by Brian Leith, Executive Producer
Correction….It actually feels like tomorrow!
When you start working on what we in TV land call a “landmark series”, a three year production cycle does feel like an eternity. For the first year it feels as if you are pushing a snowball up to the top of a hill. Year two and it starts rolling down, gradually building momentum and growing in size and now in year three the snowball is huge and rolling at speed with us all trying to keep it in control as it hurtles towards the finishing post! (I’ve used this metaphor because there are huge flakes of snow falling here in Cardiff and we’ve been working on the first edits of the Arctic episode). Over to you, Brian..
It feels like the Arctic here in Bristol too… it’s started snowing here as well, and the forecast is for heavy (ie traffic-stopping) snow today and tomorrow all over SW England and South Wales (several of us on the HP team were brought up in North America and we find it mildly pathetic, if amusing, how little snow seems to bring this mighty empire to its knees… in Montreal when I was a boy we’d get 6 inches of snow overnight and the snowploughs would be out clearing the roads before the sun rose. True!)
Gosh – apologies for that diversion!
Back to post-production, please, Dale: when do our edits start?
We go into edit in just a few weeks. Each hour of television takes ten or eleven weeks to cut. That includes the 10 minute “Making of”, where you get to see some of what goes on behind the cameras. After that we have several weeks of final post production or finishing which includes dubbing, mixing and voice-over plus the grade where the HD pictures really come to life. Many people get involved during this process, don’t they, Brian …..?.
Ahem, cough splutter, yes indeed…
(Gee thanks Dale). Don’t get me wrong: we do need fresh eyes – to keep us pointing in the right direction, to make sure we’re making the programmes as strong as they can be. And it is easy to get so close to a programme that you can’t see the wood for the trees – so regular and constructive editorial feedback and guidance from well-informed senior execs is crucial…
But the reality is that it can get difficult. What if BBC wants a slightly different editorial angle from our other international co-production partners (who may have contributed just as much funding)? Who should we obey? What if someone new steps in to run the channel and they’re not as keen on the series as the previous controller? It has been known for new controllers to ‘kill the babies’ of previous incumbents – like male lions taking over a pride – in order to give their own offspring a better chance.
The truth is that the final approach to landing the finished series can be fraught with delays, disagreements and tension.
Luckily this won’t happen on Human Planet. We have total faith in all our esteemed editorial leaders from all our co-production partners. Don’t we, Dale?
Totally!! Got to go now – I’ve got a literal and metaphorical snowball to push!
Next week we have to present the series – a 20-minute Brian-and-Dale show – to the new Chief Creative Director of BBC Vision, then to BBC Worldwide’s Showcase – a three day jamboree of all the BBC’s potential international co-production partners – to try and rustle up as much interest as we can in the series.
These landmark series can be huge international best-sellers – Planet Earth is still selling like hotcakes as DVDs around the world – so the pressure’s on! It’s a weird time on one of these big series: on the surface we’re trying to exude calm certainty that it’s all going to be wonderful – the best series since sliced bread! and meanwhile we’re frantically pedalling like mad below the water-line to make sure it all comes together on time and on budget…
by Brian Leith, Executive Producer, Human Planet
I realise these blogs are supposed to be action-packed accounts of daring exploits posted by intrepid members of our filmmaking teams scattered to the farthest-flung corners of the world. But this week I thought we’d bring you a surprise.
So, while we have one team (Mark and Renee) filming the capture of giant fish in the turbulent rapids of a river in Laos, another (Tuppence and Jane) filming tribesmen literally stealing a kill from hungry lions in Kenya, and another (Tom and Rachael) filming a house-move (!) atop a 40-metre tree in Papua – and yet another team (Nick and Bethan) filming a traditional Inuit whale hunt in Greenland… I’m bringing this front-line account to you from exotic Whiteladies Road in Bristol.
You see, not all of us in glamorous wildlife TV get to go on those exotic trips. Some of us have to man the telephones and sit in front of computers back at base, trying to keep track of it all. Some of us are ‘production management’ staff, in charge of making plans and making sure those plans actually turn into film shoots; some of us are technical staff, trying to make sure that all those sounds and images gathered from around the world are transferred, logged, and stored in a suitable format so that we can actually make the series at the end of all this action; some of us are picture and sound editors, destined forever to sit in darkened rooms imagining what it must have been like to be on location when that mad thing happened.
And some of us never get to go anywhere at all because we’re… well, because we’re just so darned IMPORTANT. As the Executive Producer of Human Planet I rarely get to travel beyond Redland and Clifton, here in deepest Bristol. This has its up-sides: I get to go home at a reasonable hour most days and I can take my son to school in the mornings; I get to drink lattes in fashionable cafes discussing the latest gossip in Broadcast magazine.
But there are down-sides too: I wave jealously to my colleagues as they head off down the M4 destined for Iguacu Falls or The Skeleton Coast in Namibia with tents and sleeping bags tucked under their arms; I have to sit silently at the lunch tables – no intrepid tales to tell, no scars to show off, no shrunken heads to give as gifts to adorn my colleague’s desks. Yes, it’s a tough life for us execs – we’ve moved on from the heady days of adrenaline and malaria to the gentler slopes of ovaltine and mogadon. We may get – I said may – the bigger bucks, but we’re hardly the tanned and chilled well-travelled explorers we once were – or once hoped to become.
So the picture of me above shows me standing by my hedge in Redland – about to head south down Whiteladies Road, a gruelling fifteen-minute trek to the BBC offices here in Bristol. The editor of this blog has threatened to add another photo of me in more adventurous days – crossing a river in the Congo on the trail of jungle elephants… But my shtick these days is purely vicarious adventure.