Broadcast execs weigh in at Wildscreen

Wildlife heavyweight broadcasters NGCI and ORF talked shop - and tips for producers - this morning in Bristol at the annual Wildscreen event.
October 20, 2008

Wildlife producers looking to pitch some of the main broadcasters in the genre packed a session at Wildscreen this morning in Bristol.

National Geographic Channel International’s Janet Han Vissering gave the low down on working with NGCI. She says she’s looking for projects with unique access and a unique story: ‘Those are the stories that will move us.’ Vissering recommends that producers ask themselves ‘Why is this show going to be special?’ and ‘What will make it stand out?’

And toss out the notion that everything on NGCI is big-budget blue-chip. Vissering showed a clip from the docusoap Monkey Thieves, a look at a gang of 60 rambunctious monkeys that she describes as NGCI’s attempt at lighter fare. ‘It’s beautifully shot – absolute eye candy,’ she says.

Referencing the famous In the Womb series, she recommends producers broaden their definition of natural history. Womb, for instance, is very heavily science-driven, and uses CGI. ‘It’s hard to say one type of natural history works,’ says Vissering. But having an immersive tone is a key factor, she says. Also of note to producers who’d like to work with NGCI, Vissering says she’s looking for series that will deliver at the end of 2009, or the beginning of 2010.

ORF NHU’s Walter Kohler has up to 100 hours a year to fill with wildlife programming, and discussed Austria’s ‘Universum’ slot. He says what’s really working with ORF viewers is ‘the place film.’ There are two types of such films: national and international. For international, he’s interested in quirkier locales because he doesn’t want his filming crews ‘to run into BBC crews everywhere.’ He showed a clip from Wild Mongolia, which features a place Kohler says filmmakers never have problems shooting from airplanes since the skies are always so clear.

Kohler also noted that he’s interested in blue-chip material: ‘species films where you focus on one species.’ He’s also keeping an eye out for human and animal stories, such as The Tiger and the Monk, which is about a monastery in Thailand where monks take in tigers.

He’s also open to hybrid shows. He cites a 90-minute feature about the Mississippi for its mix of history and natural history, and says it was a big success on ORF. He also stresses that striking images reign supreme on ORF: ‘If you have the best story in the world and your pictures are crap, don’t come to me,’ he warns.

In terms of length of series, Kohler says series of no more than three parts are best for him, since anything longer is hard to market. As a side note, he mentioned that the 8:15 p.m. primetime ‘Universum’ slot has an average viewer age of 52 – ‘enormously young’ for wildlife, says Kohler.

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