Interview: Director Peter Meyer Talks About His Documentary Called ‘The Boy From The Wild’
The documentary, The Boy From The Wild, is based on a book written by Peter Meyer and International Bestselling Author of The Elephant Whisperer, Graham Spence and was written from the encouragement of award-winning actor Liam Neeson. Later the head of Disney and National Geographic for India and Far East suggested that the book would be a huge success as a documentary and now comes the release.
The True Conservation 5 Star Documentary Film Connects Real Life Stories To Nature
The Boy From The Wild story presents the true accounts of conservation icon James Meyer and his great legacy and impact on the wildlife in South Africa. The story is set in Durban at the Karkloof Valley Nature Reserve, a hidden wilderness gem situated in the hilly countryside of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The Boy From The Wild digs deep into the cultural and natural history of African conservation as well as the creation behind the entire park and educates millions on the importance of wildlife.
- The Boy From The Wild started its legacy as a international bestseller book written by James Meyers son & Graham Spence
- The film uncovers the great legacy of James Meyer and what his commitment was like creating a better life for the wilderness of South Africa
- The 5-star film is narrated by James’ son Peter Meyer; the real boy from the wild who grew up learning the life of conservation and animal welfare.
- The Boy From The Wild documentary film will be available to stream on Apple TV at the end of this month.
The Boy From The Wild highlights the picturesque surroundings of Durban, produced alongside South African filmmaker Werner Kruse, it outlines the stunning vistas of the Safari World. The story really hits home on the elements of connection between wildlife and humans, pinpointing the educational elements of protection and conservation as well as social interaction like the concept of survival or respecting your elders. There is something very unique and rare about this story, Peter is the first to tell his story of growing up in the jungle and learning about respect, nature, protection and survival, qualities that all parents encourage.
Today 100 elephants will be poached, tomorrow another 100 (according to World Elephant Day). The impact of COVID-19 has equaled less tourism in South Africa meaning there is no money flow for protecting the wildlife and more locals are turning to poaching as a ‘quick money’ alternative. Conservation is vital to protect the at-risk species and education around animal rehabilitation is needed to preserve their surroundings. The Boy From The Wild story and the Safari Park’s mission is to project the importance of conservation, educating others about the experiences that happen on the front line of animal welfare.
The story also showcases the childhood of Peter Meyer which may not have been conventional, but was certainly exciting, and has instilled a lifelong respect for conservation. Growing up surrounded by surreal wilderness, with elephants and rhinos in his back garden Peter never knew his life was different. Saving animals and protecting the surroundings were his normal day-to-day activities, and he has some amazing tales to tell because of it. Peter went from the wildness of the jungle to the (some might say) wilder life of the city as he has gone on to become a lead hotelier and now actor in blockbuster films such as Allied and also The Commuter where he met Liam Neeson who plays a key role in the success of The Boy From The Wild.
“This is a story about bringing animals out of captivity from around the World and back into the wild. It is a love story to conservation, and seems to be resonating with audiences, which is obviously the intention of any filmmaker.” – Peter Meyer, son of James Meyer and the real Boy From The Wild.
In the documentary, you follow Peter Meyer as he educates a young and committed conservation student about animal rehabilitation and walks them through some of his personal experiences during his extraordinary childhood.
Paramount industry professionals estimated that the film production ought to cost from £150k to £200k although the production of the film was made with a budget of only £5,000! This was because many of the people involved wanted to help the production for free, they wanted to be part of this cause and do something to better the world.
Interview with the director Peter Meyer
The movie has several important focal points – man’s relationship with nature, understanding wilderness, growing up to become a better person through developing a respectful relationship with animals, respecting your elders and your heritage, and so forth. We’d like to know which one or a couple of these you think are the most important?
All are important but in particular the relationship with Nature as that encompasses everything because it sets the tone for learning and respecting your environment. Living in the Wild having that automatic connection meant the life lessons like patience, respect, cultural diversity, valuing family, respecting elders, valuing space (or territory in an animals case) all came naturally but also through my parents lessons and values. What people sometimes forget is the similarity between wildlife and humans. Once upon a time we lived amongst the wild being as much a wild animal to them as they are to us.
