Alex Tate started out as Zoology student at the University of Nottingham, before going on to read a Masters in Science Media Production at Imperial College, London. Now, after working as an assistant producer on the team behind Channel 4’s trailblazing anatomical documentary Inside Nature’s Giants, he’s got a BAFTA sitting on his shelf. Amid his busy filming schedule, Alex was kind enough to take some time out to answer Impact’s questions.
1. Did you expect to win a BAFTA?
I think when we made this series we knew we were doing something different. But we didn’t exactly know how an audience would react to a programme which essentially involves the dissection of animals. We knew we were in with a good chance to win a BAFTA, but at the same time, you felt like maybe the judges would give the BAFTA award for the factual programme to someone else.
2. How well did you plan out your career decisions?
When I was deciding what to actually study for a degree level, I had considered doing a degree in Media. But I decided that, instead of doing that, I would do a degree in Zoology. Making TV programs is something you actually learn on the job. But what got me my first break into TV was having a science background, and then understanding how to talk to scientists, speak the lingo and get the correct information out of them.
Then I went on to do a Masters degree in Science Media Production. When I was studying Zoology at Nottingham I was only really interested in one kind of Natural History filmmaking and a certain way of doing that, and I think studying the Science Media Production course taught me a lot of other ways of making films. I think it’s helped me produce something different in terms of Natural History documentary in the work I do now.
3. How long did it take to film the Whale episode and how difficult was it wrestling with both the elements and a 60-tonne fin whale?
I think two weeks before we’d even started filming for the first ever episode of ING, this whale beached itself on a beach in Ireland, and we heard about it. We rang the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group and managed to convince them to let us out there and dissect this animal. This was on a Friday morning. Friday afternoon I was at the airport, ready to get on a flight to Ireland. I got there in the evening. Saturday morning we were down on the beach and we started dissecting the whale. We were limited in time because we were influenced by the tide, which only gave us a window of about five hours. So we had the Saturday and then we had the Sunday as well, a narrow window to do the dissection, and that was it basically. Sunday it was all over. So, for all the other episodes, we had a very long lead-up time. This one was three days and that added to the film. It was a bit haphazard in places but we got the drama across, because it was drama.
4. What was it like to work with Richard Dawkins?
The great thing about Richard Dawkins is he sort of makes the bigger picture points. We are looking at the anatomy of these animals and it’s very interesting to know how something works, or how something evolved but what’s also crucial to make these programs really work is the bigger picture. For example, conversion evolution, when one animal chances upon one way of doing things and through a completely separate evolutionary route, another animal chances upon the same thing. And I think it was great for me having the opportunity to work with Richard Dawkins, because I had read his books and I remembered some of the key lessons that I had learned from them.
5. Lastly, are there any new projects you are currently working on?
We are actually onto our third series of ING, so hopefully that should be out next summer. After that, who knows? It will be three years on ING for me next summer after this series, so I might see about trying making some other programs. Although, you know, if I retired in 40 years or so, with a single BAFTA sitting on my shelf, I’d still be very pleased with my career.