Here, we see a mefite in her natural habitat!
August 20, 2016 11:34 AM   Subscribe

 
The Natural World, with Sir David Attenborough
posted by hippybear at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I watched a fascinating documentary about the wolves of Yellowstone that followed the life story of a black wolf who unusually chose to engage in side sex with pack females rather than create his own pack. Later on he went on to become something of a co-alpha and then finally created his own pack. The documentary went into great detail about how he was uniquely successful and clever. Then, at the end, in tiny letters, was a disclaimer that said the footage and narrative was cobbled together and represented some kind of aggregate. I kind of felt duped. I would have happily watched a documentary about the wolves of Yellowstone without getting sucked into a false narrative about a wolf that didn't really exist.
posted by xyzzy at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


I work with small wild rodents, and have often commiserated with other mammologists about how to get good shots of the animals in a wild context as a way of illustrating my work for talks or for media outreach. For example, I was around when this photo was taken (although I didn't take it myself, I helped with the setup for it). I've had people ask how we spotted the mouse in the 'natural underbrush' and how we got the quick shot above it as it started to vocalize. Of course, we did no such thing--that photo is shot through a glass terrarium, of a wild-caught animal, and the underbrush in it is random bits of foliage that we collected on a trapping expedition. (When you surprise a wild rodent, they tend not to stop and try to communicate with each other--they fucking run and hide, which does not result in usable footage or good photographs. I imagine that larger wild animals have similar issues.)

I have seen other photos of wild rodents used for scientific communication which are often mistaken for 'naturalistic settings' where the animals in question are clearly anesthetized and posed, including one very famous photo where I have heard that the small bright berries dotting the posed scene were grabbed pretty much at random from a bush outside the lab building in order to add some color. Of course, this is because most animals are housed on boring corncob bedding in the lab, in small enclosures, and those tend to not be particularly interesting or good-looking if you're trying to illustrate your species in a natural context. So people stage their shots in a terrarium with a background that looks wild-ish enough to fool someone who isn't particularly familiar with the species and leave it at that.

In general, wild animals are not super easy to film and photograph, especially if they are particularly small or particularly fast. And.... well, the general public is kind of hilariously bad at telling individual wild animals apart. Hell, people are bad at telling individual domestic animals apart. I cannot count the number of times that I've been watching a film or television series with, say, a Siberian husky starring in some role and watched at least three or four different animals with very different markings rotated through, and I'm usually the only one who notices. (To say nothing of "wolves" on television which are nothing of the sort, because sort of vaguely wolfy looking dogs are obviously much easier to work with on set.) So to be honest, I'm not remotely surprised that documentarians splice footage like that. After all, real life only rarely tells a coherent story.
posted by sciatrix at 11:59 AM on August 20, 2016 [58 favorites]


Apparently, the polar bear stalking the cameraman was...too much realism? (Either that, or the cameraman was saying things not suitable for the delicate ears of BBC audiences.) As a kid watching Wild Animal Kingdom, I did sometimes wonder why the toothier wildlife wasn't contemplating cameraman tartare for dinner.

Filming cheetahs so that audiences can actually grasp what's going on with a hunt must be a nightmare--it's no wonder that everyone resorts to slo-mo instead of CHEETAH BLASTING FULL SPEED AHEAD.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:03 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would have happily watched a documentary about the wolves of Yellowstone without getting sucked into a false narrative about a wolf that didn't really exist.

I'm actually familiar with this documentary, and that wolf totally did exist. The footage may not all have been of Wolf 302M (also called Casanova), and I'd be sort of surprised if it was--after all, you're not going to necessarily know that a random given wolf pup is going to do something interesting as an adult!--but the storyline of the documentary would indeed have been following that individual's life history.

