My name is Chris Palmer, and I am a documentary wildlife filmmaker. I have produced films for prime-time television and IMAX, including the Disney Channel, TBS, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and PBS. My colleagues and I have won two Emmys and an Oscar nomination, and I won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Wildlife Film Festival. You can read more about my work on my website: www.ChrisPalmerOnline.com

I recently wrote a book, Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker: The Challenges of Staying Honest in an Industry Where Ratings Are King ( http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Wildlife-Filmmaker-Challenges-Industry/dp/193895405X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1428707570&sr=8-1&keywords=confessions+of+a+wildlife ) about the unethical practices of the wildlife filmmaking industry and what to do about them. Ask me anything!

Proof: http://imgur.com/nKu5bUu

Comments: 74 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

A_Wooper8 karma

Hello! I am a big fan of wildlife documentaries and always have been! As someone who loves animals, photography, travel, languages and film making, this is right up my ally.

Working as a wildlife filmmaker would be my ideal job, but what I want to ask is how do you go about it? Do you need a lot of prior experience and how much education do you need to get into the field?

Thanks and keep up the good work. :)

ChrisPalmerAU8 karma

Thank you. I appreciate the warm note! You can go to college and grad school (I teach at the School of Communication at American University in Washington DC), but that is expensive and there's no guarantee of a job at the end of it either. Grad school would teach you the skills you need, give you lots of contacts, and some great work experiences. I have three of my grad students working on one of our IMAX films this coming week. Another approach is to get to know some filmmakers and volunteer to help them when they go out shooting, and build your filmmaking career from there.

Phil_MCrackin5 karma

What is your favorite project you've worked on?

ChrisPalmerAU6 karma

Hi Phil, thanks for writing! My favorite project was probably the first IMAX film I produced--it was on whales, one of my favorite animals, and was called "Whales." My friend Dave Clark coproduced it with me. It cost $3 million and has grossed so far about $60 million and carried a strong conservation message.

Chompski12133 karma

I love that you called him phil

ChrisPalmerAU3 karma

Thanks!

IgnorantLobster3 karma

Hi. How much do you feel wildlife documentaries are manipulated in order to engage viewers?

ChrisPalmerAU10 karma

Quite a lot! Most viewers would be surprised by how much fakery there is in wildlife films--it goes far beyond simple sound effects. Film producers routinely make up compelling stories, rent captive animals and pretend their completely wild and free-roaming, and use computer-generated imagery to spice up their footage.

missch4nandlerbong3 karma

Do you have any specific examples you could describe?

ChrisPalmerAU7 karma

I describe many examples in my new book "Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker." One example from my past: In a film on whales, we showed the skull of a killer whale on the ocean floor and close-up shots of its teeth to indicate the threats to migrating humpback whales from predatory orcas. We intentionally failed to mention that we had placed the orca skull there ourselves.

i_am_hard2 karma

How can we make sure what we are watching is real or not? I really enjoy watching documentaries and wild life ones are my favourite.

ChrisPalmerAU7 karma

It's very hard to know if what you are watching is real or not, unless you were involved in the production and so could see everything that went on with your own eyes. It is very difficult to detect computer enhancements to the images, or captive animals, or fake stories, or fraudulent sounds, or missed opportunities to add a conservation message. It's sometimes even hard to detect pseudoscience and superstition posing as real science (as in the Mermaids programs, and Megalodon shows). I urge you to be skeptical of everything you watch. It is so easy to be duped. If I see a close up of a grizzly bear eating on the guts of an elk it is alleged to have brought down, i immediately suspect the bear is captive and rented, and someone has stuffed M&Ms into the guts of the dead elk.

Sil3691 karma

if i see a scene in a documentary of, say, a tiger hunting some prey and i don't see them in the same shot at one point, i usually assume that scene is stitched together from completely different scenes.

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

That could well be the case.

IgnorantLobster2 karma

Thanks a lot, interesting!

