The Cinematography Podcast Episode 81: John Downer and Richard Jones
Director John Downer and cinematographer Richard Jones have always had a love of animals. John went to work for the BBC after film school and quickly moved into the BBC Natural History division. Richard grew up in Kenya and started out in the film industry, then went to work with a wildlife filmmaker in Botswana, soon picking up a camera and teaching himself. They both agree that to be a good wildlife documentarian, it’s important to spend a great deal of time around the animals, in order to understand and anticipate what they are going to do and capture it on camera. For the Discovery Channel/BBC series Serengeti, John and Richard felt for the first time that all the camera technology was finally advanced enough to capture the true nature of the animal’s lives. They were able to use small, high quality hidden remote cameras that are durable and “lion proof,” as well as a special array of cameras with long lenses on a stabilization system attached to their vehicles, so Richard could shoot while the jeep was driving. While wild animals are definitely not directable, John and Richard knew what wildlife they wanted to follow as characters with the script following the changing seasons as an overarching story plotline. Serengeti follows the interconnected stories of a cast of savannah animals over one year, capturing the drama of the wildlife up close. It was important for John and producer Simon Fuller to show that animals are a lot like us and we are all in this world together.
See Serengeti on Discovery GO
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Close Focus: As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, some documentaries on controversial subjects by big-name filmmakers are getting censored or having trouble finding distribution on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and even YouTube.
Some of these documentaries include:
The Dissident, by Icarus filmmakers Bryan Fogel and Jake Swantko, which premiered at Sundance and deals with the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, has yet to find a distributor. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a journalist, even appears in the documentary.
Planet of the Humans, produced by Michael Moore, about the big money’s influence on the environmental movement, was pulled by YouTube reportedly for copyright claims to some of the footage.
Citizen K, a documentary about Putin by director Alex Gibney, had a deal with Amazon, who then pulled out.
Welcome to Chechnya, which documents the persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, almost had a deal with Netflix before they dropped out. The doc is now available on HBO Max.
Ben’s short end: Directing Actors by Judith Weston is now available on Audible. Judy has a very clear method of working with actors for directors to get what they want from them.
Illya’s short end: Olympus has sold their imaging division to Japan Industrial Partners Inc, which seems to have surprised people in the industry. Olympus blames the rise of smartphones for ruining their business, but it isn’t that surprising as Olympus had been in trouble for a long time. A few years ago, the company had to pay out $529 million in fraud charges, as they had falsified their accounts to conceal losses.
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