Piers Warren on his Wildeye Journey By Jason Peters
17 December 2018
So, I think that Piers Warren is amazing. He deserves lots of recognition for all of the great things that he has done in the service of the wildlife film-making community. He has just stood down as principal of Wildeye - International School of Wildlife Film-making and so I asked him a few questions:
Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up? What did you do before the birth of Wildeye? How did you end up in Norfolk?
I grew up in Bristol then worked all over the UK before ending up in Norfolk about 30 years ago where Iíve stayed since. My first proper job was as a science teacher and most of my work has been connected with education and media.
Piers Aged 22 - making his first wildlife film with a Super8 cine camera...
Where did your passions for all things wild come from? Who/what have been your biggest influencers in life?
I just loved being outside as a kid, looking for creatures in the countryside. Much of my knowledge came from reading books and also watching any natural history programme that was broadcast. Gerald Durrell was an early influence.
When did you first get the idea for Wildeye? Was there a particular moment, event or person that sowed the seed?
In the late 1990s, bearing in mind it was fairly early days for websites, I realised that there was no source of information for people wanting to become wildlife film-makers. So I created wildlife-film.com. I clearly remember the idea popping into my head on a drive from Norwich to Newark. By the time I got there it was all planned!
Wildlife-film.com & Wildeye
Did Wildeye and Wildlife-film.com / Wildlife Film News (WFN) start at the same time or was one born out of another?
At the same time Ė Wildeye being the educational organisation of which wildlife-film.com was the initial project.
How well received was Wildlife-film.com / WFN in the industry upon launch? Did you have much support?
Like all new things it took a while for people to realise its value, but the late Jean Hartley (Viewfinders) got the idea straight away and was of great support at the start.
Wildeye Introduction to Wildlife Film-making Group July 2003
What were the early Wildeye days like? Who joined you as tutors at the start?
The first courses were careers workshops I ran on my own, often connected to wildlife film festivals, then in 2003 we ran the first Introduction to Wildlife Film-making course with myself, the late Nick Gordon, and Madelaine Westwood.
Wildeye Sound Recording Group, with Chris Watson, March 2004
In 2002 I wrote the book Careers in Wildlife Film-making and, as I understood the wildlife film market better than any other publisher, I created Wildeye Publishing to produce a series of educational books about wildlife filmmaking.
When did you do your first overseas trip? Where in the world have you been with Wildeye?
In 2003 I ran our first Big Cat Film Safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya. It was so successful we ran it a dozen times, but we have also run many other trips to Tanzania, Uganda, India, Ecuador, Scotland, The Bahamas, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and more!
Piers on Armadillo Mountain, Ecuador
You were one of the founders of Filmmakers For Conservation (FFC), tell us how that came about? What did you hope to achieve with the organisation?
In the 1990s it was clear that film-makers wanted to make conservation-focussed films but the broadcasters werenít interested. So a group of us got together to form an organisation that would lobby broadcasters to make changes and support conservation film-makers.
Filmmakers For Conservation (FFC)
What is your opinion on conservation in wildlife films? How have you seen this change over the years?
For too many years wildlife films have been giving the public the idea that all is well and bountiful in the natural world. This is dangerous as it makes it harder for conservation organisations to raise support and change laws, and harder to persuade the general public to make changes to their own lives. This is changing a little more recently but progress has been painfully slow compared to the rapid degradation of nature. We are in a desperate situation now, especially due to climate change, and itís becoming irresponsible to ignore it when making documentaries.
Madelaine Westwood and I produced this book to show readers not only how to make conservation films, but also how to get them seen by the most relevant audiences and how to monitor whether they do actually make a difference.
Wildeye in Uganda, November 2015
You were the driving force behind setting up the Films That Make A Difference database. An online library of conservation film which aimed to help prove that film-making can make a real and tangible difference to important conservation
issues around the world. The proving that films can or have made a difference has proven difficult. What do you think? Can they? Do they?
They certainly can make a difference and the whole point of the database is to give examples of this. The difficulty is in providing proof. Itís clear when some films (like Shores of Silence) lead to a law being changed/made, but many others make a more subtle difference that is difficult to measure, yet still being valuable.
Films That Make A Difference
Youíve never been chasing money when it comes to Wildeye courses, course fees always being charged at the lowest possible amount to the student, pretty philanthropic really. Why was this the case? What motivated you?
I didnít start Wildeye to get rich! It was clear that if course costs went too high, then some of the less well-off students couldnít afford to go. This didnít sit well as I wanted the courses to be available to as wide a range of people as possible. So I always aimed to keep costs low, by not expanding too fast or getting fancy offices, for example.
Do you think students changed much over the years?
One of the main (and welcome) changes over the last few years has been the increase in women taking the courses. The last few Introduction courses we have run have been 80% female!
How do you think wildlife film-making has changed over the past twenty years? Back in 2011 you produced the book Wildlife Film-making: Looking to the Future, which asked many leading figures in the industry where weíd be in ten years time Ö How well are those projections playing out?
Many of the projections have played out, though some, like 3D wildlife films, have not gained the traction the film-makers hoped for. I think the main thing that was overlooked back then (and still is, by many) is the speed at which wildlife is being lost around the world, and the dire projections related to climate change. Making films about wildlife carrying on as if nothing was changing is getting increasingly bizarre and unjustifiable.
In terms of pure wildlife my favourite was Life in the Undergrowth as it showed me things I hadnít seen before. When youíve seen as many wildlife movies as I have you do get bored when lions, penguins or chimpanzees are chosen yet again without really showing us anything new. The world is full of amazing wildlife that has never been filmed Ė letís see it!
Wildeye Camera Operator Course at Whitwell Hall, May 2013... Aerial Shot by Simon Beer
How did you keep up with all the technological advances over the past twenty years?
