How Planet Earth II's epic snake vs iguana scene became a symbol of hope
Hear episode producer Elizabeth White tell the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival how she created such an iconic sequence
If you were compiling a list of the most memorable TV moments of 2016, one involving racer snakes and iguana hatchlings would be right at the top. Remember it? The BBC1 series Planet Earth ll; an island in the Galapagos, and a life-or-death chase across the baking sand. It had the cinematic drama of a pursuit sequence from a Bourne or Bond movie – small wonder that as well as winning worldwide TV acclaim it’s been viewed more than ten million times on the official BBC Earth YouTube page and a staggering 120 million times on the Chinese internet sharing sites Tencent and Weibo.
It was even used by Ellen DeGenres as a metaphor for life in America post-Trump – she emphasised the hopeful message of the iguanas that escaped the fatal embrace of the snake!
“The highlight for me was seeing a tiny iguana turned into a symbol of inspiration and hope – from the Ellen DeGeneres show in the US, to classrooms in Britain," says the filmmaker responsible for the broadcast sequence, episode producer Elizabeth White. "I guess that's the joy of natural history – people can relate, no matter what language they speak or where they live."
White will be sharing the secrets of the shoot at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival on Saturday during a session that looks back at the epic Planet Earth ll series and provides an exclusive glimpse of this year’s natural history blockbuster Blue Planet ll, both narrated by David Attenborough.
The racer snakes sequence was filmed over two trips to the island of Fernandina – each lasting about 18 days.
“I’d never seen anything like it… it was like something from a horror film,” says White. “I don’t have a phobia of snakes, but I spent half the shoot with my hands in front of my eyes willing the poor hatchlings to escape! Thankfully, some did make it to the sea.”
Joining White on stage to talk about some of the other extraordinary scenes from the series will be executive producer Mike Gunton and there’ll also be Blue Planet ll’s James Honeyborne and Rachel Butler who will discuss the making of their new underwater epic. BBC Breakfast, and latterly Newsnight, presenter Naga Munchetty will host the event.