How Long-Lost Footage Was Revived for the New Jane Goodall Doc

Jane Goodall Chimpanzee - Publicity - H 2017
Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic Creative

Director Brett Morgen likens his new documentary Jane, which recounts how the trailblazing primatologist Jane Goodall began her lifelong study of chimpanzees, to a "cinematic opera," but getting there was like solving "the ultimate jigsaw puzzle."

Morgen, an Oscar nominee for 1999's On the Ropes, boarded the project, which opened in theaters Oct. 20, when National Geographic offered him a trove of 16mm footage that Goodall's then-husband, wildlife filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, shot in the 1960s. Sitting in Nat Geo's archives, the footage was rediscovered in 2014, but, says Morgen, it was "140 hours of random shots — no two consecutive shots. There was no sound, no notes."

To turn it into a compelling narrative, the director assembled a team of interns, assistants and researchers at his production office in Culver City and spent more than six months identifying and organizing the footage. He also built a room for sound editors to work in 7.1 surround sound. Since the footage was silent, wildlife recordings collected at the Gombe Stream National Park, where Goodall worked, were handed over to supervising sound editor Warren Shaw and associate supervising sound editor Joshua Paul Johnson, whom Morgen describes as the film's "chimp vocalization expert." Johnson helped turn the various chimps into emotive individuals.

The sound editing didn't just involve the painstaking task of matching chimpanzee sounds with pictures, but also had to complement the score composed by three-time Oscar nominee Philip Glass. Says Johnson, "It was important that the chimpanzees and other sound effects presented a harmonious soundscape with the music."

Once Morgen viewed all of the cataloged footage, he wrote the script and conducted new interviews with Goodall. Working with editor Joe Beshenkovsky, Morgen first cut the film to some preliminary music from Glass, but when the final score was ready, the film had to be recut, matching picture and sound. Says Morgen, "We re-edited the entire film in two months; it was a necessity."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.