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Producing Online Travel and Tourism Video, Part 2: On Safari with Untitled Film Works

Untitled Film Works' Abraham Joffe ventures into the Namibian wilderness to film a photographers' safari, and returns with insights on how to approach wildlife and conservation video and the lenses and other gear you'll need in your DSLR kit to capture the sights and the action.
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Abraham Joffe of Sydney-based Untitled Film Works has built a thriving business and an international reputation for his wedding and commercial work, but his taste and talent for shooting wildlife films was bred in the bone. In fact, a lengthy apprenticeship in wildlife documentary work preceded by several years his career in wedding and commercial production. 

But through a recent—and soon-to-be recurring—high-profile gig with photographic safari company Iconic Images International, Joffe has merged his successful career in commercial production with wildlife documentary—where, he says, "my number-one passion lies."

As a producer who cut his teeth in the wilds of Western Australia and East Timor shooting wildlife documentaries, established his business closer-to-home with weddings and commercials, and is now finding his success producing online promotional films on African safari, Joffe has some sound insights and interesting lessons to teach on what it takes to cross over into the untamed wilderness of travel and wildlife video, and what techniques and tools will serve shooters well as they make the transition from more conventional and civilized realms of commercial production work.

In part 2 of this two-part series on travel and tourism video, which began with last week's look at TravelTelly, Johannes Oppewal's successful video company dedicated to producing HD video for tourist and travel sites, we'll look at Joffe's adventure in Namibia as both a dream gig and an entry point into tourism, wildlife, and conservation filmmaking, culminating in the film shown below.

Iconic Images - Namibia from untitled film works on Vimeo.

Early Adventures in Wildlife Filmmaking

Joffe says his "passion for wildlife and the natural world" took root in his early teens when his parents uprooted him and his three siblings and embarked on a three-year adventure around Australia. During this journey he met legendary wildlife documentarian Malcolm Douglas, whom Joffe describes as the "original crocodile man of Australia."

After his family stayed on Douglas' Broome Crocodile Park in 1993, Joffe says he spent the next several years thereafter "pestering Douglas with videos posted in the mail, hoping to wear him down enough for a job." Douglas relented in 2002, inviting Joffe to join his crew for a new wildlife TV series in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

After completing his university film studies in Sydney, Joffe landed a four-year gig working for David "The Wildlife Man" Ireland on a series that aired on Australia's Channel 9 and the Discovery Channel in the U.S. The work included filming expeditions through much of Australia, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands, as well as a great deal of underwater shooting—"diving shipwrecks, swimming with sharks, and catching pythons in rivers."

Abraham Joffe Untitled Filmworks

Enter Iconic Images

In the mid-Aughts Joffe turned his attention to weddings and commercials, earning recognition both within Australia and internationally through the APVA awards and his speaking engagements at Exposed Down Under and other filmmaking educational events, and a November 2010 EventDV cover story on his one-off experiment with 3D wedding production. When I interviewed Joffe for that piece, even as we discussed a topic as far afield from wildlife filmmaking as shooting weddings in 3D, he noted his documentary work with Douglas and Ireland as essential elements of his production background and his ongoing ambitions as a shooter and producer.

But he hadn't done commercial work in the wildlife world until recently, when a colleague at Canon Australia suggested he meet Denis Glennon, co-founder (with Nick Melidonis) of Iconic Images International, which has spent "the past several years taking avid photographers to some of the best places in Africa."

Untitled Filmworks Iconic Images

Joffe invited Glennon to the Untitled Film Works studio for a chat. Glennon conceded that the text and images on his website weren't conveying Iconic's mission, and Joffe's "enthusiasm for an African film gig" convinced Glennon that "a film would be the ideal way to show people his amazing photographic tours," and Joffe would be the man to shoot it. With that he was hired to document the group's next Namibian adventure.

Shooting the Safari

Joffe joined the safari at the outset, went everywhere the photogs went, captured what they did and what they saw, and shot an dozen on-location interviews with participants and organizers, specific to the current stage of the journey, as well as "master" interviews with the founder/organizers "at the conclusion of the trip knowing full well that by that stage I would know everything I wanted to hear."

Denis Glennon Iconic Images International

Glennon essentially gave Joffe free rein on the content of the video, Joffe says: "He pretty much trusted my judgement on how to capture the trip and deliver his messages to the screen. Denis knew he wanted this film to get the ‘mission statement' of his photographic safari company across whilst also presenting the specific tour we were on—Namibia. I initially showed Denis a range of previous films, from past documentary work, to commercial and even weddings."

Untitled Filmworks Iconic Images

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Online video a great medium for promoting tourism and travel, and streaming producers can carve out some rewarding and remunerative experiences by specializing in online tourism video or adding it to their offerings. In this two-part series we'll look at two successful companies doing travel video, beginning with Johannes Oppewal's TravelTelly.