Nature Exec. Producer Fred Kaufman Discusses Winning Wildscreen's Lifetime Achievement Award

October 20th, 2010

Brian Leith (pictured far right), noted producer of natural history films including Nature’s Deep Jungle, presented the Wildscreen award to the Nature team (pictured left to right), Fred Kaufman, Executive Producer; Janet Hess, Series Editor; and Bill Murphy, Series Producer.

On October 13, Nature became the first American production to win the prestigious Christopher Parsons Outstanding Achievement Award in the 2010 Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, U.K.  Executive Producer Fred Kaufman and his colleagues Bill Murphy and Janet Hess accepted the award.  The Wildscreen Festival  celebrates excellence in wildlife and environmental filmmaking, and is one of the most influential events of its kind.

A production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG, Nature is currently in its 29th season and is one of PBS’ most watched programs.  It airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Inside Thirteen had the chance to speak with Nature‘s Executive Producer Fred Kaufman about the Wildscreen Awards and his experience working on Nature.

Inside Thirteen: What does winning  Wildscreen’s Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you and the production team of Nature?

Fred Kaufman: We were completely unaware of the Award..usually you are told about these things beforehand and then you spend a month agonizing over your speech. Still, it was thrilling to get up and thank the natural history film industry for their contribution to Nature. We were honored to be the first Americans to receive the recognition. I always hear from independent producers how much they want to work with Nature and usually I feel that they probably say this to everyone – but now I realize that we offer a very special brand and a commitment to the kind of filmmaking that producers crave.

Fred Kaufman, Executive Producer of WNET.ORG's NATURE series on PBS. Credit: Joe Sinnott, WNET.ORG

IT: You have been with Nature from the very beginning – can you tell us a bit about your experience with the show?

FK: I began in 1982 with a six month contract. I was waiting for a job at CBS Sports to come through, which never happened. I have no background in natural history and in this genre it is so easy to embarrass yourself. From the beginning I was very clear with producers, telling them that I wasn’t a natural history guy but I could tell them instantly whether their film was good or bad, and then offer suggestions on how to make the whole thing better. I developed a reputation of being brutally honest. Its an approach that works. We are very clear about what we like and don’t like and that is universally appreciated.

IT: How the show has grown since its start 29 seasons ago?

FK: Twenty five years ago you would never see a human in any of our shows. The focus was strictly animal behavior in far-off places. Those shows are probably unwatchable today…the pacing was slow and the level of story telling was quite limited. Today everything has gotten better. The technology, the talent and the approach to filmmaking has gone up considerably. Now, we are focusing on characters, drama and emotion.

IT: Do any episodes stand out as your favorites, over the years?

FK: Echo: An Elephant to Remember, which we just aired; Christmas In Yellowstone and The Urban Elephant.

IT: Nature has consistently been one of PBS’ most watched programs. What do you hope audiences take from the show?

FK: If they’re thinking about Sunday’s show on Monday then that is extremely satisfying to me. I don’t have any specific take-away message, rather I just hope that here is something in our films worth remembering days, months, even years later.