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 — 'm writing this review just ahead of Shark Week — 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.
BRIAN MCGACKIN is an alumnus of USC's graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis.
Who: Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Jack Couffer ("Jonathan Livingston Seagull")
What: "The Lion and the Giraffe: A Naturalist's Life in the Movie Business," 326 pages, BearManor Media