Filming behind-the-scenes footage for a wildlife film’s making-of documentary. Illustration by Maki Naro.

By Eleanor Louson

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In this article, I argue that recent wildlife films use making-of documentaries in a new and specific way: to demonstrate that wildlife filmmakers are skilled professionals facing challenges in remote locations and capturing rare footage of wild animal behavior. I analyzed the 2012 Disneynature film Chimpanzee’s making-of trailer to show how it promotes filmmakers’ skills and the realness of their footage. I also discuss the making-of features of the virally popular iguana vs. snakes scene from the BBC’s Planet Earth 2; they used the same strategy to authenticate this spectacular footage. Both of those wildlife films used footage of multiple animals edited together into single characters, but this was not shown in their making-of trailers.

I contrast these recent making-of documentaries to older ones which had a different purpose: to show how filmmakers had control over nature’s processes and could generate the right footage or behaviors using staging techniques including building specific enclosures or of imprinting birds so that filmmakers could get close to them. There is a complicated history of what was or was not considered to be authentic in wildlife films, and newer wildlife films advertise themselves as showing viewers spectacular on-location footage that is not staged or manipulated. To support this position, films employ behind-the-scenes and making-of features more prominently than ever. Making a film, even a documentary, requires choices about what to include, what to exclude, what story to tell your viewers, and how to achieve the footage you need to tell that story. Certain choices by filmmakers get publicized in making-of features to support a view of filmmakers as rugged, patient, and expert professionals. Other common choices, including the use of enclosures or of multiple animals to stand in for one animal character within a film, don’t fit that model and aren’t publicized in the same way. This research matters because expensive, spectacular wildlife films are a prominent source of programming about nature; making-of documentaries contribute to how these films prove they’re genuine and are part of the complex ways we understand and tell stories about nature today.