James Cameron’s SANCTUM     (5)

Have you seen the trailer for this film? It’s been on TV a bunch in the US recently:

I have to say, I’m excited to see a big-budget film about cave diving. Granted, I have no doubt it will be filled with many over-the-top scenarios and unlikely rescues, but I suppose that’s what Hollywood demands these days. I just hope the cave diving / exploration aspect of the film is portrayed with some credibility. Given that James Cameron’s involved (as Exec Producer, not Director), I’m hopeful he’ll keep things reasonably believable, as I know he’s passionate about exploration and diving. Movie premieres on Feb 4th.

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Categories: Diving Movies, Books, TV

National Geographic’s GREAT MIGRATIONS     (6)

I just got an email from Bob Poole, one of the most talented DPs working in the nature documentary space (for a list of shows he’s done, click here).  I haven’t (yet) had the chance to work with Bob, but there’s always next time….

Bob was principal cinematographer on Great Migrations, the new epic nature series from National Geographic that’s launching worldwide on Nov 7th. Here’s the trailer:

My other friends in the industry who worked on it say that it kicks Planet Earth’s butt. I’m certainly tuning in on Sundays to watch what looks like a masterpiece. Bravo, Bob and Nat Geo for all your hard work making this!

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Categories: Animals Movies, Books, TV Photography Travel

Hero of the Month: Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE     (2)

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing the film Jane’s Journey about Dr. Jane Goodall. Here’s the trailer:

For me, the most fascinating part of the film was watching the footage of a young Jane Goodall in Gombe with the chimps. Such a pioneer. I love how she did things simply because she wanted to—no formal training, no college degree—just passion and curiosity (and the support of Dr. Louis Leakey). I love how she became one of only a handful of people to gain admission to Cambridge’s Ph.D. program without having first had a Bachelor’s degree (again, thanks to Dr. Leakey). Such an inspiration. Where are the pioneers today? What areas of science and exploration will change our understanding of the world over the next 50 years?

After the film ended, Dr. Goodall answered a number of questions from the audience. I have to say, at 76 she is still sharp as a tack and tireless as an ambassador for her causes: chimps, the environment, education, world peace.

I was really hoping to speak with her afterward but the crowd was 5-deep after she finished and everyone had something to say, so I left to get a hot chocolate across the street from the theater. Imagine my surprise when, 20 minutes later, she comes walking past me on the street with the film’s producers! I immediately jumped in front to express my profound gratitude to her for all she’s done and everything she stands for. I thanked the producers of the film, too (since they were right there) for capturing so much of her spirit for others to enjoy. I thought the film was good, a bit long in places, but the highlight for me was shaking her hand and seeing that sparkle in her eye. I didn’t say a word about what I did for a living—I didn’t even tell her my name. I was just happy to be an anonymous fan, grateful for all she’s done and still does. 

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Categories: Hero of the Month Movies, Books, TV

Opinion: Authentic Survival, Please     (12)

There have been an overwhelming number of survival shows on TV in recent years. First, there was Survivorman with Les Stroud on Science Channel (and then Discovery). Les would drop himself off in some hypothetical survival scenario (plane crash, snowmobile wreck, etc) and do what he could to survive seven days alone while filming the entire process. What impressed me even more than Les’ ability to stay calm and committed to success was his ability to document the experience with several cameras. Close to 65% of his energy went into production, not survival, as he managed the wide-shots, the POVs, the close-ups and all the other angles an editor would later need (not to mention the camera tapes and the batteries). This was done without much food, if any, and sometimes in truly brutal conditions.

A short while later, Man vs. Wild appeared with Bear Grylls as the host. Unlike Les, Bear’s series had the support of a full film crew. This meant routes could be scouted, shots could be prepared, rappels could be rigged. The entire production component was amplified, resulting in a show that was more adrenaline-rush than survival training. Bear jumped out of helicopters, over cliffs, and into glacial waters. He ate animal parts of questionable cleanliness, more for effect than any nutritional value. Kids loved it and the show has since found a huge audience worldwide (I suppose crazy adventure translates well into many languages).

With the success of Survivorman and Man vs. Wild, Discovery launched two more survival-related shows this year: Dual Survival with primitive technologist Cody Lundin and military-survival expert Dave Canterbury and Man, Woman, Wild with former Special Forces survival expert Mykel Hawke and his journalist wife, Ruth England.  Both Dual Survival and Man, Woman, Wild were renewed for second seasons this week, indicating that Discovery is continuing to fund this genre, which they further support with programs like “Discovery Saved My Life”—a show that celebrates people who survive life-threatening situations by doing what they saw Les, Bear or others do on TV.

