Filming a Wild World: An Interview with David Eastaugh

The sounds of The Pointer Sisters’ song “Jump” and the happy exclamations of parents and their kids jumping from the top deck of the boat into the Indian Ocean came echoing down to where I stood, transfixed, staring at the biggest spider I had ever seen. Not long after boarding the boat I had noted that this terrifying creature was right outside of the bathroom. There happened to be a lot of ants streaming by the spider, so I assumed it was dead.

I had held it long enough. There was no more avoiding it – I had to use the bathroom. I crept down the rickety steps as if somehow that would ensure the spider wouldn’t wake up and come after me. The little bathroom’s door was open enough that I could see the Thai style toilet, the kind that does not have a seat, only places to put your feet when you squat to use the bathroom. Squatting would bring me that much closer to the spider. But wait, something was wrong. The spider was gone! Maybe the ants carried it away, but what if they didn’t? What if it was near the toilet, alive and well? Visions of the spider crawling up my foot as I went to the bathroom filled my head.

Instead, I took a leap off the top deck into the Indian Ocean.

My own terrifying brush with wildlife does not even compare to the experiences of wildlife filmmaker, photographer and cofounder of Too Wild, David Eastaugh. I recently had the opportunity to interview David, and he told me about a time when he woke up to a lioness sniffing his bottom!

David Eastaugh grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, dreaming of being a BMX rider, a pilot, or possibly a race car driver. He was unsure of what he wanted to do after he left school. He ended up getting an internship with Velvet Films as a camera assistant and was thereby introduced to the world of film. At eighteen he fell in love with cameras and fell into the niche of filmmaking. He shadowed editors and directors and spent the next three years learning everything he could about production. From there, he got his first job as live director at Intellilab working as a one man band shooting, directing and editing his own work. He hadn’t even considered wildlife filmmaking up to this point. Then, in 2016 he got an opportunity to work for WildEarth TV on live wildlife broadcasts. He had truly found his calling.

Once he entered into the world of wildlife filmmaking, he went from living in Johannesburg to living in a game reserve on the western fringes of the Kruger National Park, completely removed from city life. He loved it. From the Sabi Sands he moved to the Masai Mara in Kenya to work. Then he was blessed to work all over Africa, from the Serengeti in Tanzania, to the Chobe in Botswana, to the Kalahari and both the eastern and western Cape. He explained that if he had to choose his favorite location to live and film, it would be the Maldives. One particularly spectacular memory he told me about was when he had just completed his Advanced Open Water diving certification and went to Fuvahmulah in the Maldives to film sharks as part of a series for WWF International. He was filming tiger sharks and it was his first time ever seeing a shark like that. He described that upon seeing his first female tiger shark his regulator almost fell out of his mouth. He said she was gorgeous, but huge. He explained that tiger sharks are long but it’s their girth that surprised him the most. He recalled that he was scared but mesmerized as she swam right in front of him and looked him directly in the eye. He could feel her soul and it was one of the most incredible encounters of his life. They were then joined by eleven other tiger sharks!

David has completed many filming projects underwater filming turtles, tiger sharks, whale sharks and hundreds of manta rays in Hanifaru Bay. He explained that filming underwater is such a different ball game to filming online and requires a different skillset. He loves it, even though he admits he still has a lot to learn.

David met his partner, Lauren Arthur, at WildEarth TV when she arrived fresh from Scotland as a trainee TV presenter. They worked closely together as a cameraman/presenter duo and he described it as amazing to see her flourish in her role. It wasn’t long before they fell in love. They decided to set up their own wildlife filmmaking company creating wildlife films and now they are offering South Africa’s first specialized, immersive wildlife filmmaking course to help build the next generation of wildlife filmmakers. The first course will be launched in September 2024. They will not only cover wildlife filmmaking, but will also give students a complete immersion into the African wild. There will be a module on animal behavior, ecology, phenomenology and ethics of wildlife filmmaking presented by Lauren. They will introduce their students to the field of impact producing with their guest speaker and help guide the students in their efforts to combine storytelling with social and behavioral science to drive positive change. Their expert tracker will take students into the bush on foot and teach them the basic tracks and signs and how to read the environment around them for more immersive filmmaking. David will teach the students to understand how to use the equipment, build specialized wildlife filming rigs, filming techniques and also how to work with human talent. Lastly, there will be an extensive module on post-production, including how does one shoot for the edit and how does one manage one’s media.

David and Lauren have made a huge financial and time commitment to this project and have had a lot of interest in this course from all around the world, to include all age brackets, young and old combined. There is no previous experience necessary and the course is open to everyone.

If you would like to learn more about David Eastaugh and Too Wild Productions, as well as the course, please visit https://www.toowild.co/ .

More of my interview with David follows.

I listened to your interview with Kerrin Black of Talentfinders. I was particularly fascinated with what you said about wanting people who live on the periphery of the wildlife preserves of South Africa to have access to the parks so that they will care more about the parks. Can you tell me more about your thoughts on this?   

Having lived in game reserves in South Africa for eight years now, the communities living on the other side of the fence are very separate and removed from what is going on inside. Many of them haven’t even seen an elephant. I believe this needs to change and is a crucial link moving forward in South Africa. My wildlife film school in the Timbavati Game Reserve has a community-driven focus to fully sponsor a local candidate from one of the communities on the periphery of the reserve to complete our course and become qualified as a wildlife filmmaker. This initiative is supported by the Timbavati Foundation, WildShots and RuggedWear and I believe it to be crucial to build the next generation of wildlife filmmakers.

How has your family reacted to you traveling and being around what appears to be sort of dangerous wildlife (at times)? Have they ever been concerned about the locations you are in, etc.? Have you ever felt you were in danger during any of your experiences with wildlife?

My family is so supportive of my ventures into wildlife filmmaking and they love to hear my stories. But my mother, being a mother, still worries to this day. It is important that you fully understand and are trained in the environment you are going into. If not, then you must be accompanied by a trained guide or diver who can ensure your safety but also the safety and wellbeing of the species you are filming. I have honestly never felt in danger. Maybe that one time when we used to film lions throughout the night in the Masai Mara and took turns to sleep and I woke up to a lioness sniffing my bottom!

You have had quite the successful life at a young age. Do you have any special qualities or anything that you especially credit with success at such a young age?

Resilience and the ability to accept failure helped me get to where I am today. The world of production is very critical and you have to have a thick skin to be able to take criticism and turn it around into something positive to grow and develop from.

If you had to give one main tip for success in life, what would it be?

Keep your inner dialogue positive and believe in yourself. Your mind only knows what you tell it so tell it wonderful things about yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

Do you use any motivational tools to keep you going? 

I listen to a lot of podcasts and online videos daily to learn new things. YouTube is a fantastic tool for the younger generation to learn visually online rather than having your head stuck in a textbook.

How do you personally stay healthy or fit? Do you have any tips for readers?

I try to exercise every day, especially strength training in our bush, as it is important not only for your mental health but also as a filmmaker, you are carrying heavy equipment day in and out and you must maintain a strong physique to avoid injury. I love to run with my partner through the bush too.

What makes you happy and/or content? 

Family, friends, bush runs and being with my partner Lauren.  

Do you have any time management tips?

Time management isn’t my strong point but I do my best to prioritize daily tasks and stick to schedule. Writing a to-do list the night before really helps me be organized for the next day. 

How do you see the wildlife of Africa surviving over the next ten years or more?  

It is a race against time for all wildlife across the world, not just Africa.

You can follow David and Too Wild Productions on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/too_wildproductions/.