Last July the BBC announced that Andrew Jackson, MD of natural history prodco Tigress, would be the new head of its Natural History Unit. Four months into his new position, Jackson spoke with realscreen about leaving Tigress and his plans for the future of the NHU.
In 1978 Andrew Jackson joined the BBC in the news and current affairs department and by the late ’80s he was working with the NHU on Nature. Shortly after, his long stint with the Beeb ended when he moved into the freelance world and in 1992 he joined Tigress where he resided until his recent appointment, working on programs such as Austin Stevens Adventures, programs with Jane Goodall and various series of Nature Shock for the BBC.
Upon his return to the hallowed halls of the NHU, Jackson says that in many ways, ‘It’s like coming back to Grandma’s house. Everything’s here, it just looks a lot smaller because it’s all in the same place.’
Will the NHU’s style and approach see a change under your leadership?
I think the brilliant thing about this place is that it’s evolved hugely. If you look at what it has done over the years I think it has led the way in many areas and many things. When Planet Earth hit the screens and you thought ‘wow’… It’s about taking those leaps and taking those steps. I can’t do that on my own, it’s about the team, so under my leadership it will be [about] enabling people to make sure that even in the turbulent times we are in and the budget restrictions and the things that are happening, that we still have the capacity to do that. That is my job. I have to hold the space for the creative people, the people who really know how to do this job, have the space to do that and can create the next great thing.
So yes, absolutely it will change under my leadership or else I’m not doing my job properly. What that [change] will be, I don’t know.
What are some of your proudest moments at Tigress?
[We] can talk about programs I worked on that I adored. Orangutans with Julia Roberts; to this day I love the film.
You can talk about getting the first 13-part series we landed with Animal Planet (Austin Stevens: Snake Master), the pride I had getting a show called Everest: No Limit on Discovery. It was the beautiful coming together of storytelling, technical innovation and real ambition by the executives who decide to do that.
Probably my proudest moment at Tigress is acquiring a real status and getting into the realscreen [Global] 100. We were a niche production company, we were not one of the big hitters, we were not Thom Beers. We retained a very specific niche. It was a wildlife and adventure and occasional science [prodco], and as a boutique provider of top quality television we were able to enter into and achieve good status within the realscreen [Global] 100. I think it was then that we could go to the Realscreen Summit and people wouldn’t say, ‘What are you doing here? You’re not a documentary filmmaker.’ We absolutely had our place at the top tables. I think that probably was my proudest moment; the realization that this fairly small boutique production company should suddenly be able to hold its head up and [have] everybody go, ‘They’re the people to copy, they’re good.’
What are your plans for the unit in 2010?
The vision I have for it is to drive it into every area that we can possibly occupy in the animal genre. For me, we have to make the world relevant and the plight of the world is something that we’re all interested in. I’m not quite sure that, as yet, we make it relevant enough to the viewer, so that’s the question that I’m beginning to ask: How are we bringing some of the things that are really relevant to people into their homes and getting them to understand?
On a small scale we had a show called Snow Watch. In Britain, every time there’s an inch of snow everything stops. We’ve had a cold snap and we’ve had maybe a couple of weeks of snow and the whole place has been up in arms about it. We put out a natural history view of Britain under snow. What was brilliant about it was 3.2 million people came to view it. It was an hour-long piece and some of the facts in there were absolutely amazing. Simple stuff, from don’t break the ice on your pond – there’s no need to because there’s enough oxygen underneath. I didn’t know that. Put apples out for birds rather than nuts. All sorts of lovely little bits and pieces.
The beauty of that was it did exactly what I feel we need to be doing more of, and that’s making us incredibly relevant to the people who are watching us. That’s on the small scale. I’d like to be able to do that on a much wider, more global scale.
Look for realscreen‘s March/April issue for a profile on Andrew Jackson in our ‘Ingenious’ section.