Key creatives behind blue-chip natural history producer Silverback Films — the powerhouse outfit behind Netflix’s “Our Planet” — have teamed to form sister company Studio Silverback.
The new production outfit will focus solely on films that tackle the world’s pressing environmental challenges, and will be headed up by Jonnie Hughes, Colin Butfield, Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill. Silverback co-founders Scholey and Fothergill will also be directors of Studio Silverback.
Meanwhile, executive director Colin Butfield is a former executive director at international conservation charity the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) who worked with Silverback to conceive and produce the series “Our Planet,” its accompanying digital ‘Halo’ project and “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,” on which Hughes was also a director and producer.
“The blend of the four of us together means we can cover off all the main areas we’d want to influence if we’re to achieve the mission, to tell this story to as many people as possible,” Butfield tells Variety.
Scholey adds that Butfield’s WWF bona fides have the capacity to open all sorts of doors, and not only in the environmental space. Butfield was instrumental in the Silverback team and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, getting invited to Davos for the World Economic Forum 2019, where the Prince interviewed Sir David Attenborough.
“That made it a really big impact moment to bring environmental issues to some of the most important people in the world,” Scholey tells Variety. “And we as filmmakers find that impossible to arrange.”
The relationship forged at Davos has spun off into one of Studio Silverback’s first commissions: a five-part BBC series leading up to The Earthshot Prize, a global award designed to incentivize change and help repair the planet over the next 10 years, launched by The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Studio Silverback, in collaboration with WWF and Brian Leith Productions, is also producing short-form films to be shown at Saturday’s Climate Ambition Summit, which kickstarts nations’ commitments on climate change ahead of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26) at Glasgow next year.
Another ambitious project for the new outfit is a 12-part series, with the Climate Change Conference as a backdrop, for an online partner who’s still under wraps for now.
“One of the things that’s been really clear is that lots of people around the world, particularly those most affected by climate change, are the people that have the least voice at those kinds of big global events,” says Butfield. “And the challenge with this series is to reach a very different audience to what [we] would normally reach with the Earthshot production.”
“This is very much targeted at the young people around the world being affected by climate change, bringing their voice into those climate negotiations and telling it in a way that brings the impacts of climate change around the world to life,” adds Butfield.
Silverback Films was recently acquired by production and distribution powerhouse All3Media — a major coup for the Liberty Global and Discovery-owned superindie, which has gone from being a strong unscripted player lacking in natural history pipeline to one of the foremost contenders in the field with Silverback in one fell swoop.
“At Silverback, we’ve always enjoyed making shows for a variety of people,” says Scholey. “We make feature films for Disney, we do BBC shows, we love working with Netflix and doing those shows. It’s been that kind of mixture of working with different clients that we’ve really benefited from.”
Scholey describes All3Media as “a fantastic accumulation of independent companies who run this sort of federal system whereby their companies get on and do their thing.” Independence within the larger group is key.
“I think if you work for a particular broadcaster, then you will just do that one thing and, creatively, you might run out of steam down the line,” adds Scholey. “We really wanted to still be able to do different things with different companies and All3 are a great home for that. They pride themselves in providing support, but not providing interference. They’re a very supportive, well-run and well thought-through company, which is a great fit for Silverback.”
(Pictured: Keith Scholey, Sir David Attenborough and Colin Butfield at Maasai Mara, Kenya)