Notes from the Filmmaker: American Wildlife
Mark Emery is the award-winning filmmaker behind CuriosityStream’s newest original 4K series, American Wildlife. Emery is an in-demand wildlife and nature cinematographer and photographer, whose films and photographs have been showcased around the world. American Wildlife can be seen exclusively on CuriosityStream in ultra high definition 4K, as well as HD and standard definition.
In the fall of 2015, I heard CuriosityStream producer Jorge Franzini speak at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival about an intriguing idea – films for folks of all ages who like to be entertained but also like to learn, a kind of Netflix for the curious soul. I have been working on films for many of the natural history companies for years. Though the formula for these shows can be entertaining, I was looking for a change. Steve Burns, the Chief Programming Officer for CuriosityStream, and Franzini worked with me to develop American Wildlife – the original short format pieces that you can see exclusively on CuriosityStream right now.
I worked with young editors, one who had created and edited the music videos for some of the best rock groups in the country. My long time friend, arranger and composer Tracy Collins, and I wrote the music and we were off and running. There is a wonderful freedom to this format. For one, the films are not edited for television, so there are no false build ups heading into commercials to make you come back, no repeating information after a commercial break – tricks that drive us all a little batty. You just build the story around the best footage and score the music to the rhythm of the animals’ movements.
As for the narration, the team at CuriosityStream did not want the “Voice of God” narration found in so many shows. I am quite sure there is a God and I am quite sure it is not me, so that was not a problem! I just talked about the footage, somewhat like a director’s cut. I am not a scientist, not a biologist, herpetologist, or ichthyologist. Actually, I am a Presbyterian and not even very good at that, so the stories are reported in layman terms, the way I would explain these subjects to family and friends.
I also persuaded, through the extensive use of smoked salmon, Bruce Swedien to record some of the audio. Bruce is one of the premier recording engineers in the world with five Grammys and many more nominations. Bruce engineered Thriller for Michael Jackson, he’s worked with Paul McCartney, Duke Ellington, jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock, he’s done 14 albums for Quincy Jones, the score for The Whiz and The Color Purple, and so many more.
We are amping up to do more as we continue to learn what we can do with this format. Many thanks to Steve Burns and Jorge Franzini for the excellent coaching and encouragement. Now, I am off with my wife Mary to spend five months in bush Alaska, 300 miles from the nearest connecting road, to find more stories and catch more salmon to smoke for Bruce!