The newest addition to BBC’s Planet franchise, the David Attenborough-fronted series Perfect Planet – featured at the BBC Studios Showcase in Liverpool, England this week — promises to take the natural history banner further, fusing blue-chip programming with earth sciences.
Throughout the five-part series (pictured), viewers will learn how forces of nature — weather, oceans, sunlight and volcanoes — drive, shape and support diversity of life on Earth.
Perfect Planet, slated to premiere this year, is produced by Silverback Films (Our Planet) with Discovery, ZDF, Tencent and France Télévisions.
Silverback Films’ Huw Cordey, series producer, and Nick Jordan, producer, tell Realscreen the introduction of earth sciences offers “context,” setting it apart from other titles in the franchise.
“We have these life force systems that create incredible diversity of life. There’s no other planet that we’ve found, so far, that has these perfect ingredients,” Cordey says. “That is sort of the earth science part of it. It’s still, at heart, a natural history series, but the context of these forces makes it much more interesting. It resonates more with today’s audience — understanding how our world works, particularly at a time when the world is in trouble, as we all know.”
Perfect Planet will explore how animals – such as white wolves of Ellesemere Island, Kamchatka bears, vampire finches of the Galapagos and the golden snub-nosed monkeys of China — have adapted to environmental forces, including the Indian Monsoon, Hawaiian volcanoes, tidal islands of the Bahamas and the Arctic winter.
For Cordey, to produce the ambitious series — three-and-a-half years in the making — co-production partnerships were vital.
“They enable us to film these big productions, which take many years,” he says. “That’s an expensive undertaking, and co-producers like Discovery and France TV — that money is vital in order to create what we set out to achieve… Our colleagues at BBC Studios, the people that put the co-producing deals together, that’s not something that we as a production company do.”
As BBC’s Planet franchise evolves, so too does filming technology. In order to capture the footage needed to produce the series, Silverback Films and its production partners relied on the latest equipment.
“Across the series, technology is a huge part of raising the bar in the quality of the shots and the access to the natural history stories we’re trying to film,” Jordan says. “One of the things that has evolved hugely is the use of drones in our filming… Being able to take drones has allowed us to film things that weren’t possible five, six years ago.”
With drones, he says that teams were able to shoot “thousands” of Amazon river turtles traveling along a largely inaccessible area due to the river’s sand banks.
“Camera stabilizing technology as well has become so good and so mobile, allowing us to get cinematic movement in sometimes incredibly difficult circumstances,” Jordan says. “Lens technology as well has come a long way.”
Both Jordan and Cordey hope to attract a broad audience for the series, and expect viewers will watch through to the final episode, which explores how humanity is “upsetting the perfect planet.”
“These big blue-chip films are very character driven, and I think a younger audience really responds well to that kind of storytelling,” Cordey added. “I think we’re continuing that in Perfect Planet.”
A deeper dive into Spy in the Wild II
The second season of BBC Studios and John Downer Productions’ Spy in the Wild series also joined BBC Studios Showcase in Liverpool following its Jan. 22 premiere on BBC1.
The four-part series once again explores the animal kingdom through the eyes of animatronic spy creatures — such as pelicans, vultures, puffins, crabs, bats and elephants — across four different global regions.
Though, for the second season, John Downer Productions’ Rob Pilley says the goal was to create “the greatest spy creatures ever invented.
“They’re a lot more detailed, a lot more accurate,” he tells Realscreen. “As well, cameras have advanced. We’ve got a minimum of 4K for all those camera eyes, and 6K and even 8K, so it’s a phenomenal advancement as far as the resolution, the speed at which we can film.”
For Matthew Gordon, series producer for John Downer Productions, traditional filming methods make it difficult to capture animal behaviors. The spy creatures offer an opportunity to get up close and personal with wildlife.
“You get two main things: One is that you allow the viewer to get a connection with the animal you’re filming… The other half of it is that we bring an aspect of personality and understanding to the animals themselves,” Gordon says.
Planting the technology in remote, often dangerous locations, however, presents challenges, leaving the producers to think on their feet.
“When we filmed with sea otters, we had to work with our spy creatures around icebergs that were collapsing,” he says. “They’re incredibly skittish. So, our boats and traditional cameramen had to be out a kilometer away.”
“We have to have spies filming the spies,” Pilley adds. “We have other spy cameras there as well — we have rock cams, boulder cams — so, in any one sequence, you might have up to 10 cameras filming simultaneously.”
Through the series, Pilley says, viewers are able to immerse themselves with animal communities around the world.
“What we do with Spy in the Wild is we take you, the viewer, into these extremely intimate, rarely seen situations,” he says. “We place cameras, through these spy creations, in situations a camera operator simply can’t go.”
An array of international talent is on hand to attend the 2020 BBC Studios Showcase, which runs Feb. 9 to 12 in Liverpool. The four-day content market spans content financing, development, production and sales for the Studios’ own productions, and programs and formats from UK indies.