ZDF Germany has a name for the best of its natural history documentaries: Naturzeit. A semi-regular, 45-minute primetime slot, Naturzeit airs almost every Tuesday night at 8:15p.m., offering viewers (as the broadcaster claims) ‘never-before experienced insights into all habitants of the world.’
Head of acquisitions and business affairs at ZDF, Volker Lehmann, offers an even more comprehensive list of adjectives to describe the films with which he builds the strand: ‘Serious. Scientific. Interesting. Cutting-edge. Innovative. Seriously-researched and well-produced.’
The docs which make it to the Naturzeit slot fall into three categories: the classic wildlife documentary, excursion reports covering the latest in field research, and investigations into human relationships with the natural world. Lehmann cautions that the slot is not a place for magazine formats, but rather an opportunity for filmmakers offering a serious yet entertaining spin on natural science. Docs which definitely won’t make the cut include films with ‘an overly-dramatic style, making actors out of animals, reproducing human touch stories.’
ZDF works with both international and German producers. The 26 films programmed annually are a combination of commissioned, coproduced and acquired product. The formula, says Lehmann, changes every year and projects are judged on a case-by-case basis. Acquisition license fees also vary, based on the market ZDF feels it will be able to reach with the film, and the possibility of international interest.
The format ZDF accepts for the slot, however, is not flexible. All shows must be 45 minutes in length, and Naturzeit does not air series. The slot is often pre-empted for other doc series (as it was for Dr. Guido Knopp’s successful Hitler’s Henchmen), so it becomes important that the films are self-contained. While ZDF was not forthcoming with typical budget figures for shows aired in the slot, most of the productions from this year’s schedule carried price-tags of over half a million deutsche Marks (us$300,000)
Producers interested in pitching projects for Naturzeit should approach either Lehmann directly, or the head of documentaries at ZDF Enterprises, Kristina Hollstein. Appropriate projects would still be in the development stages, allowing ZDF editors the opportunity to tailor projects for their specific audience.