Recently, when talking about a video she produced for VICE Magazine, the Atlantic called Lucy Cooke the Steven Spielberg of sloth filmmaking." This was not necessarily the title London-based Cooke, a zoologist and filmmaker with a knack for comedy, was aspiring for.
Cooke started her filmmaking career as a gun-for-hire making big nonfiction television series for the BBC and Channel 4. When she set out to make films about animals, it was with the intent of helping ugly animals survive and thrive. Elephants, giraffes, giant pandas — what the animal marketing experts might call "charismatic megafauna" — have no problem getting people on their side. They're cute and cuddly, after all.
While Cooke was busy working on a blog where she traveled to South America to document the amphibian extinction crisis, she made a stop over at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, where she put together a 90-second video and posted it on Vimeo. "It just went on fire," Cooke told Indiewire. "It was featured in newspapers in Poland and Entertainment Weekly in the United States. It was quite extraordinary. Most filmmakers are control freaks, and going viral is an unsettling experience in some ways."
Luckily for her, Cooke signed an exclusive deal with the Sanctuary. Eventually Discovery called up Cooke and started talking to her about producing a one-hour documentary called "Too Cute! Baby Sloths" in the US on Animal Planet and "Meet the Sloths" in the UK. "My BAFTA Award-winning editor got a kick out of cutting a film that was eventually called "Too Cute! Baby Sloths."
Cooke felt that Animal Planet turned the film around too quickly in the US and that it didn't get the attention it deserved, so she cut together a 90 second video of the sloths, and that video again went viral.
"After that video went up," Cooke explained, "I ended up on Fox News in the states, and when the film was released in the UK, the publicist did a comprehensive publicity campaign. I was on the BBC's widely watched morning show. My clip on the show was the BBC website's most viewed video of the day. It just proves that these sloth videos are like 'cute crack.'"
Since "Meet the Sloths," Cooke was given a book deal for a sloth children's book, she's got a show, "Freaks and Creeps," on National Geographic focusing exclusively on ugly animals, and she manages a sloth-themed Tumblr site at Slothville.com.
The success of "Meet the Sloths" continues. It just won an award at the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol. The sloth films have not only allowed Cooke to make more content around animals she cares about, they've also made real change in the lives of the animals she covers.
Cooke explained, "It's been an enormous pleasure to me that sloths and frogs are getting attention (Everytime I got early press for the sloths, I'd mention my frog blog.) The sanctuary has been able to raise about $40,000 off the back of the US documentary airing. They will never want for another volunteer. They had to close down their application process."
For now, Cooke is getting calls from various wildlife organizations and she's working with many of them. "Three years ago, I couldn't get anyone to commission my films. Now, thanks to the sloth videos, broadcasters will talk to me."