Some time ago one of our blog or Twitter followers asked about wildlife programming and what a producer did in that type of TV production – sorry, I forget who it is was! Anyway we went in search of an answer and found Mike Linley at Wildeye – an international school of wildlife filming. Mike also has his own company Hairy Frog Productions.
Mike is one of the camera and production tutors at Wildeye. He has a wealth of experience in wildlife television and collected a number of major international awards. A wildlife expert, he has researched, written and produced over 200 wildlife programmes for children including the series Animals in Action and worked on over 60 documentaries.
If you’ve ever wondered how wildlife productions work or fancy getting into that genre of TV production Mike’s answers to our questions may just prove useful (and we love the sound of those wildlife courses!).
What is your background in TV and how did start off?
I STARTED OFF IN 1978 while doing a PHD in reptile behaviour at Bristol University. The BBC called to ask if I would help with LIFE ON EARTH. They needed me to persuade various species to behave and breed for the camera. I then got a job with Survival Anglia TV, initially as a writer, then producer then senior producer/scientific adviser.
In my career I have produced over 100 documentaries and produced and presented many series of children’s wildlife programmes.
What do you do now?
I HAVE AN INDEPENDANT company Hairy Frog Productions. Since Survival closed in 2001 I have worked for Granada, National Geographic and Discovery Animal Planet. We have a large Stills Sound and Video library and still get commissioned to film mainly macro sequences. We also build interactive wildlife touch screens to go in visitor centres. Plus we provide training for newcomers in wildlife TV in our Wildeye courses.
AS A PRODUCER I WAS office based but spent a lot of time in the field with my various camera teams. They spent 18 months on location for a one-hour programme and 12 months for a half hour. As I had up to 6 films on the go at any one time I would visit each of them regularly to see how they were getting on. I also spent a lot of time supervising the editing at the office.
What’s the most challenging situation you’ve faced making this sort of television and what did you learn from it?
GETTING IN AND out of Mauritania safely several times! It is important to keep calm and have persistence.
On one job the vehicle that my cameraman and I were meant to be in – but weren’t because our flight was delayed – went over a land mine killing all on board.
All the problems I’ve ever had have been with people, officials, robbers etc. never with the wildlife.
How would you advice those wanting to break into wildlife programming? Do you need specialist skills?
SPECIALIST SKILLS ARE one way of getting in. Model helicopter pilots, high speed camera operators, time lapse, macro specialist and etc.
Sadly the best way – as a cameraman’s assistant – no longer seems to exist. I discourage people from constantly giving their time for free to production companies. Some time yes but not constantly.
There is more information on getting started in wildlife film-making here: http://www.wildeye.co.uk/gettingstarted.html
What’s been your best experience in the television production business?
BEING WITH SURVIVAL for 21 years and being part of a team every one of which lived what they were doing.
You can find out more information about Mike, his work and his business at http://www.hairy-frog.co.uk and if you’d like information about the wildlife filming courses then check out the Wildeye website: http://wildeye.co.uk.