Growing up in Nanaimo, British Columbia on Canada’s Vancouver Island, Ross Radcliffe was a small-town kid with big dreams. From the moment he picked up a camcorder as a child at a local garage sale, he knew he wanted to one day make movies. He was fascinated by film and television, renting what felt like every movie at his local video store over the course of his childhood. As he aged, this hobby never wavered, but it was not until his late teens when he realized he could turn his daydreams into a reality and pursue his true passion, and he’s never looked back.
Now, Radcliffe is living his dream as an internationally sought-after cinematographer, from spending four years in the Arctic National Refuge filming Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans to heading to Australia and passing his days cuddling with Koalas for Netflix’s Izzy’s Koala World. Each and every day, he feels that sense of fulfillment that only comes with doing what you love.
I wanted to do something with my life that I was passionate about. I never wanted ‘easy’ and there are certainly many sacrifices I have made in life to do what I do but I couldn’t be happier. I have traveled the world meeting fascinating, real people and I am able to tell their stories for the world. That is why I do this for a living,” he says.
Radcliffe has had extraordinary success on documentary series for hit networks, primarily Discovery Channel. He loves sharing real stories and digging into mysteries, which he was able to do with the 2019 hit mini series Finding Escobar’s Millions. Radcliffe, like so many, has always been fascinated by the history and stories of Pablo Escobar. When he was approached about helping film this project, he was so intrigued he couldn’t help but accept, and the opportunity to head to South America and film in Colombia made it a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Many know of the notorious Pablo Escobar who was once the boss of the Medellin cartel. During the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s the Medellin cartel was responsible for up to 80 per cent of the cocaine coming into the U.S. Some believe he was worth around $100 billion and it’s also believed that a large amount of it has been buried in the ground in Colombia. Finding Escobar’s Millions explores this theory and follows two ex-CIA agents and their team as they go on a search throughout Colombia to see what they can dig up. Whatever they’re able to dig up they are rewarded with 5 to 10 percent of their findings. Using modern technology they search throughout the country for the hidden treasure.
“I think this show is important as, like it or not, the history of Pablo Escobar is also the history of Colombia. As unfortunate as it is, it is a very compelling story that deserves to be told,” he says.
Shooting the series was unlike anything Radcliffe had ever experienced. Anything in Colombia revolving around Pablo Escobar brings a great amount of attention. He had never needed an armed guard or bullet proof vehicles before, so it was a lot to take in at first. He and his team spent the entire series retracing Pablo Escobar’s old stomping grounds around the country, meeting with his associates, friends and even enemies. Every location required they operate with a small footprint to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, which brought unique challenges from a cinematography standpoint. Creatively, they wanted to give the show a gritty and fly on the wall approach. This meant that all of the locations were real world places that they would typically only make slight lighting adjustments to if possible. Radcliffe has extensive experience with this approach having worked on so many docuseries, and was able to help guide the camera team. The end result is a stunning and captivating work of art.
“Filming in Colombia was something I will never forget. It is fast, rugged and intense one moment then serene and breathtaking the next. I’ve never been anywhere like it. I could rave for days about the beautiful locations we had the chance to film in for this series. Whether it was small neon billiards bars in Bogota or Pablo Escobar’s secret hidden hideaways in the hills overlooking Medellin, the locations were a cinematographer’s dream,” says Radcliffe.
Finding Escobar’s Millions ran on Discovery Channel in 2019, but if you missed out, it is available to watch on Discovery’s website and on Apple TV+.