In March 2012 Frontier, Wildeye, Wildlife-film.com and NHU Africa collaborated to launch a film competition, hoping to find some exciting new wildlife film-making talent! We asked entrants to send us a 3-minute wildlife video, as well as a 150-word production proposal explaining how the footage could be made into a feature length film or series.
Thanks to everyone that entered, we had a great mix of submissions and really enjoyed the whole process.
The films were judged and critiqued by Vyv Simson, Commissioning Editor and Creative Director at NHU Africa and Piers Warren, Principal of Wildeye - International School of Wildlife Film-making, and adjudicated by Jason Peters, Editor of Wildlife Film News/Producer of Wildlife-film.com (With help from Alex Prior/Frontier and Christopher Mason/NHU Africa.)
Here are the top ten in order of entry:
Deer in Winter by Matt Smith
The Adventurer with Alex Jones - Alligator by Alex Jones
Day of a Norfolk Bait Digger by Philip R K Jones
Wildlife at War by Charlotte Storme van’s Gravesande
Film: Captivating visual subject with some good macro photography and behaviour. ‘Weird creatures’ is a compelling hook and engages viewers immediately. I would like to have seen some development of this ‘weird’ story line in the writing, even if it was as simple as ‘let’s meet some of the weirdest characters around’. The film could have had greater impact with a careful use of music.
Proposal: ‘Strange’, ‘Weird’ or ‘Extreme’ are words that grab the attention. The proposal is well written and clear and could certainly strike enough interest to form the basis of a discussion with a broadcaster. But to develop this into a series would need some genuine story development. It is the sort of subject that might benefit from a presenter.
Film: An excellent short – superb images and an engaging script. The narration was delivered in a rather unusual way and needs to flow more. Pay attention not to add too much detail when writing for young audiences. But overall the most watchable and enjoyable three minute short.
Proposal: The proposal was good but needed more detail/examples of how this series would be different from the many others there have been about marine life.
Film: An engaging short film with a beginning, a middle and an end but which doesn’t quite show its true potential. This idea stands or falls on the strength of the main character - the bait digger. We have to want to spend time with him. At the moment we don’t get enough idea of his character to get us really engaged. We need to hear him speak on location, not just in commentary. We need to know something about him and his life - that might give us the reason to want to follow him. Does he have some special knowledge to impart, is he a wry philosopher, does he have some unique insight into the landscape and the animals?
Proposal: Clear in what it’s outlining as an idea. Good too in suggesting a particular place in the TV world where such a film might fit. But to develop this into a full length film the proposal needs to focus much more on the attributes of the bait digger-to sell the strengths of the character much more. It is his unique world we are offering to take viewers into and it is through his eyes and understanding that we need to see the wildlife. So let’s hear about that in the proposal.
Film: Good photography and sound and a clear concept. Easy to visualise this as a 50 minute show. More of a story for the digger needs to be developed and the species seen need to be named with more info along the way. The narrator’s voice was poor so either a new voice needs to be found (an actor to give the voice of the digger) or a narrator to voice most of the script with occasional snippets from the digger himself. Excellent start.
Proposal: The proposal was one of the best in the contest with good detail.
Film: Well shot with some good long lens work. Makes good use of natural sound. Very much an ‘impressionistic’ montage. Gentle and intimate, the film gives no real sense of the nature of the location or the proximity to urban area. Both need developing to give substance to the idea of ‘my patch’ as a television series, as outlined in the proposal.
Proposal: The idea is clear but as stated, it could only work as a series of shorts. The proposal doesn’t have enough content to sustain a series at 30 or 60mins. To get to this level it would need human characters to take you on some sort of journey into ‘their patch’ to reveal a hidden world.
Film: Some excellent images (some of the best in the contest) but seemingly a random collection of wildlife. With no narration it was hard to get a feel for the style of the series and how stories would develop. Some good natural sound too.
Proposal: The proposal was rather vague – needs more examples of storylines and more technical info required – formats, length, audiences etc.
Film: This film feels like a good demo tape for Alex Jones. As that, it shows his on screen abilities well. It is fast paced, well edited and shot and makes good use of music. It is very much in the traditional US adventurer style. Animal wranglers and adrenalin junkies on tour have been the staple fare of broadcasters like Nat Geo Wild and Animal Planet in the past. Today however, adventurers alone are often not enough to interest broadcasters. To take this forward needs either unique and compelling situations to place Alex in or strong and different story lines for Alex to tell.
Proposal: This reads well enough. The comparison with Indiana Jones and Bear Grylls is clear and obvious. But can Alex be the ‘new Bear Grylls’? The proposal needs to be more of a focused selling document about the attributes of Alex. He is the reason a broadcaster would either commission or pass because he is the new element on offer. So what’s unique about him and what he does?
Film: Probably the most polished and exciting entry in the contest. The reason it didn’t feature in the top three was that the contest was for films about wildlife, not about human adventurers. The wildlife seen in the promo was generally being wrestled and not behaving naturally. Well edited, good sound, it might go down well in the US as a show for kids, but is an old formula (Steve Irwin etc) and exploitative of the wildlife.
Proposal: The proposal was marred by too many dated clichés and needs more technical info – formats, length, audiences etc. The notion of ‘wrestling’, ‘dangerous animals’ and ‘Once he handles the wildlife...’ does not fit in well with current ethics or the stated aim of ‘sending a conservation message’.
