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Fothergill and Linfield: The Families Of 'Earth'

Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield are the directors behind the hit nature documentary series Planet Earth. Their new movie, Earth, uses some of the same footage but is "character-based" rather than "habitat based."


Other segments from the episode on April 22, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 22, 2009: Interview with Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield; Review of Ran Blake's music album "Driftwoods."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Fothergill and Linfield: The Families Of 'Earth'


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. A polar bear stranded at sea because
of global warming, an elephant lost in a sandstorm, a migration of
humpback whales. The new film “Earth” is filled with amazing scenes of
animals in the wild.

The film was shot in 200 different locations in 64 countries, from the
tops of mountains to the bottom of the ocean. Technological innovations
in aviation and camera equipment made it possible for the filmmakers to
capture scenes of animal life we haven’t witnessed before. But the
filmmakers also took advantage of low-tech inventions like the time two
cinematographers filmed from a seat in a hot air balloon.

The movie “Earth” opened in theaters today in celebration of Earth Day.
My guests are the two directors of “Earth,” Alastair Fothergill and Mark
Linfield. They also collaborated on the TV series “Planet Earth.”

They’ve both directed nature programs for the BBC. Fothergill is the
former head of the BCC’s natural history unit.

Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield, welcome to FRESH AIR, and
congratulations on the movie. Now, this story in the film revolves
around – largely revolves around migrations of different kinds of
animals: polar bears, elephants, humpback whales. Why did you choose
migrations as a kind of narrative to talk about the larger issues you’re
talking about?

Mr. ALASTAIR FOTHERGILL (Director, “Earth”): What we’re looking at is
the extraordinary migration of the sun, the sun’s influence that creates
the seasons as it moves north and south every year. But we wanted to see
the changing influence of the sun through the eyes of our three key
stars: the polar bear, the elephant and the humpback whale.

And you know, it’s very, very obvious. I mean, the polar bear finds
every year as the sun arrives in the Arctic – you know, literally its
world melts beneath its feet.

The elephants that live in the tropics, I mean, those are a part of the
world where there are relatively fewer seasons in the sense that you
have 12 hours of daylight the whole year round. But what you do have is
a dry season and a wet season, and their migration is motivated by the
need to find water.

Finally, the humpback whales that migrate from Antarctica to the tropics
every year, 4,000-mile migration, that is entirely motivated by the
changing seasons. They head to Antarctica when the sun’s influence melts
the ice and kick-starts the extraordinary richness in the southern ocean
that creates the plankton that is fed on by the krill, and the krill
then, of course, feed the whales.

So it’s a global story, told through the eyes of three, we think, very
charismatic species.

GROSS: Definitely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, you have cameras in amazing places. For example, in the
beginning of the film we see the polar bears just at the end of their
hibernation, just as the sun has returned to the North Pole, and the
polar bears are emerging from underneath the ice to see the sun again.

How did you know when and where to have the cameras so you could
actually see that moment when the polar bears come out of hibernation?

Mr. MARK LINFIELD (Director, “Earth”): Well, if you really know your
polar bears, then there are certain telltale signs that give away the
presence of a den, and in the case of these polar bears that were filmed
in Kong Karls Land in Northern Norway, part of an archipelago off
Northern Norway, there’s a tiny little dimple, tiny little dimple in the
snow, on a slope, with the slope having exactly the right degree of
slope-iness, and if you know what you’re looking for, that is an
absolute telltale sign.

Now, what the crew had to do was stake out that likely den site and wait
and wait and wait and hope that they were correct, and of course after a
couple of weeks of waiting in extremely cold temperatures, the mother
finally poked her nose out of the den. So you know, great field craft,

GROSS: You not only have to wait, you have to wait there with a camera
rolling on a piece of ice.

I mean, you know, the camera’s focused just on this ice waiting and
waiting and waiting and waiting for the bears to come out, hoping that
it’s focused on the right piece of ice at the right moment with the
camera on when the bear emerges.

Mr. LINFIELD: Well, what’s extremely sort of – in the case of the polar
bears, what’s lucky is that the mother polar bear will stick her nose
out, sniff around, put her nose back down and then stick it out again.

GROSS: A-ha, like a dress rehearsal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LINFIELD: So you’ve got a couple of moments in which to switch the
camera off. Because you’re right, of course. If you were literally
running the camera for two weeks, you’d run out of tapes and batteries.

