News

One on one

Michael Allder
August 1, 2006

Michael Allder
Executive producer
CBC (Toronto)

Which topics are hot right now?
Without question, it has to be the environment. There’s not much point in painting pretty portraits of wildlife if there is an ever declining/diminished habitat. Secondly, there is a growing interest in animal communication/consciousness. Thirdly, a continuing interest in macro exploration of unknown worlds.
Which techniques are overdone?
I’d say that many computer animation techniques are on the edge of hitting their sell-by date.
Biggest issue facing filmmakers?
Declining number of primetime slots for substantive docs.
What about money?
Money is always an issue, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying.
What’s the last book you read?
Saturday by Ian McEwan. A classic piece of storytelling.
Drink of choice?
Tough question. Depends upon the weather.
Favorite vacation spot?
Easy one: Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron.

Ralf Blasius
Commissioning editor for science and natural history
ZDF Enterprises (Mainz)

What were your most successful shows last year?
Most of our natural history shows have changed into natural disaster shows. Successful were: Tsunami – A Wave That Shook The World (ZDF) with a 13% market share, and Krakatoa (Pioneer Productions) with 11.2%. Our biggest success was Europe: A Natural History (a four-part series by ORF, BBC, and ZDF) between 11% and 16%. Besides that, our daily zoo docs about life in German zoos are very successful – produced with a decent budget and still very charming. Market shares between 12% and 16%.
Which topics are popular right now?
With us, it is mysteries, catastrophes and a mix of history and wildlife, like Europe: A Natural History.
Which techniques are overdone?
I don’t think there are overdone techniques. It is our job to pick the right choice of programs that fit our audience from the market. There are always gimmicks that are fashionable at one time and will be boring a year later.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Seems to be HD, which already frustrates me a bit. Content-wise: to do entertaining, contemporary docs without forgetting that we have to take care of our natural environment. Many people in populated areas have already lost contact with what is happening out there. We have to tell them.
What are your favorite CDs?
Music comes from my radio or computer.
What’s your drink of choice?
Water. Currently it is so hot in Germany that my brain starts to evaporate.
How about your favorite vacation spot?
Sinai – a short trip by plane, a gorgeous desert made for dreaming, and an astounding underwater world all in one place. Especially nice in times when it is not overrun by tourists or terrorists.

Manuel Catteau
General manager
Zed (Paris)

What were your most successful shows last year?
Our Becoming a Man series has sold a lot worldwide, but the first film I produced 10 years ago (The Ivory Knights) is still selling a lot. Actually, it’s our best seller.
Are you working on features?
We are post-producing a feature doc, Becoming A Woman in Zanskar (85 minutes), and we are developing the scenario of a feature film that should be shot in Siberia.
How many hours are in your catalog?
The catalog contains 90 hours. It’s turning into an HD catalog since we don’t produce in SD anymore. We are not looking to expand the number of hours we have, but we are trying to raise the quality of our films.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Going to HD ASAP!
If money weren’t an issue, what would you buy?
A bigger office.
What’s your drink of choice?
Cool beer on shooting location, and champagne at MIP.

Isabelle Graziadey
Head of international sales and acquisitions
Terranoa (Paris)

What were your most successful shows last year?
Great Sporting Duels series – sold the 48-hour series to ESPN Classic Sports Europe; Of Penguins and Men (52 minutes), the making-of from Oscar-winner March of the Penguins. This doc, along with two additional made-for-TV docs (Rush Hour in Antarctic and Topsy Turvy Penguins) sold well and were used in the various collectors video edition and bonuses.
Which topics are hot right now?
Good strong innovative science docs, strong re-enactments and narrative-driven docudramas for primetime, and blue-chip HD productions.
Which regions are heating up?
Asia, mainly.
What’s overdone in natural history programs?
Too many penguins! There have also been too many monkeys lately. There is also a lot of natural history mixing with forensic science. But there is still room for a large range of natural history productions from the dangerous predator doc and blue-chip one-offs, including biotopic approaches with the use of CGI and HD. The terrestrial broadcasters are looking for big, encompassing environmental docs. Strong research to find good stories, innovative script writing and filming is really what makes the difference.
How many hours are in your catalog?
Over 350 hours, expanding from man and animal, history, travel, science and adventure towards engineering, high-tech, extreme science and contemporary history, travel and culture. We are moving away from explorer/adventure docs [since they're] often too local for the international market.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Rising cost of productions. Segmentation of the market pushes producers to either specialize and go after the big-budget coproductions or go for smaller budget productions with less international appeal. So you see a trend towards bigger companies restructuring by integrating production and distribution with an emphasis on better marketed productions to secure money on the international market.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
High peaks with a view of the sea, and anywhere south where there are more sunny days than in Paris.