302M is an interesting case, though, because he's an individual who was born into a population which is highly monitored and observed by people, and he was extensively tracked and observed from his birth right up until his death. That is not, to put it mildly, the usual situation among wild animals outside of certain long-term studies and observation projects, and those that exist are often precariously funded. It's just not feasible for most documentarians to find a specific individual animal who is monitored closely enough that we both a) know the specific story of the animal from birth to death and b) we know that his life story was interesting beyond "life of a wolf" and can construct an even more interesting narrative around that story.
posted by sciatrix at 12:04 PM on August 20, 2016 [37 favorites]


The stakes are life and death, of course; but then, in nature, they almost always are.
But this isn't remotely true. Nature is mainly boring and the stakes inscrutable, like everything else. On the other hand, if you watch too many nature documentaries this is exactly the opinion you would think was obviously true.

it's interesting to watch long running PBS nature shows like 'Nature' or 'Nova.' There is a wholly recognizable shift in the 80s in the structure and thematic notes of the episodes. Because the "story" in nature is always written by the observer, nature documentaries are a pure window into the frameworks we try to understand the stories around us within... and it's really depressing. outside of the relentless discovery channel faces of death organs to even up market stuff like the bbc puts out, it's a picture of a world where everyone literally does believe it's all a struggle for fitness. 'The Hunt' sounds really dispiriting, but I'm sure the photography is excellent.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yeah, my personal example of this is the Chimpanzee movie, which was primarily filmed in the Tai Forest where I do my research. However, it included footage from chimpanzees across Africa without mentioning that they were chimps from other forests. I thought it was pretty funny that they had Ugandan red colobus monkeys shrieking and running away from "Ivorian" chimpanzees.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


I will always stand by the original BBC Earth series as some of the most amazing photography I've ever seen. And the "behind the scenes" stuff they put out about what they did to photograph what they captured... Was that all a lie? I don't think so.

I can see how a lot of nature documentaries would be cobbled together or made to look real through trickery or whatever, but I think that one series actually presented what it claimed to present.

Or else I am gullible.

At least none of it looked like green screen CGI, which I appreciated.
posted by hippybear at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm actually familiar with this documentary, and that wolf totally did exist.
That's super interesting and I feel much better about my sense of being hoodwinked. However, they should have rephrased the ending disclaimer because I definitely walked away from that believing that I was being told a bedtime story.
posted by xyzzy at 12:16 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I asked an askme a few years ago trying to track down a half-remembered quote, I think, from Sontag -- paraphrasing: "A [weapon] sight frames one image for destruction. A [camera] viewfinder frames one image for preservation and all other possible images for destruction." The mere act of recording something with a camera is inherently biased (position, angle, framing, composition, choice of lens, choice of whether to record or not)! Never did track down the article or source the quote, but it rings true to me.

In my experience, it got easier to accept documentary as edited, biased "reality" after I spent some time thinking about the mechanics of making such a thing and realized how hard it would be to avoid even the biases you're aware of, as a filmmaker. That's not to say that implicit or explicit bias is good (or bad, or valued at all, necessarily). I get more out of acknowledging the filmmakers' bias and being aware of it than I do out of saying "it must be removed!" out of some sense of moral purity.

I do appreciate that many of these shows share the behind-the-scenes stories, if you go looking.
posted by Alterscape at 12:30 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


In my experience, it got easier to accept documentary as edited, biased "reality"

I've been to plenty of places where I could have filmed things happening "deep in the forest someplace" simply by aiming the camera toward the woods and never turning 180° to show the housing development immediately behind me.

Any time you film something, there are a zillion things that are not in the frame of the camera. This applies equally to documentary movies as it does to films produced on a soundstage.
posted by hippybear at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Do not be mislead by the plate of beans. It is not a meal, so much as it is a focal point. If there is a hunger at work here, it is the MeFite's hunger for knowledge.

"Much of the philosophy of this place can be summed up as such. There are those who read the comments down here, and there are those who simply see a hearty meal. This is not to be confused, of course, with the balance of Ask and Guess, or with the thorny matter of taters—another simple food with a decidedly un–simple cultural context. We shall leave the subject of mushrooms for another time."
posted by rorgy at 1:00 PM on August 20, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm surprised anyone thinks they are natural at all. Animals don't just let you walk around filming them typically. I've worked on a bunch of documentaries and anytime they're all "and then a snake came along" a PA or biologist just put that snake there.
posted by fshgrl at 1:09 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: I work with small wild rodents
posted by stevil at 1:10 PM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]




I thought we weren't doing "taters" anymore.

