Bertie Gregory is back with a new eye-poppingly exciting series, Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory. Armed with leading-edge film technology, 29-year-old National Geographic explorer Bertie Gregory takes viewers along on his journeys to capture real-life animal stories in some of the harshest environments on our planet.
Gregory a 28 British wildlife filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer. His career began when a childhood obsession with nature led to winning the title of ‘Youth Outdoor Photographer Of The Year.’ After graduating with a degree in Zoology from the University of Bristol in 2014, he began assisting legendary National Geographic Magazine photographer Steve Winter. He has since produced and hosted 5 projects for National Geographic (‘Leopards at the Door’, ‘Jaguar Vs Croc’, ‘Wild_Life’, ‘Resurrection Island’ and ’The Big Freeze’). ‘Resurrection Island’ won “Best Television Host” at the 2019 Jackson Wild Awards – nature film’s equivalent of the Oscars. Alongside his projects for National Geographic, Bertie films for the landmark BBC David Attenborough Series, ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet,’ and recently became one of BAFTA’s youngest ever cinematography winners for this work.
Bertie Gregory set aside a few minutes to discuss his new series.
First of all, congratulations on Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory. Compelling stuff with some amazing images. What were your hopes prior to shooting the episodes and did you get what you wanted?
Thanks very much! Our goal for the wildlife footage in Epic Adventures was to rival the very best David Attenborough documentaries. We worked with some of the best wildlife cinematographers in the world and the latest technology to try to achieve this. That said, a key ingredient to wildlife filming success is luck and Mother Nature doesn’t read the script.
In the dolphin episode of Epic Adventures, our goal was to film a superpod of spinner dolphins, 5000 strong. Mother Nature had other ideas and we failed. However, she provided us with a different dolphin spectacle that was beyond my wildest dreams. I found myself in the middle of about 100 spotted dolphins and 500 human-sized yellow fin tuna all flying at 50mph into a baitball of fish. I should also mention that because of the show’s format, we are able to showcase our failure and I hope this provides an interesting insight for the viewers.
If you had to choose one or two moments from the series, which were your favorites? Personally, the whales falling asleep was pretty amazing for me.
Those pilot whales having a snooze in front of me was pretty special. I was certainly close to filling up my diving mask with tears!
For me though, our Antarctic episode was the stand out. A few years ago I got a glimpse of an almost- mythical wildlife event and had been itching to go back to see what was possible. During my return for Epic Adventures, we spent 6 weeks on a small ice-strengthened sailboat. Normally when filming in Antarctica, although the crossing from South America is rough, once you’ve arrived you tend to film in sheltered bays and channels. But the whale gathering we were searching for happens out in the open ocean away from shelter.
The other issue is the whale gatherings were thought to be biggest at the end of the Antarctic summer. As summer turns to Autumn in Antarctica, daylight become very short and the weather gets bad. We ended up having just 6 good filming days in our 6-week expedition.
Our hard work paid off as we managed to find the largest gathering of fin whales ever filmed. We captured it from the air with drones, from water level with a gyrostabilised camera system and underwater! Diving amongst this unbelievable wildlife gathering was certainly the most extraordinary animal encounter I’ve been fortunate to have.
You seem to leave a lot of room for serendipity while trying to locate your subjects. Can you discuss this? Have you always had this approach or was it something that has developed over the years?
When filming wildlife, you create a lot of your own luck by working with great people and spending the time. Time is your friend. There’s a famous saying in wildlife film that ‘the more you practice the luckier you get’. The format of this show is amazing for capitalising on random lucky wildlife events as we can literally film anything we bump into.
When I’ve been filming for the more traditional wildlife shows, we regularly go straight past random wildlife events as they don’t fit the story or we don’t have the right equipment. On Epic Adventures we take all the toys so no wildlife encounter is missed!
There must be a lot of planning during pre-production, especially once you’ve settled on the animals you will focus on. Can you discuss how Science factors into the planning of your shoots?
Science is key both in finding new stories before the shoot and then interpreting the animal behaviour during the shoots. I studied zoology at university so have a basic understanding of how wildlife science is conducted. This is important as there are many fascinating scientific papers that would be dull as ditch water on television!
On all the shoots for Epic Adventures we worked with scientists and wildlife experts. On the Antarctica whale gathering episode, we brought whale biologist Leigh Hickmott who used our expedition vessel to fire tags on to fin whales to study their migration patterns when leaving Antarctic waters for the very first time.
Technology also plays a big role in what you do. How have drones changed how you operate? What opportunities do they provide?
Yes, drones have revolutionised the way we film wildlife. Thanks to recent advances in technology, not only are they great tools for capturing big beautiful landscapes, increased battery life and stablised zoom lenses now allow me to capture animal behaviour like never before.
In the eagle episode of Epic Adventures, I flew drones above crowned eagles as they hunted a swarm of 10 million bats. It was truly extraordinary. I should mention that drones in the wrong hands are potentially very disturbing tools. I have spent 1000s of hours learning to fly around wildlife and always work with scientists to avoid animal disturbance.
Finally, you shoot all over the world, in extreme conditions and not-so-extreme. During your travels have you noticed any effects of climate change on the local environments or local wildlife?
Yes, everywhere we go, even in the wildest corners of our planet, we see the effects of humans. I love that in this show format, we can discuss these issues and set the amazing animal behaviour we’re showcasing within a bigger environmental context. While wildlife all over the world is in a bad way, there are some positive stories and we grab hold of these for this series.
In Antarctica, we captured the biggest gathering of fin whales ever filmed. Filming and studying such an enormous aggregation of Fin Whales in Antarctica, which were hunted to the verge of extinction during the twentieth century, is a very encouraging sign suggesting that their numbers are bouncing back following the ban on commercial whaling. Positive conservation stories are rare these days, and this is a dramatic example of nature’s resilience when given a chance to recover.
IMAGE CREDIT: NationalGeographic/Johnny Rogers for Disney+