Rent-a-Wolf: Filmmakers Fake Wildlife 'Documentaries'

Documentary filmmaker sheds light on the business of faking nature films.

ByABC News
September 28, 2010, 10:55 AM

Sept. 28, 2010— -- As executive producer of wildlife documentaries that include the titles "Wolves," "Dolphins," "Bears," and two films on tigers, Chris Palmer has spent more than 25 years helping to guide armchair adventurers through the wonders of nature.

Palmer, who describes himself as an adventurer who has swam with whales and sharks, gotten up close and personal with Kodiak bears, camped among the wolves, and trudged through an Everglades swamp.

But in his new book, Palmer, whose work has appeared on IMAX screens and on primetime television, points a finger at himself and other nature documentary filmmakers, shedding light on what he sees as a pervasive practice of faking nature.

"Wildlife films, too many of them, involve deceptions, manipulations, misrepresentations, fraudulence, and the audience doesn't know,'' said Palmer, 63, in an interview with "Nightline's" John Donvan.

Nature TV is popular because it offers a bird's eye view of the wonders of the world as they unfold, out there for anyone to see, but available to only the relative few who have the time, the money, and the equipment for adventure.

Yet according to Palmer, the reality is filmmakers often intricately stage -- and even contrive -- nature in these so-called documentaries.

"We had a scientist who had this killer whale skull and we asked him if he would bring it and then we put it at the bottom of the sea," said Palmer, referring to his film "Whales: An Unforgettable Journey."

In his "Wolves" documentary, a lupine pack fed on a carcass that was not the tasty bounty of nature it seemed to be.

"We found a dead animal,'' said Palmer. "You know there is lots of road kill we put it there" on the set.

Palmer added that often, though not in his "Wolves" film, when producers want to show a feeding scrum, they will place M&Ms or other treats inside an animal carcass to entice other animals to devour it.

He acknowledges other artifice in his "Wolves," documentary.

In the film, mother cubs scratch out an existence on the side of an unforgiving mountain, their only refuge a den dug out of the hard earth. But the wolves pictured are, in fact, rented. Animal actors who live on a game farm.