Are we still allowed to do grilled cheese sandwiches?
posted by hippybear at 1:32 PM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


And the "making of" sequences reveal my favorite inaccuracy: the polar bear section edited out a hunt. That’s because the prey animal in question happened to be the cameraman. (Polar bears are among the few animals that will deliberately hunt humans.)

I want to see this with two audio tracks; one narrated by Attenborough, and one with the cameraman and exactly what he was thinking while this transpired because that had to be fucking terrifying.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:42 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Attenborough writes. In the previous era, movies were understood to be fictional, and documentary films were thought of "in the same terms as one thought of theatrical film."

Hmm, unsurprisingly I guess, that's a little bit loose with its terms. Films like Nanook were generally thought to be "real" by the audience and the filmmakers liked it that way, promoting the films to be thought of as such even while usually not explicitly claiming they were absolute reality. Documentaries, as we think of them now, didn't exist as a category or something that might have rules, so in that sense they were just feature films like any other. Nonetheless they were experienced as something different from from normal fictional films, something which is elided in the deceptive phrasing of the above quote.

"Movies were understood to be fictional" shares only a passing connection with "in the same terms as theatrical films" though the use implies people thought Nanook no more real than Allan Dwan's Robin Hood released the same year. That's simply not true at all unless "same terms" is used to refer to something like "of enjoyment" which would be evading the point.

"Documentary" filmmakers ever since Nanook have continued to play around with staging scenes to build a better story, and just like back in 1922 they generally prefer it if you don't think about them being "true" or not that much since that can only hurt their business. They deliberately mislead the audience for their own gain, though the claims will be for some greater good, and I'm personally not thrilled with that. It's great that some people are aware of the deceptions and can still find pleasure in "ecstatic truth" but for me that doesn't excuse preying on the ignorance of rest of its audience for to feed their ratings.

Maybe it's not a big deal when it comes to wildlife films, but its the same techniques that have been used for films on other more significant subjects where distortion of reality can have much more serious effect.

It's great Attenborough and the BBC have some behind the scenes looks at the making of their series, but if they aren't making the distortions clear at the outset and when they're happening, they're still relying on deception to sell their tales.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:56 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Animals don't just let you walk around filming them typically.

True, but animals aren't magic. Their ways can be learned, and they can become accustomed to humans. Also, you can use a 1200mm lens.

Some animals are just weird of course.
posted by klanawa at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Their ways can be learned, and they can become accustomed to humans
Sure, but if you're baiting your wild animals by putting out food for them so they get accustomed to you and you can reliably locate and film them...

a) are they really wild then?

b) how do you prevent your viewers from seeing the noble, wild Japanese macaques from chowing down on the huge pile of yams you set out every week or two?

c) is it still a nature documentary, then?
posted by sciatrix at 2:27 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


There was a good documentary a few weeks back on PBS about flight- with some gorgeous close-up shots of flying birds. The behind-the-scenes showed how they got the shots: they're a small tame flock which happily follow a microlight around at point blank range. The hard part is getting an angle where the microlight isn't in the shot! (and it included one fun bit where the engine failed, so they had to land in a field)

But of course this is all totally fine, because it's a documentary about how animals fly- there's nothing deceptive in using a tame animal to illustrate.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2016


I watched a fascinating documentary about the wolves of Yellowstone

I saw one about a bear and his son who kept stealing pic-a-nik baskets.....wait a minute...
posted by jonmc at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


I remember watching a documentary of something- wolves or bears, probably- and they had a nice tight shot, but then they were like it may seem like we are close, but...and then they zoomed way out, until they showed that they were filming from across a mountain valley using enormous lenses, and the bears were barely visible dots.
posted by rockindata at 2:49 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was in the forest in Cote d'Ivoire while some of the same crew that worked on the Chimpanzee movie were trying to film a pygmy hippo documentary. They weren't able to get everything they needed (like footage of wild pygmy hippos...), but they were better funded than us and so they supplied alcohol and chickens for the field station parties!