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

You are so welcome!

holyfruits3 karma

Was Wild Kingdom influential on your filmmaking career and what do you think the difference is between their work and contemporary nature documentaries?

ChrisPalmerAU5 karma

When Marlin Perkins was at his prime, ethical standards were lower and so he did some things that we would never do now. I write about this in my first book Shooting in the Wild. But, yes, he was an influential figure and did a lot of good. No hero is perfect.

hak0912 karma

What was the most dangerous animal you've film?

Did you ever get seriously injured?

ChrisPalmerAU5 karma

Most animals are not dangerous if you behave sensibly around them, don't unintentionally make threatening gestures, keep a reasonable distance, and treat them respectively. On most shoots, the most dangerous thing I do is to travel by cab from my home to the airport. Having said that, the most dangerous animals are the obvious ones: sharks (especially bull sharks), grizzly bears, and other charismatic predators. We always work with reputable scientists and naturalists who are familiar with the animals and tell us when we are getting too close or doing something inappropriate.

ChrisPalmerAU6 karma

PS I've never got seriously injured except by an animal called an entertainment lawyer.

iwentfast2 karma

What's the scariest animal to have to get close to?

ChrisPalmerAU3 karma

A grizzly bear because they are not always predictable.

i_am_me_myself2 karma

Your first book was incredibly eye-opening and I look forward to reading your second. In what ways do the solitary aspects of writing most differ from the collaborative efforts of filmmaking? Being a visual producer yourself, what prompted you to choose this outlet in your storytelling?

ChrisPalmerAU5 karma

Thank you! I appreciate the lovely compliment! Writing a book is surprisingly collaborative, and filmmaking can be quite solitary at times. The solitary aspects of both writing and filmmaking require tremendous self-discipline. Procrastination and wasting time are recipes for failure. One has to work and produce whether one feels like it or not. I chose to write a book because the quality of wildlife filmmaking is in decline and publishing a book about my concern seemed the most effective way to bring about change. In 2010 when I wrote my first book, "Shooting in the Wild," only a handful of shows committed the offenses of animal abuse, audience deception, and harm to conservation. Today in 2015 there are dozens of these productions exploiting nature in the pursuit of profits. We need to persuade broadcasters like Discovery and Animal Planet to show moral leadership and return to the noble values of their founders.

i_am_me_myself2 karma

Have you found that writing a book about this need for change, rather than making a film about it, has had a stronger impact? Do you believe it will reach a larger audience, or bring about a larger conversation?

ChrisPalmerAU3 karma

I'm not sure of the answer. We will likely make my new book (Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker) into a film, like we did for my first book, Shooting in the Wild. The goal is to get the key message out on as many different platforms as possible. Books and films each have their strengths and weaknesses. We need to pursue both to increase the chances of getting our message heard--the key message being that broadcasters need to shape up and raise their standards.

i_am_me_myself2 karma

This is so fascinating; sort of like an Internet book signing! I appreciate your in-depth answers. Would you mind identifying one instance of change (brought on by your first book or new one) that you can attribute directly to your work? Maybe an example you are most proud of?

ChrisPalmerAU4 karma

No broadcaster liked being criticized, and the biggest influence of my books, speeches, and blogs has been to raise the awareness of the networks to the ethical errors they are making. I make this claim based on the clandestine phone calls I receive from people-in-the-know who tell me about discussions going on at meetings at the networks.

i_am_me_myself2 karma

Fantastic. Congratulations, and thank you! I can't wait to read the new release.

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

Thank you!

brunarafaela1 karma

That is just amazing. Knowing that your work have an impact on the general readers, making them see things from a new point of view and questioning what they are given is incredible. Getting your work to effect and echo within the networks must be worth all the trouble and really motivating

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Thanks! BTW, when I see a particularly egregious show (like Eaten Alive or Rattlesnake Republic or Yukon Men or Swamp People) I tweet about it and use the hashtag #CrueltyForRatings.