We’ve seen how emotional you were throughout the movie. What was the hardest part for you, emotionally? Returning to the place that raised you? Or, perhaps, reliving the relationship you had with your father through his legacy? What happened to the park in the end? You returned to it as a guest… why is that so?
Both. Going home to the place that raised me, the sacred ground that captured my first footprints was so powerful in my soul as I appreciate it wasn’t a home like most others, so the impact was very emotional. But more, it’s the place created by my father, and mother, that was his dream, his vision and love to make something so special that gave me some of my most incredible years. Most of all it was the bond with him, the fond memories, the incredible adventures, the moments and life lessons with his wisdom that so early on tried to make me a young little man. When I returned, I also felt his spirit there and that was very hard emotionally as I simply miss him since he passed, so any trigger like that can open the floodgates of deep emotions. My tears flooded that sacred ground around me.
The documentary film was based on your book. How much of the book is in the movie? I mean, it’s difficult to translate such a book into such a movie, it wasn’t a very easy transition, but you were quite successful and your emotional investment is quite evident. How did you write the screenplay? How difficult of a task was it?
A lot of the book is in it but its more the important bits of the book that relate to the Game Reserve the most. The documentary is really about giving a visual of the beauty of the place and some of the key stories, how it was created and why it was so unique for conservation but also the key message for the relationship between the wild and humans. It’s a tribute to my father mostly. I didn’t write any screenplay; well I guess you could say I had the book I wrote; I just knew what I wanted to film and what I wanted to talk about.
It was difficult emotionally as I hadn’t been back for a long time but also since my father passed, so controlling my emotions was the hardest. In terms of production, it was difficult in some ways due to budget and flying to location and filming in the wild, never knowing what might happen. However, it was easy in other ways simply because of the great team of people filming, supporting as well as the owners of the safari helping us. I was very lucky to have such great people around.
You also directed the film. How was that for you? We know you did some acting work, but directing is always different, especially when a documentary film is concerned. Was it difficult? Do you think the fact that you directed a documentary film made your job easier or more difficult? Would you, perhaps, like to direct a feature film, or something animated one day?
It was very different but also enjoyable. I think for me it was easier in some ways as I knew the story, I knew the shots needed and what I wanted to get out of it and I knew the location, so it helped, but again I also had a good team that had creative ideas and ways to enhance my vision also, using their skill set and that team effort brought to life something moving, honest and cinematic.
It was my first directing role and first film I have made. Yes, I would love to do more directing as creativity and leadership has always been my strengths. I do think directing this made it easier because I knew what I wanted but the pressure is so much greater because you don’t want to fail, nor let the team down or ultimately not produce something you have spent, in some ways, your whole life preparing.
Something, perhaps, with Liam Neeson? Yes, we heard that Liam Neeson was indirectly involved with this movie and that he had a lot of direct influence on the story of The Boy from the Wild. Could you tell us a bit more about that? Namely, Fiction Horizon also has a movie section and I, personally, am a big, big fan of Mr. Neeson ever since Schindler’s List, so we’d certainly like to hear about his involvement in such a wonderful project.
Liam and I met on the set of the Commuter and I was a featured extra on the film and was placed next to him on the train. We were on it for a few days and one day he said to me “I like your boots”, genuinely he did and I told them I got them online, what I didn’t tell him was my mum had got them online for me as a birthday gift (hahah), gotta stay somewhat cool in front of Liam, you know.
Anyway, we got to chatting and he picked up my accent was not from the UK and we eventually got to talking about where I grew up and what I was thinking of doing based on the story and showed him some images. He turned around and said “f**k it you got to do it, who else has got a story like that on this train” (referring to the set we were on).
That encouragement, knowing someone like him could think it’s a great story, was huge and so from there I got a Ghost-writer and then essentially the rest is history. He was such a nice guy and so down to earth. He would say hi to everyone on set, including the catering staff, cleaners etc. I would love to do more with Liam and/or even get him down there and shoot something together there.