Now, I appreciate that television is a medium of entertainment first and education second (or not at all, in many cases). And I appreciate that Les, Bear, Cody, Dave, Mykel and Ruth are hired to attract, maintain and build an audience—that’s how successful TV works. But as a survival instructor and someone who has been in the outdoor industry for several decades, I take issue with the illusion of success and safety that these shows continue to project. And when it comes to statistics involving people who are saved, I suspect that for every 1 person who survives in the wilderness because he did something he saw on TV, there are another 2 or 3 who died because they were unsuccessful doing the exact same thing.

Last March, I came across this posting—Les Stroud Fan Dies Trying “Survivorman” Techniques In Wild. As the article points out, one can’t really say whether a person who freezes in the woods was trying to do what he saw Les do.  Without a hand-written note or a posted pre-trip plan that clearly states a person’s intention to replicate a challenge or journey, we simply can’t know what led to his death, which is my point. How many people have injured themselves by jumping off ledges into rivers without knowing the water’s depth? How many have tried to hunt animals and, in the process, been bitten or attacked? How many have gone into the winter wilderness to do what they saw their favorite TV host do, only to freeze to death and never tell a soul?  These kinds of statistics aren’t easy to collect but I know that backcountry injuries have risen dramatically in recent years thanks to increased technology (lighter gear, better food) and the false sense of security cell phones and GPS units provide. People who have less training and fewer outdoor skills are now going deeper into the woods, then getting lost. Add to that the foolish ignorance of someone trying to replicate what they think they saw on TV and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Take it from me, someone who has (so far) hosted over 50 hrs of TV for two major networks: spontaneous challenges are rarely spontaneous. The amount of time that goes into “health & safety” discussions for a segment are considerable—first, there are the insurance people (for the network and the production company), and then there are the producers, who must make sure everything will go according to plan. On location, you have the specialists who must triple-check everything before, finally, the host will “spontaneously” decide to jump off that cliff or wrestle that crocodile. On some shows, I think it’s fine—good TV often needs a jolt of energy. But in certain genres, the illusion of authenticity that is created is a discredit to the audience. When you can, read filmmaker Chris Palmer’s article in today’s Washington Post.  It’s disheartening to realize that many of the most touching “wild moments” we watch in nature documentaries are anything but wild. Many of the scenes that masquerade as “authentic” are, in fact, staged. When it’s done with animals, it’s a disservice to the audience and our understanding of nature. When it’s done with survival scenarios, though, it’s downright dangerous. I look forward to the day when authenticity and transparency are as important as ratings. It’s not an easy battle to fight, but there are some of us who believe it’s worth fighting.

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Categories: Movies, Books, TV Opinion

Countdown to Zero     (7)

Gary Clarke is a Scottish DP (Cameraman) whom I’ve worked with a number of times. For example, he and I did the Gladiator episode of Into The Unknown together (with others, of course). And we did a fantastic show in Bulgaria about archaeology that become one of the “Lost Episodes of 1997.” You can read about it in the archives (Expedition #40).

Anyway, Gary sent me an email this morning about a new project he’s been working on called Countdown to Zero. Here’s the trailer, which I thought you might enjoy:

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Categories: Movies, Books, TV

Chasing Mummies: The Adventures of Dr. Zahi Hawass     (29)

I caught this promo yesterday and laughed with joy—Dr. Zahi finally has his own TV series! Mabrouk, Zahi!

The posters just went up in NYC this week, as History has begun promoting the July 14th premiere. From what we can see in this promo (and from what I’ve heard from my friends who were involved), it’s part archaeology, part reality-show, and part just-hold-on-and-see-what-Zahi-does. He truly is a man of boundless energy and I’m hopeful people respond well to the series. Lord knows he’ll love that attention.

I give History and Leslie Greif credit for making this happen, and for injecting a little fun into the project. The title alone sounds like a comic book—perfect for someone larger than life like Dr. Zahi.  Official site for the show is here.  Curious what you think of the show.

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Categories: Archaeology Movies, Books, TV

The Myth of Stress     (10)

My twin brother Andy’s first book came out last week! It’s called The Myth of Stress - Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Happier and Healthier Life, and his website does an excellent job telling you all about it. The book outlines a process called ActivInsight that my brother created over the past 20 years.

In a nutshell, ActivInsight is a process that teaches you how to eliminate or greatly reduce stress by changing your understanding of where stress comes from and how, once you have this understanding, to better handle it. Like many of the more profound teachings in the world, it’s surprisingly simple and highly effective. I’m not trying to sell the process or his books; I just want you to be aware of them and to express how proud I am of Andy for creating this! If you’re interested in learning more, the links above can help. You can also follow links to order the book from the Myth of Stress website. Congratulations, Andy!

