Up Front: Non-fiction News

Carlton International links with MBC...
July 1, 1998

Carlton International links with MBC

One of the U.K.’s largest distributors, Carlton International, has joined forces with leading independent factual producer Mentorn Barraclough Carey (MBC) to form a distribution and coproduction joint venture.

The new company, Mentorn International (MI), will be headed by Mark Rowland, formerly controller of group development at MBC. MI will be responsible for distributing MBC’s back catalogue and financing a raft of new shows. The plan is for Carlton to add its sales, marketing and financial muscle to MBC’s production skills.

The link-up typifies a trend in the U.K. towards closer ties between broadcaster-owned distributors and producers. Since a senior management reshuffle last year, Carlton International has made it clear that it wants to expand its business by working more closely with independents. It already has strong ties with highly respected factual production outfit Lion Television, while rival distributor itel has teamed up with Wall to Wall Television.

mbc itself is the result of a merger between two leading independent factual programme producers last year. The first new project to take advantage of the tie-up with Carlton will be a six-part series called The Diana Years. However, a broad ranging catalogue also includes series such as Cancer Wars, Planet Islam and the entertainment format Robot Wars. mbc has also built a a successful business syndicating entertainment news footage. Andy Fry

VSDA Feedback. Less foot traffic, but factual distribs still post sales

Size does not matter, according to exhibitors at the 17th annual Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) Home Entertainment Convention & Exhibition. Though organizers estimate attendance at the event, held July 8-11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, was down by several thousand, many factual exhibitors walked away with deals.

‘The show was smaller than last year,’ says Dennis Hedlund, chairman of New Jersey-based Kultur/White Star Video. ‘But people were more serious than in past years. I noticed that a lot of video dealers were not staying for the length of the show and they had very full agendas.’

Hedlund gives the vsda an A-, citing meetings with key buyers and significant interest in some of his titles. His company brought in daredevil Evil Knievel to promote two September releases: Spectacular Jumps and The Last of the Gladiators. Hedlund says there was also much interest in a three-volume set entitled Jack Paar: As I Was Saying.

Daphne Malave, national sales manager of Concord, California-based IVN Entertainment’s school and library division, was also surprised by the size of the event. ‘There was an article in one of the video magazines and there was a (photo of) an empty aisle,’ says Malave, a vsda rookie. ‘That was a bit much.’

Malave was pushing the video Impact Zone Extreme Windsurfing and half a dozen six-packs on topics ranging from national parks to the Smithsonian. She says interest in the company’s dvd titles was most encouraging: ‘A lot of people wanted more dvd titles on our documentary end.’ Malave had two dvd titles, America the Beautiful and Nature’s Symphony, at the show.

Dan Gurlitz, vp of sales, home video, at New York’s Fox Lorber Associates, agrees the exhibition was much smaller, but the one-on-one meetings were productive. ‘There were fewer independent specialty stores and more private room meetings with key accounts,’ he recalls.

Fox Lorber used the vsda to promote Jackie Chan: My Story, an autobiography of the star on video; Classified X, a retrospective of African Americans in cinema; and the newly acquired Mystic Fire Video library, a collection of spiritual and cultural docs. John Kennedy

HBO on the big screen. With e to Oscar, broadcaster to rent NY theatre

HBO will lease The Screening Room in New York for two weeks this fall as a big-screen venue for its own films, as well as a number of films from members of the L.A.-based International Documentary Association. While the exact line-up of films is yet to be determined, the screenings will take place October 16-29. HBO vice president of original programming and documentaries, Nancy Abraham, says she hopes it will become an annual event, and ‘provide a venue for people to see good documentary films that they don’t get to see in a theater.’

It’s been suggested that HBO’s event could become the East Coast incarnation of the ida’s Doctober event, held for the first time last year in Pasadena, California. Sponsored in part by Eastman-Kodak, Doctober was created by the ida to help doc filmmakers comply with a change in the Academy Award rules stating that qualifying films must run for seven consecutive days at a regularly paid, theatrically advertised screening in Los Angeles County or Manhattan.

While HBO played down the connection, the week-long festival will also help make many of the films screened eligible for an Academy Award nomination. As the festival circuit becomes more crowded, many more broadcasters might consider this approach towards getting their productions recognized by the Academy. Brendan Christie

Newcomers to BBC/Discovery joint venture

The BBC and Discovery Communications have begun staffing their recently formed New York-based coproduction and distribution joint venture by pulling in two leading lights from distributor BBC Worldwide.

The new unit, which goes under the interim title JVP, is to be headed by Candace Carlisle, formerly head of sales and coproduction in Worldwide’s Americas office. It is her responsibility to act as the commercial contact for all shows made by the bbc with a view to placement in the U.S. market.

Carlisle has been joined by Mark Reynolds, who leaves his London-based post as commercial manager of the BBC’s Natural History Unit to become president coproduction and sales at the JVP. In his new role, Reynolds will have an expanded brief covering natural history, science, history and documentaries.

While the main customer of the jvp is intended to be Discovery Networks U.S., Carlisle and Reynolds are also expected to look for other North American outlets for bbc productions. However, it is too early to tell how relationships with key players such as A&E, PBS and Turner will fare under the shadow of a deal in which Discovery is likely to have first refusal of bbc programmes and talent. Andy Fry

Cahoots Macleod to head C4I

New York-based independent producer/distributor Bernard MacLeod has been appointed to head Channel 4′s international division, C4I.

The move is widely interpreted as a sign that the U.K. broadcaster plans to ramp up its activities in the coproduction market and put more effort into promoting its brand overseas.

MacLeod currently runs his own company, Cahoots Inc, which specializes in packaging factual programming. He said: ‘I look forward to using my experience working in the independent sector for the past three years, along with my distribution and production experience on both sides of the Atlantic, to help expand the unique Channel 4 brand.’

