WONDER OF SONG PRODUCTION.
David Attenborough, it was suddenly very challenging because we had to take massive safety precautions. Usually, I’d be shooting close-up, but here I had to keep a big distance and change my style a little. For example, using longer prime lenses to film David within a greenhouse that I wasn’t allowed in! I had to work around those parameters to still make it look as good as possible.” Audio was a problem, too. Not permitted to radio mic Attenborough, a boom was held through the greenhouse doorframe to record his voice on the other side. “That was particularly challenging for the sound man,” Woodcock recalls. “For that day, we used a lot of slider action. We were able to get some footage of David walking around outside, but for that sort of stuff I needed a gimbal.” It wasn’t until spring 2021 that the crew could film with Attenborough again. Covid-19 rules were still strict, and only permitted filming him from outside. The crew chose a greenhouse in Richmond Park, near Attenborough’s home, and created a set with old audio technology such as tape recorders, old turntables and radios, which were used to play original recordings of songs from different animals. PRODUCTION WITHOUT BORDERS The filming schedule wasn’t limited to English locations, though. Birkhead explains how the team required essential filming to be carried out overseas, where there were important scientific stories to learn and relate. “When lockdown struck on day one of our shoots, I knew things were going to be more than tough,” Birkhead recalls. “George and I were due to film in Australia and Berlin as well as the UK. In fact, David Attenborough had agreed to shoot in Germany even though it involved an overnight shoot – much to his agent’s amazement. We needed our lyrebird sequence in Australia and the nightingales in Berlin. The big challenge was finding alternative talent at very short notice – and as I discovered, this was a problem for every other production around the world.” Birkhead says this “Overseas, we couldn’t film in the traditional sense, but were very fortunate to discover excellent local crews amid competition from other productions”
is where ‘experience and old age’ come in useful. He managed to find talented alternatives within a month, whom he praises for their professionalism in what was an arduous period. “We couldn’t film in the traditional sense, but were very fortunate to discover local crews amid competition from other productions,” he recalls. “In Germany, field producer Rosie Koch and principal photographer Roland Gockel managed to capture the nightingales. Their low- light camera caught some unusual shots of the birds singing at night.” The pair also filmed nightingale expert Conny
Landgraf describing nightingale song behaviour in detail. Although conditions were far from ideal, Attenborough’s Wonder of Song was made, delivered, screened and picked up glowing reviews. In the turmoil of a global pandemic, the team managed to accomplish an international production flawlessly, sticking to ever-changing guidelines, keeping all cast and crew safe – and avoiding ruffling any feathers. Watch Attenborough’s Wonder of Song on BBC iPlayer
A RESPECTFUL DISTANCE Filming with a 96-year-old national treasure during a pandemic is something you would only ever do extremely carefully
15. DECEMBER 2022
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