As many of our followers probably saw from my barrage of social media posts, this past weekend my wife Miranda and I attended the Northwest Regional Emmy Award Ceremony in Seattle. Our film Bluebird Man, which I produced and directed along with fellow Wild Lens co-founder Neil Paprocki was nominated for an award under the category for Environmental Program – we were up against episodes of two long-running documentary series, “Oregon Field Guide” produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and “In Close” produced by KCTS in Washington.
Unfortunately, Bluebird Man did not take home the Emmy – this honor went to the episode of “Oregon Field Guide”. Despite this disappointment however, attending the Northwest Emmy Awards was a unique networking experience, allowing me to connect with folks working in all aspects of television broadcasting from live sports broadcasts to local news, to cultural and environmental documentary work similar to our own. The event really gave me a good sense of the scope of work being done in the broadcast world right now and got me thinking about broadcast opportunities for future projects.
Although I felt like I was able to blend in and play the part of a producer involved in broadcast television, I really was a fish out of water at this ceremony. My suit, which was purchased at a thrift store for under $100, was the first I’ve worn since high school prom. Our film Bluebird Man was, I think it’s save to say, the lowest budget program in any of the documentary categories by orders of magnitude.
Much of the funding for Bluebird Man came from a successful kickstarter campaign that we ran just about two years ago in the summer of 2013. We raised just over $17,000 through that campaign, which provided a majority of our funding for the film. Many of the contributions that we received outside of this kickstarter campaign came in the form of in-kind support from partner organizations. Because we are currently in the process of running another kickstarter campaign for our newest film project “Souls of the Vermilion Sea”, I’m going to take a minute to compare our budget for Bluebird Man to that of our competitors at this past weekend’s Emmy Awards.
According to Wikipedia, the show budget for “Oregon Field Guide” back in 2003 was $300,000. That’s just about 10 times the full budget of Bluebird Man – and this is a show budget from over ten years ago! So how is it that we are able to produce documentary programs at such a tiny fraction of what it costs a television network like Oregon Public Broadcasting? The most important factor here is our reliance on volunteer effort and in-kind contributions. As a small non-profit, volunteers are an absolutely essential piece of this puzzle. We work with a wide variety of volunteers on all of our projects – some of our Eyes on Conservation videos are produced with 100% volunteer effort! But even on our longer-form film projects volunteers and student interns are absolutely essential. On Bluebird Man we had student interns transcribing all our interview footage, we had a volunteer taking us on flights to gather all of our aerial footage, and numerous volunteers accompanying us on shoots as production assistants.
This isn’t even counting the many volunteer hours that were put in by co-producer/director Neil Paprocki and myself. Although we did pay ourselves for some of the work that went into this project, Neil and myself accompanied Al on the bluebird trail on probably 15-20 separate trips, most of which we considered volunteer time. On many of these trips we gathered very little footage, but were just getting to know Al and waiting for one of those special moments that help pull a story together. One of those moments that ended up in the film happened when Al approached a nestbox that had recently fallen to the ground. The young nestlings were still alive, and Al was able to put them back inside the box, and re-mount the box on a nearby fencepost. This scene in the film provided a way to show our viewers the importance of Al’s work in monitoring and maintaining his nestboxes, and we wouldn’t have been able to capture it if we weren’t willing to put in all those volunteer hours.
Which brings us to the unique angle of our storytelling here at Wild Lens. While “Oregon Field Guide” is committed to releasing 14 shows each year, we were able to spend an entire year working on Bluebird Man. This means that in addition to the differences in budget, there are also significant differences in the type of storytelling that we’re involved in. We tell stories as they play out over the long term, which allows us to tell a very different type of story. Al’s story is one that simply couldn’t have been told with just one or two weeks of shooting – you need to see each stage of the development of those bluebird nests to really get a sense of the work he’s doing.
Our new film project “Souls of the Vermilion Sea” is an even stronger example of this approach. Our goal is to tell the story of a species recovery effort over the course of three years to show what it’s like to work with an animal on the brink of extinction. The result will be a story that you would never see on a series like “Oregon Field Guide” or any other conservation-oriented television series for that matter. It will be a story that takes us through the struggle to save the vaquita as it plays out in real time – it’s a story in which no one will know the outcome until the very end.
Tags: bluebird conservation, bluebird man, bluebirds, crowdfunding, emmy awards, fundraising, kickstarter, natasnw, NW Emmys, Seattle, Seattle Emmys, Souls of the Vermilion Sea, Vaquita, vaquita recovery