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david lickley with elephants David Lickley, director of the IMAX® film Born to be Wild 3D, greets one of the elephants rehabilitated at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. (Photo ©2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Photo: Drew Fellman)

Biologist Turned Filmmaker Shares Skills

David Lickley turned his love of animals into a career

By Cassandra Hsiao | April 8 , 2011

As a kid, David Lickley dreamed of rocking the world as a famous folk singer. He hit it big, but in a different way—as a documentary filmmaker.

"I began as a biologist and a musician," Lickley told Scholastic News in a recent interview. "I was into music and biology, so I started to do small soundtracks for other people's work."

He moved into filming the animals he was studying, which lead to directing documentaries. Now, with more than 25 years of filmmaking experience, Lickley is the Director of Large Format Films for Science North, a leader in science education. He not only directs documentaries, he is a writer and producer as well.

"The job of the producer is to get the project going, and to watch over the project," he said. "The job of the director is more of the creative side. You're looking after what is going on the screen, and how you're telling the story. The writer is there to make it all work. I enjoy being a director because you don't have to worry about the logistics, but you can just focus on the story."

The skills that help Lickley handle all three roles came through education and hard work. He has a Master's Degree in biology and he spends a great deal of time studying animals for his films.

"Understanding what animals are all about and understanding the people that study them was where I began in this career," he said. "Then I went to the point of trying to tell their stories. It's important to communicate what you do to the world."

Lickley has written, produced, and directed documentaries on a wide range of subjects, all of which have something to do with biology.

"I like real stories about real people, and I like animals," he said. "Generally, my films are about animals as a broad subject, but also the people who work with them. I think documentaries are fantastic for getting people into the world, and it's nice to show them things that they don't know about."

Lickley is known for directing Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees, and more recently, Born to Be Wild, a touching story about two remarkable women who have dedicated their lives to nurturing orphan orangutans and elephants.

Lickley encourages kids to start making their own films if they want to follow in his steps.

"Get an education. Spend as much time as you possibly can learning about things, and then pick up the tools if you want to be a filmmaker," he said. "Technology is successful, and everyone can start filming with a small camera. You have a huge advantage now. You can post things on the web and you'll learn how to tell stories."

Lickley concluded by sharing some tips about writing with this reporter.

"It's about doing it," he said. "Just write. Write stories. Start making your own films. Just do it! The Nike slogan [Just Do It!] is really true now. The tools are there. You don't need 20 years of experience. You can still make really interesting films. It's about storytelling, and that's what writing is, trying to tell a story."

For more about Born to Be Wild, check out Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao's interviews with the people behind the film, including actor Morgan Freeman, as well as her review of the movie!

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