MacLeod’s appointment is one of the last pieces of a management jigsaw puzzle put into place since last summer when Michael Jackson took over as chief executive of the network. Although MacLeod has already started work for C4I, he will relocate to London later this year. There are no immediate plans to close Cahoots, which is currently in production with a number of series.

According to MacLeod, his appointment by C4 is a recognition that coproduction is ‘an increasingly vital part of the television economy.’ He expects to oversee ‘more integration of C4I into the channel’s core activities.’

MacLeod’s career has seen him work at numerous companies including BBC Enterprises, Granada International and Time/Life Video. In announcing the appointment, C4 director of business affairs Janet Walker specifically made reference to this range of experience saying ‘his unique mix of skills ideally suits our ambitions for C4I. I am delighted that he has decided to come back to Britain to take up the challenge of exploiting the channel’s wide range of programmes.’

In a separate development, C4′s commissioning editor for documentaries Peter Dale has given the go-ahead for a series which looks at the running of London’s world-famous Kew Gardens. The film, which will be made by London-based independent production company Flashback Television, will take around a year to shoot and is expected to be ready for the Fall of 1999. It is one of Dale’s first commissioning decisions since his surprise defection from the bbc earlier this year. Andy Fry

Red flags on risky filming. DOP death in Galapogos raises concerns about ultra-lights

The recent death of an American cameraman working on a natural history doc in the Galapagos has raised more questions about the use of ultra-light planes in filmmaking.

‘I think today we lose more cameramen on ultra-lights than anything else,’ says Bo Landin, founder and executive producer of Sweden’s Scandinature Films.

The lightweight crafts are becoming increasingly popular with filmmakers because they can be easily transported to remote areas and are much less expensive than chartering a helicopter from which to shoot aerial footage. ‘Now you can have your own plane and you feel like you are in control,’ explains Landin. ‘But the margins are slim.’

One of his cameramen broke a leg after an ultra-light plane crashed in Africa. ‘I try to say to filmmakers working for me that I’m not prepared to take whatever risk just to get a unique shot,’ he adds. ‘Of course it’s not worth it.’

Landin says Scandinature has lost three people on location in recent years. A biologist working in the Amazon with the crew of the one-off Candamo: A Journey Beyond Hell was killed by electric eels, and a cameraman working in Namibia died of malaria.

Although there have been a number of ultra-light accidents in the industry in recent years, Landin says the biggest threat to filmmakers remains ‘the animals and things that we can’t see – the parasites, the mosquitoes. That’s where we may drop our guard because we don’t think of it. Natural history filmmaking is not the paradise that many people think it is.’

John Kennedy

People on the Move

A&E Television has named Michael E. Katz as vice president of programming and production, international division. Previously, Katz served as vice president, daytime and specials programming.

Andy Goodsir has been appointed director of sales and marketing at London’s British Pathe. Goodsir was previously a vp in the department, and will now be spearheading Pathe’s new global sales initiatives.

Ken Ferguson has joined National Geographic Television as chief financial officer and chief administrative officer. Ferguson was formerly chief financial officer for Burbank’s Dick Clark Productions Inc.

At Germany’s ZDF Enterprises, Volker Lehmann has succeeded Stefan Wieduwilt as head of acquisitions/business affairs. Lehmann previously acquired children’s programming and tv movies. Wieduwilt has moved to ZDF’s cultural programming department.

TCA Highlights: Fall offerings from U.S. cable

Many large-scale factual projects were unveiled this month at the bi-annual Television Critics Association’s Press Tour in Pasadena, California.

BBC America made their first appearance at the tour, bringing in U.K. product for American audiences. ‘This is a genre which the broadcast networks simply don’t get into. It’s fly-on-the-wall documentaries,’ said Paul Lee, general manager. ‘In the U.K., we’re getting higher ratings from that kind of programming than we are on anything else.’ With their strip Great Writers, BBC America is bringing in new programs on Samuel Beckett, Rumer Godden and Edith Wharton.

Other highlights include:

>> Ted Turner showed off Cold War. (See pg. 14 for more info) Piggybacking on the theme, The History Channel will air a two-hour special, David Frost’s Inside the Cold War, developed from over 44 hours of interviews.

>> Documentary programming is drawing strong ratings for country music cablecaster tnn, said Brian Hughes, vp of programming, who noted that their Life and Times series will be expanding to a Monday to Thursday strip in 1999. TNN’s new series, A Century of Country, is produced by CBS News Productions.

>> Jonathan Rodgers, president of Discovery Networks, covered a lot of ground at the event with Animal Planet, Learning Channel, and the Travel Channel. The popularity of courtroom series has even affected the all animal channel – the premiere of Judge Wapner’s Animal Court, at 50 episodes, will be ready by fall. Discovery is also embarking on what it calls the most expensive initiative in its history with Expedition Adventure, a project wherein the broadcaster will fund and film expeditions around the world to uncover new scientific discoveries. As well, ABC is coproducing Vietnam: The Soldiers’ Story for TLC.

>> With the addition of 500 hours of new programming during the 1998-99 new fall season, Home & Garden Television’s schedule will consist of 90% first-run programming. Sixteen new specials, eight new series and new episodes of 35 continuing series are planned to debut. hgtv’s new specials include Model Homes, The Windsor Auction: Treasures of a Royal Romance and On Location: The Paris Flea Market.

>>HBO and Cinemax are continuing hard-hitting docs like Death Train, the story of Joseph Stalin’s vast network of brutal concentration camps. HBO Sports will explore the life of Babe Ruth in a special to debut this fall. Susan Hornik

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.