Jane Root was drawn to babies long before she became a mom. The founder and CEO of the production company Nutopia recalls seeing youngsters in strollers and thinking, “What’s going on inside your head?” and “What are you thinking?”
Nutopia’s new series Babies explores those curiosities. Streaming on Netflix, the docu-series follows 15 international families over the course of a year. The project dives into how every human transforms from helpless newborn into independent toddler. It also features the latest research from scientists who find the brains of babies fascinating.
“This series showcases incredible, groundbreaking science revealing the developmental leaps and bounds babies go through in the first year of life while capturing the personal and emotional journey of the family as a whole,” says Root, who is also executive producer.
A Good Story
Growing up in Southend, London, Root had two major loves: magazines and history. The daughter of a gift-shop owner and school photographer, Root often dragged her sisters into competitions to choose the BEST magazine covers. Root went on to consume shows like Star Trek, Bewitched and BBC documentaries. One docudrama that made an immense impact was Culloden (known as The Battle of Culloden in the United States). The production portrays the 1746 Battle of Culloden that resulted in the British Army’s destruction of the Scottish Jacobite rising. When asked what three things make a good story, Root shares, “emotion, surprise and a great character.”
At seventeen Root had her first article published and studied journalism at London College of Communications. She went on to complete a degree in international relations (at the University of Sussex) and spent several years as a freelance journalist. After working for the British Film Institute, Root pivoted to television production. Projects included collaboration with television executive Michael Jackson on the Channel 4 series Open the Box. Root wrote its accompanying book Open the Box: About Television and also authored Pictures of Women: Sexuality. The latter was an accompanying book for the series Pictures of Women.
In 1987, Root co-founded the independent production company Wall to Wall where she served as Joint Managing Director. Ten years later she became head of the BBC’s Independent Commissioning Group. Tasked with finding new programming, Root played a major role in introducing viewers to chef and restauranteur Jamie Oliver through the popular television show The Naked Chef.
BBC Two and Discovery
Between 1999 and 2004, Root was the first woman controller for BBC Two, the United Kingdom’s third largest network. It was a fantastic time for British television with the emergence of The Office, Coupling, Top Gear, Restoration, and A History of Britain. During Root’s tenure BBC Two won the prestigious “Channel of the Year” award twice at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
Root credits running with keeping her creativity flowing. “If I need inspiration for something, like a show title, I’ll sometimes give myself the job of three ideas in three miles,” she says. “When your body is doing something else its often easier to think more clearly.”
In 2004, Root relocated to the United States to join Discovery Networks. Promoted to president and general manager for Discovery Channel and The Science Channel, she oversaw the launch of global hits such as Deadliest Catch, Man vs. Wild, Dirty Jobs, Stormchasers, Cash Cab, and Planet Earth (the last being a favorite in my household). Over the years Root has been on numerous film shoots. During one particularly difficult shoot (when production was threatening to be thousands over budget) Root remembers emotions bubbling to the top during a cab ride home. The driver inquired, “Tough time with the boyfriend?” Root was so tired, she simply agreed.
After leaving Discovery in 2008, Root went on to establish Nutopia. One of the company’s first projects was America The Story of Us. The 12-hour television series, which aired on the History Channel in 2010, tells the story of how America was invented. It is noteworthy for utilizing CGI animation, dramatic recreations and interviews from respected artists, business leaders, academics and intellectuals. Dubbed a “mega-doc” the series was the most watched show in History Channel history and established the “The Story of Us” as a worldwide franchise.
In addition to Babies, Nutopia is behind The World According to Jeff Goldblum for Disney+, The Last Czars for Netflix, The Great American Read for PBS, One Strange Rock for National Geographic and much more. Root and her company are currently working on the new series Limitless, also for National Geographic.
Throughout her career Root has received many honors, including a 2017 Barclays Business Award at the Women in Film and Television Awards. Regarding advice she’d give her younger self, Root has three points, “It’s all going to be fine, trust yourself, and you don’t have to wear high heels if they make your feet hurt…no one cares.”
Creator Spotlight features interviews with artistic women/girls and showcases their work. If you know an artist you’d like to see spotlighted, email Erin at erin(at)girlsthatcreate(dot)com.
Top images provided by Nutopia