GROSS: It’s a magnificent sight to see the polar bears emerge, like, you
know, the adults and the little children, the little cubs. Can you just
describe what it looks like?

Mr. FOTHERGILL: It’s a very special moment, really, because – and the
reason we spent so much time waiting for that very special moment is
that they’ve been born underneath the ice. The mother makes her den in
October, November, at the end of the autumn, gives birth in this den,
and you know, when they emerge in March, the cubs are about two months
old, and they literally – they come out, and their eyes are blinking
with the first bright sunlight of the Arctic spring, and they’re very

You know, it’s nice and warm and snug inside that den, and you know,
it’s minus-35. It’s very, very cold in March, and the mother is
desperately hungry. She hasn’t eaten for five months, since she went
into that den, and she’s very keen to get out onto the sea ice, to hunt
for seals.

She’s lost half her body weight, but the cubs, they don’t – they don’t
want to go anywhere. You know, they’ve got mum’s milk. They liked
staying in the den, and they play around on the slope, and it’s a
wonderfully intimate time. But eventually mother says, Come on, come on,
you’re not going to get any milk if you follow me, and after about 10
days of hanging around the den entrance, she persuades her two cubs out
onto the sea ice, which is a dangerous and frightening world for her but
also for her cubs.

GROSS: You follow the father bear, the father polar bear of this family,
as he sets out on the ice to find food, which means seals. The problem
is, and we’ve been hearing a lot about this, that with global warming
the ice is melting. The ice sheet is melting, and we see that
illustrated before our eyes with this polar bear, who – well, why don’t
you describe, Alistair, what happens to the polar bear.

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Well, what’s interesting about the polar bears is they
get about 90 percent of their food in a very, very limited window of
time, and this is the time in the spring when the sea ice is still not
melted away, and the seals are all giving birth to their pups.

Now, seals, because they’re air-breathing mammals, have to come to holes
in the ice, breathing holes, and that is where, for a very short period,
the polar bears can grab the seals.

As soon as the sea ice breaks up, as soon as the seal pups have the
strength and the age to swim away, it’s very hard for the polar bears to
catch their food.

And increasingly what’s happening with global warming is that that
winter sea ice is breaking up earlier and earlier, and that window of
opportunity, that limited time when they can hunt for their food, is
getting shorter and shorter, and you know, literally the world that they
live in, the ice that they walk on, is melting beneath their feet. And
you know, we would think that if sea ice in the Arctic reduces at its
present rate, it’s quite likely that the polar bear may be pretty well
extinct in the wild by 2030, 2040.

This is an animal that isn’t really hunted by anybody, that lives in a
wilderness area which is, you know, undisturbed by human populations. It
should be an animal that should be really thriving, and in many ways
until recently it was. But now because of global warming it’s in real

GROSS: And it’s such a magnificent animal. Why don’t you describe the
peril that this polar bear, this father polar bear, runs into in its
quest to find seals, to find food for its family.

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Well, the last thing it does in the summer, it – I mean,
one of the magic moments for me, and I was filming this actually, was I
was in a helicopter, high up, filming the male polar bear swimming out
in the open ocean.

And this is a world where traditionally we’d never been able to film
before because, you know, you can’t walk out there. There’s no ice to
walk on. You can’t bring in an ice-breaker because you’d disturb the
polar bear. But I was up there in a helicopter, looking down, and this
beautiful bear, you know, the world’s largest land carnivore, was
swimming, diving down.

The water was crystal clear. You could see it swimming underwater. It
looked beautiful, but you know, it’s a problem. You know, polar bears
are not designed for long periods of swimming, and finally our male
polar bear had to resort to attacking a colony of walrus.

When the ice melts, walrus haul out in large groups, and it’s a
desperate technique for polar bears because adult walrus are very big,
much bigger than their normal prey, and of course they’re armed with
those very impressive tusks, and our actual male was stabbed by a walrus
in its attempt to try and steal one of its pups and actually died. And
it’s a very strong and powerful moment in the film, I think.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guests are Mark Linfield and
Alastair Fothergill. They’re the directors of the new film “Earth,”
which follows the migration of the sun and the migration of animals
around the planet, and it’s a Disney film that has just opened.

