Inside Base Camp
Chris and Martin Kratt have been called New Jersey's biggest export since Bruce Springsteen. The brothers host the Emmy-award-winning PBS series Zaboomafoo and Kratt's Creatures, but as they amble into National Geographic shortly before show time, they look like big kids themselves. Jeans rumpled, T-shirts hanging out, pleasant smiles and brotherly mischief in their eyes; all of this, including the TV studio, is the Kratts' natural environment.
They still call themselves "creature adventurers," which means they like to interact with animals in an unobtrusive way. And although they are now an industry unto themselves with legions of devoted fans, they started right out of college; traveling on the cheap, making films, and trying without success to sell them to television companies back home.
Tom Foreman: Costa Rica was your first big target?
Chris Kratt: We went down to film this nesting event of the Olive Ridley sea turtles. Forty thousand sea turtles come up onto the beach to lay their eggs.
Martin Kratt: There's maybe 15,000 each night and it gets so crowded you can't even find a place to put your foot in the sand. And that was one of the subjects of our first video. Then whatever animal we could find we filmed. Since we had no budget, we got around by getting on the local buses, hitchhiking.
Tom Foreman: You came back here with all of this video, you put it together in your basement, and you went around to the television industry and they said
Christ Kratt: "Maybe it will work for home video but not a TV show. You could never sell it."
Martin Kratt: The thing that kept us going amidst all the rejection from the broadcasters was we were also giving school assemblies and we were just talking to kids about what they liked and what they didn't like. And that was where our encouragement came from because, for the most part, they really liked what we were doing.
Tom Foreman: One of the things that seems to resonate so much with young people is this participatory business, getting your face into the mud and swinging through the trees. Why did you start doing that?
Chris Kratt: Traditional wildlife documentaries viewed animals from afar as scientific objects. We wanted to see the world from the animals' perspective and part of that is just doing the types of things that they do, like you know putting our faces in the mud.
Martin Kratt: When you're actually participating and experiencing what the animals experience you really start to understand them better.
Chris Kratt: Like when we did a dolphin episode in the Grand Bahama Banks. It was amazing because we'd find a pod of spotted dolphins and we'd cut the motor on our boat, jump in with our snorkel gear, and start swimming around as actively as we possibly could. And they'd come over and copy our moves. Those moments are the really special ones.
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