PetaPixel

The Dark Side of Wildlife Filmmaking

Remember the controversy last year surrounding the use of a captive wolf in an award-winning wildlife photograph? Turns out this kind of deception might be common practice in the world of wildlife filmmaking.

Chris Palmer — the producer and director of quite a few notable wildlife films — has written a new book titled Shooting in the Wild in which he exposes many of the “dirty secrets” of nature documentaries.

The above video is an ABC Nightline segment in which Palmer discusses many of the tricks used in the business, including using trained animals, dragging dead animal carcasses to locations, digging fake dens, and even telling outright lies in the narration. One shocking example is found in the Academy Award winning documentary White Wilderness: a scene that seems to show lemming suicide was actually created by pushing lemmings off a cliff using a rotating platform.

Palmer also reflects on the question: does the positive good these faked scenes do justify the dishonest tricks used to create them? What do you think?


Update: Seems like the Hulu video above isn’t accessible to those outside the US. Here are a couple more links you can try: ABC News and Link TV.


 
  • Dean W Thompson

    IMO: Using trained animals to educate about how they do act in the wild should be fine. But yes it does take away from the film from more of a technical view.
    Yes capturing the REAL wild will always be a much greater achievement. But think of a zoo, no they are not wild. Yes we still go to see them.

  • Dean W Thompson

    IMO: Using trained animals to educate about how they do act in the wild should be fine. But yes it does take away from the film from more of a technical view.
    Yes capturing the REAL wild will always be a much greater achievement. But think of a zoo, no they are not wild. Yes we still go to see them.

  • Eric

    @Dean – The difference is that with a zoo, we know in advance that what we’re seeing is staged.

    I don’t have a big problem with using artificial “enticements” or staging to film wildlife scenes, as long as animals aren’t harmed in the process. But the lemming thing? That’s just disgusting.

  • Mouring

    Film-making is about story more so than photography. As long as the known science is correct then I have little problem with staging. If correctness is compromised (e.g. White Wilderness) then it’s no better than a fiction.

    I believe in truth being told, but that truth doesn’t need eclipse the work.

  • SLProv

    I’d like to see a disclaimer that the events are staged. Hopefully they can claim that no animals were harmed.

    However, if animals are harmed in anyway for the sake of entertainment, the responsible party should be indicted for animal cruelty. If Michael Vick went to prison for operating dog fighting activities, so should the people responsible for killing animals for the documentary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503629884 Ryan Neufeld

    Any chance for a video that’s viewable outside the USA?

  • rich laburn

    As a wildlife filmmaker I believe that the temptation is always there to get ‘staged’ shots in order to visually complete the story you are telling, however I think it detracts from the purpose of filming wildlife. Sure it makes the films more epic and interesting to watch, however it also draws it closer to hollywood and further away from the real thing. Hence, in my opinion, the rising popularity of amateur wildlife clips on the internet which depict the real thing caught on film….

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang
  • Oli

    something more disgusting is the use of live ( or dead) bait for bringing the animal close to your camera, it completely de-naturise the animal. snow howls are know to follow groups of photographers in Québec ho feeds them mouse ( that are not present in that territories !)

  • Kara

    I must be a purist, because I think staging is completely unethical for documentary purposes. If you are creating a “story” and manipulate the elements, then fine. But if you are a journalist and reporting on actuals and facts, don’t stage it. Infotainment does a great injustice to us all.

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  • Bindanand

    I shocked of reading about the documentry film makers especialy wildlife film makers that they can also make we people fool,by making fake films of nature.I also want to create documentry films but not like the people who are using them for their own profit but because its my passion to spend my life with the beauty of raw nature and capturing them in my camera in their real naturallity.

  • Anonymous

    I shocked of reading about the documentry film makers especialy wildlife film makers that they can also make we people fool,by making fake films of nature.I also want to create documentry films but not like the people who are using them for their own profit but because its my passion to spend my life with the beauty of raw nature and capturing them in my camera in their real naturallity.

  • Anonymous

    There is no dark side.
    Remember there being a legend about a wildlife cameraman known by the folk in the edit suite for nailing perfect shots. But who was in the field; rumoured to carry around 3 x as many batteries as other camera ops as he would rewind and record over duff takes.
    There is no honest wildlife photography. You want honest, point a camera at something and hope that you get behaviour occurring infront of you. Filmmaking is a storytelling medium.

  • Vet Barnes

    Story telling is not truth, telling people that wolves have a  moral compass is fiction and the same for other so called documentaries that push the anthromorphization of animals. Deceptions misrepresentation are real problems because conservation and laws are based upon these lies. Mark Hauser’s made up data about monkey’s paying attention to hand gestures is only the tip of the false  information we have about animals.

  • Vet Barnes

    There is no greater good in lying or misrepresentation about animal behaviors. Simply put they put wolves back into an environment from which they never came from in the first place to placate the wolf lovers. Now these wolves suffer, the animals they have killed suffer as the animals native to the area do not know anything about wolves or how to avoid them. Thus the cariboo herd of 35,000 is now down to less than 3000 and the moose is decimated and no longer in the area. Not to mention the thousands of domestic animals these wolves killed just to kill and did not eat. Now to the most disgusting part the people these wolves killed who expected safety in their own neighborhoods and the families who have to build  forts at their children’s bus stop to prevent the wolves from eating them. This wolf dumping of larger Alaskan wolves into a habitat no longer use to wolves has been devastating and all based upon lies about wolves from documentaries that made wolves loveable. This is what lying does.