Chadden, you grew up in North Queensland, Australia. Did Australian nature and wildlife affect your decision to become a marine biologist?
Growing up in the lush tropics of North Queensland had a huge impact on my life-long passion for nature. Rainforest and wildlife were all around us growing up, plants would grow so quickly the jungle would come through the kitchen window. And with the Great Barrier Reef just off shore, our school holidays were spent snorkeling and scuba-diving. The colors and spectacular variety of life on the reef made it the most magical world I’d ever seen and as a student I was desperate to learn more about it.
You have worked on such hits as Planet Earth II, Frozen Planet and Wild Arabia. When did you decide to “jump” from your academic work to become a producer at the BBC Natural History Unit?
When I was studying gelada baboons in Ethiopia for my PhD a number of film crews visited my field site to make films about my research project and my monkeys. I’d never thought of a career in media before that, but I soon realized the power television had to reach and move huge numbers of people in positive ways. My PhD was probably read by 4 people but the early films I made reached millions of viewers. It became clear to me that if I wanted to save the wildlife I was studying then media, and especially television, would be the most powerful tool.
You have worked with Sir David Attenborough on Frozen Planet and Planet Earth II, and now on the newest project Seven Worlds, One Planet. What are the most important lessons you learned from arguably the most recognizable face of natural history content?
Working with Sir David Attenborough is a humbling experience. Even at 93 years of age, he still has a wonderful childlike curiosity about the world which is inspiring. He wants people to believe the words he’s saying when they hear them. Watching him over the years has taught a lot of us in the wildlife filmmaking industry about making our message to our viewers as true as possible.
Could you share more about your latest project Seven Worlds, One Planet?
Seven Worlds, One Planet is one of the most ambitious series we have ever tried to make at the BBC. To give viewers a thorough journey across all 7 continents we’ve had to cover every square inch of land on earth. We’ve tried hard to focus on new stories. Unusual and fascinating animals rarely seen before, their extraordinary survival techniques and what that can tell us about the different challenges of living on each continent. We also want to showcase the spectacular landscapes, weather systems and environmental issues of each continent. So, the series certainly feels ‘epic’ in its scope. Over the course of 3 years a core team of about 30 crew members ventured to all corners of the globe to bring back the most spectacular wildlife footage on earth.
How does this series differ from other similar BBC productions like Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, etc.?
In previous series we have focused on animal behavior quite intensely, sometimes I feel missing the bigger picture. But in Seven Worlds, One Planet, by exploring one entire continent per episode, we’ve been able to look at how the geology and weather of each continent underpin the animal’s behavior. So, we’re giving the animal ‘action’ a broader context which I think makes it even more fascinating. For example, how does the Andes mountains affect the animals in the Amazon rainforest, or how does the ocean currents circling Antarctica affect the penguins living there? Advances in the use of drones have also, for the first time, really enabled us to film intimate and spectacular wildlife moments that were never possible before this series.
You are producer of the South America episode - the most species rich continent on Earth. What were the biggest challenges for you and your team during production of the episode?
South America is so rich with wildlife that one of our first challenges was deciding which stories to leave out! Potentially the most dangerous shoot was to film Angel Falls in Venezuela. The highest single-drop waterfall in the world, we knew the only way we could show it properly was to film it from a helicopter. We couldn’t fly in through the capital city Caracas but had to drive overland from a far corner of Brazil. We arrived at the end of the wet season, so the mountains were covered in swirling clouds, making it dangerous for flying the helicopter. We had to pack survival supplies in the helicopter (sleeping bags, emergency food, etc.) in case we got stuck in sudden clouds and had to make an emergency landing on top of one of the flat-topped mountains.
What is the role of big productions like Seven Worlds, One Planet? Are they primarily entertainment projects? What are the main messages that you try to convey to international viewers in these times of climate crisis?
A global ‘blockbuster’ series like Seven Worlds, One Planet has a unique responsibility to educate people about what is really going in the natural world, the good and the bad. But for us filmmakers it’s a very tricky balance to get right. The majority of viewers come to big glossy nature documentaries for escapism and entertainment. If we filled every minute of every episode with stories of climate change disaster, palm-oil deforestation or over-fishing we would lose most of our viewers. So, it’s a matter of attracting viewers with awe and wonder for the natural world and then finding interesting and captivating ways to explore environmental issues. We’re trying to make viewers care without paralyzing them with despair.