Shooting in The Wild: a Q & A w/ Wildlife Filmmaker Christopher Palmer
UK born, Christopher Palmer was working for the Audubon Society in the early eighties when an executive VP issued the following directive to the then presiding president, Russ Peterson:
“Russ, we strongly recommend that Chris Palmer be fired.”
The stern suggestion was the result of Palmer’s relentless pursuit of making the first-ever Audubon documentary, which, rather than a film, only produced contempt amongst his superiors who viewed the venture as too risky. The request for his termination is also the first line of his new book, Shooting in The Wild: An Insider’s Account to Making Movies in the Animal Kingdon, in which Palmer threads an autobiographical tale of a 30-year career into a foray on the growing but morally bankrupt field of environmental filmmaking.
What made you so driven to produce environmental films early on in your career, so much so that you were willing to risk your job?
When I was working for Audubon I was lobbying. I would spend 5 days preparing testimony on issues like natural gas pricing, solar energy, and nuclear power, then go up on The Hill and stand before half a dozen congressmen and a couple senators and present my findings. After a while of, I began to say to myself, ‘what am I doing? Is this really the best use of my time?’ This was 1982, when there was very little environmental programming on TV. Eventually the seniority at Audubon said ‘okay if you can find the money yourself go ahead.’ By chance I came across one of Ted Turner’s colleagues who said she was looking for environmental programs. I pitched her one, she loved it, and it developed from there.
Why has wildlife based television programming become so popular recently?
Over the last 30 years, very slowly, sometimes imperceptibly slowly, there has been a growing interest in environmental conservation. But the major player is money. Television is a ratings-driven, branding-driven, money-driven, capitalist system. For most of these shows all it takes to make much of what you’re seeing on TV now is a very exciting and charismatic host like a Jeff Corwin or the late Steve Irwin, and in a single afternoon and on a tiny budget you can shoot a pretty exciting half hour show.
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