|Written by Paul Mahoney|
|Friday, 11 March 2011 10:45|
What is your name: Nick Upton
Where are you based?
Near Bath, UK
What kind of films do you make? How would you describe what you do?
I've been researching, directing, producing, writing and consulting on wildlife documentaries and series of many kinds since 1987, often including lots of animal behaviour, but usually with some kind of human dimension from folklore to scientific, to indigenous peoples' links with nature, to primate rescue/rehab to showing conservation biologists reintroducing species. My first role in film-making was as Sir David Attenborough's lead researcher on one of the "big" series, "TrIals of Life". Since then I've made or contributed to numerous award winning films and series for major and minor broadcasters and conservation organisations across the world, often adding sound recording and sometimes additional camerawork to my usual roles and I'm taking a lot of stills these days as well.
Who or what inspired you to work with film and why cover nature and conservation issues?
In my teens l spent most of my holidays working on nature reserves or watching wildlife around Europe. I then did a first degree in zoology and ended up doing a PhD and some further research on animal behaviour before switching to film-making. Long before I worked with him, it was David Attenborough's "Life on Earth" series and "Wildlife on One" strand that really opened my eyes to how powerfully films could bring natural history stories and imagery to big audiences, and made me want to move from scientific research to film-making.
What is the favourite film you've worked on?
"Trials of Life" was a massive, hugely rewarding 4 year experience, working in many different countries and environments with specialist cameraman of different kinds and seeing how various directors worked with Attenborough to record his pieces to camera, which often featured species and locations I'd scouted out. More personal favourites are two films I made for the BBC and Nat Geo way back: a quirky film about Trinidad's wildlife and folklore "Vampires, Devilbirds and Spirits", and "Beetlemania" which showed how amazing and valuable even insects can be. I've also enjoyed working in Europe on many films and series, especially Finland in recent years. Working in Taiwan on 3 films over the last 10 years has also been very rewarding, partly due to the challenges of working in difficult environments with people from a very different culture, and thanks to the hugely positive reactions to the films there.
What has been your biggest challenge filming in the field?
There have been so many that it's hard to single out the biggest - but I do like a challenge and keep getting drawn back to working in teeming bat caves, hot sweaty rain forests, finding ways to film shy wildlife in mountains and wetlands and to film tiny insects in intimate, revealing ways. Filming terns in Arctic Spitsbergen proved quite easy by comparison!
How has technology changed your job? Has it hindered or enhanced telling the conservation story?
Enhanced: new tools come along all the time and can really help bring stories to audiences in fresh and interesting ways. I've always liked the perspectives of specialist lenses, the altered reality of slomo and timelapse photography, the sense of being in an environment that moving the camera on tracks, jibs and cables brings. I really like the revelation that infra red filming can offer at night or in caves, a technology I've used regularly throughout my career. I loved working with film, but HD and other video formats have proved good too with some pluses - low light sensitivity and less pressure on shooting ratios - and some minuses - the prohibitive cost of quirky lenses and true high-speed shooting for most budgets, and the risk of having too much footage when it comes to editing!
What is your favourite place in nature?
Again there are too many to single one out easily, but I loved Spitsbergen for natural ice sculptures and the constant thrumming hubbub from massive auk colonies, the Galapagos for richness of amazing wildlife all around, rainforests for endless surprising revelations, coral reefs for colours and diversity of fish and invertebrates, mountains for scenery and changing cloudscapes, bat caves for intense, intriguing activity, wetlands for density of birdlife, almost anywhere from my back garden to a Slovenian hay meadow to a rain forest for finding great insects to photograph.
From your field experience, what is your biggest concern when it comes to the environment?
Loss of wilderness generally, forests and wetlands especially, as human populations increase and more land becomes overexploited and biodiversity plummets, plus the many new threats to the health of reefs and oceans.
How do you think the media industry should be addressing environment and conservation issues?
I think it should ideally be finding ways - across several platforms - to blow the whistle on the worst excesses and to highlight the best examples where people do coexist with nature without trashing it. For TV it generally has to be done in ways that guarantee audiences, so commissioners take few risks these days with films they deem too worthy or gloomy or with no "star animal" appeal, but some brave commissioners have made things work on all fronts, pulling in good audiences and getting meaningful stories over in entertaining ways, often mixing positive messages with bad news or showing how problems could be turned around. Traditional TV is not the only way to get stories out there, though, and many kinds of stories can be told in many ways through the internet, local film screenings, schools, museums, photo and art exhibitions, magazines, books etc etc.
If you could give one message to the world's leaders on climate change, what would it be?
Believe it, take it seriously, plan ahead, invest in promising sustainable technologies and don't listen to climate change deniers, especially those motivated by short term economic incentives. For their own grandchildren if no-one else, they need to look beyond the next elections and seek to be remembered and supported for having a realistic understanding of how we depend on the health of our planet and for offering a long term vision for protecting it and us. I think they know all this really, but politicians have very mixed agendas and we need to vote for people who really will do the right things, not just those that say they will, and we must be prepared to pay the extra costs if necessary.
What are you working on at the moment?
A couple of films for the RSPB Film and Video Unit on Cranes in Europe and their natural return to the UK, now boosted by reintroductions. I'm also taking masses of stills of many kinds, slowly getting more published and on the internet and am building up portfolios at a few stock agencies. I recently wrote a chapter on Cranes in Europe and supplied many photos for a book due to be published this year about the return of Cranes to the UK
What advice do you have for someone wanting to break into the industry?
If you want it to be more than just a job and more of a vocation, you should seek to work with people who care about weaving meaningful messages into their films and avoid working on projects that seem banal or exploitative to you or take a negative view of "dangerous" wildlife to satisfy a target demographic. Don't expect to do it for the money, unless you ignore all of the above, or are incredibly good at getting serious backing for films you really want to make!
What would you like to remembered for?
For communicating a passion for nature - including little known and often unloved creatures - through my films, photos and writing and for revealing positive interactions between people and nature, not just negative ones.