How did you get involved with the Ocean project?
I’ve known Nick Marrett [founder & CEO] of Octtane for a number of years. About three years ago, he had this idea of doing a series of documentaries on the oceans. It was at the early, early stages and has grown from then, but I got excited about it. I’ve grown up on the water. I grew up in one of the suburbs of New York and I used to teach waterskiing and go sailing when I was a kid. And then I moved to California, still on the water, and New Zealand.
What’s the story thread in Ocean?
It’s about the oceans and people, really, and the societies that live and interact with them. It will be about things like fisheries, pollution, the acidification of the seas, among other subjects. We’re refining right now.
There is an author named Elizabeth Kolbert who I have been consulting with. She wrote the great New Yorker pieces on global warming. She’s won a number of prizes and has written a couple of books, and her approach is very much something I would like to emulate. She used history [as a storytelling device], but I’d like to use myth, because myth will enable me to draw people in through the collective subconsciousness that links humanity and the ocean. We’ll show people in dire situations that illustrate the issues we want to discuss.
Is Ocean the evolutionary child of Blue Planet or An Inconvenient Truth?
Blue Planet was really a naturalistic film – a wonderful series on the oceans and underwater life – but this is exploring scientific issues from the standpoint of societies, histories and cultures, so it differs in focus. An Inconvenient Truth is really well done, and the Al Gore lectures were great, but it was much more science-based. I want to get more into the people and societies living on the oceans, or interacting with the oceans, and how they are being affected. I think there are many stories that will draw people in that they can relate to.
Who’s advising on the project?
We have a great board of scientists, which includes Dr. Marcia McNutt, who is president and ceo of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and Dr. George N. Somero, director of the Hopkins Marine Station, as well as a guy named Peter Harrison who I’ve known for many years. Peter is the world’s foremost ornithologist and a wonderful storyteller and adventurer. We have been consulting with them, as well as other people. And we want to make it international, so we are expanding that group.
That globalism is certainly reflected in your decision to choose four different international directors to handle each of the episodes. Have you made any choices yet?
I have some specific people in mind, but I haven’t finished negotiating with them. I have a number of candidates, but I want well-known directors who are interested in this area.
What’s your timeline?
This year will be devoted to developing the screenplays, putting together the production plan, and making our distribution deals. And then, by the end of this year, we’ll be starting pre-production so that we can finish the films and the documentaries by the end of 2008, for broadcast in late 2008, or early 2009.
Which broadcasters are involved?
We have one significant broadcaster who is making a major contribution to us for development, and we have a number of others we’re talking to.
What’s a ‘win’ for this project?
The win is to really draw a large audience, to bring them in, because it will be an entertaining piece, and will educate them in these issues so that they are more conscious of what’s happening, and of what the consequences of our actions or inactions are. But, really, it has to be done in a way that’s engaging and entertaining, so the goal is very much to entertain an audience and draw them to these programs and these issues.
This is your first non-fiction project – how does it differ from working on fiction?
For anything you do in media, you want to be prepared, so that when you go into production you know roughly what you are going to spend and how you are going to accomplish it. Of course, in production, no matter how good the plan is, it will change. But you need a good foundation to start your photography, and that remains the same no matter what you’re doing. In the documentary area, you really need to do research on people – Who are you going to interview? Who are going to be the subjects? What cultures, what stories are you going to incorporate? – and, both from our scientists and from researchers, we have a good base from which to draw upon, which is ever-building.
I’ve been very hands-on, I’m very involved. And I have a great partner in Catherine Madigan, who is going to be working with me, and she has done both feature films and documentaries. So she is a great bridge for me, and I am going to lean on her heavily.
Will more non-fiction follow?
It depends. I’m working on a series of Isabel Allende young adult books that, interestingly enough, have environmental and social messages in each. I’ll be doing that partnered with Walden Media. And there are just a lot of different things that I’m interested in.
I do have a number of interesting projects in development. I try to pick things I’m really passionate about that I can devote time to. I work long hours and very hard, and I do bring in partners and teams that I can rely on to work with me. I have been in the business over 35 years, so I have a lot of people that I have tremendous trust in who I work with.
It depends on what I can develop, and how much time I have. I’m very fascinated by these things, and it is something that I can believe in, and I feel is important to do.