Our Season of the Osprey case study captures in unique detail the journey of a blue chip Nature documentary special from initial concept to successful distribution worldwide.
It is a roadmap for independent wildlife filmmakers – serving both as an inspirational tool and as a sobering reality check.
The players involved in the story include PBS’s NATURE series, Love Nature, Blue Ant International, Smithsonian Networks, ARTE and Sky Nature.
Festivals and markets like Jackson Hole play important roles. A crowd funding campaign and private backers contributed.
The Season of the Osprey case study is sponsored by Sunny Side of the Doc, Europe’s leading documentary conference and marketplace that is dedicated to providing year-round content to producers.
The backbone of our Osprey story is our detailed Timeline, which is organized into four chapters: Concept, Development, Production and Distribution.
The story begins on a Connecticut salt marsh – in 2012 – when director/cinematographer Jacob Steinberg was so inspired by the powerful personalities of a breeding osprey pair that he dedicated himself to telling their story.
Nine years later on October 27, 2021, Season of the Osprey, a Love Nature / WNET Nature / CosmoVision coproduction, premieres on PBS to more than a million viewers and wide acclaim. It is narrated by Paul Giamatti.
Blue Ant’s International version titled Osprey: Sea Raptor is narrated by Sean Bean, and soon racks up impressive sales worldwide.
The Timeline uses a mix of media and editorial formats, ranging from video and PPT pitches, trailers, original podcast interviews with key participants, and much, much more.
You can find more content on our Season of the Osprey platform, which we created as a model outreach effort for producers of independent films.
- Cinematographer and director Jacob Steinberg moves from Peru where he had been based to Connecticut.
- He establishes CosmoVision Media Group, LLC.
- Jacob discovers osprey nest; puts first camera in nest.
- Launches crowd funding campaign to develop a documentary special.
- Creates first trailer.
- Outreach to the birding/conservation community, including Audubon, WCS, American Birding Association, and osprey groups, sets up a successful crowd funding campaign.
- Jacob attends Wildscreen with trailer. Meets with International broadcasters. First to show support is Laurene Mansuy of ARTE France.
- Next are Henrik Ekman of SVT Sweden (“This is a bird with a special place in the heart of many Swedes”), and Nina Tuominen of YLE Finland.
Jacob’s first trailer
- Jacob attends Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.
- First meeting with Smithsonian Channel team.
- Wins several grants, including from International Osprey Foundation and Connecticut Sea Arts Grant.
- Jacob brings crew to Connecticut from Peru.
- First year of osprey filming with RED camera.
- Nest destroyed in powerful winter storm.
- Jacob films amazing “re-building nest from scratch” sequence.
- Nest failure: no eggs hatch!
- Jacob goes on the road to expand osprey story.
- Meets scientists Alan Poole, Paul Spitzer, Rob Bierregaard, Bryan Watts. They agree to serve as principal science advisors.
- Films osprey stories across multiple states, including Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Virginia and Maryland.
- CosmoVision produces Osprey: Marine Sentinel, a short piece for festival circuit.
- Additional fundraising for feature film through partner screenings of short film.
- Jacob collaborates with WNET Nature on Animal Homes. Contributes osprey sequences to series.
Animal Homes promotion
- Jacob redesigns “nest cam” utilizing remote-operated RED cameras.
- Captures amazing close-ups of hatching, chicks, behaviors.
- Films dramatic death of runt nestling, and other behavior sequences.
- First brief strategic consult with Peter Hamilton. His key advice “You have unique access to a high risk setting. Develop your story around the compelling character of the vulnerable, last-hatched chick.”
- Jacob goes to osprey center in Finland with RED camera. Captures incredible hunting sequences.
- These sequences help win a large private grant to continue filming the following season.
Jacob’s second trailer with close-range hunting sequences
- Peter Hamilton commits as CosmoVision’s Executive Producer.
- Peter explains why he had faith in the project: “The osprey is an iconic raptor species with a world-wide following, one that has recovered from threatened extiction. Plus, the species hasn’t been covered in a blue chip documentary for 40 years. Jacob’s remarkable footage follows years of unique access to a nest and its surrounds. His work is backed by leading scientists. The story features remarkable characters who thrive despite ominous threats.”
- He begins pitching for grants, sponsors, pre-sales, commissions and more.
- Peter asks PBS Nature’s Executive Producer Fred Kaufman if he would take a pitch for osprey, but Fred declines, saying that his docket is full for now.
- Jacob prepares trailer and pitch reel: story is based on “Hercules the runt who survives to become the alpha”
- Jacob goes to Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Lots of interest.
- Peter arranges meeting with Smithsonian Networks’ Chief Programming Officer David Royle who expresses strong interest.
The worldwide fascination with osprey is captured in postage stamps
- Biggest filming year. Jacob deploys multiple RED camera teams. Over 80 field days.
- Nest cam is upgraded with camera motion and infra-red. Implemented season-long.
- While filming nest behavior, Jacob captures dramatic survival of the last-born chick.
- Jacob films unique aerial osprey migration sequences in Peru. They are used to open the film.
