NHNZ Rising Star - Kyle Swann

Kyle Swann, Assistant Producer, received his bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and his master’s degree in science and natural history filmmaking from the University of Otago. For the past 3 years he has worked on various NHNZ productions as researcher, associate producer, post producer and underwater camera assistant. 

Currently he is post producing for the new NHNZ series Orangutan Jungle School, which follows orphan orangutans as they learn the skills they’ll need to survive in the wild. 

Swann endeavors to share wildlife and science stories with the world to inform more environmentally friendly governmental policy decisions and to inspire the next generation of conservationists and scientists.

NHNZ - has seamlessly expanded into a global production house with a reputation for innovation in storytelling, technology, and business integrity. Each year, NHNZ produces more than 60 hours of television, seen by millions of viewers in over 180 countries around the world and have received more than 300 international awards.

"Kyle is a Californian marine biologist graduate with a post grad at the Otago University Science Communication course. He came to my team fresh from his course and underwent a baptism of fire on a 6 x 1 hour underwater wildlife series as one of the dive team (in remote locations such as the Kermadec Islands and Sub Antarctic islands) and then came back and post produced a couple of episodes showing great talent for storytelling. With his broad range of skills he is on a swift upwards trajectory and soaks up feedback and mentorship like a sponge."
Judith Curran, Executive Producer / Showrunner

We ask our Rising Star a few key questions.

What was your childhood ambition?

Ever since I saw my first green sea turtle at the age of five snorkeling in Maui, I have been hooked on the ocean. Naturally, my childhood mentor was Jacques Cousteau. His films and photographs fascinated me and inspired me to pursue a career studying the ocean. When I turned eighteen I was accepted at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I received my bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. I was sure I would continue my studies after this to become a marine researcher. Surprisingly this goal shifted when I was almost finished with my degree and discovered the Science Communication department at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

What was your best career move?

Throughout my undergraduate study I became disheartened with the general public’s lack of access to scientific research. Even as a student in a major university, I was not allowed to download certain papers to use in my work. It was then that I became determined to share science with the world through underwater photography and video. In 2011, I visited New Zealand with my parents and learned about the Science Communication department at the University of Otago in Dunedin. This is when things clicked. After I graduated from UCSC I applied to Otago’s science and natural history filmmaking program. This move opened the door for me to pursue a career after my studies making natural history documentaries that educate the masses with the amazing company NHNZ.

What was your first big break in the business?

Most recently I’ve been working on series set in an orangutan rehabilitation center. On my last day on location, I went to say goodbye to my new ginger friends … only to find they were all mud-wrestling. Before I knew it I was at the bottom of a dogpile of young orangs, suddenly part of their wrestling match. There were hands everywhere. Literally, everywhere. By the time the babysitters extracted me from the scrum, I was caked in mud and, no doubt, and generous amount of primate poo. It was definitely up there on the crazy scale, and a farewell I won’t forget.

My first big break in the industry was working as a researcher on the second season of the NHNZ series Our Big Blue Backyard. Executive producer, Judith Curran, took me under her wing and gave me amazing opportunities that I never could have imagined. Shortly after pre-production was finished I was offered a job as an Associate Producer. I went on shoots to Fiordland, the Kermadec Islands, the Auckland Islands, Banks Peninsula, the Chatham Islands, and White Island. Following production, Judith offered me the chance to work as a post producer on the White Island episode of Our Big Blue Backyard. The opportunity to work on a series from its inception to its delivery was an incredible learning experience.

What do you love about your job and this business?

I love the teamwork aspect of this business. Every production team is like a massive machine and when all the parts of the machine are working in unison it is a truly rewarding experience. I also love the jigsaw puzzle nature of making a television series. Making a TV show is like solving a massive 3-D puzzle that can be finished in an infinite number of ways. When you finally solve a piece of that puzzle after hours, days or weeks of racking your brain, it is the greatest feeling.

What’s your dream job?

I’ve always wanted to become an underwater camera operator. This is still a personal goal of mine; however, I never knew how much I would enjoy post producing. In an ideal job, I would spend the summer traveling the world and filming amazing animals and behavior underwater, and spend the winter crafting the footage I shot into films and TV series.

Tell us something that would surprise us?

My interest in filmmaking was born during my time spent in front of the camera. As a teenager, I worked as an actor on the Nickelodeon series Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. Standing back and watching all the departments come together to create a 22-minute episode over a week was mind blowing. This is where my fascination with the puzzle work of filmmaking began.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working as a post producer on the NHNZ series Orangutan Jungle School. The show follows dozens of orphan orangutans in Borneo as they progress through a unique education system that teaches them the survival skills they will need to be released and survive in the wild. Being able to share these amazing animals’ stories and the plight they face due to habitat destruction is a truly humbling experience.