Producing nature with Hugh Pearson

hugh pearsonWildlife producer Hugh Pearson has worked on award-winning BBC nature programmes such as The Blue Planet, Big Cat Diary and Nature's Great Events. Most recently, he produced two episodes of the acclaimed Africa. He's currently working at Silverback Films on a major new landmark nature series, The Hunt, for the BBC.

 

How did you become a wildlife producer?

I got a degree in marine biology at Plymouth Polytechnic and then completed an MSc in science communication at Imperial College, London. After getting work experience at the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol, I made some contacts and eventually got some volunteering and running work. This was followed by lots of short term contract work as a researcher. This led to becoming an assistant producer and then a producer.

 

What are the main challenges of your role?

There are two main challenges. The first is coming up with new stories - or new ways of telling stories and sequences. The second is finding an overall arc for each story - something that says something about the subject matter you're trying to tell and keeping the audience engaged with a strong narrative drive.

 

What were the main challenges you faced while filming Africa?

The main challenges were initially finding new stories. It took about six months of research before we started to find original stories, because initially we were only coming across the ones that had been told before.

Logistically, on the ground things can also be a challenge. Sometimes you're really out a limb in very remote places with no electricity, no running water, struggling to get fuel - and you're trying to set up what at times is quite a complex, logistical shoot with a lot of equipment and crew.

 

What's your most enjoyable job you've worked on?

They're all enjoyable for different reasons. I'm fortunate as I enjoy my job and definitely the best part of it is actually being out on location, although that probably only represents about 20% of most my time. Most of my time, like most TV people, I'm sat at a desk on the phone and writing emails.

I worked on a series called Nature's Great Events [which first aired on BBC One in 2009 - Hugh produced two episodes: The Great Tide and The Great Feast]. Knowing the challenges both editorially, logistically and financially, making those two shows I was particularly proud of them.

 

How is your job changing?

It's changing mostly for the good. New technology - especially new camera technology, is enabling us to film things and reveal things we haven't done before. We filmed the rhinos [for Africa] with a new built camera [Starlight camera], and we actually had to delay the shoot by a year because the camera wasn't ready.

The newer, more light sensitive cameras such as the 4K cameras, are definitely helping us - it's making life more complicated, but it's worth it for what it will reveal.

 

What key skills do you need to become a wildlife producer?

Knowledge of the natural world is a key skill - you have to know how the natural world ticks and how animals work, so that you can get into their world and speak to people and understand how to try and film things. This is because sometimes you're working in the extreme and remote climates and having that knowledge certainly helps.

A passion for animals and telling stories about the natural world is another key skill. Resilience, persistence and experience are also vital.

Communication is key; be