Vanessa Berlowitz: Female Television Producer


A helicopter flies over a lonely seal on an iceberg. The BBC team were onboard filming for the documentary the 'Frozen Planet'.
Photo by LA(Phot) Kelly Whybrow/MOD, OGL via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma share the adventures of Vanessa Berlowitz. She has worked on the BBC's famous Planet Earth documentaries.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

It is four o’clock in the morning. A helicopter flies low over the ice. Attached to the helicopter are several cameras. The helicopter also carries a camera crew. The crew members look out across kilometers of ice and snow. They are looking for something particular.  And they have been looking for a very long time. They are ready to give up - to stop looking and go back to their camp. Suddenly, the pilot shouts:

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“I think I see one!”

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The helicopter flies closer. It circles over the snow and ice. The camera crew begins filming a rare appearance. It is a large, white mother polar bear.  And she is playing with her baby cubs.

Voice 1 

This is the crew that filmed the television documentary series Frozen Planet. Together they travelled to many extreme parts of the world. They filmed animals in some of the coldest natural environments. The crew’s producer was Vanessa Berlowitz. She led and managed many of the difficult parts of this filming process. Today’s Spotlight is on Berlowitz and her life as a television producer.

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Vanessa Berlowitz is from England. She studied science at Oxford University. Soon after, she began working in documentary television. Now, she works as a producer for the BBC. She manages crews that film real images of animals and their environments.

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Berlowitz has worked on many nature documentaries. She has travelled to India to film wild tigers. She has travelled to Antarctica to record sea lion animals and penguin birds. And she has travelled high into Pakistan to capture the beauty of the Karakoram Mountains.

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Bertlowitz worked on one of the most famous nature documentaries ever - the 2006 BBC program Planet Earth. For this series, she travelled around the world to film the world’s greatest mountains.

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After Planet Earth, the BBC and Discovery Channel asked her to be the series producer for Frozen Planet. Frozen Planet is a seven part series. It explores what life is like on the North and South Poles. Berlowitz managed all seven parts.

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The job of series producer is very complex. For Frozen Planet, Berlowitz had to decide when and where to film. She also had to decide how to tell the story.  During the filming process, Berlowitz travelled to the Arctic, Russia, Canada, Antarctica, Alaska and Greenland. Every day, she helped set up the cameras - a process that can take hours. With the crew, she often spent hours quietly looking or waiting for animals.

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But Berlowitz also had another responsibility. During the filming for Frozen Planet, Berlowitz was pregnant with her first child. Pregnancy made things more complex. She told Slate magazine:

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“I have spent most of my working life in the field. It is my office job. So I was not worried about being in a faraway place. If I needed to get to a hospital, I could have had an emergency helicopter come and get me within an hour. …But, when I was there, I was tired and often had a bad attitude. My back hurt…I was sitting in a helicopter for 12 or 14 hours a day in very cold weather.”

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Pregnancy made producing more difficult.  But for Berlowitz, the positive parts of filming made the struggle worth it. She told Entertainment Weekly magazine about the day the crew finally found the polar bear and cubs.

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“It was one of the most important times in my life. I got to look into a mother polar bear’s life…She is having a hard time finding food for her cubs. But the little cubs are thinking, ‘Mother, this is fun!’ They are playing…And they are making her hunt difficult…I was crying with laughter when she put one of the little cubs in a hole. She was trying to keep him quiet so she could hunt…I thought, this is what polar bear mothers do! This is what I am going to have to do!”

Voice 1 

After Berlowitz had her son, she returned to work and finished filming Frozen Planet. This was even more difficult than filming while pregnant. Berlowitz told Slate magazine:

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“When my son was 10 months old, I went to Antarctica for two and a half months. That was very hard as a new mother. I had to leave my ten-month-old son behind with his father. I was a little bit worried … Would his father be able to take care of him? And of course, when I came back two and a half months later, they were just fine!”

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Berlowitz was not the only woman working on the program. There were two other female producers. But most film producers are still men. Berlowitz hopes more women will become producers in the future. She told Slate magazine:

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“There are a lot of men who work as producers. It is getting better, but there are not a lot of women in positions with power. I am one of very few series producers. It has been hard… Producers have to be very strong. You do not have to be very physical, but you have to be happy to go to extreme areas.”

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Berlowitz loves her work. She enjoys seeing new parts of the world. And she enjoys filming things many people have never seen before.  But sometimes the best part of her work is hearing from the people who watch her documentaries.  She told Parentmap magazine,

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“The most rewarding part of the experience is when the films play on television. Then you hear positive things from the people who watch it. I got a wonderful email from an eleven year old girl from Iran. She watched an episode of Frozen Planet. She was so excited that women do jobs like mine. She wants to try and follow my example. She wrote me a beautiful poem. The poem was about the polar bear film she watched. It made me cry with joy.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “Vanessa Berlowitz: Female Television Producer.”

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You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio.

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We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Where is the most extreme place you have ever gone?

Comments


humble71's avatar
humble71
said on June 02, 2012

Excellent, I think this woman is doing a great job demonstrating that everything is possible , working outside with a cold temperatures to direct a group of cameramen filming episodes which help people to educate more about our planet earth. She is breaking the models about job activities for women. She’s a great inspiration for women all over the world and for every child in the world , she’s a great example for everyone of us.

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Gina Mejía
said on August 21, 2013

I think Vanessa is doing a great job, what she likes, this is hard for other people but she makes it easy, althouh she moves away from her family, her work gives people knowledge of unexpected events extreme locations.

 

 

 

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vivianhuang
said on August 23, 2013

Berlowitz is a very special and strong woman.I appreciated her a lot.She is really a very good successful expamle.So if anyone who wants to be like her.You must have to be very physical.You must have high ability to face extreme conditions.
Women play more important role in the world.Cheer up,women!

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georgino
said on August 23, 2013

This is an excellent topic,and great example of a wonderful woman travelling and filming the wonders of the world like animals in the artic.
Through this production we have the opportunity to know better our planet and we have the obligation to defend it.

No say no to destroy the life, respect to the mother earth.

///Greetings

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thanhdung07121985@gmail.com
said on August 26, 2013

I appreciate her talent.Her energy and job says that women can make all things as well as men.we are living in fair society.Women are needed respecting more and admit their ability.

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paulo86nirisco
said on August 27, 2013

I love this series of documentaries Planet Earth I do not miss one

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Lee Bach
said on August 22, 2017

I love this tôpic