Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

I want to work for the BBC, or why Planet Earth rocks my world

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Planet Earth snow leopard In a time when we keep being told that no corporation is willing to shell out the money it takes to do quality journalism, I am appeased by the idea that a broadcasting company, albeit public, would invest in a three-year chase through the Himalayas to get about seven minutes of footage of a snow leopard.

Those of you who do not understand what I’m talking about have missed the most beautiful show of videography ever made. I’m talking about Planet Earth, of course. While watching the 11 episodes of the show, I was constantly amazed not only by the beauty of nature but also by the amazing talents of the people who captured those images. It’s the kind of project you must feel blessed to work on, no matter what menial work you do, kinda like the guys who spent two years assembling plastic chainmail on the set of the Lord of the Rings.

While watching the whole thing, I was constantly wondering how on earth they got each shot. (The French have an expression for that; it’s called “professional deformation.” Whenever I read a story, I analyze it as a writer rather than just read it for what it says. It gets exhausting.) How did they manage to film a bear and her two cubs just as they were exiting their den for the first time? For that matter, how did they know where to point the camera on the whole freaking Antartica? How did they film close-ups of monkeys jumping from branch to branch on some of the tallest trees in the world? How did they go down into one of the deepest, most secret caves on Earth? How did they manage to get the most terrible and beautiful shot of a shark I have ever seen?

Shark hunts seals

And how on God’s Earth did they manage to film a snow leopard, probably the most seldom seen – let alone filmed – animal on the planet?

This is where “Planet Earth: The Diaries” comes in. (I would tell you where to download it, but I can’t support that practice. Right?) As a journalist and aspiring documentary filmmaker (yes, that’s yet another project), I find the making-of almost more interesting than the series itself. That’s where I learned the Planet Earth team mounted to a helicopter a camera with a zoom that manages to capture facial expressions from 1 kilometre away. For the monkeys, they used a filming balloon invented by a man with a Frencher than French accent. Another guy waited weeks in a stake out for a bird of paradise to do its dance. Two other guys (a lot of men in this endeavor) lived in a cabin in Antartica for a year to film male penguins protecting their eggs through the winter.

Little Miss Sunshine

In the Gobi desert, the team went Little Miss Sunshine style.

And for the snow leopard, they simply waited three years for her to show her face.

As I have devoured every episode more quickly than I had wished, I now need to put on my “Dear Santa Claus, I’ve been a good journalist this year” letter the DVD, which has an extra 2 1/2-hour documentary on endangered species and environmental issues. Besides, if only for the voice of Sir David Attenborough…

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Written by Isabelle Roughol

Tuesday, 10 July, 2007 at 23:24

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