Non-Fiction to go: production news

March 1, 1998


Helen’s Booty

Deep in the bowels of a Moscow museum, the treasures of Troy have remained hidden from the world since wwii. The Nazis claimed them as plunder, as did the Soviet army when the Third Reich fell.

The Lost Gold of Troy from London’s TVF International is a revealing one-hour look at an expansive treasure trove which hasn’t been seen by the public for four generations. Filming begins this summer, with crews gaining unprecedented access. The film is scheduled to be completed for fall 1998. The approximate £200,000 budget is partially offset by a 30% investment from the West Lake Fund, a film financing body in the u.k.

Memory Lane

Tales of a Century is a two-hour retrospective of a group of multi-ethnic Americans over the age of 100, whose stories reflect historical milestones and a century of societal evolution. Produced for pbs by Kamp Associates and Oregon Public Broadcasting, this us$1 million documentary is still in the fundraising stage. A website, educational guides and companion pieces for public radio are also planned.

Wildlife and Nature

Disney on the hunt

Hoping to build on the success of the original 13-part series, Disney Channel will introduce 26 new half-hours of Going Wild with Jeff Corwin this summer. The shows are high-energy wildlife explorations which take place in strange places. Corwin spends each half-hour searching for his ‘feature creature’, a hunt which has encompassed everything from coyotes in Los Angeles to Mexican gray whales.

Produced by l.a.’s Popular Arts Entertainment, the new series will be shot in Los Angeles, Baja, Costa Rica, Equador, Australia and New Zealand. While Disney won’t give budget numbers, an inside source suggests it ranges around us $100,000 per half-hour.

The Pet Files

Discovery’s untamed sister, Animal Planet, has confirmed production on two series for next season. The Pet Shop with Andy Kindler, a talk show for celebrities and their pets produced by Pearson All-American Productions in Santa Monica, will return for 21 episodes.

Emergency Vets, produced by Rocket Productions in Denver, will have 26 new episodes ready to air for the latter half of 1998. The reality series is filmed entirely at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Colorado.

It’s a jungle out there

Bristol’s Tigress Films is working on a 3 x 1 hour series on the natural history of Indonesia called Wild Indonesia – not to be confused with the pending bbc production with a similar title and theme. (You can’t go anywhere these days without running into another film crew.)

The series is jointly funded by distributor Devillier Donegan and broadcaster pbs. Fires in the region held up filming, but the production should be back on schedule, and ready for release in the spring of 1999. Each hour of production is roughly budgeted at us$550,000.


New World Man

At the turn of the last century, against the fashion of the time, composer Anton Dvorak encouraged his American students to stay in their own country to learn the craft, rather than emigrate to Europe. Dvorak and America is less a film about the composer of the ‘New World Symphony’, than it is about a teacher and his relationship with his students – especially his African-American students, who were learning their art at a time when lynching was still commonplace. Dvorak’s pupils often became teachers themselves, training some future household names, such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.

The one-hour doc is being produced by New York’s Travelfilm Company, with some backing from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the u.s., and the one broadcaster now on board, Czech Television. At an approximate cost of us$500,000, the program will be finished by the end of the year.


For snowboarders everywhere

Stoned: Hemp Nation on Trial from Toronto-based lawyer/producer Russell Bennett documents the case of Chris Clay, a hemp-store owner arrested for selling pot seeds. Clay launched a constitutional challenge to strike down Canada’s anti-marijuana laws – a trial which lasted three weeks – gathering a host of expert witnesses who testified on the negligible effects of the drug. The Crown brought only one.

Although found guilty, Clay was given a suspended sentence and a minimal fine. The judge accompanied his verdict with a 13-point memorandum dispelling myths about the drug, from encouraging criminal activity to being a gateway to harder drugs. The effect of the ruling was to make pot’s legality the arena of the Canadian Parliament – not the common court.

