Sir David Attenborough’s Tasmania: Film crew ordeal pays off with wildlife documentary success
Max Moller managed to bag Sir David Attenborough in his first attempt. (Supplied: Max Moller)
For most wildlife filmmakers, having documentary legend Sir David Attenborough add his esteemed narration to the work would be the ultimate career highlight.
For Chilean-born Max Moller, whose four-year labour of love aired on the ABC on Sunday, the achievement was such that he promptly retired from wildlife filmmaking, having hit the bullseye on his first attempt.
Mr Moller said he managed to get the attention of the legendary naturalist by buying an airline ticket to the United Kingdom and introducing himself to Sir David at a conference, showing him platypus footage that stunned the now 92-year-old.
Years on, and the 50-minute documentary which showcases Tasmania’s unique species over the course of a year features Sir David’s familiar voice and name as the marquee attraction.
Max Moller’s footage of a platypus in the Tasmanian wild which won praise from Sir David Attenborough.
In Hobart and still jubilant after the Australian premiere of his film, Mr Moller could joke about the lengths he and his team had to go to for the extraordinary footage of his adopted home, Tasmania.
Not only did he and colleague Damon Heather have to contend with Tasmania’s cold and rain, there were the animals themselves, many who did not take kindly to curious humans in their habitat.
Jack jumper ants, the venomous species which feature in the film, were particularly grumpy about the uninvited guests.
“I think I have a good flavour for them,” Mr Moller said today.
He and Mr Heather had been waiting for the ants to start covering their nest with light-coloured rocks, a strategy they use to deflect the sun’s heat in the warmer months.
Mr Moller said he tried to stay in an elevated position and not disturb the ants, but occasionally would get distracted and find himself in their territory, much to the ants’ disliking.
“I was bitten badly while waiting for the change the rocks scene, it was painful, tears coming out,” he said.
“You start walking or sitting on the ground, and the little buggers start biting.”
Fortunately, he was not allergic to the stings from the ants, which can be deadly to those susceptible to the venom.
Mr Moller, whose biography states served time as a former special forces soldier with the Chilean military, called upon his covert training in pursuit of the platypus footage which was instrumental in winning over Sir David and his long-time associate Stephen Dunleavy.
“Weeks and months of waiting and waiting, full army gear, behind the bushes in silence,” Mr Moller said.
“I was crawling through the grass like an army sniper.”
Other scenes which lasted seconds, or maybe minutes, could involve months of work in remote areas, carrying “20 or 30 kilos of gear” through terrain in pursuit of a moment, Mr Moller said.
“Wildlife don’t perform for you, we have to follow them.”
The film also relied on the work of other filmmakers, with Mr Moller keen to share the love, giving high praise to the work of Nick Hayward and Simon Plowright of Wild Creature Films, who managed to film Tasmanian devils inside the den.
“It took them months and months to capture that,” he said, adding they had used an endoscopic camera, similar to the type used for surgery, to capture the footage from inside the mother’s pouch.
Mr Moller also congratulated Fraser Johnston’s filming of the bioluminescent gnats inside a cave, an exercise which took months but delivered “amazing” footage.
Mr Moller’s wife, Christine Moller-Foster, also worked on the production, as a researcher.
Max Moller’s documentary featured the work of Nick Hayward and Simon Plowright, who filmed Tasmanian devils. (Supplied: Max Moller)
While many congratulated Mr Moller and his team on their work, some took issues with aspects of the production.
On social media, public discussions about the film featured comments about the lack of Tasmania’s Aboriginal history, with others who questioned why there was no mention of the endangered status of many of the animals which featured.
Some pointed out the incongruity of the sound of a didgeridoo on the soundtrack, as the traditional Aboriginal instrument is not part of the local culture.
Mr Moller, who arrived in the state in 2000, said he wanted to make a wildlife film with “no political agenda”.
“This is a gift, to the Tasmanian people, for letting me call this place home.”
Mr Moller, who once told his wife “if David Attenborough ever narrated my filming, I’d stop”, has said he will now look at other projects.
He encouraged other filmmakers with a passion to not give up on their dream.
“If you can convince yourself you can do something, you can convince others,” he said.