Carl Hall
Managing director
Parthenon Entertainment (London)

What were your most successful shows last year?
In wildlife, Lions Behaving Badly, an HD film about the seemingly dark side of lion feeding behavior. Tusks and Tattoos, about how a rogue elephant helped reform a jailbait biker. Sacred Animals of the Pharaohs, about animals worshiped by the Egyptians – but did this worship wipe out the wildlife in Egypt?
Are you working on features?
We produced two 90-minute feature films last year: Penguins Under Siege and Mystery of the Maya. Currently in production on Elephant Empire.
Which topics are hot right now?
Pure blue-chip, single-subject behavior. Crossover science and wildlife.
Which regions are heating up?
Asia (China), Russia, and a surprise – Mexico.
Which techniques are overdone?
Heavy graphic-based formats cut to techno.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Production output of quality shows exceeding the number of slot hours globally, making funding more difficult.
If money weren’t an issue, what would you buy?
Sony HD 900s – lots of them. And the new 1,000 frame/second solid-state HD cameras.
What are your favorite CDs?
Coldplay XY and Bowie’s Greatest Hits.

Masaru Ikeo
Executive producer, coproductions and business development, MICO (Tokyo)

Which natural history topics are hot right now?
Themes which show the relationship between the natural and human worlds. hd versions of the themes and/or habitats once produced in 16mm film. Quality hd theatrical films.
Are there any techniques you feel are overdone?
High-speed and timelapse. Digital composition of the real shot and the graphics. (Also, there are too many crocodiles and snakes!)
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Too much digital composition and/or color grading. Consequently, the border between real and composition becomes ambiguous. The ethics of natural history are challenged.
What advice would you give to producers?
Pursue the secrets in the natural world which have not been told, seen or filmed, rather than manipulating images in post-production using digital effects.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
Hot springs in Japan; anywhere in Italy and/or France.

Andrew Jackson
Managing director
Tigress Productions (Bristol)

What were your most successful shows last year?
Austin Stevens Adventures on Five; SPCA: Have You Got What it Takes? on Animal Planet UK; From Orphan to King for BBC Natural World.
Are you working on features?
Features are a natural progression for us and we have a number of projects in development.
Which topics are hot right now?
I wish I knew! It changes too quickly to be too driven by whims. Good ideas are always a safe bet.
Which techniques are overdone?
Almost everything.
What’s the biggest issue currently facing the industry?br>
Cash. There’s less money about, and while the appetite has increased, it’s getting more and more difficult to get the right budget to do the amazing shows we want.
Is environmentalism just a trend?
Just like they did in the ’80s, audiences will care for a while.
What’s your drink of choice?
Who’s paying?
How about your favorite vacation spot?
Anywhere, so long as I get one.

Shana Jacobus
Manager of program development and production
Discovery HD Theater, Discovery (Silver Spring)

What were your successful shows last year?
Sunrise Earth, Risk Takers, Destination HD, Equator, Return to Flight HD: The Inside Story.
Which topics are hot right now?
Educational, immersive programs without an obvious point of view, but with the depth to ensure shelf life and global appeal.
Which techniques do you feel are overdone?
Portraying animals in a doom and gloom light; preaching to the audience. It’s the same sort of ‘push/pull’ phenomenon that is happening with [other] programming: let viewers decide what they care about and want to pull from you rather than push your message at them. A more innovative and fresh approach, therefore, can keep the genre compelling and applicable for all ages.
What’s your drink of choice?
Pinot Noir (not just because of Sideways!), or ginger ale ice cream floats.
How about your favorite vacation spot?
Santorini, Greece.

Walter Köhler
Head of natural history, Universum
ORF (Vienna)

What were your most successful shows last year?
A very unusual Halloween special called The Living Graveyard about the variety of wildlife in Vienna’s giant Central Cemetery, Europe’s largest graveyard; and Europe: A Natural History. The series already won numerous awards, including Jackson Hole, and has multiple nominations at Wildscreen.
Other than Deep Blue, what features are you doing?
At the moment we are producing a feature called Siberia with Greenlight Media and BBC Worldwide as major partners. Other projects are in development.
Which topics are hot right now?
I think there are just good and bad films, regardless of the topic. We tend to invest in good films which, for me, are clearly different than cheaply made tv shows which may be fast-paced and posh but do not work in primetime.
Which techniques are overdone?
If you can’t afford first-class CGI, leave it out.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Coproduction is the key, but finding the right keyhole gets harder every year.
What are your three favorite CDs?
I am a big Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler enthusiast, so it has to be at least one of his. The new live Billy Joel album would also do the job. And, of course, a Bruce Springsteen compilation. Or the Chieftains, Van Morrison and Sinéad O’Connor? U2? Tom Waits? Tracy Chapman? Luckily we don’t live in a world with an only three cd allowance.
What’s your drink of choice?
A good red wine either from Austria, Italy or France or, if it is hot, the traditional spritzer with local white wine and mineral water.
How about your favorite vacation spot?
That’s easy: canoeing in British Columbia, Canada. Or maybe an Austrian lake, or scuba diving in the South Pacific.