Let’s take a short break here, and then we’ll talk some more about the
movie. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We’re talking about the new movie “Earth,” which follows the
migration of the sun and the sun’s affect on the migration of animals
around the planet, and you see a lot of magnificent animals during this

My guests are the directors of the film, Alastair Fothergill and Mark
Linfield, and they both have decades of experience filming animals in
the wild, mostly for various BBC movies and documentaries.

You know, you were filming something that I’m not sure people have seen
before, which is a polar bear swimming in the ocean, looking for food,
and you have this incredible view of it. So exactly where are you poised
in this helicopter? How far are you, and what kind of equipment do you
have that enables you to see in adequate detail what the polar bear is

Mr. FOTHERGILL: What’s amazing is we were basically a mile away from
that bear, and this was a remarkable new camera system called the
Cineflex, and what it effectively does is it carries a camera beneath
the helicopter, but very importantly and very sort of in breakthrough,
really, the lens on that camera is far more powerful than any lens that
we have been able to stabilize on a helicopter before.

And that means you can be a mile away from the animal you’re trying to
film and yet still get the close-ups you want without in any way
disturbing the animal. So the male polar bear had no idea that we were

And we used it many times. We used it to film a wolf hunt from the air.
Again, wolves are very shy animals, but we were able to film for the
first time a complete wolf hunt in that way. We used it to follow our
humpback whale mother and her calf through rough ocean waters. You’d
never be able to keep up in a boat.

And it was a – you know, it was one of the most important breakthroughs
for this movie, both in filming behavior but also in developing
wonderful, delivering wonderful cinemagraphic wide-angle images of the
scenery of our planet.

GROSS: You know, I’m thinking when the polar bear was swimming, looking
for land and for food, you had a much more expansive view than the polar
bear did, and you could see basically what he was in store for, that
there wasn’t – he wasn’t going to find land, and he wasn’t going to find
a place where he could get at seals.

What did it feel like knowing the kind – knowing basically that the
polar bear was doomed, which the polar bear didn’t know?

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Many people ask us that question. You know, why don’t
you get involved? Why don’t you – you know, some people say, Why don’t
you shoot a walrus to feed the polar bear? You know, when you get into
these situations where you see animals having a really hard time, can’t
you intervene?

And of course for us the first rule of wildlife filmmaking really is
never disturb, never intervene. It’s not our role. I mean, it’s
impractical, to be honest. I mean, you can’t go on shooting walruses for
polar bears, even if you’d want to. And you know, it’s a moral issue. We
just need to observe and show people nature as it is, both, you know,
the gentle side of nature and also the more tough and rough side of
nature as well.

GROSS: Well, also, say you were doing the film on the walruses, you
know, then you’d be really upset that the polar bear was coming to kill
the walrus.

Mr. FOTHERGILL: I think the thing is to put everything in the context,
you know. I mean, you know, a walrus has its pups. You know, the polar
bear is starving. We have a very powerful sequence of a cheetah catching
a gazelle, and you have to remember that, of course, that cheetah has
cubs to feed, and that’s the whole point about nature.

You need to – I think we were very, very keen to show it in its
trueness, true nature, and there are some harder scenes. There need to
be to give a true picture of the natural world.

GROSS: I mean, I like the way you capture what nature is really like,
and you know, the hunted and the hunter, but like after the polar bear
dies, I’m just wondering about this. The narrator, James Earl Jones,
says something to the effect – he’s talking about the baby cubs, the
polar bear cubs that survive, and he says, Their father’s brave spirit
will live on in their hearts, and I thought, Oh, that is so

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And I’m wondering what you thought about that, you know, in
trying to show nature in its full reality, how you react to that
perspective given by the narrator. And you probably wrote the copy, so…

Mr. LINFIELD: Well, it’s interesting, that, because I think an animal’s

character, an animal’s spirit, whatever you want to call it, it’s sort
of a shorthand for saying whatever the essence of the father is, it
continues on in the cubs. I mean, that’s the foundation of modern

I mean, there’s an element of it that’s true. Whether or not it’s a
brave spirit or a set of attributes that that father bear had that made
it what it was, those attributes do carry on in his offspring. You may
feel that that’s a slightly warm and fuzzy way of describing it, but

there is a certain scientific truth to it, if you actually break it

Mr. FOTHERGILL: I also think it’s important - you know, we’re making
this movie for a family audience, and - of every age group, and I think,
particularly for younger children, the death of the polar bear is quite
a hard sequence to see, and it’s at the very end of the movie. And yes,
I mean, the final – it’s true that, you know, the cubs survived, and
that’s a good-news story, and it’s a bit anthropomorphic. But to be
honest, that’s what people do anyway. That’s - the people who – they
want to think about animals in human terms, and I think it’s a happy way
to leave the cinema and, you know, a bit fuzzy, but you know, it’s all

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know, I was so, like, rooting for this polar bear to survive.
Like I said, it’s such a magnificent animal, and in the close credits –
I want to say I’d advise anybody who goes to see this movie, stay for
the close credits because there’s really interesting footage that you’ll
see during the close credits. So don’t leave.

