lights,-camera,-impact! making-media-that-matters

This piece comes to us from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). To honor Black History Month, WCS and Nature are sharing five stories of nature and conservation.

Natalie Cash filming gelada in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. ©WCS

Growing up, my parents always told me and my siblings, “Anything that the mind can conceive, you can achieve.” Of course, it was going to take hard work, but there was nothing that we couldn’t want or dream for ourselves. It has led me to a career that they could have probably never imagined but one that I am passionate about.

Today, I serve as the executive producer in charge of in-house video production for the Wildlife Conservation Society. All of the videos we produce are designed to achieve one of three goals: advocacy and fundraising for our global conservation programs, and attendance and revenue generation for our five New York City parks: the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and the New York Aquarium. We try to have as much impact as we can in a short film format.

I began my career in conservation after stints in the Peace Corps and New York’s famous Blue Note Jazz Club. Since arriving at WCS in 2004, I’ve had the pleasure of creating a series of award-winning videos that capture the robust work we are doing at our New York City parks and in our global fieldwork.

Natalie Cash filming western lowland gorilla silverback Kingo and his troop in the Republic of Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. ©Jeff Morey/WCS

My path to WCS was not a straight one. After being done-in by a fetal pig my first year of pre-vet med studies at Texas A&M, I quickly transferred to Xavier University in Louisiana and graduated with a B.A. in Mass Communication. I landed my first job in New Orleans at WRBH, the first 24-hour FM reading radio station for the blind in the country. From there I joined the New Orleans Film Commission, assisting with local productions, including John Woo’s English-language debut, Hard Target.

After moving to New York, I attended film school and sold a short film I directed to air on the Arte Channel in France and Germany. From there, I went to a natural history documentary production company, Pangolin Pictures. That was my first exposure to the world of wildlife filmmaking. At Pangolin, I worked on films for National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, and PBS’s Nature series. My boss and mentor at Pangolin referred me to WCS and I’ve been here ever since.

No matter the nuance, all the videos we produce are 100 percent about animals. It is very fulfilling to know I can contribute my skills to helping wildlife. I have the great privilege of working with staff across our organization. It matters greatly to me that all of our decisions, whether taken in the zoos, the aquarium, or in the field, are based in science.

Natalie Cash, Executive Video Producer, Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo credit: Mark Petersson/WCS

Over the course of my career, the practice of video and film production has changed enormously. Twenty years ago, production roles were more defined and the craft took longer to learn. Today, roles are more fluid and the equipment lighter and less expensive while continuing to produce the highest quality images. Previously cost-prohibitive line items—such as drones, custom music, or high-end graphics and titles—can now be had for a fraction of the investment.

A career creating wildlife documentaries has provided the opportunity to produce so many different styles of video—from a WCS gala piece looking at the poaching crisis through the eyes of a single elephant to an exclusive series of animal encounters with Jim Breheny for WCS Members, from the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to documenting veteran conservationist Andrea Turkalo’s return to the Dzanga Bai research station where she conducted groundbreaking forest elephant research until political unrest forced her to flee.

I’ve had a chance to share Eric Sanderson’s Mannahatta project—looking at how the ecology of Manhattan has shifted and changed from the days of its original inhabitants, the Lenape Indians, in 1609. I produced a Bathysphere and Beyond video commemorating the 80th anniversary of founding Bronx Zoo ornithology curator William Beebe’s record-setting underwater descent in 1934. For the 125th anniversary of WCS’s founding as the New York Zoological Society, I worked with WCS librarian and archivist Madeleine Thompson to produce a short film covering the organization’s history from 1895 to the present.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan to produce a film on the illegal wildlife trade in war zones, and in 2021, I was honored to be named a Fellow of the Explorers Club for producing films of scientific merit.

Natalie Cash speaking at The Explorers Club during the New York Wild Film Festival. Photo credit: ©Peter Domorak/NY Wild

As I look back at my career, it’s a journey that I am extremely proud of and one that I know would have been so foreign to my forebears. My great-grandfather lived a remarkable life, born enslaved in 1843 and passing away a free man at 88 years of age in 1931. A long life blessed with sixteen children and yet, in a single generation, two of his sons became surgeons, with my great-uncle graduating from Meharry Medical School in 1915 and the youngest, my grandfather, graduating from Meharry in 1942.

It is from my family that I draw my single greatest source of inspiration and the knowledge that because of them, anything I can conceive, I can achieve.

The post Lights, Camera, Impact! Making Media That Matters appeared first on Nature.

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