Partly through reading magazines, blogs etc, but largely by employing clever (and younger!) tutors who have their fingers on the tech pulse.
Wildeye in India, 2009
What was your favourite thing about being Principal of Wildeye: International School of Wildlife Film-making?
Meeting the amazing students, some of whom have become lifelong friends.
Wildeye in Uganda, November 2016
How do you feel about leaving Wildeye after twenty years? Why did you decide to pass the baton to Simon Beer now? Will you miss it?
Iíll miss the fun of the courses themselves, but after twenty years it felt time to handover to someone with fresh energy and enthusiasm to take the school in new directions.
I became vegan a few years ago when it became increasingly clear that it was hypocritical to consider myself an environmentalist and yet still eat dairy (I gave up meat decades ago). The book, The Vegan Cook & Gardener, is our attempt to explain that vegan meals are not only delicious and planet-saving, but that growing your own food in your garden in the first place adds dramatically to a low carbon and healthy lifestyle.
Piers and Ella Glendining giving a talk at Vegfest London -
Donít Just Eat Vegan - Grow Vegan - Oct 2018
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
Iíll do a bit of freelance tutoring and seem set to do more public speaking as I am increasingly called upon to talk about climate change and how to live in a planet-friendly way. I also want to experiment in aiming for a zero carbon off-grid life and helping others achieve the same.
Piers teaching on a Wildlife Camera Operator Course at Whitwell Hall, in Norfolk - June 2016
What are you passionate about?
All life on earth, and justice for all.
Piers at WhaleFest in Brighton - March 2015
A 2003 film by Jane Atkins and Rachel Curran, largely made on a Wildeye Film-making course, discussing the state of conservation content on television. Those giving views include Piers Warren, Jane Goodall, Richard Brock, Jeffrey Boswall, Sarah Cunliffe and Ben Please:
Wildeye Introduction to Wildlife Film-making Group – December 2018
Piers's last stint as Principal was played out on the weekend of the 30th November to 2nd December 2018 on the enduring Introduction to Wildlife Film-making course, Wildeye's longest-running and most popular course to date.
In a Facebook Post afterwards, Piers said "After 20 years and 2,000 students, last weekend's wildlife film-making course was my final one as Principal of Wildeye. Good luck to Simon Beer who is taking over, and a huge thanks to all the Wildeye tutors and students over the years for making it such a blast!"
After 20 years and 2,000 students, last weekend's wildlife film-making course was my final one as Principal of Wildeye....
I wanted to extend a very personal thanks to Piers, for not only being such a fantastic mentor and colleague over the past years working together at Wildeye, Wildlife-film.com and on other projects, but most importantly for being a kind, generous, loyal and true friend. I am sure that many others would say the same and that Wildeye, tutors and future students, will miss him as the driving force behind the school. I wish him every success and happiness in whatever he decides to do going forward. I am sure that he will do many great and worthy things, so watch out!
Piers appearing in a 2014 Wildscreen Festival film:
Piers at Wildscreen 2016 with past Wildeye student Hannah Stifall as a festival volunteer
Jason Peters, Piers warren with Jean Hartley, Wildscreen 2014
Piers, Jason and Mike Linley at the Norfolk Bird Fair - May 2014
Jason and Piers The Universe Story Event - March 2015
Wildeye Introduction to Conservation Film-making course - July 2016
Richard Brock, Jason and Piers, near Wildscreen Festival 2018
Wild Pages ... Three editions published by Piers and Jason
Wildeye was born in the 1990s when founder Piers Warren realised the need for independent education and information for wildlife and conservation film-makers, whether professional, amateur or newcomers. An early project was the development of Wildlife-film.com, and its associated monthly e-zine Wildlife Film News, which remains today the world’s leading source of information about the wildlife film-making industry, Google’s no. 1 ranking website for ‘wildlife film’ and many other related searches.
Wildeye’s core activity, however, soon became the educational opportunities in the form of short specialist courses in Norfolk, UK, and longer overseas opportunites. We have now had thousands of students on our courses from all over the world and are thrilled to hear of those that are now accomplished in the industry, award-winners, or simply making better wildlife films for their own enjoyment. We have always had a strong focus on conservation and the desire to use film as a tool to help conserve our natural world.
Simon Beer is taking over the helm at Wildeye. Many of you will know him through attending courses, where he's been a camera tutor for many years. He is a camera specialist and blogger who has worked with cutting edge imaging technology since 1993. He is a multiskilled camera operator who has worked on a wide spectrum of jobs over the years in varying capacities. Previous work has seen him filming hedgehogs in infrared, rigging robotic heads and cranes in TV studios and working with satellite uplinks at the Monaco Grand Prix, World Cup and the funeral of Princess Diana. In 2005 Simon co-founded the well known equipment retailer Production Gear. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of video camera technology. simonbeer.com
I wish Simon only the very best with the film school... Apparently he's got some exciting plans, so looking forward to finding out more soon. The Wildeye site is currently saying "A brand new website featuring courses for 2019 is coming online in the next few days!", so watch that space! wildeye.co.uk
Since the late 1990s Wildlife-film.com has been the leading source of information for the wildlife filmmaking industry worldwide. For over nineteen years the site has been Google's number one ranking site for 'wildlife film' and related searches. Our site is viewed in over 195 countries. Our newsletter, Wildlife Film News, is read every month by thousands of people involved in wildlife filmmaking - from broadcasters and producers, to cameramen - we encourage readers to submit their news. We also serve as an online resource for industry professionals and services. Find producers, editors, presenters and more in our Freelancer section, and find out about festivals, training and conservation in Organisations. We encourage amateur and professional freelancers to join our network and welcome all wildlife-film related organisations to join our team.
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