But one of the things you see during the close credits is you see those
magnificent polar bears turning against the filmmakers. The filmmakers
have to kind of run and barricade themselves in, and it’s a really
interesting slap in the face because you’ve been identifying so much
with the polar bear during the movie, and then you realize you’re a
human and he’s a polar bear, and you’re two really different species.
And can you – I don’t know if either of you were there for that moment.

Mr. FOTHERGILL: We’ve been – we’ve both worked with polar bears. I mean,
the thing – polar bears are rather unique in that they’re one of the
very few animals that actually will attack and eat people.

Most animals, unless they’re actually threatened or disturbed, will
leave you well alone, but a nice warm human being on a cold winter day
in the Arctic is a pretty nice meal for a polar bear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FOTHERGILL: And you have to be very, very clever and know what
you’re doing. I mean, the location that we were fortunate enough to work
with our polar bears, Kong Karls Land, is very special because it has an
enormous density of polar bears, and the Norwegian government basically
closed it 25 years ago. They gave us special permission to go there.

But they said to us, you can only go there if you don’t use motorized
Skidoos, sledges, which you normally use so you can jump on them and get
away from the polar bear. And our camera team had to work on skis, and
it was pretty tricky.

And what you do is you use flares, and you use sort of firecrackers to
frighten away polar bears, and most of the time that works. Occasionally
people have to resort to a pistol to actually shoot a polar bear. That
never happened in the filming of “Earth,” and it’s actually - I’ve never
had to do it or any of my colleagues have never had to do it. But you do
always carry a pistol or a rifle for safety.

And the sequence you’re talking about was our chaps in their hut, where
they were sleeping at night, and these are male polar bears who have not
been allowed in the den by the females. They’re very, very hungry, and
as soon as you start cooking, they smell, and they come and say, mmm,
that smells nice.

GROSS: One of the technologies that you use in capturing the images of
animals is high-speed photography. What can you see with high-speed
photography that you couldn’t see otherwise?

Mr. LINFIELD: Well, you’ve almost answered the question in that the
beauty of high-speed photography is that you can see things that you
can’t see with the naked eye, and that’s why, you know, it’s such a
great new technique for us.

We took cameras that were really designed for use in laboratories. They
were used for exploding – you know, filming apples exploding in the face
of blitz, or crash-test dummies for part of improving car design. And we
took those cameras out into the wild to film things slowed down by 40
times, and when you slow something down for 40 times, for example, a
great white shark hitting a seal and leaping out of the water, you can
learn a lot about hunting technique and aspects of the shark’s behavior
that you couldn’t see with the naked eye.

There’s a fabulous sequence, we think, of a cheetah running down a
gazelle in slow motion, and just at the critical moment, as the cheetah
finally catches up with the gazelle, it uses a tiny claw on its sort of
wrist, specially designed to trip the gazelle up. And that’s very clear
to see in the shot, and it’s something that’s absolutely impossible to
see with the naked eye.

So this camera generally does, generally does give you just absolutely
new insights into the natural world.

GROSS: Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill will be back in the second
half of the show. They directed the new film “Earth,” which opened
today, Earth Day. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Alastair Fothergill
and Mark Linfield, the directors of the new film “Earth,” which opened
today to coincide with Earth Day. The film focuses on many plants and
animals but the film’s stars are migrating elephants and humpback whales
and a polar bear family emerging from hibernation. Its search for food
is made more treacherous by ice melts caused by global warming. Linfield

and Fothergill also collaborated on the TV series “Planet Earth” and
have each made nature documentaries for the BBC.

Mark Linfield, you worked very closely on this sequence about the
elephant migration to get, during the dry season, to water? Describe a
little bit what the elephants are up against in this migration.

