‘Epic Adventure’s Bertie Gregory on ‘Badass Scientists’ and Why there’s No Need to ‘Sensationalize Wildlife’ (EXCLUSIVE)

by Jon D. B.
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Ask the star of Disney+ and National Geographic‘s Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory and he’ll tell you, “If you’re having to sensationalize wildlife, you need to try harder!”

As a National Geographic explorer, 29-year-old Bertie Gregory has an impressive career behind him already. His biggest show yet, Epic Adventures, is set to introduce the charismatic filmmaker to a far larger audience. NatGeo lauds Gregory as “the face of the next generation of naturalists,” and as he channels a young Sir David Attenborough’s legacy (a hero many of us share with Bertie) throughout the first season, I’m inclined to agree enthusiastically.

Bertie’s own enthusiasm is contagious in the show, but it never overshadows his ultimate goal. “I think telling these animals’ stories in the way that they are is really important,” he tells me ahead of Epic Adventure‘s premiere. “And one thing I’m really passionate about is making sure that we get people excited about the natural world, and also about science.”

Right away, I was immediately taken with how much I was learning through Bertie’s epic adventures. Typical naturalist fare of the last decades skirts educational value for sensationalist, contrived “wham, bang” storytelling; the assumption by studios being that audiences need manufactured drama to stay engaged with the lives of wild animals. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. And Bertie couldn’t agree more.

‘What [animals] do is absolutely mind-blowing on a daily basis. They have the most unbelievable lives just to survive’

“In my opinion, if you’re having to sensationalize wildlife, you need to try harder! Because the dramas that go on in these animals daily lives, without needing to make it crazy with dramatic music and so on, you don’t need that!” he laughs from a much-needed cozy hotel room amidst globe-trotting. “What [animals] do is absolutely mind-blowing on a daily basis. They have the most unbelievable lives just to survive,” he emphasizes. And he’s right.

A perfect example is the epic showcase “Battle with the Beasts,” or Season 1’s Episode 3. There, in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, Bertie and his teams locate the Mwamba Pride of African lions; one of the strongest lion families in that part of the continent. Through the help of “badass scientists,” as Bertie appropriately labels them, alongside the best trackers and cameramen in the business, the episode highlights the masterful struggle that is predator and prey relationships in Africa’s vast wilds.

And it is a spectacle to behold. There’s no filler, no contrived drama, or shying away from how dirty and hard the work of naturalist filmmaking is. Instead, Epic Adventures offers a gritty look at the triumphs and failures of Zambia’s remaining lions as they survive in protected lands carved out for them.

‘Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory’ Shows Wildlife is Wild Enough On it’s Own, No Filler Needed

In full, “Battle with the Beasts” is a 30-day excursion condensed into a single episode with less-than-an-hour running time, too. By the end, Bertie and his teams get a go at what they’d been hoping to see for that full month of documenting: the titular battle between lions and their supersized prey, African buffalo.

But just as nature always proves, things do not go at all how the NatGeo team expected. And for good reason.

Bertie Gregory films as a lioness and her three cubs from the Mwamba pride in South Luangwa rest. Local guides estimate these cubs to be around 3 months old. (Credit: National Geographic for Disney+)

“Imagine that every time you wanted to go eat, you had to go and find a herd of three hundred angry buffalo that each weigh fifteen-hundred-pounds with giant horns and a bad attitude! And you had to somehow get your way into that herd and bring one of them down. It certainly makes going to the supermarket look pretty basic,” he laughs.

But with expertise on their side, Epic Adventure’s crews turn the lion’s “failures” into humbling successes. And this, Bertie says, is all thanks to his scientist colleagues.

“I did an undergraduate in Zoology and trained in science, but I would definitely not call myself a scientist. I’m a filmmaker. I do know the importance of it, though, and we’ve been to the ends of the Earth. So it makes sense to collaborate with scientists, just so what we’re doing can contribute to science.”

