Wildlife series. Steve Backshall looks at the challenges faced when filming in the frozen tundra of Alaska and the steaming rainforests of Brazil.
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My name's Steve Backshall.
You can call me Steve.
I'm on a mission to find the Deadly 60.
That's 60 deadly creatures from around the world
And you're coming with me every step of the way.
During the making of Deadly 60,
we travelled 6 continents, looking for 60 deadly animals.
Quicker, faster, faster, whoa!
It wasn't just the creatures we were seeking that were lethal.
Sometimes, the locations themselves were the biggest challenge.
And that's what this programme is all about.
How do we make wildlife films in the most extreme places on the planet?
Two of the most challenging places we filmed Deadly 60,
were way up in the Arctic circle, in Alaska.
And in the humid rainforests of the Amazon.
And that's where this "Making Of" programme begins.
When you're filming, it's kind of hard to travel light.
All these bags and boxes are filled with camera and sound kit,
filming lights, hi-tech communications equipment,
and all the other kit you need to launch an expedition
into total wilderness.
And, of course, an extra big bag for all my shoes and make-up.
Two days, three planes, two trucks,
and one very dodgy looking ferry ride later,
and we were deep in the Amazon rainforest.
While we unpack the kit, let me introduce you to my team.
Deadly 60, I think, more than any other series I've ever worked on,
is all about crew.
We've really become like a tightknit family,
which is really good because,
I think, when you're climbing cliffs and handling venomous snakes,
you want to think you can rely on everyone else.
-This is Charlie, our researcher. Say hello.
Mark, who's behind the camera at the moment.
-That'll be me!
This is Rich, our sound recordist.
This is Dudu. Dudu is our fixer here in Brazil, and also knows
a lot about the animals.
Just there, at the back of the jeep, is James,
the guy who looks a bit like a rugby player,
funnily enough, cos he is one!
James is the director, so his job is...
to write all the scripts, which I promptly then ignore
and say exactly what I want to say!
-That would be funny if it wasn't true!
There are more species of animals in the Amazon
than anywhere else on earth.
But catching them on camera isn't as easy as it may seem.
At the beginning of every shoot, we have to sort out all the equipment.
That can take half a day just to get all the equipment up and running.
So there's an awful lot to do before we actually go out in the field.
Was that OK?
The cameraman's the guy who films the programme.
But pictures are only half the story.
The rest is down to soundman Rich.
During the programme,
you've probably seen me running round with my big, heavy kit on me,
like that. I'll just quickly show you how it all works.
I'm a bit like the DJ, this is a mixer.
So all the sound comes in from Steve, from the animals,
from the experts, it all comes to me.
And I send it up to the camera on the back of Mark,
using this radio link. All very clever. Happy days.
From here on in, it's just your average walk in the woods.
Well, if your local woods are alive with snakes
and the world's biggest spider.
And to get up close to them, and so you feel part of the team,
we tend to film things slightly differently on Deadly 60.
This series is a little bit unusual
in that we don't always just have the one main camera, this one here,
filming me wherever I'm going.
We also have...a second camera.
This guy here can always film what's going on, not just with me,
but with the main camera.
And then, especially if we're going somewhere a little bit different,
like this cave behind me, we can also use a camera like this one,
which shows you exactly...
what I'm seeing.
These tiny cameras are vital when I'm cramming myself
into dark and dingy places,
like this cave, where we were hoping to find vampire bats.
The sweltering inside of the cave offered no relief
from the jungle heat.
Being in this jungle is like being in a steam room.
Even when it's dark, it's still sticky, hot and wet.
Filming for the Deadly 60 has taken us to lots of extreme environments
around the world, like the rainforests here in Brazil.
The heat and humidity can make it an absolute nightmare for filming.
And this place is called a rainforest for a reason.
Sometimes, it seems the rains here will never, ever stop.
Look at that, like a little glow-in-the-dark brooch.
Tropical rainforest. No, tropical storm!
It may look like a kind of hell,
but, for a wildlife enthusiast like me, it's actually heaven.
There are wild surprises lurking everywhere.
24 hours in this place can reveal 100 living treasures.
Well worth putting up with a little discomfort.
That's a proper tarantula!
-Wow. Oh, my goodness!
