The financial grant for Innovation in Natural History Filmmaking, co-sponsored by the bbc’s Natural History Unit and Time Life Video & TV, is a dead horse. After being launched with great fanfare at the ’97 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, the unique US$250,000 award was conspicuously absent two years later.
The Innovation grant may have been a victim of the current budget down-sizing trend. At Time Life, the realities of a changing marketplace have been driven home by dwindling natural history video sales recently. ‘The videotapes which people are willing to purchase a la carte are quite different from what they watch on TV,’ explained Sally Adams, manager of program development. ‘The subject and approach has to be unique, collectable and not readily available on TV. With all of the nature programming on TV today on multiple channels, our direct sales have dropped. Hence, we’ve redirected our resources to other genres, which is sad because natural history has always been a big part of our portfolio.’
At the BBC, the story was a little different, but the take-home message was the same. ‘We don’t have the funds to continue the award on a bi-annual basis,’ explained Keith Scholey, director of the BBC’s NHU. ‘And I don’t believe that we ever planned to do so. It’s the way of the broadcast world today – doing more with less. We have to look carefully at our finances each year and make hard choices.’
Both sponsors felt confident that other avenues exist to encourage innovation, even for newcomers. The BBC has a program in place to develop new wildlife filmmaking talent, in the form of a training bursary for aspiring camerapersons from the U.K. ‘Each year one or two people are selected for a two-year training period in the NHU. Over the past 15 years or so, many of our top cameramen got their start through this program,’ says Scholey.