The key difference with Epic Adventures, however, is that Bertie moves to “make sure those scientists are actually in the shows.”

‘We work with some badass scientists’

‘This idea that scientists all wear white lab coats and are nerdy or whatever is just not true. They do extraordinary things. And we also use that science to set these amazing wildlife spectacles that we’re seeing within an environmental context’

“And you’ve seen it in the show! We work with some badass scientists,” Bertie lauds with a face-wide grin. “This idea that scientists all wear white lab coats and are nerdy or whatever is just not true. They do extraordinary things. And we also use that science to set these amazing wildlife spectacles that we’re seeing within an environmental context,” he explains.

When it comes to Earth’s wildlife in our age of rapidly-changing (or declining) climate, getting to the truth of the matter is a science-based venture. This is absolutely where Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory shines.

“All-too-often in nature documentaries, wildlife is painted as living in this Garden of Eden and everything is fine. But the fact is, the natural world is in big trouble. And we’ve got to do something about it,” Bertie offers.

Local scientist showing Bertie the size of a lion’s claw. (Credit: NationalGeographic/George Pagliero for Disney+)

For the U.K.-born naturalist, “Talking to the viewer about the threats is really important, and to show the challenges wildlife faces. But that can also get dark and depressing. So we’re making sure we also focus on the good news. We met some amazing people in this series that are already doing awesome stuff to make sure these wild animals continue to have amazing lives. And we’ve got to celebrate that, for sure.”

Epic Adventures does just that by ending each episode with a button of hope; a message on the positive progress made in each ecosystem Bertie and his teams filmed in. His passion stems from that hope, not fear. And it’s what makes the show, and his career at large, so promising.

Sir David Attenborough and a Home-Grown ‘Obsession’ with Earth’s Oceans Created Today’s Bertie Gregory

Born in Britain, Bertie grew up idolizing that most prolific naturalist of our age, David Attenborough. Or, as Bertie knows him, “The legend himself, Sir David Attenborough.”

“He really is a national treasure here in the U.K. I grew up watching his documentaries, and aspired to work on documentaries of that scale, with that amount of animal behavior. And it is insane, but I was very lucky a couple of years ago to work with him,” Gregory smiles. “I got to film for one of his big BBC series, which was a big ‘pinch me’ moment.”

Browsing Bertie’s career (or even just his Instagram), however, will reveal his deepest passion: Earth’s oceans. Much of Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory is oceanic, as are the majority of his excursions. This, he tells me, is no accident, either.

“My passion for wildlife comes from an obsession with the ocean,” Bertie reveals. “My mum and dad and my three brothers were all obsessed with water sports. So from a really early age, I was being thrown into the sea, or bobbing up and down on a surfboard,” he grins.

‘Try and connect with the natural world as much as you can. It’s so rewarding’

“I think when you spend that amount of time outside, as you know at Outsider, you gain an appreciation, sort of just by osmosis, for it all. And then you try to connect with the natural world as much as you can. It’s so rewarding.”

Bertie Gregory filming in shark filled waters. (Credit: National Geographic/Bertie Gregory for Disney+)

In the end, Bertie hopes Epic Adventures helps inspire the next generation of Outsiders, explorers, and humans in general, to do the same.

“I’d love for anyone who watches this series to come away just stoked about the natural world, because it is just truly awesome, as is the wildlife that we’re lucky enough to be around on our planet. Or to be thinking about the challenges that the natural world faces, or be inspired by the amazing people that I’m lucky enough to work with. If even five percent, no, one percent of viewers come away with any of those feelings, I’ll be very, very happy.”

It’s a win-win for us all, if so. A Disney+ Day premiere, the five-part series from National Geographic, Epic Adventures with Bertie Gregory, premieres September 8 only on Disney+.

Armed with leading-edge film technology, 29-year-old National Geographic Explorer Bertie Gregory takes viewers along on his journeys to capture real-life animal stories in some of the harshest environments on our planet.

National Geographic
Outsider.com