Q&A with wildlife film producer Mark Brownlow on his new television series, Hidden Kingdoms

Q&A with wildlife film producer Mark Brownlow on his new television series, Hidden Kingdoms

Wildlife film producer Mark Brownlow’s back with Hidden Kingdoms, a series documenting the thrilling adventures of the planet’s little creatures, such as chipmunks, mice and beetles, in a variety of locations across the world.

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Film producer Mark Brownlow
Film producer Mark Brownlow

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The show shows a sengi's (elephant shrew) unique low angle view of the African savannah in Kenya.
The show shows a sengi's (elephant shrew) unique low angle view of the African savannah in Kenya.
Photo: BBC 2014

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A gecko scales the wall of a Tokyo skyscraper
A gecko scales the wall of a Tokyo skyscraper
Photo: BBC 2014

We’ve seen quite a few documentaries that show Earth’s natural wonders captured from high up using cameras carried by drones or helicopters. But check out this perspective: from the viewpoint of animals less than a foot tall. When you’re that tiny, raindrops fall like meteorites, and breezes feel like tornadoes. Wildlife film producer Mark Brownlow’s back with Hidden Kingdoms, a series documenting the thrilling adventures of the planet’s little creatures, such as chipmunks, mice and beetles, in a variety of locations across the world. Young Post recently caught up with him:

YP: How is Hidden Kingdoms different from other documentaries that you’ve done?

Brownlow: These films are dramatised natural history where the behaviour is biologically accurate. It is sometimes directly observed, sometimes re-constructed through controlled filming or through editing. The intense nature of these animals lives means they are basically dramatic. This fresh approach allows viewers to share the high-octane drama and intimate behaviour experienced by tiny animals whilst revealing new insights into the unique biology of animals that live on a different scale. The aim was also to give the audience a new-found respect for the world’s smaller creatures, which are often under greater threat from extinction and are ecologically more important than the more familiar larger animals.
 

YP: What’s the key to capturing good footage of animals?

Brownlow: A million and one, where do I start? In particular 3D vastly complicates the process as the kit is so much bulkier, prone to glitches and requires shooting in wide angle – and that means getting close to your animal stars which may not be comfortable with your presence.
 

YP: What was most memorable moment for you in this series Hidden Kingdoms?

Brownlow: The Sonoran desert, Arizona, the location for the grasshopper mouse story. Home to more venomous creatures than any other desert, it really is a world within worlds packed with some of the most ingenious and robust little creatures in the planet.

The tenacity and gall of our animal stars. You could not help but have admiration for these diminutive stars, that despite the odds, make a living in a world of giants.
 

YP: What were some of the challenges you faced?

Brownlow: Cheetahs are thought to be the fastest animal on land, but when it comes to a 'truer' measure of speed - body lengths per second - the team's footage reveals that a sengi (a kind of shrew) wins hands down.  It isn't just lightning reflexes or incredible muscles (though both of those feature in the series) - instead, it's also down to being meticulously tidy. 

Sengi's owe their speed to a network of miniature racetracks they build in the savannah, spending half their waking hours sweeping aside every last piece of debris to create the perfect, clear racetrack on which to exhibit their cheetah-beating speed. It was only by earning the trust of a wild sengi in a purpose-built filming territories that the team was able to film the fastidious nature of the sengi in such detail.

When the tracks were clear the combination of low level tracking and ultra high speed cameras reveals not only their extraordinary speed but that, compared to a reptile, a sengi has greater ability to change direction – negotiating the twists and turns in the track with barely a break in speed.
 

YP: How did you start off make documentaries about nature, and what do you love about it?

Brownlow: I have always had a passion for wildlife and been an avid viewer of wildlife films- a distillation of the highlights of an animal's lives hopefully with a gripping narrative. I followed through my fascination with wildlife to university where I took a BSC Honours degree in Zoology. From there it was a natural progression to the BBC's Natural History Unit!

Sir David Attenborough is a role model for me, an academic biologist whose enthusiasm for wildlife filmmaking has never waned nor has his mission to inform the greater public of the importance of protecting the natural world.
 

YP: What other projects do you want to work on in future?

Brownlow: I am now producing the most ambitious natural history series to ever be commissioned - Ocean, a seven part series on the oceans' extraordinary wildlife, it will be three years in the making and will introduce a new generation to the wonders of the ocean and their importance to us all.

Hidden Kingdoms will air on HD BBC Knowledge starting October 26 on Now TV 220 and cable 49

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