Kenn Kaufman, an internationally renowned bird expert and a resident of Oak Harbor, worked as a consultant on the film A Birder’s Guide to Everything. The movie, which stars Ben Kingsley and James LeGros, is a coming-of-age comedy built around birding. It details a 15-year-old boy (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who embarks on a road trip with friends to try to document a possible sighting of a bird believed to be extinct.
According to its website, the film is:
“Sideways meets Stand by Me in this endearing story of friendship, family and a place in bird watching’s history books. A Birder’s Guide to Everything is an alternately poignant and funny window into the thoughtful world of birding and the inner peace that can be discovered through a walk in the woods.”
|Actor Ben Kingsley and author, bird expert Kenn Kaufman.|
Kaufman spoke highly about the film's director, Rob Meyer.
“Rob Meyer is a great guy, very talented,” Kaufman said. “He’s a graduate of the film program at NYU, he has traveled around the world doing documentaries for National Geographic and Nova, and his short films have won many awards. But he’s also a very decent human being. When I was on the set, I noticed how he made a point to personally thank everybody involved. Setting up scenes, he would listen respectfully to opinions before making the final decisions about how to handle a shot. Even though this is his first feature film, he’s already well liked and respected in the film industry.”
According to Kaufman, it was Meyer’s reputation — and the quality of the screenplay, written by Meyer with Luke Matheny — that convinced the Oscar-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley to appear in the film.
But Kaufman's respect for Meyer as a director also rests on Meyer's attention to accuracy in the details of birding in the film.
“(Rob) wrote to me in 2011,” Kaufman said. “He was in early drafts of the screenplay and he wanted birding experts to review it for accuracy. Morgan Tingley and I became the main consultants. We started corresponding and I read thru 2-3 different versions as the script evolved, with tons of emails and lots of phone calls back and forth. Then I had a number of conversations with the set designers about how different scenes should look. When it was filming, I went to NY and got to watch some of the filming for four days. There was an amazing amount of work in filming even a short scene — they might take a 12-hour day to shoot a 3-minute scene, but that’s because they were so focused on getting things right. Including the birding part! So often in other films and television, if they mention birding at all, they get the details wrong.”
Kaufman's official title in the credits was “ornithological consultant.” By definition, ornithology is the science of bird study.
Early next month, May 6-15, birding enthusiasts will take part in what is known as the The Biggest Week in American Birding. Last year, 65,000 people journeyed to the Lake Erie marsh region to observe these creatures returning home.
Meyer actually visited Oak Harbor during the Biggest Week last year and screened the film, just a couple of weeks after the film’s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
“We had a packed house for that,” Kaufman said. “Rob gave a talk on the making of the film and it got a really good reception.”
I count myself as one of the many people that for granted this special time of year, not thinking about how fortunate I am to live in such close proximity to a wildlife region that presents us with the opportunity to observe such beautiful animals.
Kaufman, 59, who was born in South Bend, Ind., lived in Arizona before moving to Ohio in 2005.
“In my late teens, I spent years hitchhiking and looking at birds,” he said. “I developed a reputation and I wrote for small nature publications in my 20s before getting my first book contract in my late 20s. After that, it made it easier to get into magazines when they’d seen my writing in other places.”
Kaufman has written a dozen books, and regularly writes for a several magazines. He is a field editor for Audubon Magazine and he and his wife, Kimberly, are consulting editors for Birds & Bloom Magazine.
Kimberly works as the Executive Director for the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor, Ohio. She has worked with the organization since the 1990s, and has served as the executive director since 2009. She also writes for various publications, including Birds & Blooms, and is the co-author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England.