Producer/director and all-round entrepreneur Russ Malkin is the founder and owner of Big Earth Productions and Big Earth Digital. He has created content for many broadcasters globally including BBC, ITV, Sky, National Geographic, Amazon and Discovery. Often working with high-profile personalities, Russ has filmed across all seven continents in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.
Malkin’s pioneering spirit has been a staple of his work since the very beginning. When someone says, “It can’t be done!” Russ will set out to prove them wrong; an attitude which has earned him several World Records and a reputation for thriving when faced with the impossible.
Russ’ sprawling career is characterised by curiosity, an unquenchable thirst for a challenge, and a desire to do exciting things with interesting people.
THE WORLD'S FASTEST PRODUCED FEATURE FILM
In 1990 Russ, and now-renowned Broadway producer John Gore decided to make the World’s fastest produced feature film: writing, shooting, editing and projecting in under thirteen days.
They began to put plans into play, galvanising the British Film Industry to prove to the American-dominated film-world that Britain could rise to a challenge. They on-boarded companies to provide cameras, film, equipment, lighting and locations. With a budget of little to none, Russ and John relied on sponsorship from DeVere Hotels and Paul Mitchell Systems, alongside donated time and kit to pull off the project.
The ITV Telethon came on board as a Charity sponsor, and a date was set for the screening: they now had a deadline.
With the equipment donated, a deadline set, and sponsorship secured, Russ and John had the tiger by the tail.
They assembled a team of writers, production crew, casting directors, and well-known actors (Fiona Fullerton, Jenny Seagrove, Phil Daniels, Moris Denim and Julian Glover to name a few), and the project was underway.
On day 1, they received a title from Dame Edna Everage and their 20 scriptwriters got to work, readying a script to begin filming as soon as possible. John, Russ and the crew worked against the clock, filming ambitious scenes, editing footage in on-site portacabins and navigating vastly short timelines. Thirteen days later, the film was complete and screened at the Dominion Theatre in front of 2000 people.
Russ recounts those few weeks as an exhilarating, sleepless, nightmarish procession of problems that needed solving. From complete script rewrites to broken legs, projector breakdowns to last-minute overnight shoots, the team persevered.
The Guinness World Record for the World’s Fastest Feature Film was achieved.
THE ORIENT EXPRESS CHALLENGE
THE WORLD'S MOST GLAMOROUS SPORTS CAR RACE
Having accomplished the World Record for 'Fastest Produced Feature Film', Russ and his brother, Steve, were approached by Car and Driver Magazine. Inspired by Woolf Bernarto, who raced the Blue Train in a Bently in the 1930s, they wanted to race the Orient Express from London to Paris in an Alpha Romeo.
Always keen to push the boundaries, Russ suggested making the race a challenge. Instead of one Alpha Romeo, they would assemble 10 supercars with celebrity drivers to race the train: the World’s Most Glamorous Sports Car Race.
Harnessing the nostalgia of British Continental motoring, celebrities and racing drivers (Lord Mexborough, Simon Le Bon, James Coburn and Damon Hill) came on board to race a jaw-dropping line-up of Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches and Ferraris. They dashed from London to Venice attempting to beat the World-famous Orient Express train and arrive victorious to a party at the luxurious Cipriani Hotel in Venice.
The cars lined up diagonally alongside the Orient Express, the guests boarded the train and the race began. Of course, the most glamorous sports car race was not without its problems, punctures and breakdowns. Actor James Coburn was pulled over for speeding in a Honda NSX, and narrowly avoided trouble by charming the socks off a police officer, signing the ticket he was planning on serving. Racer Damon Hill strayed from the prescribed route and broke down in a Swiss Forest. With no money, no phone and wearing only his bright red racing suit, Hill had to blag his way onto a flight back home. Despite the difficulties, the challenge was a huge success and went on to run for three years.
