SL Film Night: Planet Earth II

BY ALEX KARTMAN| Director of Digital Sports Production | Ball State Sports Link

Branching out to view films and documentaries outside of sports are important to develop new creative approaches to story.

The diversity in content gives a wider range of experiences, which is important to avoid recreating the same work over and over. In this week’s edition of the SL Film Room, I presented Planet Earth II to Sports Link students.

Planet Earth II is the sequel series to the internationally renowned Planet Earth. Produced by the BBC, Planet Earth II documents different environments around the world.

I shared the episode titled “Grasslands” which shows regions in Africa, Britain, Canada and South America. Beyond showing the beauty of the world and the wildlife of the regions, Planet Earth II demonstrates some of the highest quality filmmaking in entertainment.

Every shot throughout the piece has well-shot compositions. Framing of animals and environments is important to put the story together, but the filmmakers create more compelling narratives by constantly reframing subjects and capturing every action with multiple angles.

In Planet Earth II, any frame of film could be printed on canvas and hung in a museum as artwork.


Besides the beauty of camera work, audio plays a key role in establishing the environment. Sorry to break your thoughts on what filmmaking is, but most of the sounds in Planet Earth II are not naturally recorded while the cameras capture the image.

Instead, the filmmakers recorded sounds at different locations or even in a studio to add depth to the story. This gives viewers connections to creatures like ants, whose leaf-eating isn’t normally audible.

With the enhancements made by the audio team, now the audience can relate to the scale of ants eating grass by hearing falling timber and more intense sound effects.


These audio techniques contribute to the filmmakers using the process of postproduction to develop story and characters.

Editing footage in specific ways allows the audience to believe two different events are closely related. In Planet Earth II, we are introduced to a mouse foraging for flowers on the top of the grass.

By editing together many close-ups, we feel a connection to this mouse, but when the filmmaker intercuts a barn owl swooping over a grassy field, we feel suspense, believing the owl is hunting for this specific mouse.

The filmmakers edited footage from different experiences to make the audience believe life happens as you see it on film. The power of editing and post-production is how you as a filmmaker should enhance any story you produce.

Doing this editing and audio mixing does raise ethical questions. How should the audience receive a documentary if a filmmaker substitutes different sounds or edits together animals that don’t actually interact in the manner portrayed on-screen?

This is individual taste. I don’t believe there is an ethical dilemma because the only true form of real-life portrayal without filmmaking interference would be to witness these animals in person, without the aid of telephoto lenses, microphones or any narrator explaining what you are seeing. All these things contribute to an enhanced experience of real life, so taking a step to further manipulate these enhancements is not an issue with me due to the story being elevated.

Finally, you need to understand the patience filmmakers have to capture these stunning animals in nature. Some events take weeks of waiting to witness, while time-lapses of plant growth can take years to film.  The patience allows filmmakers to record the most captivating moments in the animal kingdom an audience will ever see, but without the patience of the BBC filmmakers, the overall piece would not have the beauty and impact it does.

Students need to understand it takes much longer than 30 seconds to capture award-winning footage. You need to spend time getting the perfect shot sometimes. You need to spend an extra day editing to make sure sounds matches perfectly. The extra effort, patience and attention to detail contribute to some of the most memorable images in modern media.



Author: Alex Kartman

I am the Director of Digital Sports Production and Ball State Sports Link. I produce, direct, and film sports ranging from feature stories to live broadcasts. I freelance as a technical director for the Indiana Pacers, ESPN, Fox Sports and other regional TV. I also love film and attempted to be a critic in a past life.

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