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RAPTORS: Indie Producer Matt Hamilton’s Copro for Terra Mater Studios and PBS Nature. A Case Study for MIPDOC ’24

Independent producer / director Matt Hamilton created for Terra Mater Studios and PBS’s NATURE series, a superb two-parter that reveals the magnificent world of raptors to a global audience.

For our RAPTORS Case Study, I connected with Vienna-based Sabine Holzer, Head of Specialist Factual, Terra Mater Studios,  Nature’s Executive Producer Fred Kaufman, and Matt Hamilton.

THE FILM:

  • Title: RAPTORS– A FISTFUL OF DAGGERS
  • Tagline: The Secrets Behind Their Astonishing Success
  • Elevator Pitch: From distant lands to our own backyard, RAPTORS is an insightful and spectacular celebration of the world’s top predators.

TRAILER

 


CONCEPT

  • Reveal the magnificent world of raptors to a global audience
  • Intended format: 2 x 50 mins.

STORY

  • Birds of prey are our planet’s greatest hunters. United by a hooked beak, taste for fleshy and razor-sharp talons, they have conquered the globe from the African savannah to the high Arctic.
  • Terra Mater Studios tells the story of raptors’ unparalleled success: from familiar favorites to entirely new characters, director Matt Hamilton reveals the latest discoveries alongside extraordinary behaviors.
  • He reveals how birds of prey perfect the art of the hunt and how they adapt to the toughest environments.
  • The series also asks what the future holds for these remarkable birds in a rapidly changing world, due to habitat loss, climate change, persecution and pollution.

SYNOPSIS

Episode 1

  • Reveals the ways in which birds of prey have come to dominate the planet, kill for a living and inspire both fear and wonder.
  • We learn more about eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons as well as the lesser-known hunters such as secretary birds, caracaras, seriemas, and more.

Episode 2

  • See the extreme ways in which raptors conquer the toughest habitats. From snowy owls in the high Arctic to honey buzzards raiding hornet nests in Taiwan, raptors can hunt prey in any climate.
  • Read the detailed synopsis here: https://www.terramater.at/productions/raptors/

 

ABOUT MATT HAMILTON

  • Matt is a multi-award-winning natural history television producer, director and camera operator with a broad range of experience working in locations all over the world.
  • His Bristol UK-based production company, Dandy Lion Films, “delivers documentaries that focus on authentic and engaging narratives, crafted to help audiences truly engage with the complex forces that drive our natural world, the extraordinary connections between living things, and the wonder in the simplest of subjects.”
  • Matt has delivered programs to BBC, Nat Geo, Terra Mater Studios, NHK, Smithsonian Networks, Arte, PBS Nature, NDR and more.
  • His work has received 47 nominations and 21 awards in multiple territories.

 Matt & TMS

  • “I have loved working with Matt Hamilton, since we first met in 2011. He is an unbelievably creative allrounder, being producer, director and photographer concurrently. There’s virtually no problem he can’t solve in the field and he never loses his high spirits.” Sabine Holzer

Previous Work for TMS

  • Writer / Director – “Snowy Owl, Queen of the North” (2012). 1 x 53 for TMS, WNET and Fergus Beeley ltd.
  • Producer / Director – “Planet Parrot” (2014). 1 x 53 Minutes for TMS, Humble Bee Films.
  • Producer / Director – “Islands in Time – Born of Fire” (2017) 3 x 50 minutes for TMS, Nat Geo and NDR Doclights.
  • Producer / Director – “Islands in Time – Ruled by the Sun” (2017). 3 x 50 minutes for TMS, Nat Geo and NDR Doclights.
  • Producer / Director – “Tasmania – Weird and Wonderful” (2018). 1 x 50 Minutes for TMS, BBC and Humblebee Films.
  • Producer / Director – “Amazing Pigs” (2018). 1 x 50 minutes for TMS, Smithsonian and Humblebee Films.
  • Producer / Director / Camera – “Borneo – Earth’s Ancient Isle” (2019). 1 x 50 minutes for TMS.
  • Producer / Director / Camera – “Santa’s Wild Home” (2020). 1 x 50 minutes for Nat Geo and TMS.
  • Producer / Director / Camera – “Wales – Spirit of the Dragon” (2022). 1 x 50 minutes for TMS.

 THE PARTNERS

  • Terra Mater Studios, PBS Nature and Matt Hamilton are all committed to creating programs that are both entertaining and based on deeply curated science.

About Terra Mater Studios

  • Red Bull subsidiary based in Vienna, Austria since 2011.
  • Portfolio: 300+ hours.
  • Sabine Holzer’s Specialist Factual department produces approximately 20 hours / year.
  • TMS has coproduced more than 40 programs with PBS Nature, 2 with NOVA, and 2 with WNET’s Secrets of the Dead.
  • Other TMS unscripted departments are dedicated to factual entertainment, feature documentaries and online/YouTube content.
  • Read more about Sabine (R) and TMS here.