The Pitch: Hercules’ Story
(with migration sequence)
An early pitch reel and deck focused on the hero story of the vulnerable, last-hatched chick who fights to survive in competition with his older siblings, and grows to become the first to fledge and fly.
- Smithsonian confirms strong interest in Osprey film in Spring.
- Jacob drafts a detailed treatment around the “Hercules” story.
- Treatment and budget submitted to Smithsonian. Lawyer engaged.
- Jacob optimistically scrambles to “finish” filming ahead of a Smithsonian commission and EOY release.
- Peter pitches private investors.
- Jacob flies to France to reconnect with ARTE who confirm strong interest in the program.
- Peter meets with potential buyers at MIPTV, hoping to solidify their interest into pre-buys versus acquisition of the completed film.
- Jacob goes to Finland with Phantom Flex, captures incredible hunting sequences in HFR (High Frame Rate).
Jacob Steinberg describes the long process to create “Season of the Osprey” in his Making Of video, a contract deliverable (9’)
- Smithsonian team loses interest, dashing hopes for a full commission
- Jacob pitches Curiosity Stream who commission My Wild Backyard: New York City, a short film for the My Wild Backyard series.
Curiosity Stream trailer for an episode of My Wild Backyard about Jacob’s field cinematography
- At MIPDoc Peter meets with potential buyers including SVT Sweden‘s Henrik Ekman who confirms his commitment to buying the completed film.
- At Sunny Side of the Doc in June, Peter pitches PBS International’s Tracy Beckett, Off the Fence, CBC Canada, ORF Austria, and several other potential buyers.
- Jacob returns to Jackson Hole WFF: Meets with PBS International (Tracy Beckett, Germaine Sweet) and Love Nature (Carlyn Staudt) and WNET Nature’s Janet Hess.
- Carlyn Staudt sees an opportunity for Love Nature to take a step up in the production cost and quality, and to work in partnership with PBS’s Nature strand. She directs her team to investigate the feasibility of the osprey project.
- Peter Hamilton and Love Nature’s James Manfull almost simultaneously pitch the project to PBS National’s documentary specialist Bill Gardner.
- Bill Gardner is attracted to the “Hercules” story, the cinematography, its potential appeal to passionate American bird lovers, and Love Nature’s involvement.
- He recommends the project to WNET Nature’s Fred Kaufman.
- Nature is attracted to the possibility of developing the project as a coproduction with Blue Ant / Love Nature.
- Love Nature’s Carolyn Dodd focuses on the budget for the potential deliverables.
- Talks and negotiations continue with Love Nature and WNET through 2020.
- Blue Ant International agrees to contribute an advance for international distribution.
- WNET and Love Nature commission Osprey as an International Co-production: WNET has U.S. PBS rights and Love Nature / Blue Ant International have international rights.
- Budget and Timeline finalized after many months of analysis and negotiation (Details confidential).
- Jacob completes pick-up shooting in Fall with Phantom Flex 4K HFR wild action sequences.
- CosmoVision explores discounted DVD purchase with PBS Distribution. Intention is to gift funders.
- Contracts executed between Love Nature, WNET Nature, Blue Ant International and CosmoVision.
- Pick-up shooting in Spring: dramatic night predation sequences and drone footage of migrating osprey in New York Harbor.
- Jacob’s long-time shooter and editor Sergio Garcia Mayer goes through seven years of footage, meticulously cataloging and sequencing in preparation to hand over to WNET edit team.
- Writing (Janet Hess) and editing (Jim Isler) duo begin work: The story focuses on an intimate portrait of a long time “champion” breeding pair and their three chicks during a season on the marsh.
- Press Release: Love Nature and CosmoVision Media Group Wrap Production (Full text here).
- Read production credits and team bios here.
- Jacob completes post-production at JAXX Studios, in Toronto Canada
- Peter and Jacob launch the SeasonoftheOsprey outreach platform. Their intention is to engage viewers of the film with insights into the process of its making and the science that underlies it.
- They record podcasts with key participants in the development and production of the film.
- WNET Nature — with CosmoVision’s contributions — plans its online outreach and digital campaign.
- Paul Giamatti is engaged by WNET Nature to narrate the PBS version.
- Game of Throne’s Sean Bean narrates the international version titled Osprey: Sea Raptor.
- Jacob, Blue Ant International and WNET Nature exchange graphics and copy for various comms.
- WNET Nature team launches its high-quality online promotion that is packed with video clips.
PBS Nature: Coming Soon
Nature’s online tune in campaign
- PBS Broadcast of “Season of the Osprey”: October 27: More than 1 million viewers
- Gebrueder Beetz Productions creates ARTE’s German-language version
- Distribution on Love Nature Canada, ARTE and SKY Nature (UK), SVT Sweden and more
- “What they say!” Read samples of viewer feedback here
PBS on-air promotion
- International sales and distribution continue
- Peter and Jacob expand the SeasonoftheOsprey platform to include a detailed Case Study
- New international buyers include NHK Japan and YLE Finland
- WNET Nature, Love Nature and CosmoVision begin submitting versions to U.S. and international awards and festivals
Blue Ant International’s promotion reel
Arte’s German-language version
The ARTE key graphic