In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight the struggles of local wildlife as animals try to cope with climate change that threatens their existence.
To accompany the show, Netflix and the wildlife production company Silverback Films worked in tandem with the World Wildlife Fund to create an interactive website where viewers can watch added content and discover ways to help the cause of environmentalism.
The pricy project was filmed over four years in 50 countries, capturing tens of thousands of hours of footage in roughly 3,500 filming days from 600 photographers and filmmakers using some of the world’s most technologically advanced camera systems. Out of that massive crew, about a dozen made up the core group of Silverback’s go-to camera operators. Those were the individuals who hunkered down sometimes for days in one spot in order to get the shots intended to move audiences to action.
Keith Scholey, co-executive producer along with Alastair Fothergill and the heads of Silverback, compares the best lensers to sports stars. “Like in [soccer], you know who the top dozen wildlife camera operators are, and we only selected the A-listers. We didn’t have to persuade [Netflix] that these are the people to use, because everyone wants to have the rock stars of our industry.”
Among this cream of the crop is Sophie Darlington, a cinematographer who cut her teeth in wildlife filmmaking with Hugo van Lawick, Jane Goodall’s cameraman as she undertook her groundbreaking research with chimpanzees in Tanzania in the 1960s. Darlington has worked with both Disney Nature and the BBC Natural History Unit, and says she finds herself most exhilarated when hiding in a blind for 27 hours with a frozen cucumber sandwich in 20-degree weather waiting for the perfect shot. Her work appears several segments of “Our Planet.”
“The luxury about having done this for so many years is that people get to know what your thing is,” says Darlington. Her sequences for “Our Planet” include startling footage of a wildebeest and its calf, pelicans in Australia’s Lake Eyre region, lions and elephants in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, and the sandhill cranes of Nebraska’s Platte River basin.
A shot of those cranes closes the seventh episode. “There’s a sudden invasion of these incredible migrants on an epic journey,” says Darlington, who shot the birds with a long lens. “And they find this cinched waistband of 17-mile stretch on the Platte River where 500,000 of them land to refuel and recuperate. It’s an amazing thing, but it’s so brief.”