2013 Holiday Movie Guide

A Penguin's Story

Filmmaker Anthony Geffen talks about filming penguins in the wild for Adventures of the Penguin King

December 06, 2013
PAUL WILLIAMS

Adventures of the Penguin King tells the story of the life of a penguin on the island of South Georgia.

Nearly 900 miles from Antarctica in the southern Atlantic Ocean sits the small island of South Georgia. During breeding time, the ice-free island is home to elephant seals, leopard seals, albatrosses, and more than 6 million penguins. Filmmaker Anthony Geffen spent five months on the island with a crew to film the penguins and their surroundings. The result is the new film Adventures of the Penguin King, which shows the cycle of the penguins through the story of Rex, a young King penguin who has returned to his home to start a family. Comically narrated by Toy Story actor Tim Allen, the movie opens today in select theaters and through On Demand and other digital platforms (scroll down for a clip). Geffen spoke to TFK about filming in the harsh climate and getting up close to these amazing creatures.

TFK:

When did you have the idea to use funny, dramatic narration?

GEFFEN:

While we were making it, we felt that if we had the right voice and writers, there was a version [of the story] that would work well in the cinema for kids and adults. [Screenwriter] Phillip LaZebnik is a very clever writer. Tim Allen is a great voice and he really loved the material. He didn't just read it. He also added a lot of nice ideas to it as well. We felt it brought the film alive.

TFK:

What traits are unique to King penguins?

GEFFEN:

The thing we liked about them is that their lifestyle is quite interesting, in terms of where they live—right by the seas, so you can capture them in the ocean. The fact that they spend a long time sitting on their eggs is pretty interesting too because that creates all sorts of incidents. So each stage of their life cycle is certainly interesting to a filmmaker.

Filmmakers look out over a colony of penguins.

DANNY SPENCER
Filmmakers look out over a colony of penguins.

TFK:

How close did you get to the animals?

GEFFEN:

We are always very careful not to interfere with their behavior, but the 3D cameras [we used] require that you do get pretty close. The penguins themselves were really interested in the filming. We always laughed and said the same five penguins would come out and watch us. We had a lot of very funny [moments] where the camera team was behind their cranes and the penguins would come right up and start watching as if they were spectators. So they got very close, and we were really close. We wanted you to see the world as though a penguin saw it.

TFK:

South Georgia is home to more than 95% of the world's Antarctic Fur Seals. What was it like to get up close with this rarely seen animal?

GEFFEN:

Fantastic. They are amazing creatures. The nice thing for us is that we were filming in the ocean too, so we were under the water with them. What’s amazing about these animals is, like penguins, they are quite clumsy on shore. They sort of fall over. But as soon as they get in the ocean, they are incredible. They move around very quickly.

TFK:

What were you most surprised to learn about these penguins during your filming?

GEFFEN:

How resistant they are. It’s a harsh place, but they are very rigorous and determined. They live on the edge of a very difficult zone. It's very cold. They've got birds stealing their eggs. But they fight on.

Penguins and their chicks gather near the shore.

DANNY SPENCER
Penguins and their chicks gather near the shore.

TFK:

Is there a part of a penguin's life that you are envious of?

GEFFEN:

The way they fish. I'd love to catch fish like that. They go really deep, they dive, and they spin around. They have so much fun. They play in the water. They love going in and bathing and they groom themselves. But the rest of their life is  pretty tough.

TFK:

What was the most memorable day of filming?

GEFFEN:

The most memorable day was when there was a massive storm and we thought we were going to lose all the equipment. The cameras all got covered in snow and sleet and slush. But some of the days as the winter breaks into spring were just incredible. The skies were magical. The penguins were all on their eggs. Here you are in a corner of the earth with a phenomenal species.

TFK:

What do you hope kids get from this movie?

GEFFEN:

I think one of the most important ways to learn now is to understand an animal or creature first hand. I think the life of a penguin is a pretty interesting one, and hopefully kids can relate to the animal as more than just, "There's a creature with little wings that’s very funny.” Penguins were made popular by blockbuster films, like Happy Feet, but you don't really know what a penguin’s life is from those [films]. Those are characterizations. This is a story that is based on the real story of real penguins.


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