Big Fish Big Adventure is coming to a theatre near you!
A LITTLE over three years ago I had what was, for many, a dream job on a nationally broadcast fishing series. The hours might have been long but the work environment was spectacular and the potential for adventure was high. Wherever the action was, there I was, cameraman, assistant producer and fill-in editor.
But I stepped away from all that. There’s nothing better than exploring the ocean, above and below, with lots of fishing adventures thrown in, but as time went on I couldn’t escape the feeling that there could be… no, there should be… a new style of ‘fishing’ show.
I just needed to make it.
Sure, I had dreams of being my own boss, of flexing my own, albeit scrawny, production muscles, but ultimately I wanted to create something that would use those hard-won skills to develop a show that could be appreciated by more than the die-hard fishing fan. You know, not everybody has a family who gets this whole fishing thing!
Right from the beginning I wanted to make the show on my terms. That, in itself, was a bigger problem than it might first seem.
For three decades at least, the Australian television audience has enjoyed a steady run of fishing shows with their associated television personalities.
Australia’s biggest fishing brands have been the driving force behind these shows, and we die-hards have been grateful for them.
What you may not have realised is that, in general, the average fishing show is used by the networks as a bit of a programming stocking filler.
For starters, the networks prefer not to pay for a local show that’s financially supported by a major brand and then by related product sponsors. The networks, paying nothing, have nothing to lose, and programming can be a bit hit and miss. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever tuned in to a favourite fishing show and found it missing in action.
See. Stocking filler. If a fishing show wants a long-term run here in Australia, then its survival plan must rely heavily on keeping relationships with sponsors happy, all in the hope of encouraging ongoing support. I knew that.
If I wanted to do it on my own terms, then that sort of survival plan wouldn’t work for me, or for Johnny, my production partner. The advent of YouTube and social media muddied the waters, especially for our fishing shows. Fishers were suddenly able to access an impossibly large catalogue of fishing content to be viewed on smartphones, tablets, computers – mostly, I’ll freely admit, to the annoyance of friends and family who are not so into fishing.
Social media content is made for the small screen. Ideally it is a one-on-one experience. The content is often openly an ad-drop but, when it’s not a brand speaking, the content is often poorly shot, edited and produced.
Let’s face it, what serious fishing fan wants to spend a significant amount of their life producing movie theatre-grade clips when they could be fishing!? YouTube was only a couple of years old when I formed a professional relationship with a large fishing company in Australia who saw the potential.
Since then I have witnessed huge changes in the way content is created. That content has, in turn, energised the fishing fraternity, introducing them to new and unexpected fishing sites and new dreams for fishing success. The bucket lists have grown longer.
So you see my and Johnny’s problem: How to eat and keep a family together, on our own terms, while developing a ‘fishing’ show when so much content was available for free? We saw this problem as a positive. We didn’t have to focus on brand names and product placement.
We didn’t have a fishing personality on board, which gave us extra flexibility.
After several months of living hand to mouth on small production jobs, our plan came down to creating content around the logistics of running an exploration fishing vessel and recording the experiences of one of these trips of a lifetime. Getting inside the real story. All we needed was access.
James McVeigh, owner of Big Cat Reality Fishing Charters, was interested. But could we work with him? Hey, I’ve worked with fishing show hosts. I knew, no matter how particular James McVeigh might be, Johnny and I were thumbs up ready to go. Our connection with Big Cat Reality Fishing Charters, and James McVeigh, resulted in Big Fish Big Adventure – eight episodes of 22 minutes built on nearly three years of pain, emotional, financial and… financial.
Yes, financial is mentioned twice, because for those three years we didn’t see a single dollar returned for our time, effort and financial investment. There is a third – nearly overlooked – method of getting specialist content before an audience. Slogging along beneath the popularity of television programming and the masses of social media content, there have been, from time to time, traveling fishing-film festivals, with event organisers responsible for the hiring of theatre space, then having to get the word out to the locals in the hope of filling that theatre space with bums on seats.
This often involves a certain amount of road travel, far from any body of water larger than a swimming pool. Frankly, I’d rather be fishing!
Could we tweak the local cinema idea? Our first concern was to find out if the locals liked it. We took a punt and put on a screening at the local cinema.
Not the average movie-length screening, but all eight of those 22-minute episodes, back to back. And we expected our audience to pay for the privilege. Remember, we still needed to eat, and in order to eat, we had to keep bums on seats for almost three hours, a baptism in fire to see if Big Fish Big Adventure worked.
The team at the theatre said we could come back anytime. “You drank us dry, twice. We had to do two extra trips to the local bottle-o to restock.” Awesome. More than awesome.
After the screening at our local theatre, and with smiles on our faces, we began considering the madness of getting the project into major cinemas – not in the usual film festival style but properly distributed by one of Australia’s cinema chains. Three hours wouldn’t cut it.
We learnt that straight off.
Our project would have to fit in with the usual cinema fare, not try to outface the biggest and best movies of the next couple of years. Our star was the ocean, as well as all the creatures, human and otherwise, who lived and worked above and below her surface. Back to the editing desk.
We decided the heart of our new 90-minute movie should be one particular 15-day trip with The YTK Addicts, a group of guys from South Australia. They’d chartered Big Cat Reality, James McVeigh’s mother ship, to explore the farthest reaches of the Coral Sea, focusing on the Kenn and Frederick Reef systems.
We had plenty of footage that hadn’t made it into the original episodes, and packaged a really nice 90-minute edit to pass on to the major cinema chains’ content submissions departments. We started at the top, with the largest chain of cinemas in Australia, Greater Union Entertainment, which encompasses Event and Birch, Carroll & Coyle theatres.
Then came the hard part. We waited. And waited, and waited. And waited. In reality it wasn’t quite that long, but it felt like it. The response, when it came, was to ask if we could chat… on the phone. Chat? You better believe it.
Neither Johnny nor I were expecting more than a note to confirm our submission had been received, if that. Chat? Of course we’d chat. The conversation didn’t begin well. “We have never distributed fishing content in cinemas, ever.”
But from there it got better. “This would be a first for us. We love the way you’ve put this together and would love to partner with you to screen this throughout Australia.” Yes! So here we are. On our own terms and coming to a theatre near you. Changing the ‘fishing’ show landscape.
Proving that 90 minutes of ocean-going fishing, adventure and discovery is something Australia’s largest cinema chain thinks everybody, fishing fanatic or not, can enjoy. And opening the way for more fishing content to be part of the theatre experience.
No more small-screen experience.
I promise, you won’t know just how long that bucket list can grow until you immerse yourself in Big Fish Big Adventure on the big screen.