Filmmaker and photographer Ian Shive joins Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network board
Ian Shive was on a ship in Alaska when the world’s oldest known bird flew by.
“It was the laysan albatross — 70 years old and still giving birth,” the award-winning filmmaker and photographer told the News-Press last week.
He loves his adventures with nature, which constantly surprises him.
“We’re constantly making new discoveries. Nature is a world in which we’ve barely scratched the surface of understanding,” the Los Angeles resident said by phone. “I don’t see myself as a photographer or a filmmaker. I see myself as a person curious about life.”
That curiosity took Mr. Shive up to Alaska, where he produced the documentary “The Last Unknown.” It started streaming March 18 on discovery+ and features a 2,500-plus network of islands, the Aleutians. Mr. Shive went there with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a team of scientists.
Mr. Shive and his team filmed wildlife such as a northern fur seal, a species that formerly was hunted to the brink of extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts, the seal has made a comeback.
Closer to his home, one of Mr. Shive’s “Nature in Focus” episodes for discovery.com explored the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. The website series follows Mr. Shive as he tells nature stories through his photography.
He said the SBWCN and its mission impressed him.
“And I was impressed by the sheer volume of animals going through there,” said Mr. Shive, the founder of Tandem Stills & Motions. “I’ve heard about the baby season before I got to see it in person, a season where all these little babies are being born and needing human help. To see it firsthand, my mind was blown.”
Mr. Shive saw a northern raccoon baby brought to the SBWCN and photographed the animal. He also photographed a western screech owl being fed as it began its recovery.
Mr. Shive said the wildlife care network is a lesson that all life is important. “When we’re in a backyard and we find an injured bird or animal, no matter how small it is, it has life, it has value. It has a chance to be rehabilitated and put back into the wild.”
When he was at the SBWCN, he didn’t realize he would become more involved with the wildlife care network. He recently joined its board.
That brings Mr. Shive full circle. His interest in nature photography blossomed during his first visit during the 1990s to the Channel Islands.
The Millstone, N.J., native moved to Los Angeles when he was 19, and that set the stage for his lifelong interest in photography, movies and nature.
“I had never contemplated underwater photography or looking at marine environments until I came to Channel Islands National Park,” he said. “I was just learning how to take pictures.”
He wasn’t 20 yet when he visited Santa Cruz Island in 1996 for the first time.
A friend introduced him to snorkeling. He later learned to scuba dive.
“I realized there was this entire half of the world — actually more than half — that I had never thought about photographing,” Mr. Shive said, referring to oceans. “I spent the three to five years honing my craft, learning how to dive. I went to Anacapa and Santa Cruz, all over the islands, making mistakes along the way but falling in love with marine environments.”
At the same time, he was on a path to learn about filmmaking.
“I didn’t go to college. I started working in the movie industry,” Mr. Shive said. “I was very ambitious to go out and do things.”
He went to Culver City-based Sony Pictures, where he worked in the 2000s as a publicist for films such as the “Spider-Man” movies starring Toby Maguire.
“I worked a lot with the media and press and filmmakers. That’s where I became super impressed with the editing process, the process of orchestrating and recording original scores, cinematography, the whole process,” Mr. Shive said. “It was a big part of my education.
“I got to sit in a movie theater with (director) Ridley Scott to watch ‘Black Hawk Down,’” he said. “I was with (composer) Danny Elfman on a soundstage while the original ‘Spider-Man’ score was played live by an incredible orchestra.
“I was a young guy absorbing all of that,” Mr. Shive said.
He went on to become a freelance photojournalist on assignment for environmental organizations, nature conservancies and national parks. As digital still cameras developed further, he experimented with videos.
His early work included a documentary about the coral reefs off the island country of Palau in the western Pacific.
“It was the first time I had done underwater filmmaking. It was a precursor to my IMAX movies and Discovery (Channel) specials,” Mr. Shive said.
His movies also have included “Chasing the Distance,” a documentary about an ultra runner within the context of environment and preserving places.
“It was the first time I looked at a real cinematic approach to storytelling,” Mr. Shive said. “It was pure filmmaking, no still photography.”
His first program for the Discovery Channel came during the cable network’s Shark Week in 2015. He produced a one-hour special on sharks in Cuba.
“I got to work with a talented Cuban scientist as well as American scientists,” Mr. Shive said.
That set the stage for more work later with Discovery, such as Mr. Shive’s “Nature in Focus” series for discovery.com and his documentary “The Last Unknown” on discovery+.
Current episodes of “Nature in Focus,” available at discovery.com, include one about a cave full of 20 million bats in southeastern Texas.
“I want people first to be entertained,” Mr. Shive said.
But he said he also hopes to inspire viewers, particularly young ones, to become engaged with their world and care about conservation.
“It takes something extra special for kids to take their eyes for their iPads and watch one of our shows,” Mr. Shive said.
Mr. Shive is accustomed to traveling far and wide. He explored protected and remote national wildlife refuge islands and marine national monuments for his 2019 documentary “Hidden Pacific.”
But the pandemic led him to find stories closer to his Los Angeles home such as the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network.
Mr. Shive said he would love to return to the Channel Islands and do filming there.
“I would love to go back, in the capacity that I am today as an established filmmaker and really tell that story through an intimate lens.”