In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, join forces with National Geographic Society and Channel to create a series of vignettes featuring 13 explorers and the species that they have dedicated their lives to saving. The final pieces will be featured on the National Geographic Society’s Earth Day website and will debut on National Geographic Channel and its social platforms as part of the Disney corporate-wide initiative to celebrate Earth Day.
Cute animals. Inspiring environmental leaders. Two of our favorite teams. Pinch me. Pinch all of us! We couldn’t have been more excited to have an opportunity to tackle such a meaningful project for this landmark Earth Day celebration. But with 36 total creatives and 100+ deliverables we had to plan to work both smart and hard to be able to deliver everything in under three months.
VP/Head of Production, Monesha Lever, and Associate Creative Director, Erica Kern, led the charge, quickly assembling a team that would be able to take this bull by the horns. Together with both National Geographic Society (NGS) team members and National Geographic Channel (NGC) on-air and digital teams, we hatched an ambitious calendar to execute all elements by early April in order to ensure launch by Earth Day.
Then it was time to get to work internally. A campaign of this magnitude would require a full post production crew. Our unwavering Writer/Producer, Kristen Edgell, took on the massive creative and organizational challenge...she’ll tell you checklists and ‘checklists for checklists’ are your friend.
We also enlisted the visual storytelling powerhouse of Senior Editors, Dave Nathan and Rory Sheridan, and Junior Editor, Hannah Testa. Together these three managed terabytes of media and reviewed hours upon hours of footage to create moving and compelling pieces that felt long-form despite the :60s max TRT.
Sound Designer/Audio Mixer, Tyler Proctor, searched high and low for the proper sound effects for each species (did you know a tapir squeaks?) to elevate the creative, while Senior Designer/Animator, Jason Leta was enlisted to ensure the custom graphics package was properly implemented across our multiple deliverables.
From media management, to creative, to tech, this project presented many unique challenges. Media management was a bear unto itself. As media quickly began arriving from multiple avenues (shipped hard drives, Dropbox, Aspera, stock sites, and more) we knew it would be imperative to create an organized workflow from the beginning, so we dove in headfirst.
Despite the plethora of footage, we needed more! Specifically of some of the featured explorers. As such, our partners on the NGS team were working fastidiously out in the field capturing additional content and feeding us new material from around the world throughout our three-month production process. While we can all agree that in an ideal world this would not be the case given our timeline, the great Charles Darwin astutely observed, survival of the fittest requires adaptation. So, adapt we did! Flexibility would be essential to the success of the project.
We then had to devise a way to transform all of the content into one cohesive Earth Day campaign. Working with Erica, Kristen carefully distilled each explorer’s passion and mission in life to a succinct number of seconds (no pressure). It was a challenge she was ready to take on though as she sifted through hours of interview footage to identify the most surprising and interesting content to bring to the forefront.
The campaign took shape with each explorer establishing a personal connection to each animal, the WHY. Then, we had to be sure and highlight the HOW of safeguarding each of these species, and finally the IMPACT these explorers and species have on all of us—the connection between the greater picture and how it is relevant to you, the viewer.
Since each script structure had similar bones, it was up to Dave and Rory to make each story feel unique and special to the individual explorer and species across all creative lengths. Pacing and key moments of natural sound were essential to giving these short pieces a longer documentary feel. And while we were tasked with doing cutdowns, the schedule oftentimes required concurrent edits, meaning our edit team had to be creatively in sync with one another to produce pieces that felt like one cohesive campaign.
Then, as we were nearing the finish line, a pandemic hit. Remember that earlier talk about survival of the fittest? Well it suddenly took on a whole new meaning. As COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the US, our partners’ campaign priorities and messaging required recalibration and implementation across both the NGS and NGC deliverables. Businesses, including ours, were ordered to close office operations and shift to teleworking where possible. Our meticulously planned workflow was completely upended overnight. But Earth Day was arriving on schedule, pandemic or not.
While this worldwide event was entirely blindsiding, like the bats in one of our vignettes, we needed to develop a new, efficient, way to operate in this different environment. Projects were consolidated, systems were relocated, teams were restructured overnight. All in an effort to ensure a seamless transition for our clients who were depending on us to deliver on time.
Let’s be real, such stressors can make or break a team. And this project and extenuating set of circumstances proved to be a true test. It’s no doubt one for the books! But out of this great challenge we were able to form a better understanding of one another. A reinforced sense of empathy for our clients (and friends). A confirmed sense of our own personal drive. And an unwavering sense of pride we have for our profession. Together, as a pack, we will continue to persevere.