From Partridge to Peartree
If you’re a young wildlife filmmaker, Michael Rosenberg is extending an open invitation to come see him in South Africa. ‘I would love someone who’s 28 or 30, who’s got a burning passion to save [wildlife], to get in touch so we can put [a film] together,’ he says. ‘My main talent has always been finding people who want to tell a story.’
A native of South Africa, Rosenberg spent 27 years at the creative helm of Bristol, U.K.-based Partridge Films – a company he founded. But, when the prodco effectively disappeared into Granada Wild in 2000/01, he returned to Durban. Once there, Rosenberg launched a new company called (with tongue firmly in cheek) Peartree Films, and went back to basics. ‘It’s in my house. I’ve got two editing rooms, a production office and some camera gear, and we bring in people as needed,’ he explains.
The first official Peartree film was Abdi’s Story: Return to Africa, which wove together the personal odyssey of Abdi, a Somali MBA-turned-filmmaker, with a portrait of African wildlife. Completed in November 2001, the 50-minute doc hasn’t sold as well internationally as Rosenberg had hoped, so he’s now finishing a new version.
But, Rosenberg says there’s no shortage of story ideas in his homeland, a country with four U.N. World Heritage sites. ‘It has a whole series of amazing animals and places that no one in South Africa has heard of, let alone overseas,’ he notes. One of the ideas now in development at Peartree is a verité series about a lion park.
For a man wanting to return to hands-on filmmaking, South Africa has a lot to offer. ‘What would be a US$500,000 budget in the U.K. would cost $300,000 here,’ Rosenberg says. ‘I’m hoping to tap into talent sources that were prohibited before. A lot of bright young South Africans are beginning to tell the world what they’ve got.’
Longtime Survival Anglia staffer Mike Linley registered his new company, Norwich, U.K.-based Hairy Frog Productions, the day after he left the prodco in 2001. Having worked for Survival for 21 years, in later years as a producer and scientific advisor, Linley was determined to stay in the industry. However, he knew it would be difficult to make wildlife films in a marketplace he deemed ‘torturous’. Diversification was in order.
Linley’s first step was to assess his library. He owned the copyright to over 40,000 slides and digital clips collected during his years at Survival, but what to do with them? As it happened, over 100 staff from Survival’s multimedia department were also made redundant in the Granada deal, and some of them rented office space on the floor below Linley. So, he teamed up with his former colleagues, drawing on their expertise and his library, to service a new market in the U.K. – digital ‘white boards’.
These touch-sensitive screens – onto which images can be projected from a computer – give teachers greater control than traditional videos or film reels. Explains Linley, ‘A teacher can put [a CD-ROM] into a computer and press a button, and the kids can watch a 40-minute presentation with voice-over, or the teacher can extract anything on the disc, change the order and use it in his own way.’ He adds, ‘It’s relatively new, and the government is giving £50 million (us$79 million) to schools to buy this material.’ The first of Hairy Frog’s CD-ROMs will be available to schools for purchase this month.
Despite these and other spin-off ventures, Linley says filmmaking remains his passion. He continues to pitch established contacts from his Survival days, but is also looking to new markets, such as Southeast Asia. ‘In the old days, it was hard to get a $300,000 commission [there], but the price of making these films has come down considerably,’ he notes.