1800BOTLANE2 karma

If you were a tree, where would you live and why?

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

Your question reminds me of the following astute and perceptive metaphor by Carl Albert: "A great marriage is like two trees standing tall, side by side. Their branches intertwine so beautifully, so gracefully, they almost become one, yet they remain two. Standing together, they are strong, beautiful and better able to withstand the high winds of storms that come now and then. They are separate living things, yet so interdependent, growing more beautifully entwined year after year. Providing shade, comfort, and safety for each other and all who walk their way."

1800BOTLANE2 karma

That's beautiful and very true, but I'm genuinely interested to pick your brain and see what your answer is. For someone who makes a living exploring the wild and immersing themselves in it, surely you have one in mind.

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

I'd like to live in a protected forest, so I wouldn't be cut down. Is that the kind of answer you were seeking? Or did I miss your point?

1800BOTLANE1 karma

You hit it on the head, just not a loquacious answer.

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Thank you!

missch4nandlerbong2 karma

What are the hardest/easiest animals to get good footage of?

What's your favorite camera, lens, and/or other piece of gear that helps you get the shot?

ChrisPalmerAU3 karma

Thanks for these interesting questions! Almost all animals are challenging to film because they typically are wary or scared or intolerant of people and simply want to escape and be left alone. Interestingly dolphins are one of the few species who are curious about the noise cameras make and will actually approach our cameras, but most animals flee. We get great shots of animal's rear ends and sometimes not much else! Of course a major factor with some animals (predators like sharks, bears, etc) is that they can hurt you badly if you don't treat them respectfully and give them space. With regard to your second question, I'm a film producer, not a cinematographer, and so am not the best person to talk about gear details.

DrPuppet1 karma

Hey Chris Palmer, I'm Alex and I want to become a movie director one day. Which advices would you give me to get started ? :)

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Hi Alex! Great to hear from you! Becoming a movie director is a terrific goal to have and I commend you. I would watch all the films you can and learn all you can from seeing what successful movie directors to. Much more important though is to work hard, read voraciously, develop a personal mission statement that incorporates your goal of being a movie director, and start making contacts (like you are with me right now) in the industry. Become a persuasive speaker so you can pitch your film ideas in the most exciting and dynamic way possible. Network relentlessly so you are in a strong position to hear of new opportunities. Attend relevant festivals, screenings, conferences, and workshops. Join appropriate organizations and listservs. Constantly initiate actions and make things happen. Be entrepreneurial, seize opportunities, and work hard. Persevere despite setbacks and rejections. Stay focused. Mold yourself into a person with great integrity, decency, and ability so that people want to work with you. Good luck!

DrPuppet1 karma

Thanks for that in depth response, I will give my best ! would there be an opportunity I could add you on skype and we could chat a bit ? :P

greets Alex !

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Hi Alex, happy to talk by phone any time. My cell is 202-716-6160 and I'm on east coast time.

DrPuppet1 karma

that's sad I live in Germany that won't be possible, but thanks a lot ! :)

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

Hi Alex, feel free to e-mail me any time. My e-mail address is [email protected] You can also find lots of useful and free handouts on my personal website: www.ChrisPalmerOnline.com. Good luck!

spacejewman1 karma

Would you rather fight a bear or a leopard?

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Both animals would slaughter be in seconds, so I would rather fight neither of them. I hope I would never be stupid enough to put myself in a position where I am forced to fight either creature. Both are

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Sorry...Both are incredible creatures and deserve to be left alone and in peace.

Dinoman281 karma

I've always wanted to know, when you get close-up shots of animals, do you film from far away and zoom in or are you actually right near them?

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

It can be done either way of course, but if the animal has the potential to be dangerous, then usually the former.

tanman2471 karma

When you are producing a documentary how difficult is it for you to coordinate the cameramen and gear to some of the isolated areas? Also what are the biggest difficulties when you film in different countries as far as their politics and conservation laws? Thanks for your time.

