Wildscreen Festival 2012

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So it’s been 8 months since last October when I attended Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, with friend and fellow aspiring wildlife film-maker Nick Barrington Haynes, and I have been pretty slow in writing about it, but to be fair I have been pretty busy training Kung Fu in China. Anyway, I’ve now found some time so here is my (belated) experience of Wildscreen…

The festival is based around the Wildscreen Panda Awards (some of the most prestigious awards in the industry) and lasted from Sunday 14th up until the Awards ceremony on Thursday 18th October. The week was filled with talks from a variety of speakers, both those within natural history film-making as well as some incredible human beings from other related walks of life, including the inspirational conservationist Jane Goodall and the great explorer Ranulph Fiennes. Apart from being a wonderful opportunity to listen – awe-inspired – to people who have really succeeded in their respective fields, these lectures were an invaluable opportunity for aspiring film-makers like myself to listen to advice, ask questions, and gain an insight into the future of the industry that I will hopefully be spending my life working in.

One lecture in particular that I found particularly relevant was titled “Producing with Asia”, given by managing director Liu Wen of CCTV 9 (China’s documentary channel); executive producer of NHK (Japan’s main broadcasting corporation) Shin Murata; and Pierre Cheung, general manager of BBC Worldwide China. Although quite a lot of the session came across as a business presentation rather than a lecture, some of the figures were staggering: it appears from the impressive charts displayed by the speakers that the market for natural history programmes on Asian TV channels is growing rapidly. In China there are 400 million recorded TV sets compared to 30.5 million in the UK, and (according to Pierre Cheung) the first episode of Frozen Planet was watched by over 20 million viewers in China, compared to a mere 7.9 million back home.

As well as talks at the festival there were also workshops, for those who were willing to pay a little extra for some more personal and job specific advice on what to do to get into the industry. I chose 2 of these (which would have been 3 if the underwater filming workshop hadn’t sold out so quickly), the first of which was entitled “What Makes a Great Researcher in Natural History TV?”. This was given by Gemma Greene and Jasper Montana, researchers who have both worked for the BBC on, among other notable documentaries, the Secrets of our Living Planet series presented by Chris Packham. This I found particularly interesting, as I’d remembered watching a particular episode on grassland ecology (which described an interwoven web of symbioses all based on the lack of nitrogen in a grassland habitat) thinking “I wonder how they found (and researched) such a great story”. As it turned out, Jasper Montana was the researcher who conceived the story for that episode, and so the workshop provided me with a fascinating insight into the stages of researching such a complex natural plot, from being told the series premise, to contacting scientists, developing ideas from relevant research findings, to putting together the whole story. The workshop really got me thinking about how I can apply my own knowledge of animal behaviour to create stories of my own, and I already have a few ideas that I hope to develop while here in China.

The other workshop that I attended was “Wanna Be a Presenter? Wildscreen’s Got Talent Competition!”. I didn’t really know what to expect of this session, and actually as it got closer I got quite nervous. There were 16 delegates signed up to the workshop, which we were told would be the first round of “Wildscreen’s Got Talent”: a presenting competition resulting in a winner who would be awarded a screen test with Tigress Productions. The first round would involve selling ourselves to a camera for 60 seconds, and then the final 8 would compete in a live show that – rumour had it – would involve live animals. The workshop was run by 4 presenters: TV veterinarian Steve Leonard, Great Barrier Reef presenter Monty Halls, Coast presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff and cameraman-turned-presenter Richard Terry, and after watching their showreels and getting some general advice on presenting, we split into groups of 4 for some personal tutelage. My tutor was Miranda Krestovnikoff, and she started with asking me a bit about myself. When I told her I was about to go to China for a year to learn Kung Fu, she told me to use that as a unique selling point (something which I found surprising as I didn’t think it was entirely relevant to wildlife presenting), as well as telling all of us to be ourselves as presenting is all about letting the audience see your emotions in order to experience what you yourself are experiencing. Even with this advice I felt quite daunted by being probably one of the youngest there – as well as one of the few it seemed who didn’t already have presenting experience in one form or another – and so I tried to treat the experience as more about the learning than the competition. As I expected I didn’t get through to the live final, but I did get a lot of good advice about presenting skills, so I’ll have lots to practice until next time. Both Steve Leonard and Jo Sarsby (talent agent) said that if we wanted to send them showreels to look over, they would be happy to go through them and give us some feedback, so all in all the workshop was well worth it.

The evenings were taken up by screenings and entertainment for delegates, with a range of events from a screening of the latest Disney Nature film Chimpanzee, to a party night at Oceana, and for those who bought tickets (this time I didn’t) the Panda Awards ceremony. I found the evening sessions to be good opportunities for informal chatting and getting to know other delegates without so much of the “I must network” mindset, which allowed for more relaxed enjoyment of the entertainment provided. That being said, some of the best advice I got from the whole festival was from Dean Burman at the Awards after party, when he told me to find a niche in the industry that others can’t or won’t do, and exploit it. His is getting into freezing cold lakes, and after chatting to him about me going to China he suggested that maybe speaking Chinese could be mine (as long as my Mandarin gets good enough by the time I get back in 2014).

So, where do I go from here? Well, I’m now in China studying Kung Fu for a year, and while I’m here I plan to make at least one short film. So far I’ve been concentrating more on my training, and although I have got a little bit of practice in making training videos I haven’t really found anything wildlife-wise that I’ve been both interested in and able to film, mostly because its been the rainy season for most of the time I’ve been here. This month however, it seems like the rain is finally starting to clear up, so I look forward to being able to get out and about without the risk of getting equipment soaking wet, and maybe find something worth filming that the local villagers havn’t eaten…

The next Wildscreen Festival will be in 2014, details can be found at www.wildscreenfestival.org

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