The one-hour documentary will be completed by spring on a cdn$100,000 budget. Domestically, chum/City and affiliates have rights to the project, with no international broadcasters on board to date.

MILLENNIUM WATCH: Recipe for a programming event

Take 24 hours of live programming, mix with 40 international broadcasters and one billion viewers. Unfold over the first day of a new millennium.

pbs is in the process of organizing an international roll call of broadcasters to build a solid day’s programming which will properly inaugurate the next millennium. Starting at the international dateline and moving west every hour, each broadcaster will supply a half-hour of original programming to be transmitted around the world.

Although each participant is free to create whatever it deems appropriate in order to illustrate its culture and understanding of the milestone, the theme of the shows should encourage reflection on the fact that we all live on the same planet and are inextricably linked together. pbs is also working with nasa and the mir space station for a view from space as the millennium dawns.

pbs is still looking for more broadcasters to participate in the event. Notables on the list already confirmed are the bbc, Canada’s cbc, tv asahi in Japan, rtl in Germany, France’s TF1 and ABC Australia.


It’s a good thing Senator Joseph McCarthy is no longer with us, because Associated Television International of California has revealed some interesting connections within the Kremlin. In a new two-hour special, ati will expose the Secret KGB UFO Files – delivering the inside scoop on what the Russian government agency has been holding back about aliens on our planet (the truth is out there, Comrade).

The show will be shot in Moscow, featuring ex-James Bond Roger Moore as host. In an interesting twist, Dick Clark Productions has signed on as coproducer. While no budget figures are available yet, the production is scheduled to wrap by the end of the summer.

Spotlight: RDF and Channel 4 go deep

Formed in 1992, with offices in Sheffield, Los Angeles and Singapore, London-based rdf is a relatively new company with a full slate of productions in the works, including three series for Channel 4.

Critics is a 4 x 30 minute series delving into the world of theater, opera and film critics. Filmed over a period of nine months, the series should be finished for the summer at an approximate budget of £60,000 per half-hour.

Electric Avenue is the newest docu-soap for a British market gone crazy for the genre. The 5 x 30 minute series is being shot over the course of a year in Brixton, a culturally diverse area in South London. The series has a budget of £50,000 per half-hour.

In an unusual approach to promotion, Channel 4 has lowered a cone of silence over its newest science series, Square Peg. The 6 x 60 minute series is rumored to be an ‘ambitious’ project, involving ‘teams’ en route to scientific discovery. Why the need for mystery? A more satisying explanation was not forthcoming. Watch this space for more information.

Unrelated to its work with Channel 4, rdf has also just signed a deal with Discovery U.S. for the aptly, yet oddly titled The Return of Lobotomy. The one-hour medical special carries a us$250,000 budget. While Discovery holds the rights for the United States, rdf is now actively seeking out European partners.

Spotlight: Burrud Newberger Entertainment hits the ground running

The union between Orange County’s Burrud Productions and Art Newberger from Encino’s DTG Entertainment is already producing dividends. Six new series are on the slate, with pilots ready for mipdoc.

Underground is a 26 x 30 minute series looking at the largely unseen underside of society – from grunge bands to the cia, to cults.

Ghosts: Fact or Fiction scientifically considers the likelihood of the supernatural. The series will be available in a hosted and unhosted format, and runs to 26 half-hours.

Creatures of the Wild is a substantial 78 half-hours, combining newly shot film with footage culled from the extensive natural-history footage available in the Burrud library. The series will be narrated, with no on-camera host.

Burrud Newberger is also working on two wildlife series with Toronto-based k.e.i. While neither is titled, one 26 x 30 minute series will be aimed at a family audience and the other at children. Both will feature an animated host.

Although they haven’t been actively seeking out broadcasters yet, dtg has done extensive work for many of the cablecasters, and that is where the series are likely to be bound. At a budget of us$150,000-$200,000 per hour for most of the projects, the price is right for cable.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.