Unidad de naturaleza, animales, fauna iberica, fauna latinoamericana, produccion documentales, servicios de produccion, servicios integrales produccion
Unidad de naturaleza, animales, fauna iberica, fauna latinoamericana, produccion documentales, servicios de produccion, servicios integrales produccion
Udena, Unidad de Naturaleza, Natural History Unit
  • Exclusive interview with BBC Series Producer PETER BASSET
  • 14/11/2010
  • Over the years you have produced a string of NH documentaries characterized by their groundbreaking visuals, from the amazing Animal Camera, and macro-photography of Life in the Undergrowth, to the almost unbelievably long-distance zoom shots we see in Nature’s Great Events – How much experimentation with new equipment and techniques do you do at the pre-production stage in order to achieve such great results on location?

    It very much depends on the project in question. Very rarely do we start from scratch when we try to push the boundaries of wildlife film-making. Usually we use the pre-production and production stages to experiment with a new technology that has already been partly developed by a cameraperson somewhere and who shares a passion to capture images that have never been seen before.

    For Animal Camera I worked with cameraman Jonathan Watts - a working relationship that started many years earlier whilst experimenting with miniature cameras for the series 'Predators' and 'Lion Battlefield'. The experimentation Jonathan undertook on these earlier projects formed the technological basis for Animal Camera. As his cameras and transmitting equipment became more miniaturised we realized that we could venture into new areas and illustrate untold stories in a visually spectacular way that did not feel gimmicky. 

    The latter was particularly important to me, and to ensure the new techniques (both from new cameras and graphics) were used in a motivated fashion we staggered the editing schedule (sometimes 4 separate editing periods per film) to allow us to experiment with all the new components without feeling too hurried by imminent deadlines. It also gave us enough time during production to tinker and develop these new techniques, and therefore shape the ambition of the sequences even further. For experimental projects to be successful it is vital to have a team of like minded people, and any success we achieved on concept projects like Predators, Lion Battlefield and Animal Camera is down to the talents of the art director, Rob Hifle, the editor Steve White, experimental director Tim Green, and the incredible knowledge and skills of Lloyd Buck who worked for over 6 months to train the birds that were the stars of the show. 

    For Life in the Undergrowth we were very lucky to have cameraman Martin Dohrn working on the series. Martin has been at the forefront of technical developments in wildlife film-making for over 20 years and the remarkable 'frankencam' system that we used to delve into an insects world, and see it from their eye level, was the result of many incremental developments by him over many years - and the bringing together of techniques from microscopy and endoscopic surgery ! It is not easy breaking new ground and I really take my hat off to people like Jonathan and Martin - they really are pioneers and the people who bring my childhood dreams of flying alongside a flock of pigeons, or gliding alongside a snail, to life - and i feel very privileged when I get the opportunity to work with them.

    With regard to the zoom shots I presume are you thinking of the awe inspiring aerial images captured using the cineflex system, this technology was first used with great success in Planet Earth, and was championed by producers like Vanessa Berlowitz. Nature's Great Events was fortunate enough to build on their developments and Hugh Pearson, the producer of the marine programmes, went even further by perfecting the use of stabilisation systems from boats at sea. . Like most Producers I am constantly gaining inspiration from other directors, many not involved in wildlife film-making, and using/adapting these techniques within my own programmes. I am always amazed by the innovation and creativity in car commercials, MTV2 pop videos and feature films and when i see something that may be used in a natural history context I store it away for a later project !  


    As well as stunning visuals, it is your productions’ strong storytelling content which makes them so engaging to viewers – What process do you use when developing and weaving powerful narrative into your productions?

    That's a tricky one to answer quickly as it is a process that continues from the first to the last day of production!  

    I am constantly inspired by the stories I see in nature, and I get twice the enjoyment if I can share the story with others - whether I am on a walk, in a bird hide or making a wildlife film. It is this simple fact that drives me to do what I do.

    When I have the basis for a good story, like most people I always write a comprehensive treatment before any filming begins. Initially I try to write without constraining myself in any way, and see where it leads to before analyzing it too much - I find that writing on trains and airplanes helps this process!  I write about the things that excite me and always think about telling the story to my family and friends as I write - what would I say, what would I leave out etc  I then challenge everything and try to ensure that I haven’t followed an automatic process and chosen the most obvious way of structuring the film. I'm also constantly thinking about quirkier approaches to sequence construction and whenever possible a little humour! The opening few minutes of the film are crucial, as this is where you have to set up the film and engage the audience, and as a result I spend more time working on this area than any other part of the film. Getting a satisfying ending is also very important and I don't relax properly until I have good plans for these areas of the film. Whenever possible I will also story-board every single sequence in the film before going on location. I find that being well prepared allows me to improvise in a more focussed fashion when inevitably the filming plans, and creative opportunities, change whilst on location.

    Once I have  images and words on paper (and now playing in my mind with ideas for sound design etc) I can also challenge areas that don't seem to be working with the tools I have picked up during my career from watching other film-makers (like David Attenborough, Brian Leith, and Alan Root,) and listening to Story Structure guru's. Once on location I always try to story board and re-write each sequence again taking advantage of new opportunities that are available or making the most of reduced opportunities.

    As we all know, we rarely are able to capture all of the elements we want to have in our film and so a great deal of story re-structuring occurs during the editing process.  Once again i have had the great fortune to work with amazing editors who transform my original ideas by bringing an objective eye to the process and constructively challenging every part of the story.  It is also incredibly valuable to have other objective eyes in the final part of the editing process and in the past I have greatly appreciated the input of various executives and others in the production team who have helped to ensure that the story unfolds in the best way possible and is paced correctly.  


    The BBC’s reputation as a world leader in the field of NH filmmaking, has been preserved over many decades thanks to the consistently high standards and innovation of it’s blue-chip productions – How much of this is due to the expertise and passion of those involved their productions and how much is due purely to budget?

    There is no doubt that the wildlife film-makers I have had the pleasure to work with at the BBC natural history unit are some of the most creative and highly driven individuals I have ever met, many have dedicated much of their lives to creating the best quality wildlife films. The top producers have an amazing skill set from a career working on all types of natural history programming whether it be expensive blue chip series or lower budget magazine and childrens programmes. Have a look at the production values of Deadly 60 or the innovation in Spring and Autumn watch - fantastic programmes from pretty low budgets.  It's quite old now but there was also a BBC series called 'Watch Out' that was produced on a very small budget that was packed full of innovation - and a lot of humour too. This series proved to me that you don't have to have big budgets to be creative.

     There is no doubt also that when trying to find and film new animals, and rare behaviours, there is often no alternative but to spend a lot of time in the field.  That inevitably is expensive especially when combined with the use of heligimbals  (an expected element of landmark series nowadays) and the testing of ground breaking technologies. As a result blue chip productions do require pretty good budgets if they are to continually advance the genre. However, having a big budget does not necessarily mean that the film will be a success - big budgets bring even bigger expectations and producers really have to use every resource at their disposal if they are to meet the ambition. As a result the top producers have to be very resilient and to be able to keep on going when it sometimes seems that everything is against them.