State of Play : a Dialogue

by Brian Leith, Executive Producer

and Dale Templar, Series Producer


Well, 8 months to go now until we deliver the series. For many programmes, and most producers, this might seem like an eternity… But for us it seems like the day after tomorrow…

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…

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