Review by Leonard Maltin
The author of this colorful memoir may not be a household name, but heﾒs been involved in everything from Walt Disneyﾒs The Living Desert to Out of Africa, from Disney animal movies like The Incredible Journey to Never Cry Wolfﾅand he has great stories to tell. Couffer was a naturalist and a seaman before he ever thought of looking through a viewfinder. It was only by chance, when he attended USC on the G.I. bill after World War Two, that he became friendly with a fellow student named Conrad Hall, who persuaded him to try a cinema class. He fell under the spell of the celebrated montage-maker and teacher Slavko Vorkapich, and before long, he, Hall, and another newcomer were filmmaking partners. Coufferﾒs tales of trying to break into the businessﾗand how the three hungry newcomers bent and broke rules to do so in the 1950sﾗare evocative and still instructive today. How the trio made its first dramatic feature (Running Target) on location, withﾗ ﾗ very little money and not-always-cooperative actors, could still be used as a textbook on indie filmmaking. Eventually he shot some macro-footage of insects, which got his foot in the door at the Disney studio and his first assignment. He and Hall, who shared his adventurous spirit and love of the outdoors, spent almost a year living in the Galapagos Islands, for starters, filming wildlife that had never been put on film before. He continued working for the company on a freelance basis well into the 1960s, and reveals fascinating details about how some of the remarkable animal footage for films like Nikki, Wild Dog of the North, The Legend of Lobo, and The Incredible Journey was accomplished. He also spills the beans about Disneyﾒs not-so-generous attitude toward freelancers, and howﾗafter push came to shoveﾗhe got the last laugh. Couffer isnﾒt bitter, however; he seems to be a pragmatist, and realizes how fortunate he was to do something he genuinely loved and get paid for it. He also has kind words for Walt himself, and marvels at the fact that whenever he chanced to run into the boss, he always knew exactly what Couffer was working on at the time and had a ready supply of questions. His other far-reaching adventures crisscross the globe and provide insights into the process of working in remote locales, with all sorts of wild creatures, and always coming home with Hollywood-grade material. For some of the animal filmsﾗor second-unit work involving animalsﾗpreparation work might begin a year ahead of time, raising anything from an eagle to a lion to be able to work in front of a camera. Couffer occasionally got to work with humans, as well, as director of such films as Ring of Bright Water and Living Free. Over the years he became a good writer, which is evidenced by this absorbing, highly readable autobiography. Some of his funniest stories involve disastrous shoots like Sheena (1984), for which Couffer shot second-unit action under the direction of John Guillermin, who functioned best in an atmosphere of chaos. Another second-unit shoot, for Sydney Pollack on Out of Africa, reveals the darker side of the movie business, where personality clashes take precedence over getting good results on screen. Couffer delves into his personal life, with some degree of discretion, and tells us how his long trips away from home put strain on his first marriage, but also shares some wonderful times he spent with his son where they got to share the fun of being on location and learning about nature.
Review by Stan McClain, Filmtools President
Weﾒve read many books published by cinematographers who have given us great insights to their lighting techniques, but this is the first autobiography Iﾒve ever experienced that was written by a dedicated Wildlife Cinematographer.
Besides being a cinematographer, Jack Couffer has written several books of fiction so his lifeﾒs adventures do truly read as an entertaining and spirited story. He has always been one to shun the spotlight, which adds to his persona as one of our industryﾒs most highly accomplished "unsung heroes."
Jack got his start by switching majors during the late 40's and enrolled into the USC Cinema Department from a suggestion by Conrad Hall. Three of his mentors included Slavko Vorkapich, Floyd Crosby and Ralph Woolsey. Back in those days the union was difficult to join and Jack found himself supplying "Stock Footage" to Disney for many years and at very cheap rates. Disney would give him assignments, a couple rolls of film and a pat on the back. His dedication to his love of nature cinematography was jis heatr's desire and the cornerstone of his career; not the paycheck. Jack earned the respect of his fellow peers when his friends Haskell Wexler and Conrad sponsored him into The American Society of Cinematographers.
Jack shares his experiences throughout the sixty years from his work on note worthy films including; The Living Desert, Out of Africa, Living Free, Jonathon Livingston Seagull (where he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography), The Ghost and the Darkness, The Incredible Journey, and Never Cry Wolf to name a few. Whether Jack was filming in the Arctic, Antarctic, Tahiti, Africa, or America, his ability to get up- close and personal with wild animals. Being familiar with his work, I can attest that his talents are presented through the lens with awe and magic. His stunning imagery truly enhanced every motion picture he contributed to.
The book is an absolute delight to read. Itﾒs entertaining, enchanting and his eloquent wording is vividly painted onto every page. Thumbs up!
Past President; SOC
Review from "The Burbank Leader" by Brian McGackin
Everyone in Hollywood has a story, right? Countless aspiring actors, filmmakers and crewmembers have flocked to Los Angeles over the years looking for fame, fortune and glory via the silver screen. Each one brings with them a history, a memoir waiting to be written.
While the lives and stories of those who are lucky enough to be born and raised around the film industry may not always seem as glamorous on the surface, often their adventures can be the most interesting. Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Jack Couffer ("Jonathan Livingston Seagull," 1973) was born in Upland and raised in Glendale but is probably better known for his work shooting outside of Los Angeles County.
In his new memoir, "The Lion and the Giraffe: A Naturalist's Life in the Movie Business," Couffer recounts his decades-long career filming wildlife, beginning with his early interests in nature and the animal kingdom. He writes in depth about his years at the USC film school; remembers fondly his work with Walt Disney Studio's "True Life Adventure" series and with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford on "Out of Africa"; and describes his own years spent living a simple life in the wilds of Kenya.
Through all of Couffer's industry tales and adventures, he retains a special kind of charm not usually found in this type of memoir-as-life-story book. The author delves into his personal history with alarming detail, even going so far as to acknowledge events and mistakes that might not paint him in the best light, such as early extramarital affairs. He does all of this with a simple grace, however, admitting that he has made mistakes, but choosing not to harp on them. Instead, Couffer highlights the people around him, the stories and impressions he was able to take from those influences, and the wildlife adventures he had throughout the years.
I was surprised at how strongly I was drawn to "The Lion and the Giraffe." While I very much enjoy Discovery Channel and its many specials ﾗ 'm writing this review just ahead of Shark Week ﾗ I've never taken much of a personal interest in wildlife photographers or cinematographers themselves. Couffer presents himself quaintly, as a guy just doing his job because he enjoys it, which makes the book all the more intriguing. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised, though: This is Couffer's 12th book.
If you're a fan of film, television, wildlife or just enjoy a well-written memoir, I suggest taking a look at this one. It's bursting with suspenseful encounters, charming anecdotes and a narrator you can't help but enjoy spending the afternoon alongside. Follow Couffer as he travels to Canada, Arizona, Texas, Kenya, the Galapagos Islands, and, the most dangerous location of all, Hollywood.