Docs

Back Page: Nature docs – Zen and the art of story injection

As wildlife programming on television becomes as mainstream as drama, it's perhaps only natural that the lines begin to blur. Though hardcore documentarians might wince, commissioning editors and buyers make no bones about looking for wildlife programs 'with a story.' In...
September 1, 1997

As wildlife programming on television becomes as mainstream as drama, it’s perhaps only natural that the lines begin to blur. Though hardcore documentarians might wince, commissioning editors and buyers make no bones about looking for wildlife programs ‘with a story.’ In this case, necessity invented the nature docudrama.

BARRY CLARK, chairman of The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, on the constructed nature filmÉ

The natural world is our teacher and we go to it for knowledge and for judgment. We are avatars and shamans and it is our task to share the revelations of this world with those unable to partake directly of its wisdom.

Whether by accident or by design we are interpreters and guides, deliberately selecting the messages we choose to carry from the temple of the wild to our congregation of television viewers. We dispatch these duties in various ways, like good teachers tailoring our techniques to the needs of those we instruct.

To work in film is to deal in artifice, and those who build their works from bits and pieces garnered from the wild, no less than those of us who work from blueprints, are spinners of fables, manipulators of icons, weavers of myths and moral tales.

The constructed nature film employs the settings and situations of the natural world as pieces in a scripted play. Its validity, in this age of science, derives from the attendance at the rites of the anointed experts in the field: biologists whose role it is to bless the script, the dailies, the final product of our labors.

Its power lies in its ability, through the fine arts of contrivance, to speak to our emotions, to arouse our fears and longings, to provoke a confrontation with the ancient mysteries of our relationship to the wild.

As we join the digital revolution, the nature documentarian and the nature dramaturgist must each discover fresh modes of expression, novel ways to engage and to inform.

While the documentary embarks on a new golden age, the school of the docudrama will employ the exciting new tools of the medium to take viewers to places where they could never hope to go – into the canopy, under the ice, into the abyss.

As is the case with all docudramas, we must take pains to make our methodology clear to the congregation. But with the benediction of the priesthood of science plus affection and care for our sets and our players – habituated wild creatures borrowed from their human keepers and returned to them unharmed – we will bring the mystery and magic of the natural world into the homes of the millions with a power and profundity we have barely dared to imagine.

Barry Clark is president of Los Angeles-based Telenova Productions and is partnered with former Sony Pictures chairman Peter Guber and underwater director/cinematographer Al Giddings in Mandalay Media Arts, an hdtv production company launched this summer. Clark is currently executive producing Sahara: Seasons in the Sand, a two-hour tv feature coproduced with Devillier Donegan and pbs.

Original submissions for THE BACK PAGE are welcome.

If you have an issue to air, an axe to grind or an amusing anecdote (tales from the trenches) to share, please contact Mary Ellen Armstrong: 416-408-2300 ext. 263 or via email

armstrong@brunico.com

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

Menu

Search