Earth: One Amazing Day is the stunning, long-awaited sequel to the smash hit Earth, narrated by Robert Redford. To celebrate the film's release, producers Neil, Myles and Daniel share some incredible stories that happened during the shooting of the documentary. 

Rare Monkeys 

It’s rare these days to find animals that have never been filmed before but that’s exactly what we achieved in a remote corner of southern China. In a beautiful landscape of jungle-clad limestone towers, we came across the beautiful white-headed langur—rarer than a giant panda.

With a conical white “helmet”, the adults look like furry smurfs, while their babies are bright orange. It was wonderful to feature such charismatic new creatures in our film. They also suited our 24-hour story perfectly. Each evening they climb huge vertical cliffs to the safety of their “bedrooms”—small caves high up in the cliffs, where nighttime predators can't attack them. It was one of the most breathtakingly athletic journeys I’ve ever seen an animal take—and nail-bitingly tense for us to watch and film.

 

Penguin Island 

It often takes a long time to plan and film wildlife sequences, but few take as long as the penguins of Zavadovski Island, near Antarctica. It was a location that had been known about for many years. However, it’s so remote, and surrounded by such ferocious seas, that no film crew had previously had the time, resources or courage to attempt to reach it.

Just to get there takes over a week’s sailing from the Falkland Islands. Once there, the island has no beaches, just a steep rocky coastline beaten by huge waves. Taking advantage of a brief lull in the weather, the crew risked their lives to land. Their reward—they were now amongst the largest penguin colony on earth, well over a million chinstraps—a breath-taking sight. When the filming was finished, there was just one huge remaining challenge—how to get off the island and safely home!

 

Just like a panda 

When we arrived to scout the location for filming giant pandas in China, we were in for a surprise. In a small mountain hut there was a selection of “panda suits” which we each had to wear, apparently, so that any pandas we encountered would be fooled into thinking we were just another panda, not a person. But they were all small sizes and we were large men.

It was also winter and the mountains were deep in snow, so we all had thick jackets on. But the suits had to be worn so we struggled to squirm into them. Finally, looking much more like strange people squeezed into impossibly tight panda suits, rather than real pandas, we strolled out into the snow, in search of our subject.  A final bonus—the costumes had all been smeared with panda urine, so our pungent smell was definitely more realistic than our appearance!

—Neil Nightingale, Executive Producer

 

 

Mr. Zhang Wei

In the cold but beautiful wetlands of the Zhalong Reserve in Northern China, our camera crew met ranger Zhang Wei who was introduced to us as the “crane master”. An extremely quiet and reserved older gentleman, Mr. Zhang has spent his whole life in the area and grown up with this group of amazing red-crowned cranes, one of the most photogenic bird species on the planet. 

He knows them better than anyone. In the freezing pre-dawn hours, his guidance and knowledge helped the camera team stay calm as the critical few minutes of filming approached.

Often, capturing animal behavior isn’t so much about finding the animals but knowing what they’re going to do. Watching the birds roosting amongst the reedy wetlands, Mr. Zhang seemed to have some sort of telepathic ability to predict what the birds were thinking. At times he would whisper to us, “get ready” a few moments before the birds would launch or “it’s going to happen over there” and point to an area with no birds at all! But sure enough, when the birds took to the air, they would dive and then turn to fly exactly where he’d said they would.  His knowledge of these incredible animals allowed us to capture breathtaking images for the film.

 

Magical Music Moment 

Earth: One Amazing Day is a remarkable collaboration between two very different cultures. To create balance between the British and Chinese halves of the production, we worked with English composer Alex Heffes and Chinese soundtrack producer Roc Chen. Early meetings had me nervous as both seemed to have very different ways of working. 

 

 

"The first beautiful notes rang clear and within minutes you could tell that everyone was excited"

 

 

In China, film music is typically recorded in separate small instrumental groups and never by the entire orchestra at the same time. But Alex felt that having everyone perform together, as is normal in the West, would raise the energy and dynamics of the music in a way that could be wonderful. We weren’t sure it would work.

When we arrived in Beijing and walked onto the recording stage, over 100 musicians were gathered there waiting for us. The first few minutes were nerve-wracking as Alex addressed the orchestra in English and then Roc would translate. Alex tapped his conductor’s baton and there was a tense moment of silence. Then the first beautiful notes rang clear and within minutes you could tell that everyone was excited. The music soared, the performers were inspired and people from all over the film studio came to listen to what was a truly marvelous performance. 

—Myles Connolly, Supervising Producer

 

 

Impromptu Performance 

On one occasion, while carrying out visits to Chinese filming locations, the production team stopped for lunch at an enormous restaurant which was hosting a lavish wedding reception. Taken to a private room at the rear we couldn't help popping back out to look at the bride and groom. Our Chinese producer, Jane, after assuring us they'd be over the moon to come and toast with us on their happy day, invited them into our room. 

 

 

 

 "I dug deep and started singing my karaoke favourite, Van Morrison’s 'Brown Eyed Girl'"

 

 

We toasted and gave them our best wishes for a happy future. But before they returned to their wedding, Jane spoke to them and pointed at me. Then, with a massive grin, she told us that she had asked the bride and groom if we could honour them with a song and that I would like to be the one to sing it. I could see there was no way Jane was letting me squirm my way out of it. So, I dug deep and started singing my karaoke favourite, Van Morrison’s "Brown Eyed Girl". 

It was utter silence as I sang and my right knee was shaking badly but after getting through the first verse, the rest of the team all joined in for a brilliant chorus. I don't know if the bride had brown eyes, but I think they liked it because we had plenty more toasts!

 

Mayfly Miracle 

We spent two weeks in Hungary trying to film mayflies emerging on the Tisza river. Spending three years underwater as nymphs, they swim to the surface and emerge to live their entire adult lives in just a couple of hours.

We wanted to capture the spectacle of millions of these stunning mayflies emerging within minutes of each other in a small stretch of river. In theory, we should have had several opportunities to capture the spectacle. However, it turned out to be a very bad year for mayflies. After a single small emergence at the first location, there were no further swarms reported along the river, and we kept drawing blanks. 

In the end, we went to the last location, near the border with Slovakia; and waited. They always say that in wildlife filming, you get the shot on the last day; well, in this case, it was true. We actually got it on the last evening. I'll never forget being on the river surrounded by 5 million mayflies, with their stunning blue wings and the incredible whir of millions of soft wing beats. To top it off it, was the most beautiful golden sunlight. It made all the previous frustration worth it.

—Daniel Huertas, Wildlife Producer/Director

 

Earth: One Amazing Day opens in cinemas across the UK on October 20

 

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