Now, we’d like to know about the park itself. You’ve saved numerous animals by bringing them there. We heard you speaking about the increased numbers of animals. Do you think that such initiatives and locations should be present everywhere around the world? I mean, Africa is known for its wildlife and it has a lot of endangered species, but shouldn’t all animals be able to have such wonderful living conditions, whether they’re in Tanzania, Nicaragua, Cambodia or Russia? Could such initiatives restore the natural balance and slow down, if not altogether stop the extinction of animal species around the world?
I totally agree with your Question. Yes. It would be great and in fairness there are a lot of private game reserves that have done wonderful and amazing conservation work and still are. There are wonderful people helping, raising funds, awareness etc. I think my father taking animals from around the world and back into the wild was incredible, and at the time full of vision and great foresight.
Naturally over time the animals populated, and it was genuinely a very safe location especially with the high hills making it hard for animals to escape or for poachers to get in. It’s not an easy thing to do and its expensive and requires huge support, logistical support, security, space etc etc etc.
Yes, it would be great to see more places like it with the same initiative, and there are, but the reality is we should never be having to do this in the first place. Greed, money, commercialization, poaching, human expansion, deforestation has led to animals moving out of their habitat and dying as a result. It needs governments to support, as well to put resources and laws in place to stop all of it and especially poaching.
Also, more importantly for me, we need to educate children in school and make them aware of this and compulsory that they do. The next generation need to learn young to make the difference and not just about wildlife conservation, but racism, gender equality, global warming etc, things that really matter in the world that are still such big problems that we have not solved yet. Children are key to the success of “change”.
We’ve noticed you have a strong connection to your late father. Mr. Meyer seems to have been an amazing man and the film portrays him as a very noble and caring man. I am sure that our readers would like to know more about him as a person; I for one, was intrigued after seeing the film. Could you tell us a bit about him personally? What was he like? His personality? What did he like to do for leisure?
I was lucky to have great parents, and especially a great father. He was my best friend, my hero and a man I respected immensely even in my most rebellious stubborn days growing up. He was literally a “gentleman”, kind-hearted, genuine, caring, loving and full of wisdom through experience.
He was the kind that if your “back was against the wall” he would put himself between you and the wall to push you forward. He was very successful in the property business in the UK but humble to his successes. He made money, yes, but he gave so much of it for family and the greater good. He would look after his friends too when in need and always be a voice or an ear when needed.
His love for adventure never left him, his love for something unique and different was infectious and so often successful. He was handsome and charming and was a splitting image of the late and great Patrick Swayze and danced just like him also. But he was fun also, humorous and loved a good laugh. The book really credits him massively and you will see the emotional connection to him.
He was a surfer, a champion horse rider, a businessman, a lover for wildlife, a creator of things that mattered, a great husband, but above all a great dad and the person that everyone liked. He’d walk into a room and you’d feel his presence and even since he has passed people feel the loss and emptiness.
You mentioned that your father acquired animals from all around the world, which is amazing. You mentioned London, but you even mentioned Czechoslovakia! Coming from a post-communist country (Croatia, which was part of Yugoslavia), I am quite aware of the conditions in a socialist state – and Czechoslovakia was even a part of the Warsaw Pact – during the Cold War. How difficult was it for your father to acquire all those animals? Are there any more exotic or specific locations from which the animals were acquired?
It was not easy from what I remember and more than anything it wasn’t easy for the animals. Taking animals from captivity back into the wild is one thing but transporting them thousands of miles is quite the other, so much goes into it from man’s perspective and not just financially, but so much stress is on the animals also. We took animals out of Zoos too, London Zoo in particular and also even brought Cape Buffalo over from Texas in the USA.
We also brought animals in from other parts of South Africa and at times moved animals to other parts of Africa also. For example, we moved the Elephants we had to Botswana at one stage as a parting gift fr the Elephant Trainer who looked after them and people may know them as “Living with Elephants” Foundation with Jabu the elephant who is famous on Youtube. They were our elephants. Sadly, the elephant trainer, Doug, was killed by a wild rogue elephant last year.
9) Now for a philosophical question. Being raised by the wilderness, do you think it made you different? I mean, it certainly made you a better, more complete person, the synergy you achieved with nature, but did it raise you to be different from your friends raised in urban areas or even large, metropolitan cities? You mentioned your mother, how she gave up her urban heritage for the wilderness, which was a wonderful moment in the film. Aristotle said that man is a rational animal, but still an animal, just as a rhino or a hippo. What is your opinion on that? Is man incomplete without a bond with nature?