Mr. LINFIELD: Yes, well, the elephants migrating across the Kalahari in
southern Africa, which is where we filmed them have to undertake really
quite an epic migration as you say driven by ultimately by thirst but
also hunger. And it’s a journey that takes them through extremely
inhospitable lands and I think that’s best illustrated in the movie by
an occasion where they’re crossing a particularly barren stretch of
ground - effectively desert (unintelligible).

And we were filming them from a helicopter – I recall the day when we
looked on the horizon and there was just this wall of dust heading
towards them and basically out of nowhere a sandstorm had blown up. And
the elephants had no idea what was coming. From our high vantage point
in the sky we could see what they were about to face. And these
elephants just disappeared into the sandstorm and from way above it was
just an incredible view unfolding beneath us, of these mother elephants
trying to nurse their calves trying to push them through the worst of
the storm.

Trying to keep motivating, trying to keep them going. And the whole
herd, which is sort of hunkering down and pulling together - and despite
this, despite the fact that all the elephants were pulling together and
the mothers were trying to take care of their calves, I remember when
the storm cleared, there was an incredibly sad scene of this one little
elephant walking off into the distance and it thought that it was just
falling slightly behind, and it was trying to walk faster and faster to
catch up with its mother.

And from where we were in the sky we could see that it was actually
heading in exactly the wrong direction. And we could see right out into
the open that, basically it was heading off into the middle of nowhere.
And I think that, that was one of the moments for me where you really
sense this idea of the animals battling the elements on our planet and
just a great sense of wilderness. And it was something that really we’ve
only been able to capture recently because of advances in technology and
the ability to film animal behavior from the air. I mean these sorts of
scenes just a few years ago would have been impossible to film.

GROSS: I’m assuming a few years ago you could’ve been in a helicopter
shooting, you know, filming the animals but the helicopter would have
been so noisy and disruptive the animals would have been reacting to the
helicopter as opposed to just behaving in their normal way.

Mr. LINFIELD: Well, that’s right we were using a new piece of equipment
called the Cineflex, which is effectively gyro-stabilized high
definition video camera that hangs in a ball beneath the helicopter. And
it’s so stabilized that we could film these elephants from a kilometer
away and get rock steady shots even in close up. And of course that has
two effects. The first is that, as you rightly say, we can be a long way
from the elephants and they have no idea, they’re being filmed.

Or certainly the noise level of the helicopter is now sufficiently low
that they’re not disturbed by it. But the real thing is the shots are so
steady that we can actually film animal behavior from the air. Now this
is revolutionary because even the couple of years ago the best you could
do was get a wobbly wide shot from a helicopter, but anything detailed
behavior-wise we had to film from the ground on a tripod.

And of course there’re many places you can’t get to from the ground,
equally there are many places where you can’t get close enough without
disturbing the animals and this new piece of equipment allowed us to
film, you know, behavior from the air in inaccessible places without
disturbing the animals, and that is absolutely revolutionary. And we can
– as a result of that - show people behavior that would never have been
possible in the past.

GROSS: There’s a lot of animal showdowns in the film and one of them is
during the elephant migration sequence when, you know, the elephants -
they’re hungry, they’re thirsty, you can see they’ve lost a lot of their
body weight because you’re starting to see like bones sticking out. And
then they’re attacked by some lions and could you describe where you and
the film crew were while shooting this confrontation.

Mr. LINFIELD: Yes, the film crew led by a great camerawoman Justine
Evans had staked out a water hole and of course that’s exactly what the
lions were doing too. The lions knew the elephants were going to come to
this water hole and very unusually for lions, this extremely large group
of specialist elephant hunters – and, of course, it takes a large group
to bring down even a medium size elephant, so this is one of the biggest
groups of lions in Africa, one of the biggest prides within Africa.

And to see them awaiting there for nightfall, because of course the
lions attack by night and there’s a simple reason for that, which is
lions have excellent night vision and elephants really have no better
vision at night than we do. In order to see them the camera team had an
infrared camera and infrared lights. Now when these lights are switched
on, no one can see them, not the crew, not the elephants and not the

But by looking down the eyepiece of the infrared camera, the camerawoman
Justine could see absolutely everything. Lions could see pretty well
because they got good night vision and the elephants were – were also
blind just like the crew who didn’t have the viewfinder. So we have this
extraordinary scene where lions are particularly actually trying to get
the calves but in doing so, absolutely terrifying the adult elephants
and chasing the elephants around the water hole.