THE RIVIERA CHALLENGE
Having produced the Orient Express Challenge three years running, Russ was approached by the owner of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes who wanted to make his hotel the destination for the next glamorous racing event. With a shift in concept, this time with nine cars from the past, present and future of motoring, the Intercontinental Hotels Riviera Challenge (1992) was born. The racing elements were taken off-road and off the public highway. The cars assembled in London's Trafalgar Square before speeding off to Hotel Carlton in Cannes. The vehicles, collectively valued at more than £5million, were driven by international celebrities and racing drivers and competed in a series of Motor Sport Track Tests at Brands Hatch and Dijon.
THE WORLD'S LARGEST EXERCISE EVENT
Now having garnered a reputation for coming up with audacious ideas and making them happen, Russ was approached by aerobics instructor Clayton Marshall. He wanted to put on an aerobics event to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Appeal, and was looking for the right people to make it happen. Following the model that had bought them success before: raising money for charity, sourcing sponsorship and setting their sights on a challenge everyone believed to be impossible, Russ and Steve secured Boots as title sponsors of the World's Largest Aerobics Event. They assembled 15,000 people in London's Earls Count, smashing the World Record and raising £1,000,000 for the Royal Marsden Cancer Appeal.
GO-KARTING WORLD RECORDS
Now with several World Records under their belts, Russ and Steve Malkin had their sights set on more. Teaming up with Red Bull, David Coultard, David Brabham and Stefan Dennis, they succeeded in setting the World Record for indoor, outdoor and electric go-karting.
Throughout the ’90s, Russ was pitching Shipwreck: a TV concept he had invented in 1989. Six girls and six guys would be marooned on an uninhabited desert island to see how they faired. Sound familiar?
Excited by the concept, Russ openly discussed the idea with others in the industry. He would regularly make appearances on Children’s television to present items on creative photography and it was here he met Andi Peters. Peters would later go on to become Head of Commissioning at Channel 4.
TV production company Red Rooster bought the temporary rights to Shipwreck but were unsuccessful in their attempts to get the show optioned. After approaching several other production companies, Russ changed tact. He had been filming the Orient Express Challenge for Robin Leech’s ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’, and when Russ floated the idea with Leach, who agreed to put Shipwreck on his show. Cue six months of sourcing celebrity guests, scouting locations and producing Shipwreck in America. Unfortunately, as these things sometimes go, the show was halted due to insurance issues and Russ returned to the UK in search of his next challenge.
It came as a shock then, when Andi Peters became Head of Commissioning at Channel 4 and commissioned a show of nearly the same title and format pitched by Russ 10 years previously.
The Daily Mail covered the story here.
SAVING THE LONDON HEMS AIR AMBULANCE
In 1997, Russ and his brother Steve were contacted to save the floundering HEMS London Air Ambulance after it lost its sponsor. Without key financial support, the service was doomed and in desperate need of saving. Showing a shrewd appreciation of branding by spearheading a campaign that harnessed the national press, the brothers made HEMs the City’s hot topic. They mocked up a Virgin-branded model helicopter with Corrina White and, after some detective work, the pair managed to get in touch with Richard Branson’s PA. She agreed to pass the model on and Richard loved the idea. Within two weeks, Virgin took over the HEMS contract with a Virgin-branded mini-helicopter and remained the HEMS sponsor for the following 15 years, saving the service and many lives over the years.
Having demonstrated a clear interest in all things motoring, Russ and his brother Steve began presenting a Top Gear-esque show for cable Channel 1. They shot, presented and edited the show themselves, essentially undergoing a crash course in how to make television. With his newfound knowledge, Russ went on to found his first television company, Big Earth's predecessor, and began to make the move into making programs for TV.
Big Earth’s first project was the PUMA Dream Team Challenge (conceptualised with Estelle Mathews) in 1999, a one-hour special hosted by Linford Christie and shown on Sky and Channel 5. Following the show’s success, Russ has since masterminded some of the most exclusive sponsor-led global sports and event programming including the FIA European Drag Racing Championships 2000-2003; the FIM European Bike Championships 2000-2003; the Honda Formula One Powerboat Championships 2001; Class One World Offshore Powerboat Championship 2001 (co-produced with Jonathan Wills); Formula One motor racing; and the Honda Formula Four Stroke, for which Russ secured carriage on Channel 4.
