The client casually mentioned it in a briefing meeting at our ad agency.
‘Well, we do donate our product to the Wild Dog Breeding Project’ he said.
Now, I love dogs, always have. They’re the masters of unconditional love, and we can learn miles from them.
And Wild Dogs, or African Hunting Dogs, are a rare, and highly endangered species.
So I thought, well, if the dog food is good enough for an endangered species of wild dog, it must be damn good.
I suggested that along with a commercial, we do a documentary – on wild dogs – where the client’s product would be seen feeding the wild dogs, and helping nourish and nurture them until they were ready to be released out into the wild.
The thinking was, that dog lovers love most all dogs, and they would watch a program about re-establishing an endangered species of canids.
Attach to this that the program, and the food, was sponsored by the well-known dogfood brand, Dogmor, and you should have agood recipe for creating empathy with dog owners towards your brand.
‘Okay, so go and shoot the documentary’ the client said, after seeing the budget.
‘Whoa!’ I said. ‘I make 30 second commercials –we’re talking an hour long movie here. Not me, I’ll get…
‘We want you to do it’ the client said flatly. That’s when I knew I’d better find a good wildlife team to cover my ass, and fast.
I did. Terry van Rooyen and Leon Rivas, experienced wildlife cameraman and sound man respectively, came to my rescue.
Next on the team was a crucial ingredient. Dr. MGL ‘Gus’ Mills, Specialist Scientist at Kruger National Park, and an expert on canids.
Then of course there was Ann van Dyk and her team at the renowned de Wildt Breeding Centre. We had the recipe. Now we needed the footage.
We had the privilege of spending the next few weeks in Kruger Park with Gus Mills, and he was able to track key wild dog packs for us, as he had radio collars on specific individuals within the packs.
This made our lives a lot easier, as we could find our heroes every day, quickly, in two million hectares of African bush.
On about the fifth day, the dogs decided to do us a really big favor and killed two impala right in front of us. This was something other wildlife teams earlier in the year had been trying to get, at great expense, without any luck.
Those hours out there, watching these unique animals, who allowed their pups, their old or lame, to feed before them, and would regurgitate at will for those other dogs who demanded food, taught me a lot about teamwork.
We got back to the edit suite with bundles of great footage and interviews, and even a little of the breeding centre dogs eating the client’s product, as well as dogs being released into the wild.
Somehow, I managed to script a one hour movie when I was used to writing about sixty words for a commercial. Oh yes, we did the commercial as well.
So when the movie flighted on national TV for the first time, there were two firsts for me.
My first wildlife movie, and my first wildlife movie interrupted by commercials I had made.
Sales and take off were good, and thanks to the client for their faith in us.
The movie went on to win Best Wildlife Film at the IUCN World Congress, and for this I can only thank Terry, Leon, Gus, Ann and the post team.
But. The seed was planted. Hey, I could get out in the wild and make movies there, which made a change from discussing skin tone with tall willowy blondes, and debating with a client about whether ‘new ‘ or ‘improved’ would improve a creative concept.
So, I started wildlife film-making. Hallelujah. Now, after about twenty five years, I’m giving back.
My ‘Wildlife Film-Making Handbook‘ will be out within a month, on Amazon and iBooks, and gives potential newcomers to this great arena, tips and tricks, and time-saving lessons learned, as well as video clips and links, to get a head start on the profession.
The book will accompany our continuing 7-day and weekend courses on wildlife film-making within Marakele National Park, South Africa.Check the details on Facebook Wild Dog Film School.
After that dogfood commercial, and our wildlife film, ‘Painted Predators’ which also flighted on Discovery Europe, I went on to found my own production company.
I had no choice but to call it Wild Dog Productions.:)