And actually it’s one of the most dangerous things that we filmed for
“Earth,” because whilst many people might think that these lions could
leap into the back of the vehicle and take the camera crew, in fact,
they just don’t register a vehicle as being prey, you could say that
they’re not particularly bright, but - they just – they don’t recognize
the opportunity that’s in front of them. The real danger lies in the
fact that they are terrifying elephants.

And a terrified elephant is quite a formidable thing and many Land
Rovers in the past in Africa have been flattened by rampaging elephants
and that’s in the daytime. So of course you’ve got a crew sitting around
a water hole, with elephants rampaging past them terrified being chased
by lions. And the elephants don’t even know where the vehicle is, so
there’s a large element of luck required just not to get crushed.

GROSS: So did any of the camera crew get hurt by the elephants?

Mr. LINFIED: No, none of them. I’m pleased to say that, they were all
absolutely fine but quite shaken by, you know, what they saw. And this
was quite an interesting challenge for Alastair and I. We had to think
very carefully about what things to include in “Earth,” because we
didn’t want to shy away from the fact that animals eat and are eaten.
But at the same time we didn’t want to show any, what we felt was
gratuitous blood and violence because: A, we didn’t feel it’s
particularly interesting, you know, the interesting part is the strategy
of the hunt. It’s not seeing an animal torn apart in detail.

So we didn’t really see that that stuff was interesting. And furthermore
it was very important to us that we made a movie that we felt children
could see and that parents felt safe taking their children too. Because
there’s so much in “Earth” that the young children - and we felt so
passionately that we wanted young people to be able to see the movie,
that we discussed, you know, at great length where the line should be
drawn on these predation sequences. And, you know, generally the
strategy is interesting, the strategy of the predator is interesting,
the strategy of the prey to escape is interesting. But once you get to
the moment where the outcome is really self-evident we felt it was right
to cut the camera at that point.

GROSS: Well, for example, in the sequence where the lions are attacking
the elephants, you see a lion basically jump up and bite an elephant a
couple of times. So you don’t see the final kill, but you see elements
of the attack.

Mr. LINFIED: That’s precisely it. I mean, the lions mount the elephant
and very conveniently the elephant runs behind a bush where the lion
dispatch it. And you might say that’s a slightly Disney ending, you
know, you don’t, you don’t get to see the meat of it. You know, we would
say that was exactly the right point to cut because the interesting
part, the rare piece of behavior had been seen by that point and really
we have plenty of material of what followed - and I have to tell you the
rushes were - or the dailies as you call them - were quite hard to
stomach some of them. And we just saw really no, no benefit in showing
that to people.

GROSS: My guests are Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill, directors of
the new film “Earth” which opened today. We’ll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us my guests are Mark Linfield and
Alastair Fothergill. They’re the directors of the new film “Earth” which
is a new documentary that shows the migration of the sun and the
migration of animals across the world looking for food and for water.
One of the migrations that you film is the cranes flying over the
Himalayas. And I’m wondering what new technology allowed you to be up
there with them shooting them?

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Actually it wasn’t so much new technology but a lot of
local knowledge and a lot of determination. Those cranes are migrating
from the summer grounds in Mongolia over the Himalayas to the wintering
grounds in India. And they fly down the deepest valley in the world -
it’s Kali Gandaki valley. And we actually had two different camera crews
that climbed up either side of that valley, a director with each of the
camera teams and the satellite phone. And, literally, they would have a
storyboard of the shots they wanted to get.

And every morning - or every evening they’d radio up and discuss what
they had got and slowly build the story. Because one the things we
wanted to do is to develop really emotion engaging stories throughout
the movie “Earth” and that involves showing, in the case of the cranes,
they’re failure. You know, many days they’d try and make it across the
mountains only to be frustrated by the extraordinarily strong updrafts
and winds that built up during the day in the Himalayas. And you only
really appreciate their achievement if you’ve seen them fail a number of

So just like in any movie, you know, that there is a script that is
designed and written and shot to show the whole story and the whole
challenge that these animals face.

