by Elen Rhys, Producer, Little Human Planet
When delightful Dale Templar told me that Human Planet had been commissioned, my brain immediately started working overtime. Waw, what a great opportunity for a children’s spin off on CBeebies. Surely, if they would be filming humans in far flung and remote locations around the world, they were bound to be meeting children too. What a unique chance to work alongside this huge landmark commission to create something special for the BBC’s youngest viewers. And basically, that is how the CBeebies commission, Little Human Planet came to be.
Little Human Planet is a little sister series to Human Planet. It consists of 16 x 5 mins programmes that will be broadcast during the same period as the main series – but of course, at a time when 3-6 year olds are at their most attentive.
It’s a simple idea with a simple format. Each programme follows a typical activity in the life of a child from around the world – a glimpse to a CBeebies viewer of how their counterparts live, wherever they may be. On reflection, an unspoken celebration of what makes children different and what makes them the same in a colourful and often surprising voyage of discovery.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to pack my passport to film the sequences. This was done by the brilliant Human Planet location teams. Yes, we liaised closely together regarding style and vision, understanding that certain things like nudity or blood and gore couldn’t be used. Naturally, this proved difficult in certain locations where few clothes, if any are worn and hunting for food is the norm. I was never sure what I was going to get, only crossing my fingers they would meet some children and film some magic moments . I’m used to having a bit more control, so this was quite difficult for me but I soon realised I needn’t have worried.
Each time a team came back with special Little Human Planet labelled footage it was like the anticipation and excitement of opening Christmas present. Who would, Dan Young, my editor and I meet this time? Could it be Dua, a six-year-old girl who lives in a tree house in a jungle in Papua or mischievous four-year-old, Carlos Eduardo, who lives on the flooded banks of the Rio Negro? Or how about four-year-old Shoree helping her dad build a ger home in Mongolia, or three-year-old Edjongon, who walks long distances each day to collect water from a well in Mali? Even though I have never met these fascinating characters, I feel as if I know them. And though the children’s experiences, circumstances and environments differ hugely, I learnt that at heart children are all the same and their smiles are universal.
Yet, paradoxes come to light. Without generalising, many of these children and families have very little, but yet, seem contented where community and sharing is a way of life. It taught me a lot and got me thinking..As a mum to a six-year-old, have we in the Western world lost our perspective ?
I am honoured, grateful and proud to be a tiny part of the Human Planet family and I hope there will be more opportunities like this in the future. If so, can I please come next time?
Dale Templar – Series Producer
Here’s hoping - Elen!
Little Human Planet is one of spin-offs programmes and extras that are part of the Human Planet . We have already had a post from our team at BBC, Radio Three working on Music Planet and in a few weeks we’ll have one from our BBC Learning team. They are using our footage to make programmes that will be used as teaching aids in scools.
By Jasper Montana, Technical Assistant
On a grassy hillside overlooking the undulating hills of central Mongolia, I grasp a unique insight into someone else’s world. In the valley below is the melee of a hundred charging horses kicking backlit dust into the still air. From high above, the action is distant – played out by toy farm animals and miniature horse herders in colourful robes – but the horses’ thundering hooves and the herder’s pounding hearts are loud in my ears. I am recording sound for a “Human Planet” sequence in the Mongolian steppe and have put radio mics on two of the young riders in the summer horse round-up. In my left ear is Orlana, a 17 year old boy; full of bravado and a fierce rider; in my right, Tungaa, a timid 16 year old; keen to give it all she’s got. Orlana’s voice is clear, bold and commanding. Tungaa’s voice is soft and she sings as she rides – the traditional songs of Mongolian folklore and the occasional muddled verse of an American pop song form the repertoire of my private concert. I shut my eyes, listen and smile.
As I watch the riders charge around the horses like tunas attacking a bait ball, Orlana’s breathing quickens pace. ‘Chu! Chu!’ he shouts encouragingly. The horse tears forward through the herd. Orlana and Tungaa in many cultures would be considered to be just kids, but here in the grasslands of Mongolia, they are in control and are integral to keeping tradition alive.
In the global journey of the “Human Planet” series, the remarkable nature of the human condition will be revealed and as the teams come back from location I am continually fascinated by the amazingly diverse incarnations of the family unit around the world. It is often families that become the subject of our sequences and perhaps this is because, more broadly, it is the family unit that provides the framework for upholding tradition and passing knowledge from the elder to the youngster – the flow of knowledge that facilitates the successful relationship between man and nature in every environment.
The youngest in our Mongolian family is Shure, who is just four years old. We are filming her as part of our spin-off sister series called “Little Human Planet” aimed at pre-school children. As we watch her go about her life, she watches her older siblings and mother intently. Within a few years she will have her own horse and will charge out across the plains with a commanding ‘chu, chu!’ and from her lips will come the recognisable Mongolian folk songs of the past and the muddled pop songs of the future.
by Mark Flowers, Producer/Director Rivers/Urban team
The most heart-stealing and downright soul- enhancing benefit of working on a Human Planet shoot is the children we encounter while we are filming. It’s unbelievably refreshing to step outside of a regulated, fast-paced and impersonal modern, urban society and meet people who live in a more open, communal and for me personally, a far more “Human” way.
The children we met during our trip to film living root bridges in one of the most remote areas of North-East India were fantastic – cheeky, smart and funny.
To the young people who live in isolated hill villages in the rainforests of Meghalaya, the arrival of a gangly bunch of giant, pale-skinned strangers, brandishing weird black boxes, screens and cables, was the most surprising thing to happen in a long while. The circus had come to town!
Within minutes of us stepping out of the cars, there were bright eyes at the windows and small hands waving from the homes we passed. High pitched “hellos” echoed all around while tiny toddlers stood dumb struck for a few seconds in doorways and then exploded into howls. Dogs barked and sulky, caged cuckoos crooned from dark corners.
Whenever we set up to film very quickly we were surrounded in a small lava flow of children, far to shy to talk to us individually, but en masse, well that’s different, isn’t it? Whenever we got the camera out we were mobbed!
The funny thing was that we were hoping to shoot short stories for our sister production, working title “Little Human Planet”, showing how children live in different parts of the world. This depended on the little people we were hoping to film behaving as if the camera wasn’t there: Fat- chance!
We soon realised that if we were to get any shots that looked even vaguely natural, the crowd of children needed to be distracted, and that meant entertaining them. Guess who had to do the entertaining: Me. Yikes!
Just so you know I am a greying man in early middle age. I am not a totally serious person but as a director on location I have a role to play out, a reputation to maintain. I have to be seen to be in charge! Usually you’d find me in earnest conversation with the team, or looking sternly down my monitor checking that each shot is right.
I didn’t have a white rabbit, I don’t know any tricks, so the only thing I could think of to do instantly was to sing! it was raining too , I had an umbrella – so I started with “I’m singing in the rain” but soon moved on to nursery rhymes to keep the “show” on the road.
I am not sure if the footage of the crowd and the children will end up being used as everyone looks very surprised or is laughing, but the most magical thing is that the little children joined in with me. Incredibly in such a remote part of the world they knew “Baa Baa black sheep” and “Twinkle Twinkle little star”! The memory of singing in the rain with little children holding technicolour parasols is a memory I will always cherish.
Here is a clip. Unbeknown to me, Richard our cameraman turned the movie camera on me and caught me during my act. Enjoy!