Photo Credit: Discover Channel/BBC
Winter is almost over, but it's not time to bid farewell to snow and ice just yet. The Discovery Channel is launching its eagerly anticipated Planet Earth follow-up Frozen Planet on Sunday, March 18 (8 p.m. ET/PT), offering an intimate look at polar bears and penguins and never-before-seen wintry vistas so beautiful they'll make your eyes hurt.
The seven-part series is narrated by Alec Baldwin, but its true stars are the gorgeous landscapes and animals of the Arctic and Antarctic. And let's not forget BBC and Discovery Channel producer (and the epitome of the working mom) Vanessa Berlowitz, who risked life and limb to take viewers on this eye-opening journey -- and even filmed a portion of the series while pregnant! Watch an exclusive clip from the series below.
Four years in the making (it took 2,356 days to film!), the series follows Berlowitz as she takes viewers on a tour of the Earth's North and South Poles, spending time with a polar bear and her cubs, videotaping pods of whales and getting into plenty of adventures along the way. iVillage had the opportunity to ask Berlowitz some burning questions about her polar escapades, and here's what she had to say about going without sleep for 10 days (while pregnant), nearly getting sucked into a freezing waterfall... and why it was all worth it.
What were the most exciting and most terrifying things that happened to you while filming Frozen Planet?
I had been trying every day for seven weeks to get the "all clear" for weather to fly onto the interior of Antarctica to the South Pole, to retrace the routes of great explorers like Shackleton and Scott. This involved a one-hour transit across the sea ice to a runway, followed by a three-hour rig of our aerial camera onto a plane, usually at temperatures of around -25 degrees C. We did this every day for seven weeks until we finally got safe weather. I will never forget the call I got at 3 a.m. to say that we were good to go. The absolute highlight of that trip was the moment I flew over a ridge and saw the Beardmore glacier, one of the largest on earth, which Scott and his men traversed to reach the South Pole. My breath was completely taken away when I saw how vast it was. I was moved to tears to think that those men crossed it on foot one hundred years ago. It was completely humbling.
Was there ever a point when you were filming during your pregnancy where you thought, "Maybe this wasn't the best idea"?
In the Arctic summer, you are on standby 24 hours a day, as there is 24 hour daylight. I was five months pregnant at the time. I barely slept for 10 days waiting for weather so we could go and film polar bears. Then we spent three days flying at all hours scouting for the bears. My back was aching and I was really tired. I have to admit that I was close to wanting to give up when the pilot spotted a mother and her cubs from the air. We then spent three days with her, landing and refueling at special remote fuel caches, sleeping in our seats in the helicopter. I suddenly got a new lease on life and completely forgot how tired I was, as it was such an incredible thing to watch this new mom trying to hunt with her naughty cubs in tow. It gave me an insight into what I had to come!
At one point during filming, your helicopter was nearly sucked into a waterfall. What was going through your mind at that moment?
I've flown aerials in more extreme locations than any other aerial director in the industry, so I am quite used to the feeling of flying on the edge of safety margins. I've become expert at making sure I fly with the best pilots in the world. However, I did have a moment as I looked into the abyss with the deafening waterfall plunging into it beneath the helicopter when I simply thought, "This is it, it's all over." There was no panic. Just resignation. Then complete, overwhelming relief as the pilot managed to pull us out. I'm feeling a lot less willing to try such extreme shots now that I have a 3-year-old though.
Where did the original idea for this series spring from?
After the success of Planet Earth, everyone was asking. "What next?" Alastair, the executive producer, and I felt that the polar regions were an obvious choice -- I had just produced the "Ice Worlds" episode of Planet Earth and realized that there was a wealth of amazing scenery in the Poles that few humans had seen, let alone filmed. What's more, they are home to some of the most charismatic animals on Earth as well as some of the largest gatherings of wildlife. We also felt a moral imperative to make this series -- the polar regions are warming twice as fast as any other habitat on Earth. We wanted to make this series now as we genuinely feel that it could be the last chance to see our planet's last great wildernesses before they change forever.
What do you hope that people take away from the series?
As with Planet Earth, we hope with Frozen Planet to take our audience on a journey that most people will never have the chance to take, to a frozen world that is literally so extraordinary that it is beyond most people's imagination. We hope that we will engage the audience with both the amazing animals and beautiful landscapes so that they will be inspired to learn more about the Poles and how they are changing. As Jacques Cousteau said, we only protect the things we love, and I believe that as filmmakers, our prime responsibility is to inspire love of the natural world in our audiences.