Breathtaking nature photography is the hallmark of BBC’s planet-centric documentaries, but the network's latest offering takes a novel chronological approach, putting the Earth and its flora, fauna and natural wonders in the context of specific points in time. Narrated by Matthew MacFadyen (“Ripper Street”), “24 Hours on Earth” premieres on March 11 and continues March 18 on BBC America.

“I have produced several natural history documentaries, but the idea of making a show that allowed us to move through landscapes and include so many fantastic different characters was really exciting,” says producer Chloe Pearne, who shared her insights into the making of the film.

MNN: How did the project come about?

Chloe Pearne: The project originated from the development team within the Natural History Unit at the BBC, and it came about from two ideas merging: Firstly, the Natural History Unit has crews filming incredible animal behavior all over the world every year, and some of this footage never makes it to our screens, as they might not be suitable for a specific series. That leaves a library full of astonishing film just waiting to be used. Secondly, we wanted to tell a new story, to look at the natural world from a different angle. Usually the large predators are the stars of the show; they’re the biggest threat and create the most dramatic scenes, but we wanted to show that even they are at the mercy of a higher power … the sun.

Why did you decide to approach it in a chronological manner? Why do you think this is so effective?

Once the concept of the sun as the main character was decided, it made sense to choose to use its cycle as a structure. The rising and setting of the sun creates the rhythm for all life on Earth. It’s a powerful theme, and it allowed us to make a truly global show. Focusing the story on a day in the life of our planet allowed us to include lots of different species of animals in very different countries, but that are all united under the sun.

Meerkats in the morning

Photo: Peter Blackwell/

Was this newly shot footage or repurposed from other nature documentaries?

“24 hours on Earth” includes unseen footage from series such as “Planet Earth,” “Frozen Planet” and “Life.” To get to tell a story using footage from some of the best wildlife cameramen in the business is a real treat!

What do you think are the most spectacular and surprising things in it? Any favorite sequences?

I think it’s amazing that animals will behave differently at certain times of the day and not just because it’s hot or getting dark. The position of the sun in the sky creates windows of opportunity, but because the sun is moving, animals might only have minutes or hours to make the most of the opportunity. Take the great white shark for example: it’s one of the most ferocious predators on the planet, but even it needs the sun’s help to catch breakfast. In the early morning, the angle of the sun is just right to silhouette a seal on the surface but not strong enough to blow the shark’s cover in the depths below. There are only a couple of hours of this perfect light for the shark to make a surprise attack.

What sequences or subjects were the most challenging or difficult to get? And how much footage did you have to go through?

Making new sequences from a library of rushes is extremely challenging. Wildlife cameramen will film in a location for days or weeks to capture natural behavior, making the library huge. In order to find the key shots that tell the right story, you need to sift through hours and hours of footage. We brought over 200 hours of footage into the edit room and our team of researchers went through more than double that beforehand!

sea dragon

Photo: Alex Mustard/

Why was Matthew MacFadyen the perfect choice to narrate?

We wanted someone who could convey the wonder and awe of our planet and give gravity to the power of the sun but also bring the different characters to life. It’s a lot to ask, but Matthew is a wonderful storyteller, so it was the perfect choice.

What do you hope viewers take away?

That at any one moment in the day or night, something extraordinary is happening in the natural world.

Do you have any other documentaries in the works?

The Natural History Unit at the BBC is always busy! Teams are working on projects from Alaska to Japan, New Zealand and China. Plenty to look forward to!

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'24 Hours on Earth': A day in the life of our planet
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