How did I not get bitten there?!
Look at that!
However well prepared our team may be,
the jungle must never be taken lightly.
Close calls are all too frequent.
On a snake search in this flooded forest,
the animals were the least of our worries.
You all right?
Huge branches in the canopy above die and rot,
or are eaten through by termites.
They can weigh as much as a car.
When they fall, it's one of the most deadly things in the jungle.
Fortunately, no-one was hurt... Just a little bit shocked.
Sailing down the mighty Amazon, we came upon a floating village,
where they were breeding a certain Amazonian river fish.
I hopped into a pool to try and get a closer look.
And nearly got my head taken off!
I just got belted in the head by an arapaima!
Believe it or not, these are small for an arapaima.
They could easily weigh five times as much as any one of these.
I'm very glad I didn't get head-butted
by one of those monsters.
Just after dawn,
and the crew are preparing for a flight in a flying boat.
We're in search of one of the most remarkable beasts on the series.
What about actually mentioning the animal... Not naming it,
but saying there's one animal I want to find,
-and it's in a really remote location.
-Yeah, that's a great idea.
-That's more of a tease.
That's what you're doing.
They've got big brains, they hunt in packs,
they're turbo-charged and they're...pink.
Pink river dolphins. Bizarre is not the word.
We're going off today to try and film pink river dolphin.
And I think it's probably about 200 miles in that direction.
I love my plane, I want one!
It's just the most wonderful toy, isn't it? It's beautiful.
And, in order to be able to film the dolphin,
we're taking with us an underwater camera. Steve's going to have that.
The big main camera, which I'll be using.
Unfortunately, it's not very big,
so it can't more than myself, Mark and Dudu.
The rest of the crew are a bit miserable,
cos they've got to sit here.
Because we don't have enough space on the plane to take a sound man,
the translator is going to become Rich, the sound man.
And he'll be doing the sound for me.
Cos it's myself and Steve, effectively, going off
and trying to achieve what a group of five or six of us would normally do.
This radio mic will pick up everything I say.
Let's load up.
Including Dudu, our temporary sound man.
Where's the brake?
Unfortunately, though, the pilot wouldn't let me drive!
With no solid land to make a runway, in the Amazon, it's either a boat,
or a plane that can take off and land on water.
Or I guess you could swim!
Seemingly endless forests stretch to the horizon.
There's a lifetime of exploring and undiscovered animals hidden below,
but, yet again, the weather is king.
We've just been hit with the curse of the Amazon,
well, of all rainforests.
We've just flown into a bank of solid cloud and rain.
And, unfortunately, the hydro plane can't get above or below it.
So we're going to have to turn around and head back to the boat.
It's bad news for now, but hopefully we'll get another crack at it.
We're going to have to come up with a Plan B.
I, for one, am not leaving without seeing our dolphins.
We sail our giant river boat right through the night,
and the next day, get a second chance.
OK, so we may not have succeeded with our seaplane,
but we don't give up easy on the Deadly 60.
So this strange-looking, green floating thing is, I think,
our best opportunity of getting close to pink river dolphins.
And can we see any?
Oh, look at that, look!
I don't believe it, look, look, look, look.
They're so close. This is going to be very, very special indeed.
I think it's probably worth just slipping straight in.
I should say straight off that these are totally wild dolphins.
But the reason they're here is actually...
..exactly the same reason why they're deadly.
These animals have huge brains, they're really intelligent.
In the finished programme,
the sequence with these magical river beasts lasts for just a matter of minutes.
In reality, it took two full days to film.
Swimming in water the colour of warm cola,
these pink dolphins use sophisticated sonar and teamwork
to hunt fish as fierce as piranha.
They're perfect for the Deadly 60 and well worth the effort.
River dolphins are on the Deadly 60.
Even seemingly simple sequences can take an eternity to get right
if luck isn't on your side.
Filming the opening to the Amazon programme should have been easy.
One o'clock in the morning,
we're doing the opening sequence to the programme,
which is Steve jumping off the front of the boat.
the water is only about two metres deep where we were originally moored.
So we're having to move the boat a little bit further upriver,
so that Steve's not going to bang his head off the bottom, really.