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Categories: Miscellaneous Movies, Books, TV

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and His Goldfish     (6)

Continuing the “fish” theme, I suppose, here’s a video that someone just sent to me via Twitter (thanks, @bgdurau). Sir Ranulph is, by all counts, one of the greatest living explorers and a true inspiration.

If you want to learn more about Sir Ranulph’s epic journeys and escapades, I suggest you pick up one of his many books. They’re all great.

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Categories: Movies, Books, TV Survival

Dolphin Warriors: The Battle at Taiji Continues!     (5)

First of all, I’m ecstatic that The Cove won the Oscar for best documentary. How cool is that? And secondly, I’m excited to hear that Animal Planet has just announced Dolphin Warriors, a TV series that picks up where The Cove ended. Ric O’Barry is back, and he’s still focused on getting the people in Taiji (and the rest of Japan) to stop killing dolphins.  Very excited to see where this goes!

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Categories: Animals Environment Movies, Books, TV News & World Events

Discovery’s Life     (10)

Last night, Discovery Communications hosted an event at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for LIFE, the sequel to Planet Earth. Here’s the promo:

The event itself was amazing. The New York Pops orchestra played in perfect sync to the Hi-Def screening of the first episode “Challenges of Life,” playing above them. The entire theater was packed and the atmosphere was electric. Seeing the video that way (something that could not be replicated at home, even with the largest HD screen) was truly amazing. As was the show, which I believe represents the pinnacle of non-fiction television. Productions like Life (and Planet Earth before it) inspire people to explore the earth, to marvel at its creatures, and to love it. Bravo to Discovery and co-producers at the BBC. I’m looking forward to watching the 11 episodes over the upcoming 5 Sundays in March and April.

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Categories: Environment Movies, Books, TV

Natural World: The Chimpcam Project     (5)

One of my sound recordists, Rob, always jokes that he’s easily replaceable—that recording sound for a TV show is so simple that he could teach a monkey how to do his job in about 5 minutes, maybe 3 minutes. Well, after seeing this video, Rob may need to worry about chimps, too (chimps aren’t monkeys). Perhaps it’s cameramen who should be worried…

I think the footage looks more like camera-carrying than actual planning and directing, but it still offers a unique perspective into the day-to-day life of chimps in a zoo. For primate enthusiasts, I’m sure the footage will be both enjoyable and possibly eye-opening. Not sure if the program will air here in the US, but here’s the release from the BBC with more info for those interested.

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Categories: Animals Fun & Games Miscellaneous Movies, Books, TV

Solving History with Olly Steeds     (23)

For those who watched the premiere of Solving History with Olly Steeds on Discovery last night, one may notice similarities between this new series and Digging for the Truth, the series I hosted for History in 2005-2007. That’s actually not a coincidence, as both Digging and Solving History were/are produced by JWM Productions. Both series, therefore, have a similar focus on telling a good story with engaging interviews, interesting activities, and helpful graphics (and, my God, weren’t the graphics of the Ark in Solving History truly amazing?!).

For those who have asked me why Discovery chose to re-visit stories from Digging only a few years after my series aired in the US on History (Digging still plays around the world on History’s affiliates), that’s a question I can’t answer, as it was a decision made by the executives at Discovery. Perhaps they felt that since History is now focusing on truckers, lumberjacks and pawn shop owners, Discovery could focus on some history. If that’s the case, I applaud them, as more historical/geographical programming is sorely needed on TV these days. For this reason, I sincerely hope people will watch Solving History and support Olly Steeds, who’s clearly doing all he can to make the stories come to life for viewers. I can assure you, it’s not easy to travel the world and stay engaged with the topics Solving History is tackling.

While I haven’t had a chance to meet or speak with Olly yet, my sense is he’s the right man for the task—a committed journalist who loves to grapple with the who, what, where, why and how of a story. That inquisitive nature—and the stamina to keep at it—can combine to create a series that will hopefully inspire others to travel, to learn, and to engage with our collective history and the great mysteries of the planet. For that, Olly, my hat’s off to you.

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Categories: Movies, Books, TV

Movie: James Cameron’s AVATAR     (6)

It’s been said by others in more detail and in more depth, but having just seen AVATAR in IMAX 3D, I can’t help but chime in…. WOW. Seriously, WOW. James Cameron has created a world of such depth, distinction, and imaginative beauty that one can’t help but want to visit the world of Pandora and live with the Na’vi. I’m not interested in giving a true review here or saying much more than this: James Cameron, Bravo and Encore. To those who haven’t seen it yet, you should do so—and the bigger the screen, the better. I’m considering seeing it again in a few weeks.

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Categories: Movies, Books, TV

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