GROSS: You know, as I was watching the film and particularly as I neared
the end I was thinking, you know, it’s such an existential film in some
ways about, you know, animals in the cycle of, you know, looking for
food, finding food and then having to start all over again. Migrating
from the winter place to the summer place then having to go back to the
winter place and start all over again. And it’s beautiful but it’s also
in an existential way there’s a, this is the wrong word probably, but a
pointlessness to life, if you see what I’m saying. You know, because
it’s just this - it’s a beautiful cycle that will be repeated but you
could also see it as like a pointless cycle that will be repeated.

But anyways, as I was trying to, to focus my thoughts on this and to and
figure out what I was thinking, when the ending did happen, the ending
is the narrator, James Earl Jones, basically saying, this is a
paraphrase: Yes, life is full of harsh realities but sometimes it’s just
paradise. And then we see a kind of collage of some of the more
beautiful animal moments from the film. And I read that the British
version of the movie has a different ending. So can you talk to me about
the two different endings and the two different things those endings
represent to you?

Mr. FOTHERGILL: The two endings are slightly different. The European
version after the death of the male polar bear we have the two cubs
fully grown and surviving. Because we wanted to say that, you know,
although the dad died the cubs did survive. It was a happy ending.
Disney decided they wanted a slightly happier ending to the whole movie.
They wanted it to - they really wanted people to walk out of the cinema
very elated and decided that they wanted to sort of celebrate, you know,
everything coming full circle.

They wanted to show the elephants arriving at the water, they want to
show the humpback whales completing their journey. And, you know, Disney
know their audience very, very well. And we respected them. They were
wonderful and are wonderful partners to work with. And, you know, you
could argue it’s a bit of a sort of classic happy ending but, I don’t
know, people like to go to a cinema with happy endings.

GROSS: But another difference between the American and British versions
of “Earth” is that Patrick Stewart narrates the British version and
James Earl Jones in the American version. Why are there two different

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Well, Disney chose James Earl Jones. But we were very,
very delighted with their choice. I mean, I think that the American
audience like to hear an American voice and what better voice than James
Earl Jones. You know, it’s an epic movie and he has an epic voice. He
has a voice that reflects the scale and ambition of the project. So
we’re delighted with James’s voice and I’m very pleased he agreed to
narrate the movie for us.

GROSS: Now you’ve talked about how you used helicopters and new camera
technology so that you could be about a mile away from - a mile like up
in the air from the animals that you were filming. And they wouldn’t
know you were there. So you wouldn’t - you get great shots without
affecting their behavior. But in the close credit sequence when we see
part of what the cinematographers are actually doing to get their shots,
there is a couple of cinematographers who go up in basically a hot air
balloon. It kind of look likes a scene from the end of the “Wizard of
Oz” where…


GROSS: …you know, the Wizard and Dorothy are taken off in this balloon
and I’m wondering with all of the high tech stuff, the planes and the
cameras that you have, how come two guys are in a hot air balloon?

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Yeah that was very observant of you. It’s actually
strikingly low tech, isn’t it?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FOTHERGILL: Well, I mean, another good reason for that. And the
object of the filming that day was actually Baobab trees. We were trying
to film Baobab trees in Madagascar and for all the technology that you
can put on a helicopter, one of the thing you can’t do is film very low
to forest or in fact very low to anything that you don’t want to get
blown about by the down draft.

Now the great thing about a balloon is that you can drift very quietly,
in between trees, very low, without any disturbance to the footage
around your – actually even to animals. On occasion, you can film
animals and trees as you drift past in a hot air balloon very, very
close to them. I have to say one of the areas where the hot air balloon
isn’t better than a helicopter is in terms of control. And despite what
our French balloon pilot told us, he is not especially good at
controlling the balloon when there’s any kind of wind about and I think
the clips at the end of the movie that you talk about illustrate that in
quite an amusing fashion.

GROSS: It would smash into a tree. I mean its really scary looking.


GROSS: You both work with David Attenborough who is the kind of master
of wildlife films. And who’ve done a lot of BBC documentaries over the
years. Could one of you share one thing that you learned from him that
you find essential to your work now?

Mr. LINFIELD: David’s contribution to our work is so fundamental. I mean
we grew up watching his early zoo quest films. I remember when “Life on
Earth” came out, his big evolutionary series, I was just leaving school
and I had to watch every episode. It was like the most gripping drama
documentary I’d ever, you know, drama I’d ever watched. And then to work
with him has been a complete inspiration. I mean, he is - I mean first
of all, he is as nice a man in reality as he comes overall on the

And you can’t say that about all TV personalities, I have to say. But
also he is very demanding. He is very demanding of the professional
standards that he himself adheres to and he is an extraordinarily
powerful communicator. People just think that, you know, he just turns
up and says his lines. That’s not the case at all. He has very, very
evolved from the very beginning on the concept of his series. He writes
the script for his series. We worked with him on the words he says - you
know, he is an inspirational man to work with.