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

With regard to your first question, the answer is that it can be very difficult. On our IMAX films, our gear is very extensive and heavy and takes a lot of work to transport it to remote areas. On the other hand, technology advances have given us small, lightweight cameras that our easy to carry in a backpack. Re your second question, finding out how to get permits to film can be a nightmare. It is important to have a "fixer" in the host country who knows how things work there and is is familiar with the customs and etiquette.

tanman2471 karma

Thanks for the answers and I look forward to reading your book soon!

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Thank YOU!

Pojackalot1 karma

What is the neatest part about nature?

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Being out in nature reminds us what an extraordinarily beautiful planet we all share and that we need to take care of it if we are to survive as a species. Wildlife films are at the best when they nudge us to be more responsible stewards of this amazing "pale blue dot" we call our home.

phenri1 karma

How'd you get your start?

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

By forming a partnership with Ted Turner in the early 1980s when I worked at the National Audubon Society. I saw films as one of the most powerful ways that existed to sway public opinion and slow the momentum towards environmental destruction.

brunarafaela1 karma

Hi, Chris! I am about to graduate in cinema and intend to write my monograph on the subject of wildlife films and how they use tipically fictional tactics to manipulate the image and entertain, often apropriating the language of others film genres like action or persecution movies. Your work is just amazing, openly true and inspiring, so I just had to take the chance and ask: Would you have some books/articles/readings that you would suggest to me?

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

Hi there! I wish I knew your name. If you send me your e-mail address, I'll add you to my address list to receive occasional e-mails from me. My e-mail is [email protected]
If you go to my websites, you find a lot of free handouts relating to your question. www.ChrisPalmerOnline.com, and www.EnvironmentalFilm.org. I would also google leading wildlife filmmakers like Derrick and Beverly Joubert, and Howard and Michele Hall. Everything they write is worth reading. I would also get hold of my two books: "Shooting in the Wild," and "Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker." David Attenborough's books are well worth reading. I'll give you more leads when we talk over e-mail. Good luck with your monograph, and good luck with the rest of your life!

jimmycrackcorn231 karma

How often do you get in trouble with the animals, and what usually happens?

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Rarely, because we are very careful. When we get in trouble (an animal attacks, runs away, gets spooked by the camera and acts unnaturally, etc.), it is usually because we've done something stupid (got too close, unintentionally harassed an animal, etc.) and acted in a thoughtless, selfish way without regard for the needs of the animal. In short, we weren't sufficiently compassionate.

29holden1 karma

Does it ever get, well, boring, while filming? And if so, how boring is it? Also how do you feel about White Wilderness?

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

It can get incredibly tedious! And then when the tedium is about to drive you crazy, a rare animal like a snow leopard in sighted and all hell breaks out in a desperate attempt to capture footage. In some sense, wildlife filming is like war. Long stretches of nothing happening, followed by maniacal and intense activity. I write extensively about "White Wilderness" in my book "Shooting in the Wild." I have mixed feelings. I hate the animal abuse that went on in order to capture the shots, but Disney was ahead of his time and a real pioneer. He was unethical by our standards, but way ahead of the wildlife filmmakers who preceded him.

29holden1 karma

Thanks for answering!

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

My pleasure! Thanks so much for your interest.

therottenone1 karma

What is your favorite wildlife documentary that you haven't produced?

ChrisPalmerAU2 karma

Frozen Planet, Grizzly Man, Battle at Kruger, The End of the Line, The Last Lions, Eye of the Leopard, The Cove, Whale Wars, Green, Doeville, and Kingdom of the Apes with Jane Goodall. Thanks for asking!

therottenone1 karma

Thank you for responding! Grizzly man is one of my favorite documentaries of all time. :)

ChrisPalmerAU1 karma

Me, too! I love it!