Working with famous people is quite interesting. I mean sure, we aren’t filming Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts or anything, but to me, Dr. Birute Galdikas is somewhat of an icon. I’ve read her books and wanted to meet her for decades. But famous people are just like everyone else- full of opinions, have busy schedules, and they do things like share their coffee with wild orangutans. I was a bit nervous around Dr. Birute at first because I wanted to sound like someone who knows about primates, has a passion for the subject, but isn’t too gushy and brown-nosey, or worse- come across as just one of “those film-maker types”. (Often film crews can come across as really pushy and so obsessed with their own agenda that they don’t exactly get the people they’re working with to warm to them). But she was welcoming with us and we spent some time talking and I think we grew on her a little bit.
But it was definitely stressful. She’s a pinnacle part of the film since we’re featuring “Leakey’s Angels” and she’s one of the two surviving ones, and so we had some complex sequences planned to film with her. Now you might think having a cup of coffee with a world-famous scientist on her veranda in a National Park should be a simple thing to shoot- but not so! We’d gotten rushed because Dr. Birute’s time with us got very much shortened by her busy schedule and then the day we did have to film with her in Camp Leakey, there was also a small Lithuanian film crew there trying to do a documentary on her as well. Now bear in mind, this didn’t phase Dr. Birute in the least, she’s made dozens of documentaries, and this isn’t even her first 3D film! Just last year they released “Born to Be Wild” a 3D IMAX movie about Bornean orangutan and Kenyan elephant orphans. (I recommend it highly!) But she did also point out that that 3D crew was huge and they were filming with her for a month. So once again, it reminded us that we’re trying to do a huge task with less people, less time, and less resources, so things do tend to get hectic.
Our filming with Dr. Birute was going really well, we did a beautiful but complicated sequence of me arriving in a boat and walking with her on the long boardwalk into the park. But that involved working around some wild orangutans who were irritated with us because we wanted to park our boat right where they were trying to bathe. Dr. Birute was shocked at how aggressive they were being- even with her. All of this shooting was taking place in the midday sun, at about 100 degrees F, with almost 100% humidity, so I was bathed in sweat for most of it. (So I will NOT be looking fresh as a daisy in this film- no one will wonder whether or not I had a hair and makeup trailer- that’s for sure!) When it came time to film the ‘having tea on the veranda’ sequence, we were losing light fast, the 3D crew were trying to film as fast as they could, Mike was filming for the television series and also his “The Making Of’’ movie because lots of funny and annoying things were going on while we were filming, and the Lithuanians were also filming. So I’m not sure if it’s a world record or not, but in this one hour, 4 films were being made simultaneously of Dr. Birute!
The funniest thing was, Siswi of course had to be part of the action, and many other orangutans also like to gather close when Dr. Birute is there, so at any moment during filming, there was all sorts of orangutan action in the trees around us. But Siswi has plonked herself right in front of us, and when Mark and Ben were trying to film on the dolly, she just kept grabbing the tripod and stopping it from moving back and forth! So the rangers tried to lure her away with a sweet, milky cup of coffee. But that didn’t’ work because she slurped it down in a few seconds and went right back to being a key grip. So then they decided to give her TWO cups of coffee at once, which did work because she wandered away to drink them. So we filmed for a few minutes, free of the extra hands on the tripod and dolly, but then the same irate wild female whose bath we’d interrupted, came down out of the tree and onto the porch and was kiss-squeaking with outrage at Dr. Birute for not giving HER a cup of coffee. Meanwhile the standard slew of bush pigs were milling around hoping to get in on some snacks…Honestly, the whole thing was somewhat farcical. For me, it was fun because I sat there chatting on the porch with Dr. Birute about her life, about the orangutans, and having a good laugh. It felt a bit like I was sitting with St. Francis of Assisi, you know, the statue of the calm-placid saint, with all the animals just flocking to him… that’s how Dr. Birute is. So whether or not that particular ‘tea on the veranda’ sequence ends up in the film, it’ll be a real GEM for the “Making Of”.
A few days later, when it was time to leave and head on to Sumatra, Dr. Birute gave us the most incredible compliment. She said “I’m actually sad to see you guys go, and I NEVER say that to people”…. to which her assistant laughed and said “That’s true, she DOESN’T ever say that”. And then Dr. Birute continued to Jeremy “you know, you guys said you were different to other film crews and I didn’t believe you, but you really ARE different, and it’s been a pleasure to have you.” That was the most wonderful thing to hear. Now I just hope that our film will do justice to her character, her work, her orangutans and her legacy.
Holly meets Dr Birute Galdikas at Camp Leakey
Filming can be quite boring and these guys made that clear
Filming from the boat
Holly looks at Tut and Thor through the dining room window
Yes you’re cute but you still can’t come in
Tut and Thor would like to join us for Lunch
Two orangutans watch the show
The new key grip lacks training
The veranda scene with Siswi as key grip