Yeah, we're going to use the boat to full effect,
so Mark the cameraman is going to be in one of the little boats,
touring around our big mother ship.
And then, I think I'm going to dive overboard...
in spectacular fashion.
We're here...in Brazil.
And this is the Amazon rainforest, the largest jungle in the world.
When you see the programme in its final cut version,
this sequence will take about ten seconds on screen,
but it's actually... We've been going for about half an hour
just to make the sequence and we're still nowhere near halfway through.
So what are we doing on a boat? Well, right here...
The boat's drifting, the water's not the right depth...
we can't get the camera shot, the sound's all over the place.
So, yeah, it's taking a little bit longer than we thought initially,
but that's TV.
-Stand by, then.
-Camera's at Steve.
We're here, in Brazil in South America.
And this is the Amazon rainforest, the largest jungle in the world.
So what are we doing on a boat? Well, round here, this time of year,
an awful lot of that forest is underwater.
A whole morning later, finally we're happy.
All that work for just 15 seconds of telly.
But finished just in the nick of time,
cos here comes the rain again.
So that's how we deal with the rain, the heat and the humidity.
Now for something completely different.
We're on another Deadly 60 mission.
And a good portion of all this kit is woolly gloves and down jackets.
We're heading to the frozen north.
This is Alaska, and there's a new team on board.
Johnny on camera, Nick running sound.
And taking charge of the directing is Rosie.
That is like stepping into a deepfreeze.
Off there in the distance are the mountains of northern Alaska.
That way are frozen seas that head all the way to the North Pole.
Temperatures here can be the same as inside your freezer box at home.
But there are animals that thrive in these extreme conditions.
Wow, he's huge!
But we're here to find the world's largest land predator.
This flat, snowy expanse is known as the Arctic tundra.
It's one of the bleakest habitats on the planet.
Right now, we've got a beautiful blue sky, sunshiny day,
but even so, it's probably minus 15 degrees centigrade.
Even in the middle of summer, it rarely gets above freezing here.
And, in the middle of winter, minus 40 isn't unusual.
Any animal that can make it here has to be as tough as nails.
And the animal we're here looking for is probably the hardest.
It's the largest carnivore that lives on land,
and probably the most iconic animal of the whole of the frozen north -
the polar bear.
With a fully-grown male weighing over half a tonne,
capable of smelling food from 20 miles away,
and able to run as fast as a racehorse,
this is an animal to be taken very seriously indeed.
Their entire life is lived out in these brutal conditions.
They absolutely thrive here.
For us, it's a different story.
Filming out here in the Arctic tundra is obviously very difficult,
purely because every second of the day, cold dominates everything.
I mean, if you allow your fingertips to be exposed to the cold
for even a few seconds,
then you're going to get frost nip and eventually frostbite.
But there are other things that you don't think about,
to do with the filming, that are really important.
It's easy for us in the Arctic to warm up, we can put on layers.
The trouble with the camera equipment is it's all metal.
And metal plus minus temperatures is very bad.
And even the cables start to freeze and cables can snap.
The batteries, they drop their power very quickly,
you've got to keep the batteries warm.
The camera itself has a big jacket, just to keep it warm.
You've got lots of heat packs.
There's a lot of potential for things to go wrong in this temperature,
and, yeah, it's a bit of a struggle sometimes.
I'm absolutely loving it, yeah!
It's great, really cold.
It gets hard to talk cos your cheeks start freezing up!
But, yeah, it's great fun to be here, great fun.
Another animal with remarkable fur to protect it from the elements
is the Arctic fox.
Cute and cuddly...
but tough as nails.
And a visit from this rare wolverine
did wonders for our morale.
Go into infrared.
We waited and waited.
We even slept in the truck, and still no polar bears.
Sometimes on wildlife stakeouts, you need a lot of patience and time,
but we'll be back tomorrow.
Out there in the darkness somewhere, is the animal we're looking for.
So have I made myself an igloo out on the frozen tundra?
Well, er, no.
Actually, I'm staying in the town of Kaktovik.
It's a tiny frontier town with 293 people, 43 huskies,
and, every once in a while, a visiting polar bear.
We just need to wait and watch.
But, when our faces are frozen and we need to warm our toes,
this is where we hide out.
