The last time that realscreen spoke with NHNZ’s EVP development and marketing Neil Harraway, the New Zealand-based wildlife prodco was celebrating its 30th anniversary. A year later the company is still creating those blue-chip productions it’s known for, but is now also expanding into other genres that are still deeply rooted in natural history. Most importantly, Harraway vouches that in these troubled economic times, coproductions are more important than ever.
NHNZ’s MIPCOM offerings (distributed by Off the Fence) are two coproductions. The first is Bite Me with Dr Mike, a copro with the Travel Channel and NGCI (which has given it a slightly different title, Bite Me with Dr Mike Leahy). NHNZ has the international rights to sell the 8 x 1-hour series after the NGCI window, and the Travel Channel has screened it in the States. ‘That’s what we regard as ‘new natural history,” says Harraway. ‘It’s a take on travel and encountering the smaller beasties out there in the wilds or cities.’
The second MIPCOM offering goes back to NHNZ’s roots, with the blue-chip one-off Expedition Antarctica, yet another copro, this time with Smithsonian Institution and NGCI. The special follows a team of leading international scientists on board the RV Tangaroa in 2008 taking part in a global mission to provide a better picture of the health of marine life in Antarctic waters. Harraway describes Expedition Antarctica as a ‘little more conventional nature science but with an observational edge, a little Deadliest Catch edge to it.’
Currently in production is Weird Edens, a six-part, one-hour series that is a copro with NHK, Science Channel and France 5.
‘We took some time to raise the funding for this,’ says Harraway, going on to say that most of the markets, particularly in Europe are pushing for big ideas and big stories.
All those coproductions aren’t a coincidence. ‘We’re a smaller producer, we’re not owned or part of a broadcaster and we have to work commercially. Our coproductions are a great financial model,’ he explains. ‘We talk to all partners, we’re conscious of relationships for the future and that works for us in Asia where relationships are so important.’
Those relationships in Asia can be seen in the aforementioned Weird Edens and the first copro with Korea, Home in the Danger Zone (w/t). NHNZ teamed with Korean broadcaster MBC for the high definition project, gaining access to Korea’s demilitarized zone. MBC dealt with some of the enormous difficulties involved, such as security issues and the simple act of finding out where one can go safely in the DMZ, one of the world’s most heavily mined areas. The special aims to show that despite the many tensions on either side of the razor wire fences, there are areas of peace for animals. Home is currently in post-production.
‘It’s not a big world of broadcasters that can be involved in coproductions and its not a big world of production companies who have made that step into the global market,’ says Harraway.