Also, one of the men who worked at the research station I was at in the Amazon helped while they were filming for Planet Earth, and he let me in on a potentially useful secret that I pass on to you. It turns out that butterflies (or at least, the ones in this part of the Amazon - I've never tried elsewhere) are attracted to urine, and you can readily tell when someone recently peed because you will see a mini flock of butterflies landing and extending their proboscises in that location. They wanted a really impressive flock of butterflies, so all the people on the film crew, and their guides, designated a spot for everyone to pee on, and then they waited a little while for the butterflies to alight, and got some really excellent footage.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:04 PM on August 20, 2016 [111 favorites]


Your posts and comments about science and animals are always a delight, ChuraChura. Thanks for brightening up my Saturday!
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 3:07 PM on August 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


The making of segments at the end of David Attenborough's recent documentaries are fascinating, and in the process of describing the arduous and often ingenious process of getting the hero shots you saw, you get a similar sense of how much larger and messier the real world context actually is in a way I think would be extremely difficult to portray as a straight documentary.

I can imagine the time and budget they get to devote is the source of some jealousy. I mean that shot a minute into the polar bear clip? You can practically hear a distant photographer going "OH COME ON".
posted by lucidium at 3:35 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]



I remember watching a documentary of something- wolves or bears, probably- and they had a nice tight shot, but then they were like it may seem like we are close, but...and then they zoomed way out, until they showed that they were filming from across a mountain valley using enormous lenses, and the bears were barely visible dots.


This could be a lie of sorts too. A wide angle lens makes stuff see way further away than it really is. I have a lens where, unless I'm almost touching your face, you won't even fill half the frame. It can see nearly 180 degrees.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:38 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


a) are they really wild then?

Humans are wild too, so I'm going to go with "yes."
posted by klanawa at 3:45 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah it's always very interesting to think about how documentaries more or less always distort some aspect of their subject. I'm glad nature documentaries are shot this way because these are the kinds of little distortions that help an audience member like me forget myself for a minute. The shots of the polar bear - I never thought about the sound, or about whether or not those shots were taken out of sequence, because that story is just so engaging. I'm less aware that I'm watching something and more invested in that polar bear or that cheetah. And having experienced that, I love being shown the tools they used to tell it.
posted by teponaztli at 3:49 PM on August 20, 2016


Anyway, even raw footage shot at a huge angle can be misleading or tell an incomplete story - I'm thinking of the Democratic National Convention, where the camera and microphone placement for some feeds made it sound like there was this overwhelming roar of jeering, while people in other parts of the hall didn't even know anything like that was going on. It's not that any one person's perspective is more valid than another's, but when you're making a documentary film you have to choose one, and it comes with some degree of bias regardless of how you decide to treat it.
posted by teponaztli at 3:53 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Man, I push a few thousand lemmings into the Arctic Ocean and everyone gets all bent out of shape.
posted by sonascope at 3:54 PM on August 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


The Hunt is, in other words, art — and art doesn’t need to be perfectly factual in order to be true.

UGH!!!!!

Except that people watch these and think they're learning facts about animal behavior! It's good art, but not TRUE. If true =/= factual then I don't know what to do.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:54 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Humans are wild too

Not by any standard definition of wild. I agree that humans are part of nature, humans are biological, humans are animals, but the way we use the world "wild" implies "not part of human civilization"; humans are defined out.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 3:55 PM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I taught a class on nature films once - started out calling them documentaries but we collectively settled on films as more accurate. When Marty Stouffer was caught faking footage, the worst of which involved bating a mountain lion with a chained deer, his response was, "it doesn't matter if it's real as long as it's true." Which is a quote I think about often, not just while watching nature films.
posted by one_bean at 4:04 PM on August 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Does this mean the honey badger does care after all?
posted by dirigibleman at 4:21 PM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


Filming cheetahs so that audiences can actually grasp what's going on with a hunt must be a nightmare--it's no wonder that everyone resorts to slo-mo instead of CHEETAH BLASTING FULL SPEED AHEAD.

