The new normal for events
From gruelling theatre shows in a past life to converting a neglected 1905 Dutch Barge into a studio, to making a feature-documentary, I have had my fair share of projects that have felt tough. For all those variety-junky, obsessive, “be perfect” driven lunatics out there, it goes with the territory. The “Why do I do this to myself?” question has popped up again in recent weeks as we hurtled towards a very short deadline and the Wildscreen Film Festival.
At Wildscreen 2016, it was amazing to be in a dressing room with Sir David Attenborough, filming the man I had pretended to be when I was seven. It was truly terrifying for someone who is not easily star-struck.
In 2020, even as my own seven-year-old riffs in bursts of the great man, it was difficult to imagine that this year's Wildscreen would be anything other than a disappointment by comparison. It would surely never reach the dizzy heights of 2016, when 800 delegates flocked to Bristol to celebrate the best wildlife films and to hear from the greatest minds. Whether a pandemic-restricted version could be as good as 'the real thing' was questionable.
The worlds of film, live television and events production needed to meet.
However, they have different methodologies and varying objectives. Throughout lockdown, we worked on remote and hybrid production formats. Figuring out how to adapt and survive in the new world has felt at times unclear. It is difficult to know if you are doing the right things when everything is in flux.
Wildscreen has taught me that those different worlds can merge, and coupled with remote production executed well, be an awesome force. It is a whole new emerging form.
The festival gave us a unique conversation between Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough - something that would never have been possible at a face-to-face event. Motion graphic environments coupled with post-production enabled us to transform what might otherwise look like web-conferencing into actual programmes.
We delved into the mind of James Cameron and Orla Doherty, shot beautifully with Orla in our studio and James in New Zealand. Seamless editing of two properly shot sides of this conversation meant that the production values were genuinely as high as they would have been if they were together. The results were a riveting programme that felt at least as connected, immediate and electric as it would have done if they had both been at the boat. In some ways, it was even more so. I had goose pimples knowing that this conversation was happening literally with someone on the opposite side of the world.
Wildscreen's careful curation and thoughtful editorial, combined with our collective ambition to get the very best results technically possible, meant that the content produced was every bit as compelling as a normal studio production.
One of the many conversations we captured remotely was with legendary primatologist, Jane Goodhall. Other sessions included keynotes, such as pioneering climatologist Johan Rockström.
It was a massive roll call of people who have done extraordinary things in the fields of wildlife film-making, conservation and photography, brought to the screen to inspire the next generation. This was a full week of Masterclasses, live, remote and hybrid panels, specialist interviews, commissioner briefings and film premieres with quality being the number one priority for every session.
ACCESS and IMPACT
To travel to Bristol and attend a physical festival is expensive. The ticket price for this year's virtual edition was significantly lower than the in-person version, massively lowering the barrier to entry for film-makers from all corners of the globe.
And nobody flew anywhere.
We had twice the number of visitors compared to the previous festival - a great basis for building on this model in the future. It genuinely felt like nobody was short-changed and because there are serious sustainability issues with any international event, it is difficult to imagine going back to the old way of doing things, even when it becomes possible.
We broadcast morning, afternoon and evening with Lizzie Daly doing a truly amazing job of being our anchor, (ha, ha), throughout. This was a critical element bringing energy and coherence to the whole event - even more important when your audience is remote.
AND YOUR POINT IS?
We delivered 47 programmes, many of which wouldn't have been possible at a physical event - and the fantastic audience feedback reflects this in bucket loads. Delegates also meaningfully engaged with each other which is one of the biggest challenges for a virtual event.
Wildscreen 2020 proved to me, beyond any doubt, that online can, in fact, actually be better.
It is apt that a festival with conservation at its heart should reduce its carbon footprint.
Wildscreen is one event amongst thousands of events in countless industries. If you are working on one of them and think that a virtual version is a second-rate and temporary substitute, think again. This can work for anybody.