Windfall Films’ producer-director Tom Mustill guides realscreen through the rush to dissect a sperm whale for the upcoming special Inside Nature’s Giants – Sperm Whale (pictured), which airs on the UK’s Channel 4 (C4) this Sunday (August 7).
The 90-minute special includes new scientific discoveries that link the sperm whale to its fossil ancestors, such as the giant toothed whale recently unearthed in Peru. The whale at the center of the special was also the first sperm whale dissected in England.
Despite having already included a fin whale in the first season of the Inside Nature’s Giants series, which has been airing on C4 since 2009, Mustill and crew had always hoped to do another whale, although “you can never plan for when a whale arrives,” Mustill says.
Because of Windfall’s extended contact network, people from Alaska, Canada, Iceland and the UK were at the ready to give the company a call if a large whale washed up on shore.
The phone call came in from Kent, not far from the prodco’s office. Since the whole crew was in Greenland, where they’d been filming the Inside Nature’s Giants Polar Bear episode, the rush was on to get to the washed-up sperm whale.
“They had to jump straight on a plane and arrive, [get] in a taxi and within half an hour of arriving on the beach, we’re cutting into the whale,” says Mustill.
Once there, the crew – assembled of production staff, scientists, local mammal rescue folk, construction workers and even a tree surgeon – spent 20 hours deconstructing the whale, with police and the coast guard in attendance.
“What had begun as a normal one-hour episode all of a sudden seemed to fill a 90-minute slot, [with] the adventure of it, dissecting it at night, racing against the tide… because we had a very narrow window of being able to access the whale and evacuate it before the sea reclaimed it, and this cast of Kent characters gave the film an edge and a depth,” he adds.
C4 agreed that it felt like a longer film and agreed to give Sperm Whale a 90-minute spot. The special capitalizes on the “dissection in the field” tactic that Windfall has used after noticing in season one that audiences preferred that version to dissections in a college anatomy room.
Carlo Massarella, Windfall’s company director, adds that there will be more specials of this kind in the pipeline. “By going out into the field, that’s obviously bigger adventures and they’re more complicated so there will probably be more specials that are going into more extreme environments,” he explains.
Also on August 7, Windfall’s Last Shuttle: Our Journey will premiere on Discovery UK. The prodco’s other current output includes series five of Monster Moves, which airs on UK terrestrial Channel 5.