Narrated by natural history legend, Sir David Attenborough, Wild City captures the surprisingly diverse animals and plants which co-exist in a booming city like Singapore. It would be a rare sight for most people living on the island.

The two-part blue-chip documentary was unveiled at a Special Preview for invited guests at the National Library. Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, attended the special preview.

Wild City was filmed over a year, and brings viewers through an eye-opening experience inside the Lion City. The two episodes showcase the range of different habitats found in and around the built up urban sprawl, then journey around the island’s hidden wildlife hotspots.

Television Asia Plus speaks to Marc Checkley and Claire Clements from Beach House Pictures in an exclusive interview to find out more about the behind-the-scenes production of ‘Wild City’. Marc also shares upcoming projects from Beach House Pictures, which includes episode 3 of ‘Wild City’, this time covering marine life, and is in development.

 

Could you tell me more about the technology used in the production of Wild City?

We filmed with quite a few different cameras to get some of the behaviour of the animals. One was the thermal image camera which was brought over from the UK. The tech guy built it from scratch. The cool thing about this camera is that you don’t need any lighting. We were able to film in the dark and that’s really useful for spotting animals that appear in the night. We didn’t have to shine any light on the animals and disturb them and at the same time, we wanted to capture their natural behaviour.

Other cameras we used were 3D cameras that we mounted on trees in an area we know animals would be passing through (or at least we hoped they would). These cameras are triggered by movements. The animals would normally not show themselves if we’re sitting there. That’s also how we managed to capture images of the civet cats. Apparently, they actually How live on roofs of houses.

We also used drone cameras which were essential in capturing shots of the sea eagles.

We used a handheld Sony N5 when we were filming the colugos (sort of like a flying lemur). You can shoot in high frame resolution and yet get it in slow-motion which was essential as the colugos were very fast. We were in the forest and at the corner of the eye, something would move. So without the slow-mo effect, you can’t really see the process of how it jumped. But from the slow-mo shots, we can actually see how the wing membrane of the colugo opens when it jumps. They don’t fly, they actually glide. We started filming before nightfall. It was easier to find them before the last hour of daylight as that’s when they start to wake up and move around. And they take their first jump as the sun goes down. They are quite active for an hour and they start eating and they get active again at 3am and again at 6am. We spent many nights filming this with about an average of two shots per night.

In episode two of Wild City, we used a DSLR to take time-lapses. We set up an environment with plants on the third floor of our production house to mimic the flowers ‘opening’ after the rain. We couldn’t allow anyone to access the area as just one one little disturbance could ruin the entire sequence. A lot of patience went into that.

 

What were the challenges involved in filming Wild City?

Wildlife filmmaking requires dedication and tenacity. However, it’s heartening to know that there are quite a number Singaporean wildlife enthusiasts. I joined their Whatsapp groups and get messages all day long so it sort of highlights to me everything that is going on out there. I had to be really quick to go over and film it because these animals don’t stay in one spot for a long time.

 

So did you have to consult anyone before deciding where to go to film?

We worked closely with the National Park authorities. They really supported us on this project. They brought us around to all the different areas where we can find wildlife. We went to places like Sungai Buloh, Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin. We also worked with NUS for quite a number of researches that helped us out. For instance, there was a lady doing a research on and she was able to help us pinpoint a location where we could possibly find these pangolins. Interestingly enough, there’s a bit of a forest that comes right to the edge of the NTU campus and that’s where the Pangolins are living. They would come out sometimes at night and have an explore of the campus. We went there for five nights in a row and on the fifth night, we finally managed to get in on film. It was amazing. Our whole company knew about it, and it was like, “We got it! We got it!”

Filming Pangolin in Night Safari

Also, the wildlife enthusiasts in Singapore were an incredible part of the planning. There is a Facebook page that I used to post questions on all the time if I wanted to find the whereabouts of an animal or what species it was. They were really quick with their responses; so basically, social networking really helped. I didn’t have to go to the library to look it up and instead had instant feedback.

 

I’m guessing you guys defeinitely pulled a number of all-nighters. How long did it take to finish filming the show?

We started shooting last April through November. But we had quite a number of productions going on during that time as well. I learnt that the best time to shoot wildlife is in the morning and evening. Apparently, birds are most active at 7am and once it starts getting hotter at around 10am, most animals just go off to sleep.

And we also had an Eagle-filming specialist, who doubles as a tree climber. He had to climb a tree opposite the eagle’s nest and build a sort of ‘house’ from scratch with just some wood and platforms. We do have him in some behind-the-scenes video on the Wild City website as well. It was incredible. He stayed up in the tree covered in leaves for 5 days and only came down to sleep.

 

What were the costs like for this production?

I doubt I can reveal the overall budget of the show. But just renting the thermal camera alone was so expensive. Probably about $30,000? The camera lens was really expensive. There were so many specialists involved in the production as well. Most of the costs also come from the preparation and research that had to be done before shooting. Moreover, this has never been done in Singapore. There’ve been big blue chip documentaries been done in China, Japan and Korea but still, wildlife documentaries are still pretty niche in Southeast Asia. When this idea was brought up, we knew that it had to be done very well. Otherwise it wouldn’t be special. When our audiences watch it, they can see the way we have captured the animals in their natural habitats. We didn’t want to have to bait the animals as the documentary would then lose its authenticity. What’s also interesting is that we have here is a city which has gone through a lot of changes, but yet there are still pockets of jungles where animals are have made their habitats.

I know quite a number of people don’t know this – but there are otters in the waters at Marina Bay sands. And that is entirely man-made habitat with nice sandy banks that the otters have adapted to. It’s amazing how well they have adapted because some animals will just say, “That’s it. I’m out.” And they would go across the straits to Malaysia but no, they’ve been quite resilient. And it’s important for them to know no one’s fishing or hunting them. I think that’s what the heart of Wild City is about.