Icon Films: 20 years of authenticity and entertainment

Twenty years ago this week UK-prodco Icon Films started up with Laura and Harry Marshall as its only staff members. Today, the staff has multiplied into a strong team and Laura Marshall, the company's MD, tells realscreen the prodco isn't just about natural history.
January 28, 2010

Twenty years ago this week, husband and wife team Laura and Harry Marshall were the founding (and only) staffers at UK-based prodco Icon Films, with Harry as CEO and Laura (pictured) as MD. Today, the company, known for its natural history programming, has evolved both in staffing and areas of expertise.

Over the years Icon Films’ natural history programming for the BBC, National Geographic, Five and Animal Planet has included such programs as Mountains of the Monsoon, Street Monkeys and Paranormal Pigeons. But Laura Marshall points out that the company has increasingly become involved in popular factual fare and turned some traditional blue chip natural history subjects into general entertainment programming.

Last year the prodco’s Animal Planet series River Monsters became the top-rated show for the channel, continually breaking audience records. The series follows angler Jeremy Wade as he seeks out freshwater fish known for nibbling on humans. While the program revolves around fish, Marshall thinks of it as entertainment programming, not natural history.

‘Everything we do has a backbone of fact and authenticity, but it is there to entertain,’ says Marshall. ‘Without the authenticity and the solid research and credibility I don’t believe it would have the impact that it does.’

Icon currently has 25 hours on the slate for 2010 made up of a mixture of blue chip natural history, obs docs, history and entertainment natural history, including season two of River Monsters, Weird Creatures with Nick Baker for Animal Planet International and Science Channel, inserts for The One Show on BBC One and The Airmen & Headhunters, a history program for National Geographic Channels International, THIRTEEN and Channel 4. Marshall says there are more programs on the slate that she can’t talk about just yet, but she alludes to the genre – adventure natural history.

The company is currently made up of a core group of 25 production, development and business staff (as well as 20-odd freelance directors, producers and researchers) who work together to deliver its programs. As for the company’s approach to program-making, Marshall says there are a few key points that it works with. ‘Listen to what people want, make sure we’ve understood exactly what it is that we’re aiming to deliver [and] act on it,’ explains Marshall. ‘And then deliver beyond the expectations of the people that are commissioning you. Delight and exceed people’s expectations, that’s our mantra.’

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.