Lynn Booth, the executive producer and founder of Make Believe Media, based in Vancouver (Canada) shares good news about the completion of the The Secret Life Of Owls project after winning the Wildscreen Award for best natural history pitch last year at Sunny Side of the Doc.
“Pitch publicly. It was my first big public pitch, and although I am nervous on stages, it was a generous crowd. We got a ton of interest thanks to Sunny Side of the Doc. So do it!”
The natural history project “The Secret Life of Owls” (Make Believe Media, Canada) was successfully pitched and awarded at Sunny Side of the Doc 2016. What followed on from your pitch and which new partners did you attract?
Lynn Booth: Yes we were thrilled to win the WildScreen Award at Sunny Side and enter discussions with a host of interested commissioners and distributors. We have been talking to NAT GEO since June 2016. And NHK, among others have shown interest for a sale. We are still in discussion with OFF THE FENCE and PBS INTERNATIONAL for a Fall 2017 launch of our International version. For the moment, we are reshaping the CBC version for the world natural history market. Talons crossed, as we like to say!
Attending WILDSCREEN 2016 was a blast too. I loved it. Between the films, panels and social events, I must say that I hope it will not be my last. Bristol is a wonderful place to get inspired and talk natural history filmmaking.
Less than a year after your pitch, the documentary film is now completed and has just been aired in Canada. How long from the first conversation about the concept to final delivery ?
Lynn Booth: It was almost two years from first conversation to the delivery with CBC. Of course our first creative conversation as a team started months earlier. Director & DOP Jeff Morales and Bryan Sullivan from MAKE BELIEVE MEDIA started shooting a demo in winter 2015 with Cinematographers Neil Rettig & John Benam. We started principal in October 2015 and wrapped in August 2016. After delivering January 2017, we are still editing the international version!
In how many countries will the “The Secret Life of Owls” be distributed? What makes it a story with a global reach?
LB: Owls are a species that speak to audiences worldwide – they are mythic. Our film’s cinematography captures behaviour in stunning ways. And as we are just starting the discussions on global sales, it is hard to know. Ideally we do still get a global deal on the table for maximum distribution.
How do you see Wildlife programming reinventing itself in order to attract younger viewers? How is the move to online pushing the boundaries of natural history documentaries’ storytelling?
LB: Natural history is perfectly suited for cross-platform and non-linear narratives — in linear versions, perhaps the narrator’s point of view could be less traditional? Personally I would like to hear from Indigenous Peoples on their relationship to the natural world more often. And I like the idea of deeply immersive experiences — where we as an audience get to choose where we go next. We should be able to access enormous amounts of information and a variety of perspectives when we enter a landscape. I think it is coming faster than we can imagine.
From your long track record of producing documentaries, what are the challenges of international co-production and how does Make Believe Media manage to overcome them?
LB: I am not so experienced in international coproductions — yes at Make Believe Media we have worked for a decade in coprods with USA and Canadian partners. But for the international market, we always found distributors rather friendly to take our films to market for us. Since 1999, we have been working with NFB, DRG, Blue Ant Media, Entertainment One and TVF International. But getting the money on the table from the beginning is much harder these days so we are looking at starting earlier in discussions with international partners. And holding on to rights is getting very challenging. We are being VERY flexible in how we approach financing and rights.
What has been your key takeway from Sunny Side 2016 in terms of building international copros for wildlife programming ?
LB: Build your best creative team, focus on the animals and environments and keep the humans to a minimum. It seems obvious, but humans are not as interesting to wildlife programmers as Owls, Elephants or Bears.
What’s the next big project you’re working on?
LB: We are waiting for a green light for production on a new natural history four-parter in May 2017. Less mysteriously, we are planning a third FOR THE LOVE OF ELEPHANTS film to start production in Ithumba, Kenya where we have been observing rehabilitated herds of African Elephants for the past 7 years on and off. I look forward to being back there on the ground with the elephants by end of this year!
Our 2017 call for projects is open for submissions. What advice would you share with wildlife producers looking for financing/coproduction partners at Sunny Side of the Doc this June?
LB: Pitch publicly. It was my first big public pitch, and although I am nervous on stages, it was a generous crowd. We got a ton of interest thanks to Sunny Side of the Doc. So do it!
SYNOPSIS We all recognize the haunting nighttime hoots of the Great Horned Owl. This powerful predator lives all over the Americas. Yet it’s rare to catch a glimpse. The Secret Life of Owls gives us intimate look at this amazing bird of prey and introduces us to some passionate owl experts along the way. We’ll meet Robbie, a Great Horned Owl under the care of wildlife cinematographer Neil Rettig and his wife Laura Johnson, a veterinarian who specializes in birds of prey. As the couple train Robbie to fly and hunt, they’ll film him using state-of-the-art ultra high definition high-speed cameras, capturing the life of a Great Horned Owl in breathtaking detail.
We’re on the frontlines with a raptor rehab team as they fight to save a pair of orphaned owlets. To give the orphans a shot at returning to the wild, they enlist the help of a feathered foster mom – a rescue owl named Casper. A rare opportunity to observe an owl family in the wild is possible with footage shot using a special infrared filter for night shooting. We’ll check in with this owl family in Alberta over several seasons, following a trio of owlets as they grow from helpless 2 week olds to young adults about to strike out on their own. Through The Secret Life Of Owls, we will witness the power and wonder of what it takes to be one of nature’s most fierce and formidable hunters.
Make Believe Media is a creative production company based in Vancouver, BC and founded in 1999 by Executive Producer Lynn Booth. For 17 years, we have been producing television documentaries for the world. We are a team of passionate filmmakers in search of dramatic stories, new worlds and the amazing people who inspire us. In you want to see more go check : makebelievemedia.com
Calling for wildlife producers, directors, and digital creatives !
Register & submit your next documentary ideas to Sunny Side of the Doc’s highly coveted natural history & wildlife pitching session before APRIL 21, 2017. To discuss your project’s eligibility, please email email@example.com.
Selected producers will get to pitch in front of leading international buyers on Thursday 22 June as part of the session which is co-organised with Wildscreen Festival. The best pitched project will also receive a free accreditation to the Wildscreen Festival in 2018.