Rick Andresen lowered a GoPro into the Komodo dragon's lair, positioning it inches behind the animal's dinner. Soon the lizard would race forward to capture his meal, giving Andresen his shot. That was the hope, anyway. "I had the zookeeper right next to me to let me know when I needed to pull the camera out," he tells us.
The close encounter took place while Andresen, a producer/director at Mayo Clinic, was making a series of videos for the Mayo Clinic Kids channel, one of several in-house TV stations available to patients at Mayo Clinic. "Originally we thought it would be cool to have a webcam at the Minnesota Zoo and livestream the animals," Andresen says. While zoo staff were excited about that idea, the stars of the show were less enthused. "Most of the time, the animals just slept," Andresen says.
So Andresen decided to go the Marlin Perkins/Steve Irwin route and create educational videos instead. He reached out to parks around the area, asking for access to the animals and help bringing their stories to life. "Everyone was eager to get involved," he says. "These places dropped fees and did whatever they could to support us."
Andresen worked with zoo staff to make videos about gibbons (and a certain large lizard), and tapped naturalists at Quarry Hill Nature Center to create videos on fox snakes, painted turtles and northern saw-whet owls. He also traveled north to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in Middle River, Minnesota, and the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, for pieces on moose and (you guessed it) wolves. For a video about dinosaurs, Andresen worked with a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago to learn about its resident T-rex, Sue. "We talked about how paleontologists use some of the same techniques that doctors use, studying X-rays and doing detective work," Andresen says. He even filmed a dinosaur dig, joining museum staff on the hunt in the Mussentuchit Wash area near Green River, Utah.
We couldn't resist asking Andresen about the difference between filming humans and animals. "It's a lot harder to shoot animals," he tells us. "I can't tell you how many times I would be filming and the animals would turn around and all I'd see were tails." (Which led to a helpful tip from one of the zookeepers: "If you're ever at a zoo and want the animals to turn around, rattle your keys," Andresen says. "The animals will think someone's opening their cage to feed them.")
Although shows about dinosaur digs and prairie dogs might seem like child's play, they actually serve a serious purpose. "These videos are meant as a diversion to get kids to stop thinking about what's going on in their lives," Andresen says. "We hope they help lower stress and tension." That's the goal behind the programming on other Mayo Clinic TV channels as well, including the Mayo Humanities Channel, Mayo History Channel and Falcon Cam. "Health care is more than doctors and nurses," Andresen says. "It's about the environment. It's about how people treat you. For Mayo Clinic to provide their patients with something like this is a big deal. If these videos make a kid's stay a little better, that's a huge return on investment."
We couldn't agree more.
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