Right, get the snow off my shoes,
give you a little tour around where we've been staying.
This is the Waldo Arms, come and have a look.
This is where we crash out, watch the telly.
This is Jake, he's been cooking all our meals for us.
Fish and chips.
This is the dining room.
This is where I sit down and I compose all of my music.
I'm not going to do it now.
Rosie, our director.
A little telescope we've got so we can look outside
and see if there's any bears coming in close to the town. At the moment,
despite the fact it's nearly nine o'clock in the morning,
it's still dark.
Lots of pictures of polar bears.
It's pretty much the closest we've come to any of those!
Oh, you've got to see this, come down here. These are the bedrooms.
This is where Nick and Johnny have been staying.
As you can see, they are absolute slobs.
Keep going back, keep going back.
All right, come this way.
..this is where I stay. So, er, yeah.
And this is the toilet.
So you can't come in here.
This is where we're staying.
All right, I think the team's getting ready
for a day of filming out in the freezing cold.
This is Rosie, she's our director.
Rosie, talk us through all the stuff you've got to keep yourself warm.
-Well, I've got absolutely enormous mitts, liner gloves.
-Every time I take these off, my fingers freeze.
What about these enormous boots? Let's have a look.
They've got a massive layer of padding inside,
-and I've got three pairs of socks inside that.
Here's Nick, the sound man.
This is obviously to keep the microphone warm.
-It's to keep my ears warm!
And last, Johnny.
You can see that the camera here is covered
in this great big thick jacket to keep it warm.
What else have you had to do to film in these temperatures?
I've got lovely gloves inside here to keep my hands warm on the lens.
The batteries suffer in the cold, so they've all got heat packs on them.
Yeah, so if the battery gets freezing cold, it runs out of power?
It runs out of power quickly.
So you see, everyone here is really struggling
to make sure that we can film all this.
We are looking for one of the most dangerous predators in the world.
So it's really important that we take things really seriously.
OK, enough horsing around, let's go and find some bears.
Despite the snow down the back of the neck,
we're kitted out and as comfortable as we can be.
We've protected the cameras as much as possible.
All we need to do now is find a polar bear.
We're heading right out to the brink of the frozen seas.
And there's only one vehicle that can take us.
Time to fire up Skidoos.
Look at these!
Finally, after four days of searching,
we find the much-needed signs that we're on the right track.
Polar bear tracks! Look at the size of them.
It's really something to think that we're sharing the ice
with one of the world's most terrifying predators.
All the hard work and the cold is forgotten
as we get our first glimpse of a polar bear.
There's something out there.
It's a bear. No more than 150 metres off from the shore.
It's so exciting. I can just feel my heart start beating.
So out there, about a mile off in the distance,
is our first polar bear.
He's just sort of ambling about at the moment.
What a magnificent creature.
Even a mile away from us, he'd scented us on the air.
And shuffled off into the distance.
The weather's had a turn for the worse.
Unfortunately, the seas now have really started to freeze over,
and it seems the polar bears have started to move off across the ice.
So I think our chances of getting closer to a bear
are pretty much done.
That said, any animal that can live and hunt in conditions like this,
and be completely comfortable,
is a pretty powerful creature, and has to go on the Deadly 60.
Our encounter with the undisputed king of this icy land
was one we'll never forget.
So that is how Deadly 60 is made.
We've braved crippling cold that freezes your eyeballs,
and the sticky sweatiness of the darkest jungles,
to bring you footage of the world's wildest animals.
But I have to admit...
it is quite a lot of fun!
My sandwich is frozen solid!
Separated at birth - Rich the sound man and a piranha.
Show us your teeth, Rich.
Join us next time for more incredible animal encounters
on Deadly 60.
Look at that, absolutely amazing.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Presenter and naturalist Steve Backshall has travelled the planet in search of animals for his Deadly 60 list. However, it wasn't just the creatures he was seeking that were potentially lethal; sometimes the locations themselves were the biggest challenge.
Two of the toughest environments were the frozen tundra of Alaska and the steaming rainforests of Brazil. In this programme, Steve and the team show how they coped with filming in temperatures below minus 20 and in the humidity and heat of the unforgiving jungle in order to capture the incredible wildlife that call these places home.