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Turtle: The Incredible Journey – Why Director Nick Stringer is enchanted by the loggerhead story

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Turtle: The Incredible Journey - Dr Tomo Eguchi,; Mike Price; director Nick Stringer; Miranda Richardson; Tim Downing
Awarding winning actress, Miranda Richardson and filmmaker and director, Nick Stringer, observe SeaWorld aquarists, Tim Downing and Mike Price, ready Maude, a rescued Pacific green sea turtle for return to the ocean © 2011 Seaworld Pictures

Nick Stringer has spent 17 years of directing and producing natural history and science films for the BBC, Channel 4, PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet.

His newest documentary Turtle: The Incredible Journey, narrated by Miranda Richardson, tells the amazing story of a loggerhead turtle, born on a beach in Florida, who literally swims around the entire North Atlantic to Africa and back to the beach where she was born, to lay her eggs in order to continue to carry on the fantastic legacy. Due to the many hazards they face, only one in ten thousand turtles completes the journey.

I spoke with Nick about this fascinating subject and his love of wildlife.

How did this film come about?

Turtle: The Incredible Journey - Poster
Poster © 2011 Seaworld Pictures

The film came about basically out of a single moment. I was on a beach in Florida about 20 years ago and I was lucky enough to see a loggerhead turtle crawl up the beach and lay its eggs. It could have been the first time that turtle had touch land in 20 years, and I was completely enchanted.

At that time we didn’t know anything about the loggerhead story, fifteen years later the biologists had figured it all out and they are doing this extraordinary journey right around the North Atlantic from the day they are born for 20 years.

You can’t help but be enchanted by the loggerhead story, so that’s really what drew me to it. It was that single one-off experience, I really wanted to know more about it and I got the opportunity to make the film about 20 years later.

How much of this movie was real and how much a reenactment?

Turtle: The Incredible Journey
Pacific green sea turtle starts it's journey © 2011 Seaworld Pictures

I would say probably about 15 to 20% was shot in the studio and 80% was shot in the ocean. It’s very difficult to follow a turtle across the North Atlantic, it’s a needle in a haystack, but it’s incredibly important that we tell the story. These species are disappearing and it’s crucial their story gets out. So I think a little bit of studio filming, just to fill in the gaps, is justified.

Did you have the entire story mapped out, or did a lot of the story come into play after you got some of the footage that you captured throughout the journey?

In most wildlife films the story usually unfolds in the actual filming because you can never predict what’s going to happen in the oceans. But at least with the loggerhead we did have the journey mapped out, so we had a reasonable idea of what the story would be, but we didn’t really have much idea of how the sequences would unfold, because when you’re filming in the wild anything can happen, and we had some fantastic surprises, and some great footage that we didn’t expect to get. You kind of throw the script away when you start shooting.

What were some of the best surprises that you got?

Turtle: The Incredible Journey
A Turtle swims at us © 2011 Seaworld Pictures

One of the most satisfying and rewarding moment was filming the mating scene. We thought that was going to be relatively easy, but we spent three weeks waiting for it to happen. We got down to the very last day of filming over a two year period and all of a sudden it happened. I can’t tell you how euphoric we felt afterwards. That was a very special moment.

Can you talk about your decision to hire Miranda Richardson to be the narrator for this?

It was a happy accident really. We left it quite late to get a narrator, and there was some debate as to who we should have, but I really love her voice, I thought it was a great voice.

We didn’t think she would be available, but she was and then the icing on the cake was that she loves wildlife, she’s very passionate about it, and so she not only has a beautiful, lyrical voice, but she’s a champion for the film and for wildlife. It was a perfect marriage and we had a great time getting the film out there together.

It’s been really good fun.

I find nature films very hard to watch to be honest, how hard it is for you to just watch it unfold and let whatever happens happen?

Turtle: The Incredible Journey
The turtle swims amoungst the jelly fish © 2011 Seaworld Pictures

You see a lot of things in wildlife, you see a lot of death and realities in their stories, you couldn’t dream it up what happens in nature and how ferocious and challenging it is. But you have to turn a blind eye because it’s nature unfolding, you can’t interfere.

You’re so focused on the job I think quite often it just happens around you and you let it go. But I must confess I did save one little hatchling on the beach!

It’s said that only one in ten thousand are able to finish the journey, does that mean there are thousands that make it every year or are we down to hundreds?

That’s a hard question to answer, but what I would say is one in ten thousand isn’t enough to maintain the species. Their numbers are declining so they need to get that number down to one in five thousand to ensure the survival of the species.

NOTE: The day after this interview, Nick Stringer along with Miranda Richardson, traveled to San Diego to release Maude, a Pacific green sea turtle, back into the ocean, after being nursed back to health at Sea World for more than 16 months.