It’s probably not something most of us think about every day, but have you ever wondered how your favourite TV documentary gets made? Well, here’s a little inside look into our experience of making a one hour wildlife documentary for Channel 5 called 'Meet the Hedgehog's'. It was broadcast on Tuesday 20th June 2017 at 8pm on Channel 5.
After a flurry of activity and telephone calls with Claudia and Natalie from Athena films, it was agreed that they should film with us. The entire crew were so respectful of the hedgehogs. Anne usually refuses film crews as a matter of course, but convinced by Claudia and her own ability to protect the animals through the two week window, it turned out to be great fun.
Stacie, the researcher, arrived with us on a Thursday evening. Stacie works for Athena Films, a well respected production company who specialise in wildlife and adventure programmes. We gave Stacie her own desk and computer and said ‘make yourself at home’. Little did we know we were about to become the base camp for the next two weeks! Stacie lulled us into a false sense of security as she spent the weekend and first few days with us 'researching'. It was calm and we thought it would remain that way in our tranquil hill camp.
The production team grew when Jackson - our cameraman - and Phil - our sound man - arrived with so much equipment and kit, they had soon outgrown the office space and had begun the takeover of our kitchen area (just for reference, we hold our volunteer nights in the kitchen area, usually 20 - 30 volunteers), beyond the piles of equipment and backpacks we were constantly seeking out power sockets for charging all sorts of bits and pieces.
Jackson and Phil spent the rest of the day walking around filming us "pretending they were not there”; not an easy concept to grasp with a camera and lights and a microphone boom above your head, whilst you do your best to get on with your day to day work.
Very early on the Saturday morning, the lovely Claudia - the producer and human dynamo - arrived! Claudia is a high voltage bundle of energy fuelled by fun but with a steely determination and amazing eye for detail - can we just try that again? Thank you…
We filmed with TV Naturalist, Steve Backshall joining Brian, Anne and our hedgehog heroes, the lovely Abbie, Claude, Ernie and Natalie among many others.
The morning very soon went by with Anne and Lyn both being filmed with the hedgehogs at the rescue and in the garden, the background stories of our hedgehog characters were now coming to life. Steve Backshall arrived at the rescue to film and a fabulous vegan/veggie buffet was there waiting (we think this is when the film crew finally took complete control of the Kitchen area!) After lunch, we were all straight back to filming.
Brian had been in and out all week but this was his main day of filming.
Sometimes, things just seem to flow, have a natural empathy and seem to develop a life of their own, that is pretty much what happened when Steve and Brian started talking, two amazing guys with incredible experiences and stories to tell, of course hedgehogs were the focus, but it was wonderful just to watch and listen to them together.
Once Claudia had what she wanted, it was time to go to the outside runs for the first evening filming. This was followed by a visit to Anne’s garden to record some late night wild hedgehog activity and the still unexplained mystery of why Anne appeared to have locked herself and Steve Backshall in her shed!
Sunday morning came around all too soon with some early morning filming at the Rescue and in the garden with the rescue hogs. It now became clear the film crew were going to be staying a bit longer than we first thought because our hedgehog stories were developing so well, which was great and we were enjoying the whole experience.
With the storyline now clear it was time to film the unique stories of some of the hedgehogs at the rescue. Abbie arrived with us a couple of days ago with one of the largest abscesses we had seen on her rear leg. Her leg was cold and urgent veterinary attention was required. Abbie was filmed at the vets and throughout the surgical process (with the lovely Richard & Natalie). The torrent of puss that was released was shocking (even for us!). Abbie must have been in such intense pain, we were just relieved to have helped her, we didn’t know at this point if she would survive, let alone if we had saved her leg. Abbie’s story had all the drama the TV crew could have wanted.
We also met Claude. Claude was not found by the side of the road dehydrated and hyperthermic. With a TV crew in tow, Anne went to the house and quickly identified that Claude had a possible broken leg. Anne, with a film crew in tow, quickly transferred Claude to our vets where an x-ray confirmed Anne’s diagnosis. Claude’s future was uncertain as his condition was not stable, would the broken bone heal or would he be faced with losing his leg?
Late afternoon, we arrived at Yvonne’s house to release a large male hedgehog, Ernie*, who had been with us since November following a leg injury. He was also suffering from Ringworm. Ernie was now in good health and ready for release. For the programme Steve Backshall and Nigel went through Ernie’s release procedure and chatted about the completion of the cycle, from the sick or injured animal arriving through to the satisfaction of seeing him return to the wild.
After a nonstop weekend, we arrived to find the slightly weary-looking film crew still camped in our kitchen and fuelled by unlimited coffee and biscuits. We were joined by a second cameraman, the lovely Geraint (known to everyone as ‘G’). The plan today was to film links. OK, great, therefore they wouldn’t be needing us for long? Our hopes were soon dashed by a call about a baby hedgehog that had been found under a railway sleeper.
Upon collection, it was clear this baby was only a couple of days old, completely dependent on mum and now orphaned. Baby Natalie’s story is one of determination and a fight for survival. Like human babies, all young mammals need their mother’s milk and regular feeds, our new baby would be no different needing a feed every three hours, day and night. Anne fed Natalie right through the night with a rehydration solution until she was stable. It was a sleepless period. It seems to be a vital part of a wildlife rescuers tool box to be able to do with little or no sleep for weeks on end without getting grumpy (We had to put the last bit in!)!
Baby Natalie had taken a lot of time on Monday so Tuesday was now to be spent filming links and recording audio links. We think this is the ‘less than glamorous’ side of TV work as it is all about joining up the main features of the programme. You may have a comment, introduce someone, or simply open a door and walk through, but you have to repeat these simple actions time and time again.
This is where Claudia’s attention to detailing comes into its own and we know it is a vital part of the viewers enjoying any show so you can imagine how pleased we were to be told we going to be doing much the same all day on Wednesday and we would be filming the night scenes too! Brian and Steve filmed the closing scenes of the programme and again they had an incredible chemistry between them and so many amazing stories to share - although Wednesday was a full day and night of filming, it really flew by helped by being in such lovely company.
By Thursday we were left with a few additional bits of film, mainly recording updates on Baby Natalie, Claude and Abbie and a couple of ‘extra’ interview sections with Anne. After lunch, the crew shot some general footage inside the Rescue Centre and out in the grounds before they started the long process of packing up their equipment as we slowly regained our kitchen. It was with a mixture of sadness and a sigh of relief that we waved goodbye that evening as the crew started their long journeys home.
The entire crew were just so respectful of the hedgehogs and all our wildlife and adapted and understood their needs, it meant the filming took longer but it was worth it. Anne usually refuses film crews as a matter of course and can be very feisty, but she had to admit it was great fun and the crew, led by Claudia were just the perfect and patient.
In making 'Meet the Hedgehogs' we are hopeful that we can raise public awareness that hedgehogs are in trouble and they need our help and more importantly get people doing something in their own gardens and within the wider local community.
Making the documentary was a lot of hard work and fun for everyone. We want to say a huge thank you to Steve Backshall who is an incredibly knowledgeable and talented guy but is very approachable, down to earth and lovely. To the film crew Claudia, G, Jackson, Phil, Stacie, and Natalie, to all our incredible volunteers, our wonderful colleagues Brian, Anne, Natalie, Lyn, and Nigel and of course, the real stars of the show - me, Grace the hedgehog, and my friends Abbie, Baby Natalie, Claude and Ernie - you are all AMAZING!
Lots of love