Bristol-based Plimsoll Productions has earned a reputation for its ambitious wildlife programming.
Camp Zambia, for example, saw film crews of wildlife filmmakers embedded in a single location for two years, following the same animals through various seasons. For Earth Live, the prodco partnered with Bunim/Murray and Berman Productions to broadcast wildlife footage live from seven continents.
In its latest production, Plimsoll is applying the wildlife expertise it honed across exotic locations to something a bit more local.
Wild Britain (8 x 60 minutes) explores the outer reaches of Britain to find hidden wildlife from around the UK. Narrated by Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneveile, the series was filmed over one year and captures 100 different stories.
“We all love the country we live in and Brits are notoriously fascinated by their wildlife,” Grant Mansfield, Plimsoll’s CEO and founder tells realscreen. “Channel 5 has recognized this and put natural history firmly at the heart of their schedules. It seemed only natural that a major, ambitious series about British wildlife would work for them.”
Ahead of Wild Britain‘s premiere tomorrow (March 6) Martha Holmes, the prodco’s head of natural history and Andrew Jackson, president, international production, shared more about Plimsoll’s approach to wildlife filmmaking:
What was the genesis behind Wild Britain?
Martha Holmes: It came off the back of the success of Planet Earth II. We thought that the British audience would like to see a comprehensive natural history landmark about their own amazing country.
Andrew Jackson: This is the first time anyone had made a major eight-part natural history series about Britain – one of the most surprisingly diverse countries in Europe, with more wildlife packed onto this tiny island than almost anywhere else.
How did you have to adjust your approach for Wild Britain compared to your other wildlife programming?
MH: Each series has its own challenges. Sometimes it’s how to stay safe while lions walk about your camp, sometimes it’s about dealing with -40 degree temperatures in the Antarctic. In Wild Britain, it was about being resourceful to capture the best behavior and spectacles, while making the budget go as far as it could in the time available. For example, we mostly used up-and-coming young cameramen, keen to get their first broadcast credit. They filmed sequences on their own doorstep so we weren’t wasting time and money on travel and accommodation.
AJ: Plimsoll has a track record of changing things up. With our ambitious Camp Zambia project, we adapted a precinct model of filming, producing more than 60 hours of amazing natural history for an unbelievably low budget. That expertise and willingness to take on normal filming practices and do something different definitely paid off with this series as we captured some incredible behavior.
What “state of the art” technology did you use to produce Wild Britain?
MH: We used the Selex II – a military-grade thermal imaging, night vision camera – there’s only two of them in the world. It delivers some unfamiliar and strangely beautiful images of wild boar, foxes and owls in a forest at night.
AJ: Plimsoll was the first TV company to use the Selex camera to shoot wildlife in Africa. As it’s heat sensitive, it requires no light whatsoever and sees everything just as if it was daylight. We were delighted with the results in Wild Britain. It allowed us to film behavior that had never been recorded before – such as bats following wild boar at night as they root around for food, disturbing insects, which the bats then eat.
Why did you feel Wild Britain was a fit for C5?
MH: Channel 5 celebrates what is great about being British, and it seemed fitting that a landmark series about the surprisingly diverse wildlife we have here should be a Channel 5 offering.
Wild Britain features over 100 stories told in a year of production — what are some of the first steps when tackling a series of this scale?
MH: Number one, hire a super-efficient team. The eight-part series is broken down into habitats. We looked at each in turn and decided which animals were doing the most interesting things during which month. We wanted to include mammals but also birds, reptiles and especially the most interesting insects which are often overlooked. We had producers allocated to two programs each and a large number of very colorful spreadsheets!
AJ: We love doing ambitious projects. We have a highly creative producing team that are experts at managing complex schedules and budgets so nothing is wasted – it’s all on screen. We’ve already produced some award winning projects, with more than 70 hours of programming by adapting the way we work.