I am a huge lover of nature documentaries, and I tell you, if I never - ever - see another fucking goddamn cheetah hunt again I will be so, so happy. And I love cheetahs! But seriously, it's impossible for a fucking nature documentary filming in Africa to avoid filming a cheetah chase, despite the fact they have been in every second goddamn documentary since the eighties and are telling us nothing - NOTHING - we don't already know about cheeetahs, hunting, and some poor springbok already.

And you know, it ties into my broader dissatisfaction with the BBC tentpole docs in particular - the "Michael Bayesification" of nature documentaries. The gulf between David Attenborough narrated, and David Attenborough written is colossal - it's readily apparent if you compare say, Planet Earth and any of the Fothergill-produced-or-inspired docs that followed with any of the "Life" series from Attenborough.

Spectacle has largely replaced understanding, and the producers nakedly focus on the most dramatic animal encounters they can (it's a shark! fighting a leopard! on top of an erupting volcano! Onto the next one! Quick!). They cobble together a series of almost video snapshots - gorgeous, jaw-dropping, dramatic snapshots, to be sure - under a shakey theme that often does more to obscure than illuminate. The narration is aggressively anthropocentric and focussed almost exclusively on what's happening rather than why it's happening. And as called out above, it gives the impression that animal life is short, brutish struggle, almost gladiatorial, and it's just not true.

I find it so, so frustrating. The joy, the love, Attenborough kindled in me as a child in the eighties was because he shared his sense of wonder in all life. That all life is an amazing spectacle, if you but look at it from the right angle, and further: he explicated how interconnected all animals and environments are. This is not a cheetah on a plain somewhere - it's part of a pattern or story that takes in an entire ecosystem, that has played out over thousands, millions of years and is still developing. And to appreciate that you need to understand those connections, what role the environment plays in this pattern. And you need to see the majesty of the quiet moments animals have, not just the life and death struggles.

In recent years Attenborough has done a non-BBC show called "Natural Curiousities". It's filmed at the British Museum and glued together with stock B-roll footage of varying quality. Each episode is 22 minutes long - 22 minutes! - and focuses on two animals united under a certain theme. After having watched some recently I was bitterly reflecting on how I learnt more in 22 minutes of this show, than I did after 4 fucking hours of the latest BBC Transformer-with-Animals extravaganza, despite the trillions of dollars poured into filming.

Growing up in the country, nature is a critical part of my life and who I am and how I think about myself - even now as a besuited urbanite who doesn't get to dive into it very often. And for me, my 'encounters' with and within nature have always been, will always be wondrous. But for me, it is 99% a quiet experience. Nature has no space for our hubris, our noise, our projection. It's bigger than our humanity - and all the better for it. I feel like a lot of modern documentaries are really more of a paean to humanity - animals become 'characters' with 'stories'. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, until they become nothing else, and I feel that happens a lot, sadly.
posted by smoke at 4:28 PM on August 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


Like a couple of other people here, I also thought the writer of the article went a bit too easy on the filmmakers. The truth being revealed in "making of" materials or interviews that many people will never see is a bit disingenuous. It would be great, and I don't think it would detract from the experience to have a brief explanation explaining that the film is a combination of footage in the wild and footage of animals in captivity, which has been edited. It doesn't seem like that big a deal to say, "It's all real, but we did make more of a story out of it."
posted by not that girl at 4:50 PM on August 20, 2016


Adding a slight addendum that just occured to me as I was in the shower: I think one of the reasons these tentpoles have such a focus on the footage, is that frequently that's all there is. What's on screen is what's there, with the narration frequently following it.