Big Earth also produced and retain global broadcast rights to the World Wakeboarding Championships 2001, 2002, and 2003, and the European Wakeboarding Championships 2002. Their market leadership was cemented with exclusive broadcast rights for UK and European Kitesurfing competitions.
The Clothes Show Live 2002 & 2003
Russ' brand prowess was again to the fore when Haymarket approached Big Earth to produce the Clothes Show Live 2002 and 2003, as a one-hour prime-time special on ITV. With presenters including Caryn Franklin, Tess Daly and Tamara Beckwith, the event achieved benchmark status as the ultimate showcase for UK fashion.
World's fittest woman 2003
Russ devised the concept for some of TV's most innovative sports events including the World's Fittest Woman 2003, featuring ten world-class extreme sports champions in a multi-challenge competition which aired on Sky Sports, ESPN and Fox. The show was sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Long WAY Round, Down and Up 2004, 2007, 2020
Many of Russ’ projects begin with a funny story, and Long Way’s conception is no different. Having just returned to the UK from filming World’s Fittest Woman in Hong Kong, let lag was hampering Russ’ ability to sleep. So, naturally, he left his sleepless bed, and went to a party instead. It was there that he first met Charley Boorman, who would go on to become one of Russ’ primary collaborators and one-quarter of the on-screen quartet that makes Long Way so compelling. The pair bonded over their love of motorcycles. Russ recounted racing bikes from the age of 14, enthusiastically encouraged by his Dad. Charley waxed lyrical about his dreams of travelling the world on his motorcycle with his best mate. The pair exchanged business cards and went their separate ways. Cue two weeks later. Russ’ jet lag now long subsided, he received an unexpected call from Charley who had spoken to his mate. They wanted to film their trip from London to New York taking the Long Way Round and needed a production company to document their adventure. Charley's friend, it transpired, was Ewan Mcgregor and they wanted to know if Russ would be interested in producing the show.
The trio set up a meeting. Big Earth would be one of several production companies who would pitch to Ewan and Charley. The guys arrived at Russ’ office and announced they only had 10 minutes. Russ, undaunted by the time constraints made a milky brew and a couple of slices of marmite toast and started his pitch.
Ewan and Charley did not leave after 10 minutes. Or after 20. Several slices of toast and a fair few drained cups of tea later, the pair left Big Earth after two hours of enthusiastic conversation about bikes, travel and adventure. They agreed: Russ would produce and direct Long Way Round.
Russ on-boarded fellow producer/director Alex Alexanian to be the US component of the team. The four met up on the set of Star Wars where Ewan was shooting, to solidify the partnership.
Russ took Long Way from conception through pitching, financing and sourcing sponsorship and often appears on-screen alongside the rest of the team.
With Ewan and Charley and co-producerdirector David, Russ pulled off the impossible. Spanning three seasons, Long Way has transported audiences across 48,000 miles, 43 countries and 5 continents, with the four’s enduring friendship driving them on through the highs and lows. This Global TV success story has spawned a best-selling DVD, book and CD soundtrack, has been broadcast in over 40 countries worldwide and in 2020 began streaming globally to a billion devices on Apple TV.
Since Long Way Round, Big Earth Productions has become a pioneer of the travel/adventure show format with a number of high-profile projects to their name. Often working with well-known personalities, Big Earth Productions collaborate with big ideas to take projects from conception right through to execution.
EUROTUNNEL - CHARLEY'S ROADTRIP
During filming Long Way Round, Russ and Charley hit it off. They liked working together, they had a good laugh and they both wanted to travel more. The pair embarked on a collaboration that has spanned three further shows, six series and an online digital brand adventure. Russ travels alongside Charley filming, producing, and directing on-the-move, often appearing on-screen and taking part in daring challenges.
RACE TO DAKAR
In between filming Long Way Round and Long Way Up, Russ and Charley found the time to race in the infamous Dakar Rally in January 2006. The rally is one of the world's most dangerous races and saw the team speed from Lisbon (Portugal) to Dakar (Senegal), encountering hazardous terrain and challenging conditions. The show was first aired on Sky and a DVD and book soon followed, documenting their experience.
