When Bertie Gregory last spoke with Dorkaholics over a year ago, it was in regards to his latest show at the time, Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory. This time around he joins us once again to discuss Animals Up Close with Bertie Gregory, which comes out on Disney+ on September 13, 2023.
He describes each of the six episodes as a big expedition, totaling 219 days in the field, with the most time spent on one episode being 51 days for the Patagonian Pumas episode. When asked about the most challenging experience, he pointed to the Elephant Quest episode.
“We were filming in the Central African Republic, which is a country that makes up part of the Congo Basin rainforest, and we were filming forest elephants. Now, I imagine when you think of elephants, you probably are thinking of savanna elephants. That is the elephants that live in the big wide open plains. They’re the ones in Lion King. They live alongside lions while forest elephants live in thick, deep jungle,” Gregory said. “And they really, really don’t like people. And they don’t like people because we have really heavily poached them for their ivory. And, you know, their long lived animals. So they’ve seen a lot of their family members get killed, sadly.”
Part of the challenges of filming this episode were the perilous conditions of the jungle as well as the need for the crew to be off the floor for safety reasons.
“If you’re in a jungle, it’s very claustrophobic. You can’t see things coming from far away. So you just tend to bump into each other and that can give both of you a bit of a fright,” Gregory said. “So because of that, we needed to get off the forest floor. So we lived in the trees, so we built a canopy camp 120 feet up a big sapele tree in the jungle.”
But to live in trees also required ziplining to and from the filming site as well as the living area.
“I had a filming platform that overlooked a clearing where loads of these elephants would gather and to get between the two, they were 300 feet apart. We didn’t want to go into the forest floor because we put our scent on the floor. The elephants wouldn’t like that and it could be potentially dangerous for us. So we rigged up a 300 foot zip line through the trees and we just ziplined back and forth between where we slept and where we filmed.”
And to be living in the trees, it really did mean doing everything in the trees.
”And the reason it was so challenging was because just existing is really complicated. Like we slept in the trees, we ate in the trees, We went to the bathroom in the trees. That’s before you turn the camera and actually try to film the animal.”
Gregory is incredibly humble, recognizing the talent and importance of the two rope experts that rigged everything up, even doing battery runs and food runs across the zipline for the film crew.
“When you’re a host of a project, your name is in the title, and you get way more credit than you deserve,” Gregory said. “I am a small cog in a very large machine, so there’s a big team back home where I live in Bristol, Wildstar Films, the production company. And then we’re in the field. As you know, we’re working with the big time team of roperiggers if we’re in the trees, scientists, guides, and the other person that was critical to that mission was a guy called Bander.”
Bander is a member of the Bayaka people, who have lived in the forest for generations, and Gregory was grateful for his knowledge of the jungle and his ability to navigate the terrain and keep the crew safe.
“The format of the series means we can shine a light not just on the animals, but on these really interesting people as well,” Gregory noted. “We intertwine our adventure with the animals’ adventure the entire way through.”
In addition to this specific storytelling format, the message is more nuanced for Animals Up Close with Bertie Gregory.
“We recognize that in 2023, it is no secret the natural world is in big trouble because of us humans. And so with every story, we set this amazing animal behavior in a bigger environmental context. But rather than just stopping there and going ‘these animals are in trouble, isn’t this really sad?’” Gregory explains. “We also celebrate the wins because there are wins. It is important that we celebrate when we get it right. And I hope that when people come away from the show, they come away just being really pumped about the natural world, but also recognize that there are people already doing amazing things to look after nature.”
Catch Animals Up Close with Bertie Gregory on Disney+ starting September 13, 2023.
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