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How ‘Planet Earth II’ and Other Nature Docs Manipulate Footage to Mess With Our Emotions — Watch

A video essay makes the case for why some fakery is acceptable to craft a story.

Planet Earth 2 II

BBC America

Does Bambi live or die?

That’s the question that nature documentary producers hope viewers want to know when watching an epic chase scene between predator and prey. That’s according to narrator Simon Cadre for DSLRguide, who revealed in a short video titled “How Nature Documentaries Are Fake” how these nature doc filmmakers use editing trickery to make viewers care about the subjects on shows like “Planet Earth II.”

The first is the use of sound effects, specifically foley to recreate sound, since most nature filmmaking can’t use the audio from the field. The actual audio would either be too loud from a helicopter or other ambient noise, and besides the subjects are often further away than mics can pick up.

READ MORE: ‘Planet Earth II’ Producers Reveal 6 Sneaky Ways They Filmed Their Animal Stars

The use of a dramatic score is also essential to making viewers feel drama or emotions they may not have. Everyone remembers the intensity of that iguana vs. snakes chase that went viral. Pay attention to Jasha Klebe and Jacob Shea’s score here.

The video also breaks down how filmmakers frame the action, often using multiple shots from different days of shooting to create one cohesive scene: painting a deer as an innocent who is cute and loves to play, then making way for a wolf, its mortal enemy. When the chase commences, we are automatically invested in the deer’s fate, not the wolf’s.

While this kind of fakery may not be terribly surprising to aficionados of the genre — after all, those who film nature docs can’t manipulate nature in the wild, so they have to do it in post — this doesn’t mean that the actual struggles the animals are going through are fake. We as humans just need a translator, and that requires anthropomorphizing the subjects.

Cadre comments, “If these shows were just facts about animals, most of us wouldn’t watch. That’s why they carve out stories in editing, why they use intense music and why they use sound effects. Storytelling is what engages us, not facts and figures.”

Check out the video breaking down the filmmaking editing tricks below:

How Nature Documentaries Are Fake from DSLRguide on Vimeo.

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