Watch Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade on YouTube, with new episodes every Tuesday morning.
Although he probably wouldn’t say it out loud, Filipe DeAndrade, 30, hopes to become one of the next generation’s influential wildlife filmmakers. The Brazilian American produced and stars in a dynamic new web series from National Geographic Wild.
Called Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade, the show opened on Wild’s YouTube channel on March 14 and runs weekly through May 9, with 10 brief but action-packed episodes. (Get a peek behind the scenes of the show.)
With beautiful photography and brisk narratives, DeAndrade and his Comfort Theory filmmaking team explore wildlife that’s both accessible and yet off-the-beaten path in the U.S. From early September to February, the crew travelled across the country in a repurposed ambulance they call Florence the Manbulance. They shot Untamed in Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
The team had close encounters with crocodiles, an 87-pound snapping turtle, mountain lions, coyotes, monkeys (they’re invasive), and more birds than they even knew existed.
We spoke with DeAndrade about the new show:
When and how did you first fall in love with wildlife photography?
I was born in Rio de Janeiro. We were poor, so for fun and to escape the city we went into the surrounding forest. The outdoors, and seeing the animals, really gave me salvation.
I moved to the U.S. when I was five, but I didn’t become legal until I was 20. I come from a broken home, plagued by drug addiction and abuse. During that time I felt like I didn’t have a voice. In the same way, animals don’t have a voice. So I related to them. I wanted to tell their stories. And I fell in love with photography.
You’ve said your mother was a big influence on you. Can you explain?
When we first came to this country my mom worked for minimum wage. But eventually she was able to buy her own business. I am so inspired by her tenacity. She taught me not to accept your circumstances.
Where did the idea for Untamed come from?
In 2015 I won National Geographic’s “Wild to Inspire” short film competition at the Sun Valley Film Festival (watch his winning entry, “Adapt”). After that I was invited to go to Africa with National Geographic, to help film some documentary projects. That was the greatest experience of my life. But over time I realized that what we have in this country, in terms of nature, rivals anything else in the world.
So that’s what we try to do in this series, to capture some of these incredible phenomena. I mean baby sea turtles hatching, how amazing is that?
What do you most hope to show through the series?
The accessibility of nature. I think a lot of people will be surprised by how much we have in our backyard and how close it is. I would like to spark curiosity about these places.
What have you personally learned on the Untamed project?
I was surprised that such amazing experiences are so close to where I live [in Gainesville, Florida]. I mean, we filmed strand-feeding dolphins just five hours from where I live! I learned that jumping spiders are freaks. They have some of the most gruesome courtship behavior I’ve ever seen. Awesome gators and crocs lurk in the Everglades a six-hour drive away.
What’s been the biggest challenge of making Untamed?
Trying to capture natural history in a week, at each location. When you shoot for the yellow border, the image has to be captivating and better than what people are used to. Plus, you ultimately have to tell a story. Untamed is not a series about getting a shot, it’s a series about wildlife behavior. It all has to make sense, and that’s the biggest challenge.
The sleepless nights, the grime, we’re all used to that.
What was the toughest moment out there?
Trying to film baby sea turtles hatch. We stayed up all night for six days in a row. We were worried it wouldn’t happen and started to panic that we would lose the contract. But finally, they started hatching and it was amazing, though we only got like 30 seconds of usable footage.
What was your favorite moment?
Probably catching crocs in the Everglades. It was in our home state and it was all about the animals. It’s the only place in the world where alligators and crocs coexist. And we filmed a croc eating an eight-foot alligator! We also got to work with some of the greatest biologists in the world: the Croc Docs of the University of Florida.
Being on the boat at night was so cool, even though we were being destroyed by mosquitoes. It was my job to sex the crocs [determine if they were male or female]. So you stick your finger in there. During one moment I started choking on a mosquito, so I stuck my fingers in my mouth to pull it out. Then I realized those were the same two fingers I’d been using to sex crocs.
How tight has your crew become through making Untamed?
We’re sick of each other. [Laughs] But seriously, the project only works because the three of us work. We are constantly pushed by each other. We enjoy each other’s company and have a ton of fun. This has been the hardest I’ve ever worked but it’s also the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
What’s it been like working with National Geographic?
Nat Geo is the mecca for telling wildlife stories. It’s what I have always aspired to.
If I wasn’t working with Nat Geo I’d be doing it on my own on YouTube. But this makes it so much more legit. Otherwise it’s just a guy with a creepy mustache living in a van with his own YouTube channel.
What’s your message to the next generation?
One of the coolest experiences we had while working on the series was when we got to talk about wildlife to 600 school kids in New Mexico. Some of them had never even been to the amazing wildlife refuge that was practically in their backyard [the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge]. But I saw that if you can get kids engaged, they will go see these things themselves. We shouldn’t be the only ones having this much fun.
I also told them that through passion you can do whatever you put your mind to. I mean, I’m not what you think of when you think wildlife filmmaker.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.