Kip Spidell
Head of production
Ellis Vision (Toronto)

What were your most successful shows last year?
Our long-running blue-chip series, recently re-titled Nature of the Beast, continues to perform well around the world.
Are you working on features?
Yes, we have a couple in various stages of development. (In the world of features, you gotta talk the talk.)
Which topics are hot right now?
Reality-based, character-driven, multi-platform, high-definition, fast-moving, serial-plot-lined, slightly cheeky, engaging, inexpensive animal shows. You know, the usual.
Which techniques are overdone?
Broadcasters are tired of glitzy graphics and frantic editing that isn’t supported by the story. That, and providing full production financing, but that’s another story.
How many projects are you currently working on?
Ellis has never been a wildlife factory. We only tend to take on as many projects as we can devote our full attention to. The North American market has cooled off though, so we’re concentrating on a couple of big-budget prestige projects as well as a fun, presenter-led series called Hogwash.
What’s the biggest issue facing natural history?
Convincing North American broadcasters that there’s a neglected audience out there for wildlife films – an audience that can be extremely loyal once you find them. Also, perhaps related, the issue of unexplained hair loss.
If money weren’t an issue, what story would you tell?
There are great stories still to be told in the Arctic. I really believe that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s out there. Because they are so difficult to find, the cost of capturing those stories is absurdly expensive.
What are your three favorite CDs?
Let It Be, The Replacements; Surfer Rosa, The Pixies; Psychocandy, The Jesus and Mary Chain. I’ve just dated myself, haven’t I?
What’s your drink of choice?
Scotch. Rocks.
How about your favorite vacation spot?
I never get tired of canoeing for a week or two in Northern Ontario. In the summer, once blackfly season is over.

Edwina Thring
Head of programs
National Geographic Television International (London)

What were your most successful shows last year?
For natural history it was Search for the Super Snake and Murder, Mayhem and Meerkats.
Which topics are hot right now?
Strong ‘man and beast’ stories are very popular – as long as they are not too much of a hybrid.
Which regions are heating up?
Australia is showing increased interest in man and beast programming, with many sales concluded in the past few months. And Asia remains strong. A new terrestrial broadcaster, Skai TV in Greece, has also acquired a volume of natural history programming this year.
Which techniques are overdone?
So much depends on the broadcaster, the territory and the slot. For example, some broadcasters love animal POVs in a film, while others don’t. Perhaps one of the strongest areas of contention is hosted natural history. Some broadcasters love the larger-than-life wildlife hosts while others prefer their storytellers to be heard and not seen.
How many hours are in your catalog?
We have around 1,200 hours in the ngti catalog. The largest chunk comes from National Geographic Television, and its output has increased significantly this year following a restructure and new hires. We are also actively pursuing third-party content and have acquired a number of separate hours recently, as well as larger catalogs such as those from Nature Conservation Films and Essential TV & Film.
What’s the biggest issue facing natural history?
Funding – without a doubt. From a buoyant start to the year, the past few months have seen a lot of change and the loss of key slots in Europe, especially in France and Germany, and therefore a decline in major funding streams. Program topics are also of concern in some territories. Some broadcasters feel certain animals are overexposed and they’re looking for something other than African predators.
What are your three favorite CDs?
Keane, Hopes and Fears; Faithless, The Greatest Hits; and anything by Blondie.
What’s your drink of choice?
Limoncello at the moment – that’s because I’m just back from a holiday in Italy.
What’s the last book you read?
Hotel Babylon by Imogen Edward-Jones and Anonymous, which I read on holiday. And Wicked, written by my mother-in-law, Jilly Cooper.

Ellen Windemuth
Managing director
Off The Fence (Amsterdam)

What were your most successful shows last year?
NHNZ’s Equator, our Biggest Nose in Borneo, and Cherub in the Mist by Bedi Films.
Are you working on features?
Two in production and more in development.
Which regions are heating up?
The US, which is wonderful for us.
Which techniques are overdone?
Hosted shows, multi-species techy shows, and zoo-based or home-based animals in captivity stuff, which is sentimental and has a rather geriatric audience.
How many hours are in your catalog?
About 800, and we’re expanding by 70 hours a year. We are adding more history, science and new derivatives – our goal is to add more fun and facts while maintaining steady growth in our more up-market production in the history and natural history arena. Immersive, multi-perspective buildup is key.
What’s the biggest issue facing the industry?
Loss of slots in France and Germany has been a huge blow. We have to be very resourceful and develop wisely for the new market.
If money weren’t an issue, what story would you tell?
The story of Padmasambhava, father of Tibetan Buddhism.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
Cafe het smalle, a cafe on a pier in the middle of old Amsterdam.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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