It's not such a big deal when David Attenborough is in boring room with some naked mole rats shuffling around some perspex tubes because what's on screen is just a knowledge delivery vehicle - the footage doesn't carry so much weight.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on August 20, 2016


For some reason, I actually missed this sentence in sciatrix' response to me:
Sure, but if you're baiting your wild animals by putting out food for them so they get accustomed to you and you can reliably locate and film them...
No, of course not, but that's not the only way habituation occurs. There's nothing unnatural or un-wild about habituation, to humans, or elephants or anything else. There are mechanisms of habituation that are dangerous to certain creatures, however.
posted by klanawa at 5:05 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Surely habituation simply means "getting used to a thing that is beneficial to you", which is hardly a non-natural thing at all. Bears get habituated to going to rocky rivers where salmon are making their upstream run toward their spawning habitat, which is definitely a negative for the salmon but is not negative for the bears, and that is not an unnatural phenomenon.
posted by hippybear at 5:32 PM on August 20, 2016


I laughed my way through the segment. After I’d finished watching the episode, I rewound the to the octopus footage and watched it again.

Unless Elizabeth Lopatto is watching the The Hunt on VHS, this passage may be evidence that slightly deceptive accounts of (animal) behavior are useful in internet articles as well as nature documentaries.
posted by layceepee at 5:45 PM on August 20, 2016


Hmm. Now I am starting to wonder about this one dog I follow on the nature docs scene.
posted by a gentleman and a scholar at 5:54 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think there's a corollary to some hunting here, actually, in terms of being able to film animals acting in a natural way without necessarily changing their behavior to do so.

Growing up, I was taught to watch the intended prey, identify what it likes to eat, what its rough schedule looks like, how it tries to detect you (and its other predators), and then to position yourself within range of an area you know it is likely to pass through while ensuring yourself a clear view of that area, while also trying to be as invisible to the animals around you as possible. By doing these things, it is entirely possible to have the intended animal pass within yards of you without the faintest clue that you are there (not that you need to be that close, but it happens.). Often times it does not, but that's also fine, you just try again.

These same techniques are also applicable to filming or photographing animals in the 'wild*', it just needs modification to work with what I assume are small crews with more equipment than your average hunter carries. It's just harder, not impossible. Animals are far from magical, they (like us) are simply beings that have needs and patterns which can be identified, and thinking like a predator instead of a passive observer has always been the best way to approach animals in nature for me.

*Which is a concept that I disagree with strongly. There are remarkably few places on earth wherein animals are not habituated to human activity in some distinct way, we just tend to ignore the more indirect ways in which we influence them, and by elevating the places in which we don't as easily perceive our influence we further marginalize the less 'natural' areas that bound the more identifiable 'human built' areas like cities to our own detriment. Nature does in fact live right outside your door, even if it's 'just' a park or creek or yard. The bunny in the garden is no less a wild animal than a polar bear, even if it mostly feeds on your garden, and to deny that we are also animals (with some interesting building and social techniques) is the height of arrogance.
posted by neonrev at 6:14 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


In summation, anything that can be effectively stalked or ambushed as a prey animal can also be stalked or ambushed as a target for a photograph, it's just a matter of keeping yourself within the bounds of stealth, and considering the animal's desires and fears more than one's desire for the 'perfect shot', which is a fallacy in both hunting animals, and taking photos of them.
posted by neonrev at 6:17 PM on August 20, 2016


MetaFilter: a spot for everyone to pee on
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:29 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well, animals can also get habituated to things that are bad for them, like tourists and photographers who feed them wieners.

But if you want to film the most accurate and complete life-cycle documentary about blacktailed deer, come to my front yard. They'll give you a bit of side-eye but they'll eat, fuck, play, pronk, fight and nurse right there on the sidewalk. They just don't care. And they're not afraid of people because we don't hunt them. "Nature," on the other hand is the worst, hardest place to film them.
posted by klanawa at 6:58 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter:habituated to things that are bad for them, like tourists and photographers who feed them wieners.
posted by hippybear at 7:49 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


It turns out that butterflies (or at least, the ones in this part of the Amazon - I've never tried elsewhere) are attracted to urine, and you can readily tell when someone recently peed because you will see a mini flock of butterflies landing and extending their proboscises in that location.

They don't always wait until you are done peeing -- they sometimes fly in as things are happening, and it is a distinct battle between one's inner 12 year old ("pee on the butterfly!") and one's adult self ("isn't nature interesting?").

