What inspired you to write Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom?

I was dead-set on writing an insider’s account of something, and this is the industry I’ve been in for the last 25 years, so it was pretty much my only option.


Alright, but why did you think anyone else would be interested in reading about wildlife films?

We have all seen these programs – whether National Geographic documentaries, March of the Penguins or Shark Week – but very few people know how the films are actually made. I’ve spent my career as a film producer collecting stories, experiences, and opinions about the realities of nature filmmaking.


And have you ever written a book before?

Let me just say: Shooting in the Wild is full of beautiful photos.  As to my writing ability, you’ll have to be the judge of that.


In this interviewer’s humble opinion, the writing is truly exceptional.

Thank you very much. I’ll take that for what it’s worth.


Your book has a number of stories about working with celebrities. Which is easier: making movies with animals or making movies with Hollywood stars?

One of the toughest things about filming wild animals is getting all the cameras set up and getting everything ready to go, and then having to wait forever for them to show up. So, in that sense, it’s very similar to working with celebrities.


The animals probably also have fewer wardrobe issues.

That’s true. What’s fashionable isn’t always the best clothing option for filming in the African desert. But in reality, celebrity hosts can be essential for attracting viewers to wildlife films.


So what makes a good wildlife film?

It should be as dull and boring as possible. No, actually I think part of what has made nature programming so successful in recent years is that filmmakers understand the importance of entertaining the audience. While wildlife films need to educate the viewers, they can’t afford to make viewers feel like they’re back in school. They have to draw in viewers with stunning images, compelling drama, humor, and, yes, celebrity hosts.


So is this recent success a good thing?

It’s a great thing that so many people are interested in learning about animals and the environment. The problem is that too many shows have completely given up on trying to educate at all. These shows are built on graphic footage of feeding frenzies and bear attacks. Why tell the truth when depicting animals as man-killing monsters gets higher ratings?


So you would rather we see them depicted as warm and cuddly?

Not at all. The tragic death of Timothy Treadwell shows what can happen if we do anthropomorphize and get too close to wild animals. We can’t pretend that animals don’t fight and kill, but this is only one small part of their lives. It’s important for nature shows to entertain, but it is wholly irresponsible to misinform the audience.


What would you like readers to come away from your book with?

I hope that they can look at wildlife films with a more critical eye. I hope they gain an appreciation for how difficult it is to make these films and also how important it is that the films be made in the right way.


Anything else?

I hope they laugh. I hope they get caught up in the adventurous stories of working with wild animals in the world’s most remote locations. I hope the book changes how they look at the world. And, if that’s asking for too much, I hope they at least enjoy the pictures.

There’s a well-known episode of the old “Twilight Zone” series where a book-loving Burgess Meredith sequesters himself in a bank vault so he can enjoy an uninterrupted reading session during his lunch break.  He emerges from the vault to find that while safely underground, nuclear Armageddon killed off the rest of the world, leaving him as the last homo sapiens on the planet.  He finds this a positively delightful result and proceeds forthwith to the library, where he eagerly stacks all the books he plans to read.


Any poems memorized?

A few. Dickinson: My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun, etc. Blake: Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright, etc.

What the hammer? What the chain? / In what furnace was thy brain?

Exactly. Blake.

Blake—he came to Ginsberg in a vision. And then to Patti Smith. He came for you?

No, never—maybe I never believed enough, though his poems are alive, to me. Breathing, feeling things. Same with Dickinson. For I have but the power to kill, / Without—the power to die—

Dickinson never left her room.

Yet out her window soldiers came limping home, bandages around their heads. Dickinson was a war poet, who never left her room. I think she’s like many of us now, who only watch our wars on television, for a few moments, before turning the channel.

E!

Exactly. Blake. Dickinson. E!

Your first memoir was about homelessness, and now you’ve written a book about state-sanctioned torture. Both books, formally, seem precariously held together, yet they are of a piece. Who is your architect?

Melville for the Another Bullshit Night in Suck City—the form is taken from Moby Dick. The Ticking is the Bomb was a DIY project, loosely based on the structure of a galaxy, held together by invisible tensions —I saw photograph of a galaxy in an old National Geographic. The third memoir will be either a triptych, or more like a jellyfish, which I also saw in a National Geographic.

Third memoir? A trilogy?

Trifecta. Hat trick. Holy trinity. Third rail. Third leg. Third wheel. It always comes in threes.

In an interview I read somewhere you said that if you feel good about what you’re writing it usually turns out to be worthless. Does this mean one should feel bad about their writing? If so, is there a way to achieve that golden bad feeling without actually feeling bad?

Drugs, but they can be wildly unpredictable. Or wildly predictable. That’s it: life is wildly unpredictable, drugs are always the same, it’s just we do unpredictable things when we use them. Or we do predictable cruel and dumb things when we do them.

You have been described in a review of The Ticking is the Bomb as having a grossly irresponsible lifestyle.

Ah yes, that review, which, yes, does hover in my consciousness, daily, unbidden.

So you are not denying the allegation? Or rather, the reading?

Well, any decent work of art is really a Rorshach test. Just like the poems you chose to memorize become a part of your body, and end up becoming you.

And what shoulder and what art, / Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat, / What dread hand? and what dread feet?