Elephant from Africa (BBC)
Interview Words : Tom Hawker | 09 January

"How we made Africa with Sir David Attenborough"

James Honeyborne produced the stunning new BBC series, Africa. He talks to Wanderlust on how it was put together

The second episode of, Africa, the flagship show of the BBC’s 2013 wildlife schedule airs tonight. It’s got everything you’d expect: fascinating wildlife, amazing cinematography and Sir David Attenborough gabbing. Which poses the show’s problem – how do you make a show like this seem fresh?

“New species, behaviours, locations… new stories to tell. And a new filming style as well. Traditionally documentaries were filmed through Jeep doors but we’ve really gotten out there with the animals, whether a meerkat or an elephant, and gotten in its eyeline. That way, you become more immersed in their world.” replies James.

It’s this approach that’s led to more of the landmark footage that the Beeb’s Natural History Unit is acclaimed around the world for – a David and Goliath battle as a lizard tries to catch its prey off a sleeping lion’s face, the social sides to the traditionally miserable rhino and the hardcore fighting style of the giraffe. Of course, capturing all this involves a near military level of production.

“We’ve done 79 separate filming expeditions, visited 27 different countries, carried just under 50 tonnes of kit, used over 553 different cameras [including the innovative Starlight camera for night filming] and recorded enough information to be stored on 21,000 regular DVDs.”

Of course, filming in Africa poses a number of problems. A cameraman was stuck up a tree for four hours at night as an elephant tried to shake him out of it (“You can’t get down, you just have to sit it out”). The same guy had a venomous snake up his trouser leg and a poisonous scorpion decided to camp in someone’s tent.

But it wasn’t just the wildlife causing Honeyborne’s team grief: Africa’s political climate meant they had to tread carefully… literally so – when a couple of people wandered into a minefield. The Africa team also found themselves in the midst of the Arab Spring. “We were the last film crew to leave Libya,” says Honeyborne. They had to leave timelapse cameras behind in the desert, discovering a remarkable picture of the ever-changing sands when they finally retrieved the cameras.

So after immersing himself in Africa for four years, does he have any tips for Wanderlust?

“Africa can get cold. Especially at night. You need your sunscreen and cold weather clothing… and take your antimalarials!”

Africa is currently being broadcast on BBC1, on Wednesday evenings at 9pm. The series is also available on iPlayer. The book of the series can be ordered on Amazon now.