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Revealed: Why wildlife programmes now focus on chase rather than the kill

It was one of the most heart-stopping scenes in Blue Planet II: a plucky crab evading the clutches of a moray eel.

But if the sequence had you cowering behind the sofa, you need not have worried. Wildlife programmes are now less likely to show gruesome kills than in previous decades and prey is more likely to get away, according to the head of the BBC’s natural history unit.

Mike Gunton, the executive producer behind many of the BBC’s landmark wildlife series, said there has been a move away from gory scenes in recent years as film-makers have realised that audiences root for the underdog.

Footage of an iguana escaping from racer snakes in Planet Earth II became a viral sensation last year. “If that iguana had been killed, it would not have had the same impact. When one of them gets away, it’s very satisfying. When you get a dramatic escape like that it is just as powerful – I would argue, more powerful – than one being killed,” he said.

Blue Planet II showed Sally Lightfoot crabs trying to evade predatory eels

Credit:
Miles Barton/BBC NHU

Gunton began his career as a producer on The Trials of Life programme in 1990, before becoming a commissioning editor. “When I joined the Natural History Unit, there was a phrase that people used to say: ‘Have you got the kill?’ It was often erroneously equated to drama that if you had a hunt sequence and it ended with the kill, you had got a perfectly rounded story.

“And I think it’s fair enough that if you’re out in the wild and you see that before your eyes, there is an incredible moment of tension there because it is life and death.

“But in television terms, I think possibly there has been a shift,” Gunton said.

“When you’re watching a film, who are you rooting for? The guy with the gun or the guy trying to get away from the gun? Personally, I was always rooting for the guy who was trying to get away so I thought, won’t the audience want to do that as well?” he said.

Footage of iguanas being chased by racer snakes on Planet Earth II became a viral hit

Credit:
BBC

“I also wonder, from a more general perspective, if the increase in the quality of the imagery means there is more detail in what you see,” he added.

When super high speed cameras came into use around a decade ago, there was a fad for “uber-slow motion” footage. “That technology allowed you to turn it into a slightly Pulp Fiction-esque, Peckinpah-ish bloodfest.

“As you see more detail of that moment of predation, that involves blood and suffering and all the rest of it, I wonder whether moving from old-fashioned film to high definition and now 4K, you’re seeing more details and the flavour becomes stronger and there’s only so much of a strong flavour you can have.

“You are being invited into the audience’s sitting room so you need to treat them carefully. You are showing them reality but you also need to be careful not to fetishise or glorify or over-indulge in the act of taking a life.”

The BBC is now “trying to reflect the realities of what happens in the natural world. And, of course, the truth of it is that most hunts are unsuccessful. So there is a veracity there, that most animals get away.”

The next BBC One series is Big Cats, beginning next month. It will feature some kills, Gunton said, “but we’ve tried to make sure there’s so much more. And prey does get away.”

The corporation’s landmark series for 2018, with the working title of Dynasty, follows the internal struggles of five families: a chimpanzee troop, a wild dog pack, a lion pride, a tiger family and an emperor penguin colony. It is scheduled for broadcast in the autumn.

“When you talk about the drama in nature, the drama here is so intense because it’s about kingship. Who is going to be the leader? It’s Shakespearean,” Gunton said.

Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/25/revealed-wildlife-programmes-now-focus-chase-rather-kill/

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