Five Years in the Making

Last night I tuned into the Discovery Channel to watch the first three of eleven episodes of Discovery Channel/BBC’s Planet Earth documentary.

The series took four years to shoot and another year to edit.  All of that time and effort produced a masterpiece of sight and sound – especially for those with high definition sets. The entire series was filmed in high definition!

It took me a long time to fall asleep (many apologies to my wife) because I was so excited by what I saw last night. 

And although last night’s experience was the cat’s pajamas, this morning’s experience eclipsed it.

What could have possibly eclipsed last night’s viewing experience you ask? Great Question!

This morning, Debbie Bohanan, Paula Rovnak, (FL DEN Star Educators), their fourth grade class, and I got to go behind the scenes with one of the Planet Earth’s producers, Dr. Penny Allen!

Redwoods_0904_010_2That’s Dr. Allen as she hangs 100 feet above the ground on her way up to the top of a 300 foot tall Redwood Tree in California.

Dr. Allen joined us from Bristol, England to answer the Florida student’s questions and provide us an insider’s view into the filming of Planet Earth.

One of the questions asked was "What was the longest period of filming?  Penny told us that cameramen spent an entire year on the Antarctic ice filming the Emperor penguins! The penguins became so accustomed to the film crew that they came right up to them as they were taping.  While filming the episode, Pole to Pole the crew spent four months in total darkness, observed the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis),and shared the same land as the Polar Bears.Southern_lights

The students wanted to know how close the camera crews got to the animals?

In some cases it was very close.  Crews got only feet away from Walrus, White-Tip Sharks, and African Elephants as they frolicked in flood waters (Episodes: Ice Worlds, Deep Ocean, and Pole to Pole respectively). 

Were they nervous?  Sometimes, especially when they filmed a pride of 30 lions in the dead of night as they were hunting elephants!

In some cases, however, the crew filmed animals as far away as a mile!  Using special high-definition cameras the crew captured the first-ever footage of a Snow Leopard as it leaped from rock-to-rock in the Planet Earth episode, "Mountains."

The class was really interested in the production crew’s use of a helicopter.  Penny told them that the helicopter was used on every habitat and that it used a special gyroscopic camera mount.  This device helped stabilize the camera so that it would not be affected by the vibration and movement of the helicopter.

My favorite story; however, had to do to with the Capercaillie bird.  While Penny was on locationCapercaillie in Finland shooting the episode, "Forests," the crew wanted to film a male Capercaillie bird.  The male birds are extremely territorial and every time the camera crew approached the bird it did everything to protect its turf.  The bird strutted and showed its stuff in an all out effort to say, "This patch of forest belongs to me buddy." I just love the picture that Penny took and shared with us as she told us the story.

All in all, The BBC team traveled to 200 locations to film the most beautiful and amazing animals in their natural habitats.

The Discovery Channel, the BBC, and the Nature Conservancy hope that viewers will gain a better appreciation of our planet and seek out ways to protect and preserve all of its occupants – big and small.

A special thank you to Jennifer Henry, Shannon Malone, Maureen Lemire at the Discovery Channel, Dr. Penny Allen at the BBC Natural History Unit, and Debbie Bohanan, Paula Rovnak, and their fourth grade class, for making this behind-the-scenes adventure possible.

Talk to you soon,

Matt Monjan
Discovery Education, unitedstreaming


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  1. Debbie Bohanan said:

    This was an incredible experience and we learned so much from Penny. It’s great to watch a program and then be able to ask the producer your questions the next day. I think we have created the next generation of environmentalists!

    Thanks for the wonderful opportunity!

  2. Patty McGee said:

    Wow! Thanks for the background info. While I was lucky enough to go to the screening at the Museum of Natural History, I was not able to ask the questions the students asked! I will pass these answers along to my students!

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