Watch Tom’s “The Drills of Afi Mountain” on TERRA.
Tom is a filmmaker with a passion for conservation of both the natural world and traditional cultures. He is also an avid explorer who enjoys investigating stories from all over the world, having spent time living in Nigeria and China, where he spent a year studying Kung Fu and improving his Mandarin speaking. Tom just finished a Masters degree in Wildlife Filmmaking, which culminated in Tom producing The Drills of Afi Mountain as his final film.
The film has been nominated for awards in both the UK and internationally, and won the conservation category as well as the award for the overall best film at Wild Film Fest in Falmouth. The film has also been screened in Nigeria, where Tom has worked with the protagonists of the film and other conservationists to raise funds for primate conservation, and to raise awareness of Nigeria’s rapid rate of deforestation.
Tom is now living in Bristol gaining experience as a researcher, and aspires to produce more natural history films with a focus on conservation.
TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about the drills of Afi Mountain?
TR: I was lucky enough to visit the Drill Ranch in 2011 to help them build fences for a new chimpanzee enclosure, and I fell in love with the place and the animals there. Visiting and seeing how this small NGO is struggling against rapid deforestation was hugely inspiring for me, and so I knew I wanted to come back and tell their story at some point. When the directors told me they were attempting the first release of their captive drills, and that it happened to coincide with when I needed to produce a final film for my Masters project, I knew I had to go and film it.
TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of creating this film.
TR: I worked with a two-man crew, Aditi Rajagopal and Jason Mulvaney, and we had a great time staying at Drill Ranch while we were filming. Most days there was a lot of waiting around, and then suddenly we’d run somewhere to film something we thought might be relevant to the story, so while we waited we played a lot of games with the Animal Planet crew who were there filming at the same time - we played a lot of Banagrams! The release kept getting postponed because of some problems when testing the radio collars, and so I was also constantly writing contingency scripts in case the release was postponed until after we had to leave. Luckily it happened in our last couple of days there, but until the day it was quite stressful.
TERRA: Did you have any particularly challenging moments during production?
TR: There were plenty of challenges throughout the production: using cameras in the humidity, sharing contributors with another crew, even getting to Drill Ranch was a challenge. I think the biggest challenge was working out how to film the drills being released, as we had to film in a way that didn’t influence the behaviour of the animals – the last thing we wanted was to get in the way of them being released, but we couldn’t really predict where they would go or what they would do when they left the enclosure. Using GoPro cameras helped a lot, and we then found a place for cameraman Jason to sit in the bushes out of the way with a long lens for a couple of hours waiting for the drills.
TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?
TR: Never underestimate the importance of a notepad. For me, a lot of telling a story well is about listening to people, and you never know which seemingly unimportant pieces of information may turn out to be important later so I write a lot of notes. Gaffer tape, because things always need fixing and also gaffer tape is great for making temporary solutions to your kit problems. Binoculars, not just because they are great for spotting things you want to film, but also because I’m a keen birdwatcher and so any time I have a break from filming I can enjoy the local bird life.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
TR: When I was younger my mother introduced me to books by Gerald Durrell, and I was enthralled by his storytelling - particularly his depiction of each animal as having an individual personality and character. Reading about his zoo and its conservation mission got me interested in conservation, and then while studying animal behaviour at university I realized how important film is in raising awareness and making people care about the natural world.
TERRA: What would be your dream project?
TR: On a selfish level I’d love to make a film working closely with a group of gorillas, because large primates and gorillas fascinate me in particular. In terms of my career, my dream would be to produce a feature length film about a conservation issue and inspire something to change as a result of the film. To produce something with the impact of something like Blackfish or Virunga would be amazing.
TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
TR: I like working with people, especially those whom I share values with. The best thing about wildlife filmmaking - especially on something conservation oriented - is getting to know conservationists who I have a massive respect for, and so for me its like working with your heroes to tell their story. That’s a huge pleasure for me and it also contributes to my passion for telling people’s stories to the best of my ability.
TERRA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
TR: This film has been my favourite project to be honest, mostly because I’ve learned so much from making it. I also loved working with my crew and the guys at Drill Ranch, and in such a magical place – Afi Mountain is beautiful and really a perfect example of why we should be doing everything we can to protect the planet.