These same techniques are also applicable to filming or photographing animals in the 'wild*

I'm not a hunter, though many of the people I work with are. Photography doesn't terribly interest me, but I could see using a camera to replicate the challenges of learning, stalking, and getting close to big game, because that part of hunting seems to me to be much more interesting than the actual killing.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:54 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Can we also talk about the rise of the grand, globetrotting, utterly inscrutable nature documentary? We start among a pod of pilot whales in the Gulf of Aden, and follow their annual migration along the currents for a bit until ... it's time to visit a small village in the mountains outside Sana'a, which is annually menaced by a specific pack of hyenas, and we spend some time with a biologist from Bristol University, who's monitoring their nocturnal movements ... and you know what's kind of like Yemeni hyenas? Narwhals in the Arctic! Let's suddenly cut to a battle between two majestic narwhals that's being witnessed by a pack of rare Siberian wolves, who have their own methods of way finding and conflict resolution in the spruce forests of the Kolyma and ... then suddenly it's back to the pilot whales on their annual migration south of Yenen now for some reason and it's all UTTERLY BAFFLING. What's with that?
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:09 AM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I used to live with a herpetologist. He loved Steve Irwin's show, he'd laugh and slap his thigh at inappropriate moments, or be aghast at his rough animal handling that was part and parcel of the show. Mostly he'd point out how unnatural the animals were acting on camera, he guessed that they caught the venomous snakes and put them in a cooler for an hour to slow their metabolism and calm them down to get their shots filmed.

This guy bred gaboon vipers in his living room, he knew his shit. Steve Irwin, still dead.
posted by peeedro at 6:24 AM on August 21, 2016


This guy bred gaboon vipers in his living room, he knew his shit. Steve Irwin, still dead.
How does this guy handle stingrays?
posted by Autumn Leaf at 6:53 AM on August 21, 2016


> What's with that?

"Three separate stories with the first and most interesting one resolved last" seems to just be the default for basically every non-fiction show on tv now, and I agree it is infuriating. Gotta keep those cliffhangers coming every three minutes.
posted by lucidium at 7:14 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Years ago, a wildlife documentary filmmaker told me about his first gig as an assistant. They wanted a shot of a black bear scavenging off a dead deer for a nature film. So the director got a black bear from a zoo, and a roadkill deer from the transportation department, But the bear was not interested in eating roadkill deer. So the assistant was dispatched to the grocery store, where he bought several one-pound bags of M&Ms. They stuffed the deer carcass with M&Ms and made a trail of them leading to the bear. And they got the shot.
posted by LarryC at 9:34 AM on August 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Does the article say that Planet Earth and Frozen Planet are made up bc if so I can't RTFA bc they're the things I watch to feel nice and calm.

Well not all the episodes but quite a few. Like the underwater ones. Those are so relaxing.

I want to believe.
posted by sio42 at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


They talk about some cases where things are "made up," but it's more about exploring the challenges of making documentaries and what people expect from documentaries versus editorial decisions that are made. I read it, and don't think it contained anything surprising that hurts my enjoyment of those series.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:16 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


The most natural documentary I ever watched was one on golden jackals. My wife and I were absorbed by the story of this family of jackals, their trials and tribulations, the heartache of losing a pup to hyenas only to discover that the pup had in fact survived after all. It was touching. The story ended with the family of jackals walking off together into a glorious sunset, and the narrator stated in closing, "Sadly, two months later, they all died."

We were just like "what the FUCK." It was just the most bizarre thing ever. Why tell us that? We could have left happy thinking they were fine. I still can't understand why they ended it that way. If my wife hadn't watched the show with me I'd swear it was my imagination and I hallucinated the ending.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:54 AM on September 12, 2016


I generally dislike nature documentaries that push a storyline too hard. I was watching one on desert elephants a while back, and at about the third repetition of 'it's so hard to survive here! will these babies live!' I skipped to the end, checked on the status, and quit. Don't like having my emotions manipulated *that* obtrusively.
posted by tavella at 10:53 AM on September 12, 2016


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