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Video Hit From The Trip

Tourist’s video hits the big time

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May 14, 2008

There is a moment of foreshadowing at the end of Battle at Kruger, the eight- minute Kruger National Park video that has drawn more than 30 million views on the YouTube website.

David Budzinski, a tourist from Texas in the United States, has just recorded a stunning scene straight out of a wildlife documentary.

A small pride of lions and a crocodile have pinned down a Cape buffalo calf, prompting an angry herd of buffalo to fight off the predators and save the babe.

While the footage rolls, a fellow tourist remarks to Budzinski: “You could sell that video!”

After returning home, Budzinski tried, but National Geographic and Animal Planet were not interested.

Only after the unusual wildlife footage became one of the most popular videos in YouTube’s history did the buyers come calling. Last summer, the National Geographic Channel purchased the television rights to the video, and this week it will devote an hour to a documentary deconstructing the drama on US television. “We look at YouTube too, just like everybody else,” said Michael Cascio, the senior vice- president for special programming at the National Geographic Channel.

Several television series have tried to translate the Internet’s user- generated content to television. Caught on Safari: Battle at Kruger is believed to be the first hour-long documentary to be inspired by a YouTube clip.

The quality of Budzinski’s video contradicts the increasingly outdated dog-on-a-skateboard stereotype of YouTube. The site, which hosted more than 3.4 billion video views in February, now serves up seemingly every type of video in existence.

Still, the wildlife tug-of-war stands out. National Geographic screens nature videos every day, “and this is an incredible sequence by any stretch of the imagination”, Cascio said. Indeed, the producers found it was rather easy to fill an hour talking about the short video.

The documentary dissects the primal behaviour of the animals and answers a question that aspiring videographers have asked: How did he get that shot?

The “battle” happened in September 2004, during Budzinski’s first visit to the Kruger National Park. Budzinski, who works as a supply manager for Chevron in Houston, was riding in the back of a sport utility vehicle with his wife, two other tourists and a tour guide. The guide, spotting lions sunning themselves by a watering hole near where a herd of buffalo was walking by, decided to see what would happen. Before long, the lions attacked the herd, singling out a buffalo calf and overwhelming it by the water’s edge. By the time a crocodile had entered the fierce fight, Budzinski said, he was thinking about turning the camera off.

“I didn’t want to see a bloody mess,” he said in an interview.

But then the story shifted. On the video, the hissing of crocodiles and the snarling of lions subsides.

The herd of buffalo returns in force to surround the lions and protect the offspring. Adhering to the short-form spirit of YouTube, the complete tale concludes in slightly more than eight minutes.

“It’s a feel-good story,” Budzinski said. “It’s like watching a Disney story.”

Frank Watts, the safari guide, compared the experience to a meteorite hitting earth. “They probably hit earth quite regularly, but nobody sees them, and no one photographs it,” he says in the documentary. “I don’t know of anybody who’s ever seen anything like this before.”

Sensing they had just witnessed something special, Jason Schlosberg, another member of the safari group, asked Budzinski for a copy of the video and put it up on YouTube.

Budzinski tried to sell it to television networks, but hit a brick wall. “They all told us the same thing – they don’t accept any footage from amateurs,” he said.

For almost three years, the film essentially sat on the shelf. But a year ago, when Schlosberg used YouTube to share the video with a friend – it was easier than making a DVD copy and mailing it, he said – Battle at Kruger started spreading virally on the Internet.

Before long, National Geographic contacted Schlosberg, who in turn called Budzinski. The tourist-turned- online-star had never heard of YouTube.

The two men struck a deal to share in the profits. Schlosberg, a photographer, now sells prints of the video clip and runs, listing merchandising and licensing opportunities.

The National Geographic Channel producers brought Budzinski back to Kruger National Park to film the scenes needed for the television version. Enhanced by professionals, the television video is clearly superior to the blurry and heavily compressed version viewed online.

Tourist’s video hits the big time

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