Their bond goes back to late nights at the editing rooms in UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, where they recognized in each other the willingness (maybe compulsion) to put in extra hours on a project and still make it to Paynes Prairie to shoot the sunrise.
After graduation — Filipe and McKenzie in 2012, Brian in 2013 — they scattered to pursue their careers. Brian got an editing job in Los Angeles. McKenzie also headed west, finding success in marketing and branding. Filipe interned with a production company in Utah, then hiked the Appalachian Trail, where he developed the philosophy that would eventually lead them to walk away from profitable commercial jobs for a chance at something more fulfilling. Comfort Theory, which became the name of their film production company, posits that the security and ease we’re taught to value can be a trap.
“Stagnant water breeds bacteria,” says Filipe, who double-majored in film production and wildlife ecology and conservation. “You have to be in motion — physically, mentally or both. You have to be working toward something. It’s about working toward something that makes you uneasy, but might make you happier.”
Not that their water was ever that stagnant: After his 2,200-mile hike, Filipe won 10 New York Emmy Awards for his work; McKenzie racked up four of her own after switching from branding back to film. But when Filipe heard about National Geographic’s annual Wild to Inspire short film competition and its prize, a wildlife filmmaking expedition in Africa, “it was literally the thing I wanted more than anything in the world. It was a Crock-Pot of best-case scenarios.”
As he thought about entering the contest, though, doubts crept in. He had spent the last few years shooting for other people, so he didn’t own the rights to most of his best work, only what he’d shot on the trail and some timelapses he had made with Brian. The deadline was three weeks away. He spent a week of it agonizing.
“I can go after anything in the world, but if it’s the thing I truly, deeply want the most, I hit this wall where I tell myself I’m not good enough or I won’t get it. Why do you think you can possibly do this?”
In the end, he rented a camera, borrowed his mom’s car and spent two weeks driving around Florida filming “Adapt,” which details how nature — and nature photography — gave him resilience and purpose. He won.
The win put Filipe on National Geographic’s radar, and when he got back from Africa, the newly minted Comfort Theory team found themselves in the organization’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, pitching a series where they roam the country in a converted ambulance, discovering and sharing the wonders of America’s wildlife.
“Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade” was born.
With his lip ring, ever-present Gator bandanna and an energy Brian describes as “a 5-year-old who’s had way too much Mountain Dew,” Filipe isn’t a typical host for a nature documentary. Which is exactly the point, as the people they hope to reach aren’t typical nature-documentary viewers. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Filipe moved to the United States with his family at age 5. When his father went back to Brazil with the family’s immigration documents, things got complicated.
“I felt different, I sounded different, and I looked different, but I had to hide my differences, because we weren't here legally. It was an extremely confusing time, but I ultimately appreciated it,” he says. “I wish my mom had an easier time, but I am entirely grateful for the challenges I had. It helped me realize that if you want something, it's in your hands, and if I don't get it, I have no one to blame but myself.”
He applied that determination to getting the series — and the shots they needed to make it great. In St. Augustine, where they worked with UF researchers Cat and Scott Eastman on a sea turtle episode, the team spent five nights camped out on the beach waiting for hatchlings that didn’t emerge.
“We’d had about three hours of sleep between us. We had no sea turtles, no content and we’ve signed contract to deliver 10 episodes to the greatest media entity in the world, ever,” Filipe says.