'Out in the wild, you cannot always avoid danger': An interview with Scott Alexander on Seven Worlds, One Planet
Millions of years ago, incredible forces ripped apart the Earth’s crust to create our seven continents — each with its own distinct climate, its own distinct terrain and its own unique animal life.
From the colourful paradise of South America to the scorching heat of Africa, Seven Worlds, One Planet showcases the true character of each continent, and reveals how it has shaped all life there. That’s the summary of this incredible new show.
Be surprised by unexpected stories, caution the hosts. And, you’re invited to marvel at iconic landscapes, and be awestruck by spectacular wildlife.
Scott Alexander, the popular writer and producer who’s known for series such as American Crime Story (2016), Big Eyes (2014) and The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), lets us in on an eye-opening journey, along with Seven Worlds, One Planet — around a world you thought you knew.
How much of your work is driven by personal passion and your interest in wildlife? And, how did it translate as the career as the producer?
I always had the passion for the outdoors and wildlife. I grew up in the countryside, I walked a lot of the time in the woods. I enjoy being outdoors.
I still love to look at sunset or sunrise, and I find it really inspiring, and it’s lovely to be able to tape that passion and interest, and put it into the work I do, and make wildlife shows, and hopefully pass on this passion to the people who are watching this show.
Are there any favourite shows you take reference from, and who do you look up to in the entertainment world for storytelling that pushes the boundaries?
The one person that I will always look up to is Sir David Attenborough, I remember watching his shows on travel life, and life on Earth, and I fell that David is one of the best storytellers.
And, it is so lovely to get to work with him, and he brings in absolute joy during work.
Have you ever gone face-to-face with any wild animal? As a producer, how often do you have to deal with near-death or life-threatening moments?
It is my job to sign off on all the health and safety measures, and to make sure that everything is as safe as it can be.
There is always an element of risk, as we are going to be with the most dangerous animals, but we are working with the world’s best wildlife cameramen, who have an understanding of the wildlife.
And, we are also working with scientists who know the animal behaviour, and their locations. We are very careful, and we have all the safety precautions, but still, the wildlife is unpredictable.
Once, what happened was that we were watching one black rhinoceros, but we did not know that there was another one there. Still, we were standing at a safe place, so it was not that big of a problem.
But then, we realised that they can still sense us, so we figured that the best place to be at that moment was up the tree!
So, we climbed up the tree, and stayed there till the time they disappeared. So, you cannot avoid danger always, and you just have to be sensible.
Of the seven continents that you have filmed in, which one gave you the most thrilling experience. Was there any encounter in the wild that still excites you?
It’s hard to pick out one favourite continent, but for me, the most surprising would be the European continent, because we have always seen European culture, cities and structures.
But Europe also has one of the most amazing wildlife stories. We also saw the puma hunting in South America. The puma is the most beautiful cat in the cat’s family, it’s so stunning.
We were following a mother and her three cubs, and it was in one of the most incredible setting, with an iconic location, and we wanted to shoot something that has never been shot successfully before — and that was, the Puma successfully hunting its prey.
We were there for six weeks, but we still couldn’t get that key shot. She had many unsuccessful hunts, so we knew she was hungry. We knew she had to feed her cubs, so we got to the end of our seventh week, and I told my team, let’s just do one more week.
We will definitely get something. So, in our final week, we got that shot — and it was so lovely to see the incredible puma hunting, and then we saw her feeding her family, so it was such a lovely and rewarding ending to the shoot.
Animal behaviour is still a largely unexplored subject. How much of an animal behavioural expert have you become, in an unofficial capacity?
When we started looking for all the wildlife stories, we spent a year searching for stories. So, I got a chance to do intensive research and find stories.
There were scientists who were heavily working in the field to find out stories. They are the ones who are studying animals, searching for them, and looking at their new behaviour.
So, we rely on the scientists to study the animals.
Give us a sense of how the animals become comfortable around your filming set. What measures were taken to make them feel less threatened? Are they generally threatened around humans?
It is very important to make the animals around you feel comfortable. Only then, you will be able to see their natural behaviour.
So, you need to spend time in getting to know them, and getting to know their behaviour, and then slowly walking closer... and soon, you get the feeling of how relaxed the animals are. And, if they are not relaxed, then you back of and you move away.
And, if they are not relaxed, then you will not get the shot you want. So, that can take away that natural element, and it takes a lot of time to get the trust, and to get the understanding of these animals.
You have worked with Sir David Attenborough on a number of shows before this one. How is he to work with in person, and what’s the secret of his energy?
It’s incredible. David is 93 now, and he still has that incredible love and passion for wildlife. I met David when he was 83. I don’t know where he gets his energy from.
It’s just such an inspiration, and he is the most remarkable storyteller. He has so many ways to engage with his audience while telling a story. He is absolutely remarkable.
Tell us a little about the book, Seven Worlds One Planet. Are there any more titles coming up?
Yes, there is a book along with the series. It has a little bit more of an insight into some of the other stories, and it also has wonderful photography showcasing the animals. It’s a good read, and you get more information than from the show.
Tell a little more about how you address concerns over climate change on the show?
Yes, as I have mentioned earlier, there are different stories related to climate change, and its adverse effects. We have stories about climate change in Antarctica, we also have stories of poaching.
Not only that, but we have some good news stories as well. But primarily, the show celebrates the wonderful diversity of wildlife on this planet, and I hope that we can inspire people to protect that world.
Do you have any pets of your own? What is your favourite thing to do in leisure time, on a weekend? Is there a dream vacation you want to take up some day?
I would love to film in the Amazon and work there, and get to know about stories that I never knew. For me, if I can stay outside, then I’m generally happy.
Seven Worlds, One Planet will premiere on 13 January 2020 on Sony BBC Earth.
— Jaideep Sen