BY ANY MEANS
By Any Means, and By Any Means 2, first shown in 2008, were acclaimed for their creative and adventurous concept. Charley and Russ found themselves travelling from Ireland to Australia, and then Australia to Japan, by any means necessary. Through 25 countries, over 20,000 miles, and using 112 different types of transport, including Russian cars, Indian tuk-tuks, Thai elephants, London buses, tiny sailing boats and custom-built motorbikes, the pair immerse themselves in the various cultures they encounter. Building on Russ’ philosophy of ‘Travel the World and do some good’, the pair visited Unicef sites along the route to bring attention to the incredible work the charity are doing across the Globe. By Any Means was produced and directed by Russ for the BBC and was subsequently broadcast worldwide by National Geographic, selling over 400,000 DVDs and 350,000 books.
Most recently, Russ produced and directed three series of Extreme Frontiers (Canada, South Africa and the USA) which saw Charley undertake extraordinary adventures on the back of his motorbike.
In the first series of Charley Boorman’s Extreme Frontiers, Charley and Russ embarked on a 10,300-mile journey across Canada. Mainly on motorbikes, the pair visited all of the ten Canadian Provinces, two frontiers, three oceans and four extreme frontiers from East to West. Each episode saw them attempt a series of hair-raising tasks.
SOUTH AFRICA, 2012
For the show’s second series Russ and Charlie attempted a 6,000 circular around South Africa. Starting and finishing in Cape Town, the pair travelled on motorbikes, experiencing the deeply rooted cultures, meeting extraordinary people and discovering the remarkable wildlife the country has to offer, whilst undertaking daring challenges.
In the final instalment of Extreme Frontiers, Russ and Charley travelled from the volcanic infernos of Hawaii to the icy peaks of Alaska, and then from the east to the west as they ventured off the beaten track in search of extreme adventures in the wilderness.
BIG EARTH DIGITAL: CAMPAIGNS
Russ has produced and directed a number of short-form digital brand adventures, most recently featuring Henry Cavill, Anna Friel and Charley Boorman.
No. 1 ROSMARY WATER - 'A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY' WITH HENRY CAVILL
BRITISH AIRWAYS - 'INSIDE CALIFORNIA: ON THE ROAD WITH ANNA FRIEL'
PRINCE HARRY IN AFRICA
PRODUCER / DIRECTOR - ITV - 2016
Russ joined forces with Prince Harry to produce and direct the TV documentary 'Prince Harry in Africa,’ across three years. The show followed the Prince's journey from Kensington Palace to Lesotho in Southern Africa to take a look at the work his charity Sentebale is doing to help children and young people affected by HIV and Aids. The documentary featured Sir Elton John, Chris Martin and Joss Stone.
DAVID BECKHAM: FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
PRODUCER / DIRECTOR - BBC - 2016
Ready to make the impossible possible, Russ produced and directed 'David Beckham: For The Love Of The Game,’ which saw David Beckham fulfil his ambition of playing 7 unique football matches on seven continents in seven days for his UNICEF 7 Fund.
Harnessing his event management experience, Russ organised matches with the tribes of the jungles of Papua New Guinea, in the temples of Nepal and on the icy glaciers of Antarctica, to name a few. An incredible feat, the final game took place in front of 70,000 fans and an exhausted David raised an incredible £1,000,000 for UNICEF.
FIENNES: RETURN TO THE NILE
PRODUCER / DIRECTOR - NAT GEO - 2019
Ever keen for an adventure, Russ was the Executive Producer for Ranulph and Joseph Fiennes’ National Geographic series, ‘Fiennes: Return to the Nile,’ which saw the Fiennes cousins, comprising world-renowned explorer and award-winning actor, embark on an epic journey across Egypt including a rare chance to stay overnight in the giant pyramid of Cheops.
As well as television, production and branded content, Russ wrote his first book ‘Big Earth's 101 Amazing Adventures,’ published by Transworld. The book documents the must-go places and routes Russ has visited for other keen adventurers to follow.
As a fellow of Unicef and the Royal Geographical Society, Russ’ philosophy is ‘Travel the world and do some good at the same time’.