Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of famous doc-maker Jacques Cousteau, is betting he can increase popular awareness of the plight of the planet’s oceans by picking up the conservation-filmmaking torch of his late father.
His campaign relies upon building a brand personality along the lines of famed chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, explains Paul Zemitzsch, a spokesman for Cousteau’s Santa Barbara, U.S.-based non-profit Ocean Futures Society. Like Goodall, and as Cousteau senior (who died in 1997) did in the 1960s and 1970s, he hopes to fashion a media personality to help raise awareness of his chosen cause. ‘It’s the name that commands respect, and that gets attention,’ Zemitzsch says.
Borrowing from the docusoap strategy, OFS’s films will highlight the interpersonal relationships of Cousteau’s production team to help build viewer interest, says Zemitzsch. The public can get to know the crew by hitting OFS’s website in addition to viewing the programs. ‘We are branding these divers, scientists and filmmakers to have viewers, over time, want to see where they are going to go to next,’ he explains. ‘In Cousteau [senior's] day, the focus was all on the animals. This is about humans and animals,’ he says.
Zemitzsch says documentaries are integral to drawing attention to the state of the world’s oceans. The films spearhead a multimedia public-relations campaign that includes an extensive Web presence, TV interviews and appearances, public speaking engagements and government lobbying by Cousteau. For example, an OFS production crew and a team of scientists documented how even the remote and uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands bear signs of human impact (ocean currents wash garbage on their shores) for the doc Voyage to Kure. The ‘expedition’ this summer garnered coverage – and publicity for the doc – by major media outlets.
Voyage to Kure is budgeted between US$500,000 and $1 million, and was filmed in high definition. The one-hour one-off will be aired nationally (in standard definition) in the U.S. on PBS through a coproduction deal with San Francisco affiliate station KQED in fall 2004. Zemitzsch says an HD version will also be available.
OFS is a registered 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, allowing it to tap into foundation funding in the U.S. A major backer is the Kailua, U.S.-based Harold K. L. Castle Foundation. Zemitzsch says its grant ‘was in the six figures.’
On the doc-production side, OFS has several projects under way in addition to Voyage to Kure. The just completed Sharks: At Risk has been acquired by France 5. The Grey Whale Obstacle Course has begun production, and two others are in pre-production: America’s Underwater Treasures and Invaders of the Mediterranean, which examines sea life that is encroaching upon native Mediterranean species.