Producing Underwater Film Success

first_imgWhen most Nova Scotians think of great documentary producers, thename of John Davis might not spring to mind. It should. TheShelburne native may not be familiar to many viewers, but anyonewho has an even passing interest in the sea has probably seen oneof the internationally acclaimed productions created by his teamof experts. Indeed, John Davis and his widening circle of colleagues at Eco-Nova Productions are the brains behind films that have aired ontelevision stations and at museums around the world. Thecompany’s Sea Hunters series, for example, has been sold in 180countries and is the most widely distributed documentary seriesproduced in Canada. The story of Eco-Nova Productions began in quiet fashion in thelate 1990s when Mr. Davis, a former fisherman, was operating aneco-tourism business that specialized in taking European visitorson archeological searches of shipwrecks. Divers from Germany,Great Britain and Switzerland were keen to have film footage oftheir treks, which were made in conjunction with Parks Canada andNova Scotia’s Maritime Museum. The film footage sparked Mr. Davis’ entrepreneurial spirit. “Ifthere was this much interest from people who were here,” he says,”I thought the films might also be of interest to a widerEuropean television audience.” In 1996, with the support of an equity investment by the NovaScotia Film Development Corporation, Mr. Davis created a pilot TVprogram with some of the diving footage. “We are proud to partner with producers like John Davis, peoplewho are continually thinking outside the box, creating thingsthat are new and innovative,” says Ann MacKenzie, CEO of NovaScotia Film Development Corporation. The executives at Discovery Canada network were also impressed;they commissioned a 22-hour series. Executives at DiscoveryInternational quickly followed suit, ordering 26 half-hourepisodes of the show, Oceans of Mystery. Today, the seriescontinues to air in more than 152 countries. It also marked thebeginning of an evolution. “While we were making Oceans of Mystery our team decided we werepretty good storytellers, too,” says Mr. Davis. “We decided totry preparing something that moved away from the scientificbackground and leaned more toward telling some of the greatstories that can be found in the sea.” History Television was eager to buy the results, The Sea Hunters,which is now in its fourth season of production and already hasan order on the books for a fifth. “Although we work with shipwrecks in almost everything we do forthe series, we are not treasure hunters,” says Mr. Davis. “Ourprograms concentrate on the historic value of the sites we visit.Preservation is a recurring theme.” That respect for the sea world, coupled with the quality of work,are just two of the reasons that museums around the world havecome to Eco-Nova when they need video surveys of underwatersites. Indeed, the company has created partnerships with museumsand governments in Canada, the United States, Great Britain,Poland, Finland, Japan and numerous other countries. But the partnerships go beyond relationships between clients andproducer. In 2001, Mr. Davis and his business partner, PhilSceviour, brought animator Frank Forrestal and GhostshipAnimation Studios, into the Eco-Nova collective. In 2002, SonicDesign and Open Road Productions joined the group, bringing withthem the skills of accomplished sound technician John Rosboroughand the long-term camera and commercial production skills of MarcPike. “I think it’s important to find people in complementary fieldswho can bring their own area of expertise to the group. It worksbecause people are part owners, not just employees. We are allcommitted to the success and the growth of Eco-Nova.” That ever-increasing expertise also means the Eco-Nova group canperform up to 90 per cent of an average job in-house while eachgroup under the umbrella produces its own shows. It’s a system that is bringing in more than contracts. In 2002Eco-Nova won an export achievement award for growth ininternational sales and in 2003 John Davis won the Ernst & YoungEntrepreneur of the Year Award for media and entertainment. “We’ve come a long way,” says Mr. Davis. “In the space of twoyears our service companies have transformed their corebusinesses into proprietary television production. It worksbecause everyone owns a piece of the pie and we’re all doingsomething we love.” -30-last_img