GROSS: So as you spent so much time in the wild shooting animals. Do you
have pets to go home to?

Mr. LINFIELD: Yeah. I have a cat. I’ve to say Alas is not very happy
about that because my cat eats birds and Alas is extremely keen on

Mr. FOTHERGILL: I love birds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LINFIELD: But - no, I like as many animals in my life as possible
and I’m very fond of my cat.

GROSS: Do you think…

Mr. LINFIELD: (Unintelligible)

GROSS: Do you see your cat differently because you see so many like
lions and cheetahs and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LINFIELD: No I see my cat for the – the – awful little predator that
it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LINFIELD: …but I – I must say, I probably - I’m in complete denial.
I’ve – I mistakenly think that – think that he recognizes me and loves
me. I’m absolutely - I’m sure he doesn’t. But no, he is part of the
natural world just like all of us and he is a ruthless little predator.

Mr. FOTHERGILL: And I have a couple Jack Russell dogs and my boys have
hamsters, Siberian hamsters which they love and they’re good pets.
They’re good fun.

GROSS: Alright. Well, thank you both so much and congratulations on the

Mr. LINFIELD: Thank you very much for the nice (unintelligible) such a
nice chat.

GROSS: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield directed the new film
“Earth” which open today, Earth Day. You can watch clips from the movie
“Earth” on our Web site Coming up music with a dark
sensibility. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the new CD by pianist
Ran Blake. This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Ran Blake: Ghosts In The Piano


Pianist Ran Blake was born in Massachusetts and raised in Connecticut
and he starred for decades at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Jazz
critic Kevin Whitehead says Blake’s dark sensibility is New England
through and through. Even if one of his key inspirations comes from

(Soundbite of song, “You Are My Sunshine”)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Ran Blake makes even "You Are My Sunshine" sound
fraught with anxiety: how will he cope if they do take his sunshine
away? The grainy, blurry portrait of Blake on the cover of his album,
"Driftwoods," looks like spirit photography: the pianist as ghostly
presence. His playing can be spooky, too. With his precise touch and
subtle use of foot pedals, he’ll foreground some notes and place others
in a murky background, like a menacing cloud on the horizon.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Ran Blake loves Hollywood films noir, with its exaggerated
shadows and air of doom — that feeling of being trapped underwater. On
his new album, even a tune associated with Fred Astaire sounds sinister.
Blake’s two versions of "Dancing in the Dark" suggest not gliding across
a soundstage with Cyd Charisse, but finding out that those threatening
calls are coming from inside the house.

(Soundbite of song, "Dancing in the Dark")

WHITEHEAD: No pianist sets a mood better than Blake, and he loves tunes
that carry their own baggage. On “Driftwoods,” he plays Quincy Jones’
theme from “The Pawnbroker.” Billie Holiday’s downer ballad “No More”
and her dirge about lynching, “Strange Fruit,” all radically
transformed. Hank Williams himself might not have recognized his song
“Lost Highway.”

(Soundbite of song, “Lost Highway”)

WHITEHEAD: You’d want to look elsewhere for bouncy tempos and a happy
vibe. But lots of pianists give you those. Ran Blake is special,
combining influences that don’t quite fit. Bill Evans’ gauzy harmonies
meet Thelonious Monk’s stubborn pace and percussive hammering. Blake
peppers his surreal improvisations with blues and gospel licks; he loves
those African-American musics for the deep feeling interpreters bring to

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Ran Blake’s music is about more than just the notes. It
always has some deeper resonance. And yet he makes you acutely aware of
the piano itself, all the shouts and whispers it’s capable of. The
paradox is that if you want to play music that transcends the instrument
that conveys it, it helps to know the mechanism inside out. On
“Driftwoods,” Ran Blake finds his ghosts in the machine.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is currently on leave from teaching at the
University of Kansas. And he is a jazz columnist for He
reviewed “Driftwoods,” the new album by pianist Ran Blake on the
Tompkins Square label.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site, I’m Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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