Deep Blue, the movie version of BBC natural history series The Blue Planet, has taken £14m in box office receipts since its release earlier this year, making it one of the corporation’s most successful ventures on the big screen.
The 90-minute documentary feature has already proved a bigger moneyspinner than any BBC-backed film of recent years apart from Billy Elliot, proving popular with cinema-goers in Europe and Japan. And Deep Blue’s global box office revenues could eventually top £20m, with the film still to open in the US and across much of Asia.
The US rights to Deep Blue have been picked up by leading independent film producer and distributor Miramax, the company behind Oscar-winning hits such as The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and Chicago. Miramax is planning to launch Deep Blue in the allimportant US cinema market early next year.
Deep Blue is the first feature film release from the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. The project cost around £3.8m, with £2.8m spent on production, which involved re-editing 70,000 hours of raw footage from The Blue Planet, recording a new musical score and voiceovers for different countries. Marketing and distribution costs accounted for the remaining £1m. A spokeswoman said BBC Worldwide was “hopeful” of recouping its costs and making a profit on Deep Blue. But she added that it was difficult to put a figure on what the profit might be at this stage. The complex nature of feature film funding means that cinema owners, distributors and others in the financial food chain will all take a cut of any profits before BBC Worldwide receives any money. But BBC Worldwide will be hoping to cash in on today’s release of Deep Blue on DVD and VHS in the UK. The Blue Planet has already shifted 130,000 units on DVD.
Deep Blue has proved particularly popular with cinema audiences in France and Germany, making more than £6m in these two territories alone. Japanese cinemagoers have added a further £5m to box office receipts. The film has also been released in the UK, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Israel, the Benelux countries and eastern Europe. After securing a US release, BBC Worldwide and its partner in the Deep Blue project – German producer and distributor Greenlight Media – are seeking further deals in Asia.
BBC Worldwide is planning to build on the success of Deep Blue with an even more ambitious movie spin-off from the next big BBC natural history series, Planet Earth. The Blue Planet’s executive producer, Alastair Fothergill, and his BBC natural history unit production team are already working on Planet Earth, an 11-hour series due for broadcast on BBC1 in 2006. Planet Earth has a budget of around £13m and nearly an extra £7m will be invested by BBC Worldwide in creating the movie spinoff, pencilled in for a world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2007.
The idea for Deep Blue developed from a cut-down version of The Blue Planet put together for the Proms in 2002, with a specially commissioned score written by composer George Fenton, according to BBC Worldwide marketing director Alix Tidmarsh, who executive produced the movie spinoff. After Greenlight Media has helped raise the money to make Deep Blue, Ms Tidmarsh and her team set about choosing what sequences to include the The Blue Planet’s raw footage. Around 25% of Deep Blue’s 90-minute running time is made up of footage that was not used in The Blue Planet. “There was a heck of a lot of footage that wasn’t used in the TV series, so we went back to the drawing board with the rushes. We wanted to do something different with the footage – Deep Blue is not a documentary, it’s an emotional piece. We wanted people to learn something, but it’s more about people getting immersed in the film,” Ms Tidmarsh said. Mr Fenton was hired again to write the music for Deep Blue, working with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on its first ever movie score.
Ms Tidmarsh has been able to make more ambitious plans for the movie spinoff from Planet Earth. This time round she has a bigger budget – nearly £7m – and is able to get extra footage shot for the theatrical version filmed during production of the TV series, rather than having to rely solely on material intended for the BBC1 show. One of the additional elements being shot for the movie version is aerial footage of landscapes and animals moving across terrain, which is being filmed in high definition and 35mm. “With The Blue Planet and Deep Blue, the TV documentary told you the why and how, where as the cinema release was just a rollercoaster ride – a whistle stop tour, have some fun. I think they complimented each other very well and we’ll be trying for the same thing with Planet Earth,” Ms Tidmarsh said.