After nearly 32 years as a designated car passenger (the first 16 years by law and the second 16 by choice), I’ve decided it’s finally time to try for my driver’s license. I’ve thought about learning to drive from time to time, but I never wanted to take the chance of damaging an expensive car. The turning point for me came last year, when friends gave my husband and I a used auto, a 1987 Honda Accord, to be precise.
She’s not in bad shape for a 15-year-old – except for the fuel pump and the transmission and the brakes. (Like dogs, I think the true age of cars is measured in multiples of seven, which makes our vehicle more like 105.) But, the car definitely won’t have any owners after us. That’s when I realized: I can risk a few scratches or dings on my clunker while I learn, because they won’t be a big deal.
The current market for natural history docs is like my old car. On the surface, it appears to hold little promise, but the very conditions that at first glance seem limiting actually make it possible to take risks.
As we discuss in the Trends report this issue, the BBC is one of very few broadcasters able to support high-end projects any more. At the same time, however, the demand for natural history programs is on the rise across the board, after practically bottoming out a few years ago. This combination of lower budgets and increasing demand for films creates a unique opportunity for doc-makers to take chances and be creative.
The common misconception is that low-end fare is necessarily schlocky or simplistic. But, as ABC Australia’s Dione Gilmour is proving with some of her half-hour series, that doesn’t have to be the case. Without big budgets to support lengthy field excursions and abundant opportunities to capture fabulous footage, filmmakers must instead rely on their storytelling skills. And that opens up a whole range of possibilities. Gilmour has found inspiration in radio; others may look to social or feature docs for ideas. The choices are plentiful.
Sure, it would be nice if every natural history filmmaker received at least US$1 million per project, just like it would be nice for me to own a new Jaguar instead of an old Honda. But, there’s a special freedom in knowing that you can afford to take chances.
Watch out motorists, I’m getting behind the wheel.