Thursday, July 28, 2005

Working with Orangutans

Orangutans are not all sweet and nice. Most of the babies are... the problem is that when you're filming and there are forty babies around you - the nice ones will be contemplating deep thoughts by themselves, or playing with each other, or lazing in a swing, or snoring flat out on their backs. The one in ten that aren't so chilled out will wait till your back is turned and come and bite you on the bum, or the ankle, or the knee or your big toe. It bloody hurts. When one of them grabs hold of your clothes you can expect a 10 minute tug of war before you're free. Of course this kind of behaviour is reserved for visitors - the orangs are fully aware they can't get away with this with their babysitters.

Evie, the director, getting to know one of the characters.
photograph courtesy of Sean White

If you are lucky enough to be approached by one of the more friendly babies then you have a very different experience., and nothnig beats it. As time goes by you recogise the individuals that are out to get you and learn to run when you see them coming. I'm sure we looked ridiculous as we threw our cameras and tripod over the shoulder and ran for it when a small ball of orange hair trundled towards us, but they have sharp teeth, and they'll climb you like you're a tree. The DVD extras for the documentary may well come packed with wobbly shots as the camera is hoisted up quickly in the face of a charging minature ape, or wrestled from the grip of an overinterested baby.

Nick, the producer, getting to know one of the characters.
photograph courtesy of Sean White

Photographing orangutans is fun because they love looking into the lens. Its not like normal wildlife photography. You are working with a self-consious subject who shows a huge amount of interest in what you are doing. Sometimes there's a bit too much interest and the orangutans volunteer themselves as camera assistants. We had help with focus pulling, panning and in the grip department. Unsurprisingly the results weren't great, but at least nothing was broken.

Trying to cope with increasing involement in the filming process.
photograph courtesy of Sean White

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