Monday, March 3, 2014

Interview with Ingrid Kvale (Secrets of Bones)

This month, BBC Four is airing a six-part documentary series looking at how bones have shaped evolution in vertebrates.  It is incredibly interesting and is presented by Ben Garrod, a scientist with obvious passion for his subject matter. 

But it is also beautifully filmed so I wanted to find out more, I approached one of the directors Ingrid Kvale on Twitter as I wanted to find out more about the show and how she came to work on the project:

Secrets of Bones director
Ingrid Kvale
You are the director (and one of the producers) of the BBC’s beautiful Secrets of Bones – how did you get the opportunity to work on the project?

Ingrid Kvale: I produced episodes 3 and 5 of the Secrets of Bones. The series producer was Aaron Paul. He directed episodes 1 and 6.  Sue Doody directed episodes 2 and 4.  The series really was a team effort. I frequently produce and direct films for the BBC Natural History Unit and I was particularly keen on working on this series as the subject and fresh approach excited me as a filmmaker. Luckily I got selected to work on it.

Where did you learn how to direct television?  (You do it very well!) Did you do a production course at university?

IK: After completing my Zoology Degree, I spent a year gaining media experience, then studied for a Masters in Documentary Television.  I learnt the basics of producing and directing on this course at Goldsmith’s College, University of London.  But it was mainly from working at the BBC Natural History Unit that I gained experience directing documentaries.  I was also lucky to get to go on a directing course at BBC Elstree. One of the main skills to directing well is having a clear vision of what you want and working with a talented cameraman who is able to turn that vision into reality.  We were fortunate to have Director of Photography Mark Chandler across the series.  Series producer Aaron Paul was key in setting a fresh and distinct style for the series that we all adhered to.

You work primarily on science and nature documentaries.  Is this something that you always wanted to do?

IK: I originally wanted to be a Vet, but decided to study Zoology instead. I grew up watching Nature films and so it was a dream come true to get to work at the BBC Natural History Unit. After getting a work experience placement there, I was offered paid work and eventually became staff, although I later went freelance.

What kind of pre-production jobs do you, as a director, have to do before a project like this?

IK: In documentaries, the producer is often also the director. We had four producer/directors working on the series.  First there is a research and development phase when you work out exactly what the episodes are going to be about and start drafting scripts.  Our presenter Ben Garrod and the researchers were key in coming up with ideas for stories. The researchers got in touch with most of the natural history museums in the UK to find out what animal skeletons they had as we couldn’t cover a story without being able to film the skeleton. The producer has to chose which stories to include in their own films and make sure the films are made on message and within budget.  Once the stories were confirmed we set up the shoots, did the filming, then the editing and postproduction.

What was the shooting schedule for Secret of Bones?  How much of it is improvised?

IK: This series was actually quite fast turnaround. We produced 6 episodes of a new format with a new presenter from start to finish in under 5 months. We were given a tight delivery deadline and had to complete it in time, for the given budget. We had to work some long hours and often on weekends to get the job done. Everyone on the team worked extremely hard to make the series a success.
Secrets of Bones presenter
Ben Garrod
Ben Garrod is obviously an expert in his field, but he does not alienate the audience by being too technical with his language.  How do you know at what level to pitch a program like this; do the BBC have intense guidelines? 

IK: This is the first series that Ben Garrod has done, but he is naturally talented and gifted at communicating science.  One of the main reasons why he was spotted as new talent was his ability to do this in a friendly, passionate and enthusiastic way. He is also an expert in his field and hugely knowledgeable.  The BBC development Execs have a good idea of what the commissioners are looking for based on briefs.  But it can take a while for the idea to be shaped into a proposal that ends in a commission.  Once the idea has been commissioned you are assigned a channel commissioner who works closely with the BBC Exec and series producer to steer the editorial for the series.

Do you have any thoughts about recent proposals to merge BBC Two and BBC Four?

IK: It will be interesting to see how this impacts programme makers. 

What is your dream project, if budget and exhibition were no object?

IK: There are so many films I would like to make that are strong stories about people, wildlife, popular science and adventure.  The hard part is persuading someone to commission it as the market is so competitive.  My particular passion is the oceans and marine life. I was lucky to work on Oceans and Ocean Giants but I would love to make more films about the wonders of our underwater world.
Secret of Bones presenter
Ben Garrod with a skeleton
Many thanks to Ingrid Kvale for answering my questions.  The pictures are credited to her, which she kindly gave me to use.

Secrets of Bones is now showing on Tuesday evenings at 20:30 on BBC Four

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