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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Born at the Right Time?

For those of you who know me well, I am forever lamenting the demise of the classic wildlife documentary. Those hour-long epics filmed on a grand scale, crossing continents within mere seconds to tell the story of an animal little heard of and barely ever seen before. 

Their stories were told with a moving narrative that described more than just their life histories, but evoked a sense of character and personality, and purpose.

Of course I am describing the legacy of Sir David Attenborough and the pioneering members of the BBC's Natural History Unit, who were instrumental in changing our perceptions and awareness of the natural world forever.


Their glory days were during the 80's when little explored corners of the world were suddenly brought to stunning Technicolor life on our TV screens. They must have been exciting times, encountering strange species and glorious landscapes for the first time - a total immersion into the wilderness.

And in those heady days of worlds-firsts and ground-breaking discoveries, the BBC were more than willing to put their money where their mouth was. Budgets were sky-high to accommodate long weeks spent in the jungles, and to equip crews with cutting edge and custom-made camera kits. Shoots were orchestrated on a grand scale - but the final results always justified the considerable investments that were made to produce such films.

Those were the golden days. Things have changed considerably in the three decades that have followed. And when I finally found myself in a position where I felt I had the skill sets and experience to undertake my own natural history epic - I discovered that I was too late...

The world has changed, people's expectations have changed. The TV industry itself has changed. We are now part of a fast food society that digests everything feverishly and furiously, and wildlife documentaries are no exception to the rule. I've been told that audiences no longer have the attention span to sit through a natural history film that gradually unwinds through the course of 60 minutes; that stunning panoramas no longer captivate - now regarded as nothing more than so many minutes of televisual wallpaper. We have become blasé about the things that once stopped us in our stride and sent shivers down our spine.

Where has our collective sense of wonder gone? Speaking as an individual, I still get goosebumps when I see a finely crafted piece of TV or film. Music also does that to me - often. I've spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to imbue some of that essence into my own productions - whatever the creative medium may be. I even find my days haunted by a great piece of narrative or a clever and insightful tagline. Such distractions have always tended to get in the way of all my other daily priorities - but I wouldn't have it any other way. And I know I am not the only one.


There are so many of us that still retain wonder within ourselves. Those of us who remain addicted to the creative process - to the things that make our hairs stand on end. Surely we are not in the minority? Surely we are not alienated to the millions out there who we create our products for? It confuses me. It exasperates me. It has made me question my own creative decisions.

Sometimes I come to this conclusion - I should have been born much earlier, and started my career in the 80's. When things were still so new, when technology and individual expression and risk-taking were just starting to bear fruit on the TV screen. Those would have been the real Wonder Years.

But then again, I catch myself in the midst of my melancholy, and set myself straight... Perhaps I am in this business at the right time...

Complacency, tedium and carbon-copy television may rule the airways - for now. But then I guess that's where a new way of thinking has to come in - to approach the obstacle from a different point of view - to catch an audience before they even know they've been caught. To make 'em think once more, to give them back their child's eye...


The Tuskerman's time in the field may be coming to an end, but I can now take control of the driver's seat and steer a new generation of TV-makers - in the right direction...

And suddenly, perhaps this challenge will be worth the effort after all...

1 comment:

Waikeong said...

I fear with every doc skewing experiential (with a crazy host), we will someday lose all these classics.

We should work together again soon.