Have you ever wondered how your favourite TV documentary gets made? Well, here’s a little inside look into our experience of making a wildlife documentary for Channel 5 called 'Meet the Hedgehogs’ which was broadcast at 8pm on 20th June 2017. After a flurry of activity and telephone calls with Claudia and Natalie from Athena Films—which specialises in wildlife and adventure programmes, plans were set in motion for them to come film with us. Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue usually refuses film crews as a matter of course, but the entire crew were so respectful of the hedgehogs and it turned out to be great fun.
When Athena Films’ researcher, Stacie, the researcher, arrived with us on a Thursday evening, we gave her a desk and computer and said ‘make yourself at home’. For the first few days, all was calm and we thought it would remain that way in our tranquil hill camp. Little did we know we were about to become the base camp for the next two weeks!
Jackson and Phil—the camera and sound men, respectively—arrived and brought so much equipment and kit that they had soon outgrown the office space and had begun the takeover of the adjoining room. Beyond the piles of equipment and backpacks, we were constantly seeking out power sockets for charging all sorts of bits and pieces.
The team spent the rest of the day walking around filming us as we ‘pretended they were not there’; not an easy concept to grasp with a camera, lights and a microphone boom above your head, whilst you do your best to get on with your day to day work.
Very early on the Saturday morning the lovely Claudia—the producer and human dynamo—arrived! Claudia is a high voltage bundle of energy fuelled by fun but with a steely determination and amazing eye for detail.
We filmed with TV Naturalist, Steve Backshall joining our own Brian May, Anne Brummer and our star hedgehogs: Abbie, Claude, Ernie and Natalie among many others.
The morning very soon went by with members of our team being filmed with the hedgehogs at the rescue and in the garden. The background stories of our hedgehog characters were now coming to life. Steve Backshall arrived at the rescue to film and, after a fabulous vegan/veggie buffet lunch, we were all straight back to filming. Now it was Brian’s turn to be filmed.
When Steve and Brian started talking—two amazing guys with incredible experiences and stories to tell (of course hedgehogs were the focus)—the conversation seemed to flow and develop of life of its own. It was wonderful just to watch and listen to them together.
Time for the first evening filming followed by a visit to Anne’s garden to record some late night wild hedgehog activity—and the still unexplained mystery of why Anne appeared to have locked herself and Steve Backshall in her shed!
Sunday morning came around all too soon with some early morning filming at the Rescue and in the garden with the rescued hogs. The hedgehog stories were developing so well that the film crew were going to be staying a bit longer than we first thought, much to our delight.
It was time to film the unique stories of some of the hedgehogs at the rescue.
Abbie arrived with us a couple of days prior with one of the largest abscesses we had ever seen on her rear leg. Her leg was cold and needed urgent veterinary attention. We filmed Abbie at the vets and during her surgical process (with the lovely Richard & Natalie). The torrent of puss that was released was shocking (even for us!); Abbie must have been in intense pain. We didn’t know at this point if she would survive, let alone if we had saved her leg. Abbie’s story had all the drama the TV crew could have wanted.
Claude was found by the side of the road dehydrated and hyperthermic. Anne quickly identified that Claude had a possible broken leg. With a film crew in tow, she quickly transferred Claude to our vets where an x-ray confirmed Anne’s diagnosis. Claude’s condition was unstable and his future uncertain. Would the broken bone heal or would he lose his leg?
In the late afternoon, we arrived at Yvonne’s house to release a large male hedgehog, Ernie, who had been with us since November following a leg injury. He was also suffering from Ringworm. Ernie was now in good health and ready for release. For the programme Steve Backshall and Nigel went through Ernie’s release procedure and chatted about the completion of the cycle, from the sick or injured animal arriving through to the satisfaction of seeing him return to the wild.
After a nonstop weekend, we arrived at the Rescue on Monday morning to find the slightly weary-looking film crew still camped in our kitchen and fuelled by unlimited coffee and biscuits. We were joined by a second cameraman, the lovely Geraint (known to everyone as ‘G’). The plan today was to film links. OK, great, maybe they wouldn’t be needing us for long? Our hopes were soon dashed by a call about a baby hedgehog that had been found under a railway sleeper.
Upon collection, it was clear this baby was only a couple of days old, completely dependent on mum and now orphaned. Baby Natalie’s story is one of determination and a fight for survival. Like human babies, all young mammals need their mother’s milk and regular feeds. Our new baby was no different, needing a feed every three hours, day and night. Anne fed Natalie right through the night with a rehydration solution until she was stable. It seems to be a vital part of a wildlife rescuer’s tool box to be able to get by with little or no sleep for weeks on end without getting too grumpy!
Baby Natalie had taken a lot of time on Monday, so Tuesday was now to be spent filming links and recording audio links. We think this is the ‘less-than-glamorous’ side of TV work as it is all about joining up the main features of the programme. You may have a comment, introduce someone, or simply open a door and walk through, but you have to repeat these simple actions over and over again. Filming continued on Wednesday, with a few bits—interviews and final updates on our hedgehog heroes—spilling over into Thursday.
At last, the crew started the long process of packing up their equipment. It was with a mixture of sadness and a sigh of relief that we waved goodbye that evening.
The entire crew were just so respectful of the hedgehogs and all of our wildlife, understanding and adapting to their needs, even though it meant the filming took longer than expected. It was great fun, and the crew were perfect.
In making ‘Meet the Hedgehogs’ we hope that we can raise public awareness about hedgehogs’ plight and show that they need our help. More importantly, we hope to inspire people to do something in their own gardens and within the wider local community for the benefit of hedgehogs.
Making the documentary was a lot of hard work and fun for everyone. We want to say a huge thank you to Steve Backshall who is an incredibly knowledgeable and talented guy but is very approachable, down to earth and lovely. To the film crew Claudia, G, Jackson, Phil, Stacie, and Natalie, to all of our incredible volunteers, our wonderful colleagues Brian, Anne, Natalie, Lyn, and Nigel, and of course, the real stars of the show: me (Grace the hedgehog!) and my friends Abbie, Baby Natalie, Claude and Ernie—you are all AMAZING!
Lots of love,