Wild to Inspire: Speaking Swahili, Lion Sex, and Remembering to Hit “Record”

This past week has felt like one long safari trip that I never want to end. The amount of wildlife, people, and stories I have encountered humbles me greatly and I can’t believe I still have two weeks left. I’ve been to Africa once before. Ghana, West Africa in 2011 to be exact, but my trip to Tanzania has been a different experience. I feel like I’ve truly been able to embrace and understand the culture of the Tanzanian people. Speaking Swahili, taking cold showers, being consumed by a plethora of bugs and mosquito bites, loosing power, gaining power, indulging in the local food, and literally letting “the wild in” has truly been worthwhile. I swear I was 3 feet away from two lions mating the other day and I incessantly wake up to elephants, antelope, and monkeys outside my door.

Although I’m constantly filming everyday, I enjoy the easygoing nature of my production schedule. “African time” is what they call it. Having a lot of experience in documentary production, all I can say is “African time” wouldn’t cut it in America. Usually when you’re out in the field, your production schedule is pretty tight, but the amount of time allotted to my stay in Tanzania has allowed for shooting with patience. I’m able to carefully strategizing the kind of story I want to tell, which I think is crucial for shooting wildlife. You’re truly on the animal’s schedule, not your own.

And speaking of production, shooting wildlife in the field has been amazing! I’ve captured so many incredible shots/scenes already. As I briefly mentioned above, the highlight of the shoot has definitely been the “lion sex”. Never thought I’d be up close and personal to something so intimate… I shot the lions mating multiple times and in 240FPS too! (slow motion for those of you who don’t under camera language). It’s crazy and I can’t wait to show you guys!

However, I will admit I experienced a learning curve while shooting the in wild. I don’t meet with the legendary Bob Poole until my last week in Tanzania so I’ve sort of been learning as I go. In addition to stating the obvious, which is patience, I think you also have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and ready to shoot at a short moments notice. I can’t tell you how many times I missed “the shot” because I was leveling my tripod, or the exposure was off, or I forgot to hit record. Nonetheless, it’s all about accepting these challenges and growing as a filmmaker at the end of the day.

Everyday is a challenge, yet joyful encounter whether it is shooting wildlife or meeting the people who make it their mission to protect the wild. More to see and more to come soon!

Dan Duran is the winner of the first annual Wild to Inspire short film contest, launched last year in partnership with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the Sun Valley Film Festival.  As the winner, he’ll be documenting  Tanzania’s dynamic Manyara–Tarangire ecosystem, which includes Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks and the AWF-managed Manyara Ranch Conservancy. This is the first post in a series where he’ll spotlight Africa’s wild side and share his experiences from the field as a wildlife filmmaker.  

Want to follow in Dan’s footsteps?  Enter the second annual Wild to Inspire short film contest through January 17th – visitnatgeowild.com/wildtoinspire for more details.