I was asked to view a film called Against the Wild 2: Survive the Serengeti which was written, produced and directed by Richard Boddington. The review of the film will be followed by an interview with Boddington. What if your backyard was the Serengeti and your children were lost?
Against the Wild 2: Survive the Serengeti is a 2016 Canadian adventure film about a family living Africa. The children, Emma (Ella Ballentine) and Ryan (John Paul Ruttan) board a small plane to visit their dad. On the plane are the pilot, Roger Kruger (L.J. Urbani) and an Alaskan malamute named Chinook. Things go wrong and the plane crashes somewhere in the Bushveld.
While the frantic parents, Jennifer (Jeri Ryan) and Paul (Ashley Dowds) try to find the plane and their children, we watch as siblings Emma and Ryan try to get help for the injured pilot. Luckily, for the children they have the protection of Chinook as they encounter Africa’s wild animals and one very determined lion.
This is a great adventure film and, although the children do deal with several dangerous situations, the story is never over the top, or too scary. This is a feel good film that treats its viewers to the dazzling beauty of the Serengeti, its people and the animals. And now it’s time for my interview with Richard Boddington.
Gilbert: I watched Against the Wild 2: Survive the Serengeti and I loved it, but I also came across a film that you did called Dark Reprieve. Which do you enjoy doing more; horror or family oriented films?
Richard Boddington: Oh, I definitely enjoy family oriented. I don’t use the term family films, I just say general audiences. My idea is to make a movie for the audience from age two to a hundred and two. I’m not trying to say if someone is a horror fan that they won’t enjoy one of my movies. I watch horror films and like them, but I typically make the kind of movies that I’d like to watch. This is where the Against the Wild franchise was born from.
Dark Reprieve doesn’t have any sex or profanity in it which is typical of what you would find in a horror film. It’s much more a psychological thriller with a heavy science fiction background, as well. It’s not horror in the true sense of the word. It was a first feature film for me and it was a good starting point, then I had the opportunity to do The Dogfather then just kept going in the general audience genre.
Gilbert: How much of Against the Wild 2 was filmed in Africa and what were your concerns with the animals and children?
Richard Boddington: 100% of the film was done in Africa. There is an old adage in film, “Never work with kids and animals,” and people always say to me, “Will you always do both in your movies.” I enjoy it and the one thing I will say is that a child actor will never bring you the script and say, “Richard, I have a problem with this scene and I want a rewrite.” You will certainly have that with adult actors, especially if they know that you are the screenwriter, the editor and also the producer, which is what I do.
I like working with kids in film and I love working with wildlife. All of the animals that you see in that movie are the elite of the elite in terms of being trained. Everything in the movie is entirely staged and fictional. An elephant is not going to be helpful to you in the African Bushveld. It will try and kill you. That’s all there is to it. But, it’s a general audience movie, a whimsical movie and a fantasy film where kids encounter animals; sometimes they are friendly and sometimes they are dangerous. But, in every case, everything is shot under controlled conditions with animals that have a huge amount of training with professional trainers who have worked with the animals for twenty plus years.
Taking a seventy-five person motion picture crew out onto the African Bushveld is substantially more difficult to work than if you are shooting in a Hollywood studio against a bluescreen which is how most of the movies that you watch in your local Cinemax are made these days. But, the lighting is always the same, it is air-conditioned and nothing ever changes. On the African Bushveld, Mother Nature turns the lights off hang on 5:30 every day and that’s it. You have to pack up and go home.
Gilbert: Were there any days that you had problems with the weather?
Richard Boddington: The weather in South Africa is generally excellent for working outdoors. We shot in May, which is going into fall; their fall and the seasons are inverted, obviously, in the southern hemisphere and each day was probably 75 to 80 degrees, typically.
During the summer months, December and January, it can easily be over 100 every day. I’ve been there both times. During the summer, it rains a lot and the Bushveld is green and I wanted to work when the Bushveld was yellow and gold. That was the look I was going for. So, you have to pick your timing and, this was a fairly long shoot for an independent movie.
There is a scene where the kids are looking out over the waterfall. It’s not set up for tourists. There are no barriers, but standing right behind them is a huge film crew. They do interact with the elephants extensively in the movie. The elephants are not behind a barrier but they are responding to the voice commands from trainers who are just off camera.
