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untamed americas Filmmakers, including this one filming in Canada's Jasper National Park, sometimes had to wait hours or days to capture footage of wildlife for the documentary Untamed Americas. (Photo courtesy National Geographic Channels)

The Americas, Untamed

Creators of action-packed documentary capture diversity, spectacle, and beauty

By Hannah Prensky | June 7 , 2012

In the new National Geographic mini-series Untamed Americas, you get to meet all sorts of wild animals: a lizard that squirts blood out of his eye, a recently discovered two-and-a-half inch long Ecuadorian bat with a three-and-a-half inch long tongue, a famished lonely wolf chasing after a herd of thousands of caribou, and much more.

On June 10-11, four one-hour-long episodes will be simulcast on the National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild, and Nat Geo Mundo. Each episode will feature a different geographical location — mountains, deserts, forests, and coasts — and the animals that call those places home. Narrated by Academy Award-nominated actor Josh Brolin, the documentary is about the grit, glory and beauty in the wild of North, Central and South America.
 
But the premiere of the documentary was at a far less gritty place. It debuted in Washington, D.C., on June 5 at the historic Uptown Theater.

At the premiere, British series producer Karen Bass told the Kids Press Corps how producers and cinematographers worked with scientists and people in the National Park Service to get the footage. She thanked her team for enduring extremely harsh conditions while filming in the hottest desserts or coldest icescapes.

untamed americas premiere
Kid Reporter Hannah Prensky with Casey Anderson (top) and Karen Bass (bottom) at the premiere of Untamed Americas in Washington D.C. (Photos courtesy Hannah Prensky)
She also recalled some of the less fortunate incidents in the field: "People who lost the odd finger (to frostbite), all the days that we spent not being able to breathe at 15,000 feet, and the equipment that broke down in the high humidity in the rainforests," Bass remembered.

Howard Owens, President of the National Geographic Channels, tallied "two years, 20 countries, 43 different locations, 600,000 miles of travel, and over 600 days of shooting" for the making of the documentary, he said.

While it's important to spend a lot of time in the field to capture the most amazing footage, there's a bigger duty filmmakers have when making a movie like this. The key to filming a great documentary in the wild is capturing the moment while not disturbing animals' normal behavior.

Casey Anderson, host of Nat Geo WILD's America the Wild, said that everything we see in the series is the result of years of experience. The cinematographers who shot the movie have been trying to get these images for most of their careers, he said.

"Whether it's the grizzly bear, the bat, or the puma, these people know how to get close in a safe way without influencing their natural behavior," Anderson explained.

The people who captured the footage for Untamed Americas were also helped by technology. By using sophisticated and state-of-the-art equipment, the filmmakers were able to capture animal activity they never could before.

One example is the Ecuadorian bat, filmed here for the first time. It uses its long tongue to sip nectar and pollinate a rare long-necked flower that only blooms six days a year.

"Once upon a time you couldn't film that," Bass told Kids Press Corps. Photographers used tiny cameras inside the flower to film the action. Then, they "had to slow the action down by 40 times. Many shots were filmed a thousand frames a second, and that gives you new revelation and insight into what's actually going on in front of you."

Bass added that she hopes the documentary will inspire kids and adults alike to experience wonders of nature that lie "right in their backyard."

"The Americas have some of the most incredible superlatives, fantastic rainforests like the Amazon, very long mountain chains from Alaska to Patagonia, driest dessert on the planet – the Atacama in South America, and extraordinary landscapes in the Southwestern desserts," she said.

Anderson, whose best pal is an 8-year old grizzly bear named Brutus, added that he hopes that "if viewers can fall in love with these individual stories and animals, they will fall in love with the entire wild and inspire others to take care of it."

For more about Untamed Americas, check out Kid Reporter Hannah Prensky's post on the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps Blog!

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