Volume 36, Issue 3, 2017

Behind the Lens

When you come to Texas to film bats, you call Skip

Skip has filmed in all types of locations, but Bracken remains at the top of his
all-time favorite places.
Photo: Skip Hobbie.

When Skip Hobbie was younger, he wanted to study reptiles. As a young fan of natural history television, Skip grew up listening to the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough and watching the unbridled enthusiasm of Steve Irwin. He later found himself studying film in college—and after a choice encounter with fire ants (having worked on a student film about the notorious arthropods), National Geographic hired Skip as a production assistant. One thing led to another; and now, several years later, Skip is one of the premier wildlife cinematographers in Texas.

Skip has earned himself quite the reputation for his film work at Bracken Cave, in addition to the other bat meccas throughout the state. Being from Austin himself, Skip was certainly familiar with the local bat congregations at Congress Avenue Bridge (as well as the nearby Bracken Cave); for Skip, bats were hometown icons, and they soon became a frequent subject of his film work.

“My very first time filming [at Bracken Cave] was in 2011 for a National Geographic show. I got to head to Bracken with this brand-new slow motion camera. I remember that summer we were experiencing a drought, so the bats emerged a bit earlier than usual. They were magical, coming out of the cave in full sunlight—their wings glowing with the sun,” Skip recalled.
“I’ll never forget that moment.”

Bracken became one of those locations that Skip would visit time and time again as a filmmaker, allowing him to become familiar with the preserve and its dynamic interplay of life.
“We’re always rooting for the bats, but it’s amazing to get to witness the diversity of a food chain in one location—raptors, snakes, skunks, raccoons, hawks, falcons—you don’t find many places on earth like this.”

When it comes to capturing some of nature's most magical
moments, patience is one of the strongest tools in Skip's arsenal.
Photo: Skip Hobbie.

However, filming at such a unique location certainly isn’t a walk in the park, even if Skip makes it look easy.

“One of the challenges is that shifts in weather can change what time the bats emerge. We hope to capture predation sequences; we want to see hawks catching bats. But there’s no guarantee—they might not even be close enough to you. The best way to overcome this is by having as many options as possible.”

This past July, Skip filmed at Bracken for a National Geographic special called Earth Live. It was a type of event the network had previously never attempted: a live broadcast of wildlife from 25 locations all over the planet transmitted via satellite.

“I had friends filming monkeys in India, sharks in Fiji, and lions in Kenya—all being beamed back to a studio in New York. Bracken made the list of 25, and because all of my years filming there, I was behind the camera for that.”

There’s little doubt that Skip’s familiarity with the location and attention to detail made him the man for the job.



“No matter how fancy the camera, nothing ever can quite capture the magic of Bracken Cave. Slow motion helps capture the numbers, but the most important tool in my arsenal is patience. Patience is a valuable trait in wildlife filmmaking.

“Repetition is really important as well—you get to see the angles and know where you want to be and when for the next emergence. It’s so much to take in and you can’t be in every place at once. That’s why I keep coming back to Bracken. It’s such a treat.” 

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