The judges were also kind enough to critique the rest of the top ten entries, so here they are in order recieved:
Film: Visually atmospheric and the commentary started in the same atmospheric style. This captured attention at the start. As the film progressed, the commentary took us away from the atmospheric strengths of this film; the light, the snow, the deer, the landscape. It became a more familiar, educational natural history film. Unfortunately the visual material and animal behaviour to support this style of commentary is lacking. If this short film had been crafted purely as an atmospheric piece for its full duration, it would have had much stronger impact.
Proposal: Very straightforward and clear in what the idea is. But the idea is familiar –both the subject and the proposed treatment. It is also a very gentle animal subject which promises little by way of natural visual drama. For this to move forward as a broadcast project there would need to be a compelling human element to drive the story. A fascinating character that had devoted their life to a particular herd of deer for example.
Film: An atmospheric promo but clearly all shot during the same session – more variety would have been useful to give a clearer idea of how this could be stretched to a longer film. Some nice compositions but the photography was not very crisp (poor lighting/format?) and would have benefitted from a smoother tripod. Some natural sound would have been a good addition to add to the ambience. The narration script was not bad but contained too much information for the amount of time.
Proposal: Too brief – more technical info required – formats, audiences etc.
Film: This film feels like a taster for the proposal. As such it works well - disposing with commentary and engaging the viewer through a montage of visuals, text captions and music. The lack of commentary engages us early on because, in its absence, we start to ask ourselves ‘what is this about’-and then that question is answered by the text captions. It would be good to be able to build into this taster a headline of a surprising story of what actually did happen to some group of animals/species in some particular war zone.
Proposal: This is a difficult subject to turn into strong TV. It should by its nature be compelling but without human characters and background war stories to drive it forward the idea feels dry and scientific. So the proposal needs considerable thought on how the idea is to be realised.
Film:This is a difficult subject to turn into strong TV. It should by its nature be compelling but without human characters and background war stories to drive it forward the idea feels dry and scientific.
Proposal: Needs considerable thought on how the idea is to be realised.
Film: This film raises an interesting question about the National Parks model of conservation. But it all feels a little lack lustre. The footage is holiday material and the one engaging animal sequence is that of the distantly observed coyote. Because of this, it lacks impact. The reaction to the film is that the idea behind it is ‘quite interesting’ rather than ‘absolutely fascinating’. It has the feel of a conservation ‘thought for the day’ rather than the promise of a TV series.
Proposal: Clear and straightforward in laying out the idea. But not engrossing enough to warrant a series. Unless engaging conservation stories both animal and human can be developed into the proposal then this is really a project about a ‘place’ or ‘location’. This type of film finds it hard to excite broadcasters unless it promises the visual standard of the BBC 3 part ‘place’ series formats like Yellowstone.
Film: Some nice shots but too many were shaky from not using a tripod. Interesting concept - the narration script was good but poorly recorded. Shot in 4/3 – widescreen would have been better.
Proposal: Too brief – more technical info required – formats, length, audiences etc.
Film: There is a stark contrast between the laconic style of the pre title opening and what follows. Music, editing, pace are all completely different. If this was intended to reveal something about St Kilda then I missed it. Post title, the film trots along well enough but it has the feel of a montage rather than a structured attempt to tell any sort of story about St Kilda and so it passes over you rather than fully engaging you.
Proposal: This is clear and simple in the outlining of the project. However, the project itself would struggle to get broadcasters attention unless it was part of a very high class series about the extremes of Scottish Wildlife say. Like all strong proposals, this one needs to offer something unusual, something that grabs the imagination. It doesn’t have to be the definitive word on the subject but provide the spark that ignites the fire.
Film: Some interesting and quirky visuals. The time lapses were good but the speeded up clips were rather overdone – making the scenics look rather frantic. Natural sound would have been a great addition and a narration was needed to give a feel for the show. The opening scene of the waves was too long for the length of the short. But a good concept with some great shots.
Proposal: Good but needed more info in terms of lengths, audiences etc.
Film: This is an engaging film about an encounter with leopards. The quality of the visual material is variable but the animals themselves are captivating. There is too much commentary. Pausing at key points to allow the strongest images to speak for themselves would heighten the impact the film. But the passion of the film maker for these animals comes through and is felt by the viewer.
Proposal: ‘Unexplored Wilderness’ is a strong and emotive title. It promises something new. Any project that promises to reveal the secrets of little known places and rarely seen wildlife would get some broadcaster interest.
Film: A few valuable shots (such as the leopard on its kill) but most was too wobbly and too much of the spotlit leopard at night was used. Under this lighting neither the leopard nor its prey will behave naturally, and it’s not good to see animals harassed by the proximity of cars/film crews etc. The narration was too fast and sporadic and very poorly recorded.
Proposal: Too brief – more technical info required – formats, length, audiences etc.
Film: This is a difficult subject to engage viewers without stunning visual material of bioluminescence. As a promo for a series idea, the film does set out the subject and intrigue. The opening of the film would be clearer and stronger if more time was taken to set up the main character and the nature his previous experience. Once engaged with man and mission, we would follow him more willingly on his unsuccessful journey.
Proposal: The proposal makes it clear what the project is. But it does not excite the reader in the way it obviously excites the writer. Some of that passion for the subject needs to come across in the proposal. The subject matter itself is of potential interest to broadcasters but this proposal gives no compelling structure for a TV programme.
Film: An interesting concept but a rather confusing promo. Too much scientific information was delivered too quickly which is not appropriate for a promo. The result appeared rushed and quirkily edited. But an intriguing story which could be paced into an engaging film.
Proposal: Too scientific rather than focussing on what the film will show the viewers. More technical info also required – formats, length, audiences etc.
Thanks again to everyone who entered and judged, we've really appreciated all of your great efforts!!