It’s been 7 years since legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough presented Planet Earth II.
Across the 5 years it took to film the series, a pandemic struck the human world, triggering all kinds of ramifications upon the animal kingdom. While much of that was covered in the documentary The Year the Earth Changed, it also led to key changes for the BBC Natural History unit.
Of 143 shoots, 50 were conducted remotely -some of which led to unexpected stories.
“We learned new ways of working with internationally based local crews which reduced our carbon footprint. But it also meant that we were working with first class talent in different places,” said series producer Matt Brandon.
“(Aussie director) Abi Lees had directed an amazing sequence in the Forests episode in Borneo all the way from London, all via smartphone. It is the most exceptional sequence.”
“In Borneo were these Oriental Pied Hornbills, which we think will be a key sequence in Forests,” said Abi Lees. “But what was amazing about this was that we filmed it over two years in six different shoots. There are these nesting birds that go inside a tree hollow and the female lays her eggs in there, but before she does that she muddies herself in.”
“She imprisons herself inside this hollow and she can’t get out. She takes out her flight feathers and she stays in there for at least two months,” added Brandon.
Lees continued, “It was almost like a locked-down lifestyle for her living inside this nest. And the only way we could do that is through this amazing Hornbill society and these camera people that worked there. We actually installed these cameras two months before they went inside the nest, to make sure that we weren’t disturbing anything.
“We were just making sure that that bird was totally okay and we were able to get this footage of this amazing intimate relationship between the male and the female Oriental Pied Hornbill.
“Coronavirus kind of helped, because we wouldn’t be able to mount six sheets over two years. That’s just insane. “
When it comes to mounting the Planet Earth brand there are key storytelling elements for which it has become famous.
“You’ve got to be sure that it’s got all those elements of relatability, A-list characters effectively, which you have to cast. You need ‘box office favourites to be your central characters,” Brandon explains.
And then there is Sir David, who at 97 is still its most priceless attribute.
“It wouldn’t be Planet Earth without Sir David,” he continues.
“Sir David is exceptional. Having him involved this series is tangible …. the way he writes, the way his narration works. He must be the best broadcaster on the planet.”
“He’s absolutely brilliant,” Abi agrees. “We all love working with him. He’s just so professional, but just really brings something extra to it. It’s not just his voice. We’re all fangirls here of David.”
Attenborough no longer travels with the crews, but is seen in the first episode, Coasts, as well as Episodes 7 and 8.
“The 7th programme is called Humans and it’s a beautiful blue chip programme. We felt it was very important to include the human world, which is, to all intents and purposes, the newest habitat on the planet. We are living closer and closer to animals and that’s the story that we’re telling in that episode,” Brandon continues.
“One thing we really wanted to do in this series was to talk about what’s going on, but potential solutions to problems that humans have created.”
“Planet Earth II had a Cities episode. But we thought this would be called Humans, because actually, the reach of humans is far beyond cities,” adds Lees.
“Our final programme, is a slightly different programme and it focuses on the incredible people around the world who are doing unbelievable things to save wildlife and to protect ecosystems for the future. Sir David’s in that as well,” Brandon confirms.
Australia also features in several episodes with turtles on Raine Island, which Sir David had profiled 66 years earlier. Also featuring are bowerbirds, gold-shouldered parrots, and tawny frogmouths.
And while Planet Earth III carries warnings of a planet impacted by climate change, there is also cause for optimism.
“It’s a positive spin,” Brandon suggests. “Sir David is saying, there’s great hope, because we’re ingenious. We have the solutions, it’s just that we need to put a lot of them into action. That is an issue for this generation and the next I would say, but it’s something that we can manage.
“The prism through which we look at the entire series is that humanity has had an impact that can be felt across the planet, in every habitat, and by all of the creatures that we share those habitats with.”
Planet Earth III screens 8:40pm Sunday and continues 7:30pm Monday on Nine.