The Circle of Life
Tim Plowden developed, wrote, produced, shot and edited “The Circle of Life”. Reehana Shihab contributed to the concept, story and script. Professional voice over artist, Ian Russell narrated the script. Behaviour change communications consultant and trainer, Brooke Tully reviewed and contributed to the script.
A lack of buffer between urban Singapore and its forested areas has resulted in people living cheek by jowl with their wild neighbours. Condominiums, private and public housing estates are located next to forest reserves, coastal areas, mangrove remnants and along other waterways. Native wildlife has little choice but to explore the concrete jungle.
In Singapore the Oriental Pied Hornbill is so widespread, that it is hard to believe they only recolonised this tiny island city state recently. The popular hornbill is well adapted to the urban environment. Tim Plowden first made reference to nest predation by hornbills in an article published in the April 2019 issue of Nature Watch, the magazine of Nature Society (Singapore).
The increasing reports of their nest predation behaviour is shifting the public perception of this urban icon. The urban predator paradox suggests that nesting closer to human habitation reduces the risk of nest predation by birds of prey. Nonetheless, two birds’ nests were mysteriously preyed on from my balcony.
When an oriole nested in a tree at the back of our apartment, we wanted to unravel the mystery behind the nest predation.
Tim Plowden set up a hide in his storage room to document the breeding cycle and any nest predation attempts. The welfare of the subject is more important than the image to Tim and he did whatever he could to avoid disturbing the nesting orioles. His conservation experience helped when he studied their breeding behaviour. He improvised by gaffer taping a sarong to the window opening which overlooked the nest. This was a blind with an authentic Asian twist and the orioles were at ease throughout the filming (except when the hornbills visited).
We developed the concept for “The Circle of Life” as soon as the oriole started to build the nest and we started developing the script in parallel with filming the oriole nest. When nest predation by the hornbill became a likelihood, we had to factor them into the story as an antagonist. Having spent a considerable amount of time with the flock, we realised how rare an occurrence nest predation is.
Due to the turn of events, we waited until after completing filming to finalise the first draft of the script. We reworked the script completely to change the tone and structure.
We created a production schedule based on the breeding cycle of the oriole and with that we had a baseline from which to expect key events in the oriole storyline to film. We planned the shot list for the hornbills around their foraging behaviour. However, as we spent more time filming and photographing the flock we were able to discover other aspects of their daily routine which helped to provide a more complete back story. We restricted the location plan to our neighbourhood, with an emphasis on backyard birds.
The bulk of the filming for “The Circle of Life” was completed in 2019. Pick-up shots were filmed in early 2021 we filmed the majority of the hornbill footage in our local park and in a nearby public housing estate. This flock visited the trees outside our apartment too. We were already familiar with the local flock, but it was only by spending longer with them that we discovered where they roosted at night. This allowed us to explore more about their relationship with people. Locals had taken them to heart and hand fed them fruit every evening.
We completed editing the “The Circle of Life” in May 2021. While editing the video, Tim was also finalising the script with his wife and writing partner, Reehana Shihab. Long-time collaborator, Ian Russell was invited to narrate the script. Brooke Tully reviewed and provided valuable advice on the messaging in the script (Tim is an alumni of Brooke’s Making Moves behaviour change for conservation course).
After scouring professional music libraries for a suitable soundtrack, we returned to another trusted source, Kai Engel. A talented young composer who’s latest album, “Lesicia” forms the bulk of the soundtrack and provides the full range of emotions envisioned for “The Circle of Life”.
Creative development took about 1 month. Pre-production and production took 3 months. And editing, voiceover recording, colour grading, and finishing took another 2 months.
Shot in: HD
Shot on: Canon EOS
Lenses: Canon EF
Shoot Days: 30+
Check out the final piece:
Distribution and Marketing
The completion of the film was timed for the publication of Tim’s article, “Nature in the City” about Singapore’s urban wildlife in Wildlife Photographic magazine. The completion of the video also coincides neatly with the publication of the research article, “Nest predation by Oriental Pied Hornbills Anthracoceros albirostris in urban Singapore” in the June 2021 issue of BirdingASIA, for which Tim is a contributing author.
The Circle of Life has been screened at film festivals around the world and has won four film awards.