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Wildscreen ’12: How to work with wildlife indies

Producers from Tigress Productions, NHNZ, Saint Thomas Productions and Icon Films gathered to share tips for first-time filmmakers, advising how to get a foot in the door at a Wildscreen session in Bristol today.
October 16, 2012

Producers from Tigress Productions, NHNZ, Saint Thomas Productions and Icon Films gathered to share tips for first-time filmmakers, advising how to get a foot in the door at a Wildscreen session in Bristol today.

In a session entitled “This is what we want, what we really, really want…” Tigress Productions MD Dick Colthurst said he understood the challenge for new producers of gaining experience, especially with natural history being dominated by one-hour specials.

“How do you make the jump to do one-hour for a broadcast?” Colthurst asked, adding that there aren’t many magazine shows to cut one’s teeth on any more, which is where many on the panel got their experience. “The runner is still the way in,” he answered, mentioning that Tigress takes on three runners per year, many of whom are now fully fledged directors.

Saint Thomas Productions producer Bertrand Loyer chimed in to suggest that archive-based jobs are also a great way to get experience and a track record that will make it easier to work with an established indie.

Harry Marshall, creative director of Icon Films, added that being indispensable to a project is one way to work with him – knowing the right locations, speaking the right language, and having access that the indie doesn’t.

For those worried that they’d bring their idea to a more established prodco and would then lose it to the indie, NHNZ’s exec VP of development and marketing Neil Harraway outlined how people can protect their idea. He advised that individuals should have enough of the story laid out to be protected, rather than just the seed of a vague idea. Both parties are then protected via a release form, but sometimes they skip the release and go straight to an option, where the discussion is had about the person’s track record, what NHNZ wants, and what the person wants.

“We don’t want dreamers, we won’t give you an EP credit,” he said, adding that those who consider themselves an auteur won’t likely make a commercial film. “We want talented, smart, hard-working people to fit in with our team and the network,” said Harraway.

One of the benefits of working with an established indie was outlined by Marshall, as he detailed how the River Monsters series spawned from a 2008 one-off that needed three re-shoots.

Killer Catfish centred around a man-eating catfish in the Himalayas, and when the footage first rolled in, Marshall and crew at Icon sent River Monsters star Jeremy Wade back into the water because the fish he caught was on the “wrong side of big.” After similar results on the second try, the third time proved to be the a charm, and the footage made up the special commissioned by Animal Planet and ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

“It was expensive,” said Marshall. “This is why it’s worth taking up with an independent, who has the resources to make sure you can deliver.”

Colthurst agreed, saying: “You can’t go to a broadcaster and say ‘sorry, we ran out of money.’ Another reason to work with us is that we can absorb [the cost].”

The session’s moderator Chris Weber, VP of development and production for specials and events at Discovery Channel U.S., added that after development, the indies are the guys who help deliver the end product to the network, on time, on budget, and who ensure that it rates.

While the majority of the assembled prodcos’ output is generated in-house, projects do come in via experts, talent, or elsewhere. “The mystery of where ideas come in from, we haven’t cracked yet,” said Colthurst. “This is why we’re open to ideas.”

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