Tonight at 10 p.m. ET, Discovery’s Africa concludes with what is arguably the most fascinating hour — the making of. Cameras are turned on the crew as they hunt, capture, and react to memorable shots, including a gathering of elusive black rhino (pictured), the death of an elephant calf in the drought-stricken Amboseli National Park, and great whites feeding on a whale carcass according to size. We see a team that spent weeks in the forest searching for a teenage chimpanzee who uses four tools to steal honey, a duo that goes a little mad trying to calculate how fast silver ants move in the Sahara, and a cameraman who was left in complete darkness after a forest elephant chewed through a power cable and spent four hours trying to knock him loose from the tree in which he positioned himself overnight. Watch two sneak peeks below.
There, are, however other great stories you won’t hear, which Mike Gunton, Creative Director of the BBC Natural History Unit, shared with EW. For instance, there was that night that director Felicity Egerton phoned to say, “Hi, Mike, I’ve been arrested” after she and another camouflage-adorned crew member were mistaken for rebels in Sierra Leone. “They had all their permissions, but they got arrested by the local police, and they were pretty scared. It was tense for a while, but it all worked out very nicely. They were able to show they were wildlife cameramen, and in the end, I think the police commissioner was fascinated by it all, and they had a photograph taken of him and Felicity together, and he’s got it on his wall.”
We tell Gunton that reminds us of the scene in Argo where the Americans posing as a film crew to leave Iran show those detaining them at the airport their storyboards. His film crews are trained on how to handle situations like that, Gunton says. “I went to a training course once, it was a hostile environments course, and one of the exercises was getting stopped by an armed patrol. They brought these people in to do it. They were talking a language I didn’t understand. They were Polish. They were amazing, deliberately pushing us around. ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ It was so real. I got a piece of paper, and I drew a very nervous picture of a zebra and a camera to show that we were filming animals. They let us go. We met them all in the bar afterward, and they were absolutely killing themselves laughing seeing this guy nervously try to draw a zebra that looked a bit like a giraffe.”
For Africa, the crew also learned how to deal with minefields, which came in useful when a female crew member accidentally strayed into an abandoned one. “They stopped to answer the call of nature, and she went around the back of a sand dune or whatever it was, and realized she was in an old minefield. She was very good. She remained calm.” Other close calls for the crew include a venomous snake crawling up a cameraman’s pant leg in the Congo, a “death-stalker” scorpion found hiding in a crew’s tent in Egypt, escalating violence between two nearby villages forcing a crew to flee in the middle of the night in Northern Nigeria, and an emergency helicopter landing near the Congo forest after a sudden, violent storm. “It almost makes me tear up when I talk about, because the pilot basically saved their lives. People said they don’t know how he did it,” Gunton says. “Having said that, I’m going to knock on wood here: We have an incredible safety record. We [just] have a lot of scrapes.”