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Montana Wildlife Cinematographer Recounts Working On ‘Planet Earth II’

photo courtesy of John Shier
John Shier

What’s a day at the office like for you? Maybe a meeting, getting the annual report together… checking up on Facebook?

No so for John Shier. He’s a world-famous, award-winning wildlife cinematographer from Livingston, Montana who has been working with the BBC on Planet Earth II, which is featured at the ongoing International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula.

Shier describes a typical day at his office.

“Sometimes it’s great, just what everyone pictures what a wildlife cinematographer should be, but other days it’s not,” Shier said. “Try carrying a heavy backpack up a mountain endlessly, so it takes the kind of person who enjoys that part of being outdoors. Every day is different. There’s a lot of physical challenges we have to deal with.”

Shier describes some of his work in ‘Planet Earth II’.

“In ‘Planet Earth II’, one of the things I had to film was the snow leopards, and for many, many days we don’t even see the cat,” he said. “But, when we finally see the cat and he does something good, you feel a real sense of accomplishment. It’s a pretty exciting job. Some days you’re toiling away, but others are great.”

Shier says his days at the office can be dangerous, but not in the way you might think.

“Sometimes, we film around bison, or an elephant or a grizzly bear, where we could be injured or killed if we do something stupid,” he said. “But most of the people I work with know how to behave around animals, so we can mitigate that danger, but, the biggest thing I worry about is travel. You’re traveling in Africa in vehicles without seat belts and that really worries me, as they drive pretty crazy. Working up in Alaska, it’s all bush planes we’re flying, so for me, the risk is in the transport.”

Shier hopes people in the Missoula area will attend ‘Planet Earth II’, especially to enjoy his work with the snow leopards.

“It was shot very traditionally, without a lot of gadgets or drones, we just packed our heavy cameras around and filmed snow leopards,” said Shier. “Because we had over three years, we got to intimately know those cats, and hopefully give viewers a glimpse into their lives that they’ve never seen before. So, I hope they’ll enjoy ‘Planet Earth II’, it’s a pretty good series.”

And, a pretty good day at the office for John Shier.

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