Alix Tidmarsh and Andy Byatt’s new UK production company will make ambitious, entertaining films with a message, with the first project to come out of the company set to be the $20m Dolphin: A 3D Adventure, being sold by Salt at Cannes.
Former head of marketing at BBC Worldwide Alix Tidmarsh and ex BBC natural history director/producer Andy Byatt have launched a new London based production company, Amberjack Films, which will specialise in “films that have something to say, that can make a difference.”
The first project on the slate will be an ambitious $20m marine feature Dolphin: a 3D Adventure, which is still at the financing stage and will be directed by Byatt and produced by Tidmarsh.
The 3D project will take 3 years to shoot and will centre around a group of dolphins living in the Bahamas.
“It’s a teenage angst movie about dolphins with love alliances, jealousy, bullying, nerdy dolphins. For 90 minutes you will be part of the gang,” says Tidmarsh, who, left the BBC in 2007, going on to produce Earth, Chimpanzee (which recently opened in the US and has taken $23.1m) and African Cats, which opened in the UK last week, all for Disneynature, before setting up Amberjack with Byatt, whom she worked with at the BBC on Deep Blue and Planet Earth.
Byatt, who worked at the BBC for 18 years as a producer/director, originally came up with the idea for Dolphin, after meeting marine expert Denise Herzing, who runs a project studying behaviour and communication out of the Bahamas.
“She explained how the dolphin society worked. They go through 3 years in each stage of their development and it’s a bit like children’s progress, nursery school, primary school – the learning, the bullying, the showing off. It sounded like the story of my kids. So after discussing it with Alix, I developed a fictional story based around this one particular female dolphin,” says Byatt. “But the final script will be driven by what happens out in the field.”
“We are aiming at a general family audience and it should travel globally. It is half way between documentary and fiction,” adds Tidmarsh.
The project has been boosted by development funding from the BFI, which will go towards developing new technology for filming underwater. “The aim is to have a much smaller, lighter, practical unit and develop a system which enables us to be as quick as possible in the water,” says Byatt who hopes that a proportion of Amberjack’s future projects will be shot in 3D. “If you get it right, you can transport your viewer to another wolrd and put them in the middle of the action. With Dolphin, it’s about transporting viewers to what it would be like to live in the ocean.”
Chris Collins, senior executive at the BFI Film Fund, was drawn to the film because it is “new and different”.
“It’s an ambitious project which is innovative and offers an exciting prospect for audiences globally. It also has a very experienced team behind it who we are delighted to be working with for the first time,” adds Collins.
UK company Salt came onboard last year to handle sales and financing and will be selling the film in the Cannes market as well as talking to investors.
But for Tidmarsh and Byatt, Amberjack is more than just a film production company.
“We want people to fall in love with the subject matter of the films. And once that’s happened, we can help people to find out what they can do to help, whatever the cause might be,” says Tidmarsh.
The pair have already set up a charity - In.conservation - aimed at helping other charities to get their messages across in a more effective way. For each film project there will be a different strand - in the case of Dolphin, a strand called In.Ocean which will include a global scholarship programme, pulling in people from the business world to help mentor marine charities on negotiating, advertising and presenting to the right audiences.
Amberjack will also give back a percentage of any profits they make on their feature projects to the causes in question. In the case, of Dolphin, that will be to marine conservation.
The pair are also building a carbon neutral catamaran, which will be used during the production of Dolphin, but will go on to be used as both a showcase for the boating community on how carbon neutral boats can be made, and as a marine trawl boat in the future.
Amberjack has more projects on the slate, including a feature about trees for IMAX, which will be a co-production with Canadian company SK Films which will grow into a broader piece addressing conservation issues around forestation and overuse of felling.
Also in the pipeline is an African based drama about poaching, which promises to tackle some of the misconeptions around the subject.
Amberjack will make films both for theatrical and TV. “I’m aiming for bums on seats, whether that is through a theatrical or innovative TV release. It just depends on the project,” says Tidmarsh.
While the current projects on the slate will be directed by Byatt, the Amberjack team are very open to collaborating with other film-makers.
“Through Amberjack we are trying to make entertaining films for a big high street audience that are backed up by an ongoing legacy around each film,” adds Byatt.