Written by Murray Ashton on Feb 3, 2012. Posted in Interviews

On location with Line Producer Mags Lightbody

Mags Lightbody is a freelance Associate Producer specialising in science and wildlife documentaries and specialist factual dramas. She started out as a Biology graduate and field scientist researching chimpanzees and monkeys in Uganda and South Africa before breaking into Natural History filming with Oxford Scientific Films.

Since then she has filmed across the globe, mostly in Africa, Australasia and the Middle East, for the BBC, National Geographic and for independent and commercial productions.

Where are you from & where do you live now?

I'm half Scottish, but was brought up in Oxfordshire. After ten years in London and three years in Sydney, we returned. We live in a lovely market town called Thame.

How did you get into this business and what are you doing now?

I did some chimpanzee research in Uganda in my year off before university and another primate research project in South Africa when I graduated. It left me wanting to find something fun to do with a biology degree that required working outdoors and would let me see the world and the wildlife in it, but that didn't require a PhD and getting too specialised.

Drama is a whole different ball game to documentaries and really opened my eyes to a whole new way of making TV.

I was lucky to get some valuable production experience as a temp at the BBC in London and I eventually got my big break with Oxford Scientific Films (OSF). I learnt invaluable skills from the fabulous Sean Morris and PM-extraordinaire Annie Thomas, especially regarding how to work in a small team, treat people we deal with respectfully and cope with just about anything; the early years at OSF were the best training of my life and the most fun.

I've remained freelance since then. I like the variety, freedom and choice of productions, though you have to have faith that the next job will come along before the bank manager calls!

What kind of projects do you tend to work on?

Blue chip, long-form TV documentaries, though I have worked on a docudrama and really enjoyed the experience. Drama is a whole different ball game to documentaries and really opened my eyes to a whole new way of making TV; the organisational skills that go into it are useful for documentary producers too. I've also done corporate films, reality TV and mainstream entertainment (in Australia, where there's little else!).

Which foreign locations have you filmed in over the past few years?

I shoot a lot in Africa. In the last couple of years I've filmed in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, Egypt, Djibouti, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. I’ve also worked in the UAE, Oman, Israel, Russia, Croatia, Turkey and and a bit in the US.

Who were the location scouts you used on these projects?

Peter Jones in Tanzania, Zablon Bayene in Ethiopia, Moonlighting Films in South Africa, Viewfinders in Kenya, Kirsten Behrens or Wolfgang Knoepfler in Namibia and Aaron Hughes in Dubai.

What advice can you pass on to your colleagues about filming in these places?

There are tricky customs issues in Tanzania. We've had problems twice now and each time there's has been a different problem and no clear solution. You have to be open to schedule changes in Africa and in the Middle East - many people we need to work with don't have the same time constraints that we put on ourselves in production.

Are there any film-friendly locations, hotels, bars or restaurants that you would like to mention?

Ol Pejeta camp in Kenya had never had a film crew before we arrived in March 2011. We gave them a few tips and now they have had a few successful shoots there, including a crew from the NHU in Bristol. They are in a lovely spot near Mt Kenya. It’s great for game and it's a private conservancy so you can walk outside your vehicle a bit, unlike in most national parks. It's a lovely tented camp with great accommodation. The food was astonishing and they were really accommodating to our crew's needs, recharging our batteries with their generator and generally being very helpful.

The BBC has introduced new policies where each production has to make an effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

Peter Jones' camp, Ndarakwai in Tanzania, looks amazing with views of Mt Kilimanjaro but I haven't had a chance to go there yet! Namibia is a great filming location - large open spaces with few people, amazing landscapes, easy access, great accommodation and so on, as is South Africa.

Are there any particular crew members or services that you would recommend?

Moonlighting will look after you brilliantly if you're in South Africa. All their crew are very experienced and many have worked on big feature films. They are adaptable, professional and fun too.

Aaron at FilmQuip in Dubai will look after you and your kit in a country that’s pretty tricky to film in.

Do you consider your carbon footprint when shooting?

Yes. It's increasingly important and the BBC has introduced new policies where each production has to make an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. We have started 'shoot sharing' with other productions if the same presenter or location is needed and we try and do recces on either end of a shoot to reduce the number of flights. Over the last few years I, along with a lot of my production colleagues, have worked increasingly from home to save time and fuel.

Where would you like to film where you haven’t already been?

I love the wilderness, but generally I go to 'hot' places so anywhere a bit colder would be different. I'm looking forward to filming in Canada and Washington State this year, though I'm missing a trip to Greenland which would have been great. I'd also love to go to Argentina or Chile, but my husband is also keen so we're hoping to holiday there instead.

Where have you filmed that you feel represents the best value for money or production values?

South Africa. The crew, food, accommodation and locations are brilliant.

Who’s your favourite location caterer?

Ol Pejeta in Kenya was the best food I've had on location. Otherwise anywhere fast, healthy and cheap!

In what place are you happiest?

Anywhere remote and beautiful. The plains of Africa always make me happy, as does a steaming jungle where monkeys are chattering and chimps screaming.

Thank you.

Click here to email Mags.

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