Life Force is a celebration of the power of evolution; an exploration of the forces that shape life in all its unexpected glory.
This breath-taking series is a groundbreaking cross-genre fusion of blue-chip natural history and cutting edge science documentary.
Viewers are transported to six strange worlds within worlds where it seems as if nature has thrown the rule book out the window. In this six-part series we visit New Zealand, Australia, the Cerrado grassland in Brazil, Africa's Rift Valley, Madagascar and Japan.
By Judith Curran.
The evolution of what sets Life Force apart from traditional natural history programming has required countless incremental conceptual mutations, over many generations of shooting and edit scripts, until it has culminated in a television series I believe will provide advantage to all the co-producers who’ve created it.
The premise of a series of epic narratives focusing on six of the most fascinating habitats on the planet, and the combination of geological and climatic forces which drove the evolution of life there, has always been solid.
My journey as the series producer and writer however has taken me much deeper into the core of this extraordinary subject than I could ever have imagined.
It was just this week, having completed four episodes (Brazil’s Cerrado, Australia, Madagascar and New Zealand), just picture locked the fifth (Africa’s Rift Valley) and currently fine cutting the sixth (Japan) that I had a moment of insight. What we are exploring in this series is not just the revelation of extraordinary animals and their behaviours, but “why” all these marvels occur in nature.
We’ve been drilling down to the absolute core of why and how any change occurs in any form of life, and placing these astonishing stories into sweeping cinematic narratives. From my perspective, with the massive scope of complex evolutionary science I’ve had to absorb and interpret, the patterns and parallels of evolutionary phenomena on the planet have begun to take on a symmetry which I feel totally privileged to have been exposed to.
Most scientists who work in this area concentrate on their specific habitats or species of expertise in isolation, so to be able to present their work in such a way that allows an audience to grasp not only the fascinating minutiae of individual mutations, but to glimpse the epic scale of evolution and the implications for our planet, is one of the most rewarding tasks a documentary film-maker could take on.
In today’s factual programming arena the cultural differences between markets mean international co-productions can be almost impossible to achieve while keeping all the clients happy.
However, the Life Force experience has provided a series of revelations to me and my team that, give or take the occasional note on which animal should be the “A” character, or in which act we should introduce a scientist, or whether the fish should have bigger teeth or not - the Japanese, the Americans, the French and the Kiwis all wanted the same series. We agreed!
For me Life Force is an example of what we can achieve with the best possible cinematography, the most talented production team, the best stories and a united cross-cultural vision which has delivered a series worthy of its profound subject.
Interview with Peter Hayden, Supervising Producer
In the world of documentaries, it is not often that one comes across a true co-production that involves an equal partnership all the way, from the inception of the idea through the production process to the marketing of that series.
With NHK and NHNZ the main partners of Life Force - this major new series on evolution is based on a collective and shared responsibility that represents a true co-production model in the full meaning of the word.
Life Force’s supervising producer, Peter Hayden, who also acted as liaison between NHK and NHNZ, says both companies were involved right from the start. “Long before the idea became a reality we spent a lot of time scoping ideas that would work for both partners and also succeed in the international market. It is about evolutionary science and honours the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin’s birth,” he says.
The idea of Life Force was based on a gazette about top bio-diversity hotspots compiled by Conservation International. “NHK and NHNZ became interested in the evolution of species found in these hotspots – why were there so many unique species in these so-called hot spots?
“Tossing ideas about as to how such a production could be made was really the unofficial start of the co-pro partnership. And since NHK and NHNZ have co-produced two successful major series in the past (Wild Asia in 1998 and Equator in 2006), both companies were keen on the idea of another co-pro. Later France Télévisions, Science Channel and Animal Planet also came on board as co-production partners to complete the funding for the series.
“Then the arm-wrestling, which is typical of a true co-production partnership started. Both NHK and NHNZ had ideas about which ‘hot spots’ should feature. We realised it was going to be a long process and both organisations immersed themselves in researching the viability of various locations. We settled on six areas – Madagascar, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Africa’s Rift Valley Lakes and Brazil’s Cerrado. We agreed that NHNZ would be responsible for the post production of the series as well as filming two episodes on New Zealand and Australia, while NHK would concentrate on filming the rest of the episodes. In addition, NHNZ took over much of the pre-production academic research for the series and NHK did the ‘specific field based’ research for its episodes.”
Peter says deciding on a title is often a “prickly subject” and both NHK and NHNZ held different views. “Our initial working title was Weird Edens, and that remained the title until we were almost in post production. However, NHK was keen to call the series Hotspots after the initial research document. But because the word “hotspot” has a negative – often political – connotation to it, NHNZ favoured Life Force as did France Télévisions and our distributor, Off The Fence. Discovery Channel on the other hand favoured Mutant Planet.
But the biggest challenge of this co-production was perhaps the language and cultural differences between the two main partners, NHK and NHNZ, Peter says. At times there were robust discussions about the editorial direction, pacing, music, style. But because of the mutual respect we have for each other’s knowledge and skill, underpinned by a working relationship that has stood the test of time, we always managed to work things out – so much so that we are already looking into the possibility of another co-pro... but that’s a story for another day.”
Life Force - Evolution Never Ends
This website by NHK & France 5 won a Webby Website Award for Best Use of Photography in 2011.
NHK LIFE FORCE
This iPhone Application won a Webby Mobile & Apps Award for Best Use of Mobile Video in 2011.
Read more about Life Force in Realscreen's Wild Guide.