About PBS Nature

  • Nature is produced by The WNET Group in New York.
  • Nature is one of the most watched documentary series on PBS, and is celebrating its 42nd broadcast season.
  • Fred Kaufman is the executive producer, creating approximately 13 original productions per year.
  • Nature’s awards include 22 Emmys.

KEY STEPS IN THE PRODUCTION PROCESS

Initial Pitch

  • “The initial pitch came from Matt, and I immediately took on the idea. Matt then pitched Fred Kaufman who quickly confirmed his interest.” Sabine Holzer

Timeline

  • Concept: Summer 2021
  • Pitch: Summer 2021
  • Greenlight by TMS: early Fall 2021
  • Greenlight by Nature: early Fall 2021
  • Start production: December 2021
  • Complete field production: Summer 2023
  • Edit: August to November 2023
  • Delivery: November 2023
  • Broadcast premiere: December 2023 on ServusTV in Austria
  • US-Premiere: April 10 and 17, 2024 on PBS NATURE

Photo: Matt Hamilton

Field Production

  • 18 months.
  • “The greatest production challenge was working around the constantly varying COVID restrictions.” Sabine Holzer.
  • “Filming a series about birds of prey around the world came with all sorts of challenges, not least due to ongoing COVID restrictions and shifting seasonal patterns. Most of the shoots in our first year were cancelled or delayed, meaning we ended up on a near constant round-the-world shoot for about nine months. In Taiwan, the crew experienced an earthquake, a typhoon and flooding all within a week.
  • “But perhaps the most anxiety-inducing trip was filming Florida’s snail kites. Theirs is a fascinating story and one we desperately wanted to film. However, committing to the shoot was something of a shot in the dark, as the rare kites can appear then suddenly vanish, all depending on the numbers of aquatic snails they can find. Two days before our flight our local guide pulled out because his snail kites had disappeared. Twenty-four hours of frantic phone calls followed until we found someone with an airboat and the will to help. After several days searching a huge swamp in central Florida, we eventually found a small group of birds to focus on. It took a few more days of watching and quietly waiting in waist deep, alligator-filled waters, but with a long lens and remote cameras focused on some promising hunting pools, we got the shots we needed.” Matt Hamilton

Matt’s Key Production Takeaway

  • “Some shoots can be planned to the finest details, others cause headaches and sleepless nights. But with time and commitment, it often pays to take a small, calculated risk.”

Post

  • In Bristol, from August to mid-November 2023.
  • ARTE committed to join the project at the rough cut stage.
  • Music: Composed by Barnaby Taylor.

Delivery: Versions

  • WNET: 2 x 50 mins
  • ServusTV: 2 x 47 mins
  • ARTE: 2 x 43 mins

Production Budget

  • Final estimate: USD 1,200,000

 

DISTRIBUTION

  • Autentic Distribution is the distributor to territories outside the copro partners.
  • Scheduled release / premiere: Winter / Spring 2023/24

SABINE HOLZER’S KEY TAKEAWAY

I asked Sabine what the project’s success says about wildlife production today? She replied:

  • “As climate change and environmental issues become more pressing, people are more interested in learning about the natural world and the species that inhabit it. Simultaneously, in our fast-paced and often stressful modern society, natural history content provides a form of escape. Watching serene and beautiful natural scenes can have a calming effect, which is appealing to many viewers.”
  • “Natural history content is often seen as both entertaining and educational, making it a popular choice for people who want to learn while they watch.”
  • “And last but not least, many natural history documentaries now focus on global stories, showing how interconnected our planet is. This resonates with a more globally conscious audience who are interested in understanding not just their local environment but also the wider world – and goes hand in hand with the aforementioned awareness and escapism.” Sabine Holzer

FRED KAUFMAN’S TAKEAWAYS

“Bird films have done well for us and I was looking for a bird of prey series for a couple of years but didn’t want the traditional three parter, rather a two parter which is easier to schedule.”

“The evergreen quality of the topic makes it ideal for us considering the shelf life of the films post-PBS broadcast.”

“With the popularity of steaming, PBS Passport and FAST channels we want content that would attract attention and be relevant today and five years from now.”

“Digital is vital to our strategy and we look for topics that will provide great social media short videos for promotion and viewer engagement.  There’s no shortage of spectacular raptor footage in this series.”  Fred Kaufman

PBS: Key Links


PETER’s TAKEAWAYS

  • Natural History is a pillar of public broadcasting schedules worldwide, and the pubcasters are in a less steep decline than cab/sat networks and commercial broadcasters.
  • Streamers are also cutting back on the volume and super budgets of premium “Attenborough-level” Natural History.
  • Public broadcasters are earning more industry respect by continuing to commission quality nature shows, but at the middle and top-of-the-middle budget level.
  • Terra Mater Studios is delivering a solid pipeline of shows at this level by successfully partnering with Nature, ARTE and other pubcasters, often with Blue Ant Media’s Love Nature.
  • They are keeping the lights on in many wildlife production offices that recently enjoyed, or aspired to, generous blue chip commissions from streamers.
  • Read my recent market trends analysis here.

Wildlife Case Studies: How They Happened!



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