Channel 4’s ‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’ was approaching its fourth series when Blast! engaged The Complete Camera Company to facilitate the fixed rig element of the filming. Following three successful series of the show, Blast! were keen to explore more user friendly equipment, also known as our smart-rig, in order to maximise on the output of content during filming. This also meant that the rigs could be deployed at speed, depending on which animals the production team wanted to film on each day.
The Complete Camera Company Director, Paul O’Connor, travelled to Chester Zoo with two members of crew to carry out an initial recce. The team at Blast! wanted to continue to film in this location, as it had done in previous series, because it had gained a loyal following from viewers. They were keen to explore the individual animals in more detail, so aimed to keep viewership high by revisiting animals the audience had grown to love and introducing new ones. It was important at this stage to reassure both the production team and the staff at Chester Zoo that The Complete Camera Company would prioritise the maintenance of the great relationship they had developed, while improving the quality of the recording and the work flow.
Following the recce, The Complete Camera Company committed to improving the work flow by using solid state drives, which increased the speed at which the media could be ingested and therefore reducing the turn around time of the content. The reliability and stability of this method would prove to be much lower risk in terms content storage.
At the beginning of April The CCC team went on a technical recce in order to establish the specific rig locations, which animals they would need to focus on and to confirm the camera numbers. 12 cameras were chosen, along with 15 atmospheric microphones and 4 personal microphones that would be used for various Zookeepers throughout the shoot. The gallery was established in the back of two roaming vans so that each enclosure could be followed easily.
The initial rig took place in April, with 3 members of crew over 2 days. One of the biggest challenges The CCC faced when filming The Secret Life of the Zoo was the necessity to continue to recce and re-rig during the shoot. It was vital that Blast! were able to tell a variety of stories over the series and given the sheer scale of the zoo that meant each area needed to be de-rigged and rigged elsewhere; many times and often at short notice. Each group of animals posed different complications with regards to rigging remote cameras and it was an exciting, fast-paced shoot that required quick thinking and problem solving in order to achieve production’s goals.
The Bat Cave was a particular challenge because of the conditions faced by the team rigging the location; it was obviously incredibly dark and there was no way of moving the bats into another area while work was taking place. The CCC rigged 2 movable infra-red cameras into the enclosure and were careful not to disturb the bats too much by working at speed. Although there was no way of avoiding the huge amount of guano on the bat cave floor while rigging the cables! The Rhino enclosure was also tricky to rig due to the limitations of where cameras and cables could be rigged. Even though they have poor sight, they are easily aggravated and incredibly curious. Any movement or colour will cause the rhinos to be inquisitive and their horns and size are obviously a hazard to both people and equipment. The Complete Camera Company had to strike the perfect balance, rigging the cameras far enough away from the Rhino’s horns and the public, but close enough to get the shots required. Camouflage netting and tarps were used to hide various equipment in order to encourage the animals and zookeepers to continue with their day as normal.
The Complete Camera Company rigged 3 specifically designed outdoor housings during filming, for use in the Meerkat enclosure and the Speckled Bear pen. These housings are vandal proof and can therefore protect the cameras from the curiosity of the animals, but more importantly the animals from the cameras themselves.
The final result was a 16 Episode series of 60 minute programmes exploring the lives of a wide variety of endangered, unusual and more familiar animals. The series proved to be a particular hit with families, offering an educational and heart-warming insight into the lives of the animals and those that care for them. A particular highlight was the opening episode in which a critically endangered Eastern Black Rhino, named Kitani, gave birth. Audiences followed the development of new animal relationships, learnt about rare breeds and their families and welcomed lots of new arrivals. The CCC thoroughly enjoyed joining this team and would like to thank Chester Zoo for continuing to provide the access to these incredible creatures.
Facts & Figures
Facts & Figures
Filmed: April – August 2017
Aired: Winter 2017/2018
Channel: Channel 4
Location: Chester Zoo
Viewers: 2.1 Million
“The Secret Life of the Zoo makes for compelling and cockle-warming viewing.”
“Olivia Colman narrates a homely tour behind the scenes at Chester Zoo. The zookeepers also commentate retrospectively on the stories that unfold, like an animal version of 24 Hours in A&E.”
“The Secret Life of the Zoo steered us away from the cute and furry and involved us in the stories of critters that matter just as much to the planet.”