We catch up with producer and director Rosie Thomas to hear about her experiences filming an episode of BBC Earth’s new landmark series, Dynasties.
Presented by none other than Sir David Attenborough, the series Dynasties tracks the stories of five iconic, endangered species at a crucial time in each family’s lives. Every episode is devoted to a specific animal’s family, exploring the lives of a certain group of emperor penguins, a pride of lions, a tiger and her cubs, a pack of painted wolves and a troop of chimpanzees. Rosie Thomas was the producer and director for the first episode, named Chimpanzee.
For Rosie and her small team – just two cameramen and a local guide – most days started at 4am, when they’d leave their hotel in south east Senegal and journey into the heart of chimpanzee territory. With the help of anthropologist Jill Pruetz, the team were able to get extremely close to this specific group of chimps, who’ve lived in the area for thousands of years.
Carrying 80kg of equipment between them, Rosie and her crew would walk up to 24km a day and battle blistering 35⁰C heat – plus, the many swarming sweat bees. But, Rosie says it was all worth it. “To be able to observe these animals in such close quarters, and have them accept us into their community, was the most remarkable privilege,” she says. “We really got to know the family, especially the alpha male named David. It’s an experience no other job would ever have afforded me.”
The episode follows the story of David and his fight to retain control over his troop and Rosie says there were a few hair-raising moments. “These chimps show strength by throwing rocks. I could barely lift some of the boulders myself, so when fights broke out between the males I was nervous. A couple times, I thought, ‘We’d best get out of here.’”
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Here’s what Rosie couldn’t live without while filming in the savannah…
- Chocolate! Every day, I’d pack a handful of M&M’s – sugar-coated sweets did best in the heat because they didn’t melt. When you’ve been tracking the whole day and come away with no usable footage, nothing boosts morale like a bit of candy from home.
- We managed to find one with an insect repellent so we could fight the rays while keeping the bugs at bay – we used litres of the stuff!
- A hot shower. We could have camped in the savannah, but I wanted to come home each night to running water and a bed to sleep in. Not too much to ask, I don’t think.
- They kept us sane during the long days watching and waiting for something exciting to happen. We couldn’t read, because we didn’t want to take our eyes off the chimps, and we couldn’t talk for fear of chasing them away. Thank heavens for podcasts.
The five-episode series airs Sunday at 4pm on BBC Earth, DStv channel 184.