Every time you see the kids interacting with an animal, just outside of the frame, there are three, four and sometimes five adult trainers standing there. If anything were to happen, their first job would obviously be to rush in and pull the kids out. But, nothing like that ever came close to happening. You saw the scene where they are playing with the elephant in the water?
Gilbert: Yes, I did.
Richard Boddington: Well, just off camera and on both sides are four big African guys standing there and if anything were to happen, it was their job to rush in. Those elephants are trained to interact with humans daily. They take tourists out on rides to the Bushveld. Those are not wild elephants. They are born in captivity and raised in captivity. They have been around humans their whole lives and probably prefer humans over elephants at this stage of their life.
There is always a lot of care taken and, in the first film we used wolves and an 1800 pound grizzly bear that was close to the kids. Nothing in these movies is computer generated. Everything is real and everything is done in what we call in-camera. That is sort of my niche.
Gilbert: This is why I enjoyed this film. You used real animals and I liked how the Emma and Ryan worried about each other.
Richard Boddington: In these movies, there are a lot underlined themes about devotion to each other, determination in the face of difficulty and all sorts of things like that and what I feel is a positive message for young people. I’m a parent myself. I don’t like it when my kids see inappropriate material on TV or in commercials.
I am happy that I make a film that I can sit down with my kids. I could sit down and watch it with grandparents and we could all watch it together and no one will be offended or feel uncomfortable at any point of the movie. And, if there are parts of the movie that the kids hold their breath because of what’s going to happen; then great. That is part of the excitement and magic of cinema. I’ve watched the movie several times with audiences filled with kids in the US and Canada and, what always fascinates me is how I hear kids gasp when anything negative might happen to the dog. They are more concerned about the dog than the two kids in the movie and something like, “I don’t want to see one piece of fur on that dog’s head out of place.”
Gilbert: Don’t laugh. I was worried about the dog, too. How long is the movie being shown here in the states?
Richard Boddington: The movie is still doing its theatrical run in the United States right now. It has been in theatres all across the United States and after May 6th it’s out of the theatres.
Gilbert: You have two films right now, Against the Wild and Against the Wild 2, but will there be an Against the Wild 3?
Richard Boddington: Yes, it is being worked on right now. The treatment is done and I’m writing the script and that movie is going to be set in Africa again. It will be about an orphan boy who travels to Africa. He saves a giant elephant and, he and that elephant team up together to knock the stuffing out of the elephant poachers.
I grew up watching Star Wars just like a lot of people our age and I remember going into K-Mart in the mid 80s and seeing the three VHS sets of the movies that George Lucas had produced and at that time, I was very interested in film and I said to myself, “One day I want to create my own film trilogy.” At fourteen, people said, “Richard that is impossible. You cannot create your own film trilogy.” I am only one film away from achieving that goal.
Gilbert: The one thing about your movies that I love is that people can see how beautiful wildlife and their natural habitats are. Is there a message in here?
Richard Boddington: There is definitely an environmental message in both films so far. It’s not hitting people over the head the way the next film will. But, creating this mythical pristine wilderness in 2016 is not easy, I have discovered. Even doing aerial shots there is always going to be a town a village, a factory or a building or power lines someplace. Africa is a huge continent and North America is a huge continent, but the number of places that you can go and see no human hand or footprint is very, very small. There are a lot of shots in the Against the Wild films where I am framing out human encroachment, but it is there.
One of the things that I said to the crew in the first movie while shooting in Northern Canada was, Don’t ever set up the camera anywhere where there is a sawed off tree stump because, that says to the audience that a human being cut this down, but those are everywhere in the Canadian forest. Everywhere!
We have really spread out and if people realized this, then they would say, “We really need National Parks, more than ever.” I think people would be disappointed if they knew how many of the spectacular shots in Against the Wild 2 were literally just off camera from a city or a village. Even though the films are fictional, there is definitely an environmental message. There is something out there that we are losing.
Gilbert: It was a pleasure interviewing you about your films, Richard, and later this week I’ll be posting the interviews I did on the two young stars of Against the Wild 2 Ella Ballentine and John Paul Ruttan.
Against the Wild 2: Surviving the Serengeti is in US theaters until May 6th. Go see it!