programming, although there are still those one-minute shots that take time to unfold.

“We looked at hundreds of stories but the focus was always human beings who live with nature. Each story had to play out in 5-10 minutes and this time scale meant the audience had to engage quickly with the characters. We are fortunate at The BBC to have contacts all over the world and this helped during the research phase. We explored many stories in Africa, although we did not end up shooting in South Africa.”

Dale says it was important that “the practices we were filming were not just being enacted for tourists. If it became doubtful, we dropped those stories, no matter how good they seemed. We wanted to film real people who still do real things, like the Dorobo people of Kenya. They are primarily hunter-gatherers and have been so for thousands of years. We filmed them using a more hyena-like, scavenging hunting style where they will track a pride of lions on the hunt. In our story three hunters literally have a face-off with a pride of 15 lions. Naturally the lions are frightened enough of humans to be briefly chased away from the fresh kill and a hunter will calmly walk in and machete off a wildebeest hind leg before retreating.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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