I think we all need to remember that we were all once living with the wild from the Cavemen era and we need to be reminded how important nature is. I do think it made me different in many ways and also at different stages in my life. As a young boy I was raised to be prepared quicker from what dangers and excitement surrounded me, I was also taught to learn from experience.
I learnt failure can be your greatest success sometimes. I have always been beyond my years throughout my life, and I do feel that is a reflection of my growing up in the wild but above all my parents and the people and experiences I have had. That doesn’t mean I was always right, as I made mistakes, but that is the beauty of life too as it makes us stronger. I think I gained a different appreciation more than anything for nature and wildlife and its importance and our importance to protect them.
My nature in me has always been protective and again that is something you learn from the wild and also my parents. You can’t help but want to protect in the wild and help where possible and that has been with me throughout and seems to be something engrained in me. My mother and father had many occasions to protect and save me in the wild and that is the same when a lion protects its cubs or any parent, especially mother protects her young. The similarities are so “similar” in how wildlife is to us.
I think what you can learn from a variety of different animals is amazing as it will teach you a lot about variety of people and cultures. Handling a Lion to a Rhino is no different in some ways than handling races, religions, minorities, majorities, genders. The thing that is common between them is Respect and knowing that “different” is ok. My mum adapting to the wild was amazing and in some ways more amazing than my Dads move as she was pregnant at the time, then had us as young children in a dangerous yet beautiful environment and working to support the place and us.
Strength of a women is so powerful, and my mum is that in bucketloads. Once thing however that really zoned in on me is “adapt” and something I constantly find useful in life and preach, which maybe also explains my wide variety of careers. Adapt where needed and especially in the current climate of Covid.
Adapt to survive. Adapt to thrive. Sometimes in life you need to learn when to be a Lion, other times when to be an Eagle and fly or a lot of the time when to be a Chameleon to blend in. Nature and wildlife is full of lessons and knowing how and when to adapt.
A funny thing in life for me is, I have always been a good swimmer and in school I would normally win all my races and not because I wanted to be the best but possibly because of how I was in the wild. My parents taught me to swim in a pool at a baby young age, but I remember most my guardian, making me swim in the river in the wild and going from rock to rock, going further and further. And when I got stronger, she would teach me to get even stronger by swimming up-river against the current. You push yourself harder there than you would in a pool, so when I hit the pool lane and swam, maybe nature had moulded me to use my arms faster with my legs too. Simple but again “adapting”.
Finally, we’d like to close this interview with a humorous question. Namely, how would you compare yourself to Kipling’s Mowgli? I mean, you haven’t been raised by wolves… and then later a panther and a bear while trying to escape a pack of dancing orangutans and a tiger with a grudge… but you’ve come closer to the Jungle Book protagonist than, perhaps, 99% of the population. You were, in a way, raised by the animals that shaped you, by the two snakes that bit you, by Big Boy and every other animal in the park; they taught you much and they certainly changed you. Would you consider yourself a modern version of Mowgli?
Hahaha, very clever. Which child or adult wouldn’t want to be like Mowgli? For sure there are similarities and as you say I grew up, although with my younger brother, with Wild animals but also pets such as Elephants, Ostriches, Nyalas and “Sherekhan” the Tiger or in my case “Big Boy” the Rhino.
I would like to say at times a mix of Tarzan, Simba and Mowgli and my father was certainly Mufasa. I could certainly say I lived very similar to Mowgli in the sense of being out in the wild by day, but, where we differ is, in a bed at night mostly thanks to loving parents, or not so loving when I had to do homework (hahah).
The truth is I hope every child or adult can go explore the Wild, wherever they may be, and be any of the Disney Characters because you will really get to experience what it is Mowgli went through and what I went through in the real world and how amazing it is to be in the presence of “Life” with nature and wild animals.
It’s for the public to decide and maybe see that they say on there thoughts about me. Close to Mowgli or not I was simply a very lucky boy who got to live in the wild and experience her power and her beauty and keep her within me, thanks to my father. I just wish I had the power to save Wildlife from what is happening.