Production News: Non-fiction to go (September 1998)

September 1, 1998


Daylight come and me wanna Corona?

Actress and songstress Shari Belafonte will be coming to the small screen in the spring of 1999 with Travels In Mexico and the Caribbean With Shari Belafonte. Viewers can follow her on a 13 x 30-minute trip through Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s a rough life. Produced by Seattle’s Small World Productions, the series will be distributed to public television stations in the U.S. through the American Program Service (APS), and came in at a budget of roughly US$700,000.

The APS will also be featuring the enthusiastically-titled, How To Get What You Really, Really, Really, Really Want (not to be confused with the Spice Girls’ plea: Tell me what you want, what you really, really want…) and Using the Wisdom of the Ages in Your Everyday Life. These 80-minute doses of good feeling come from best-selling author and Florida-based motivational speaker, Dr. Wayne Dyer. They will premiere on DirecTV in the U.S. in October and then be offered to public stations in November. The productions have a budget of approximately $150,000.

Debs, dogs and docs

Montreal’s Cineflix Multimedia has a host of hard-to-categorize programs in store for the middle of next year. The Prom is a one-hour special that follows five kids from dawn until dawn on the day of their prom. Sold to TVOntario in Canada, the film was shot by nine separate crews over the space of a single day. The film crews did several weeks of preparatory work, getting the subjects conditioned to having the cameras around, in the hopes that what comes out on film will be honest-to-goodness prom mania. Ready for January of next year, the special carries a budget in the neighborhood of CAN$250,000, and is being distributed by Montreal’s Mediamax.

In keeping with the behaving-like- animals theme, Cineflix is also working on a 13 x 30-minute series called Dogs With Jobs. Each episode of the series features a single dog, and will concentrate on selection, training and mission performance. Canada’s pubcaster, the CBC, is the broadcaster involved. The series will be ready for the fall of `99, and is accompanied by a several-million-dollar price tag.

Speaking of working like a dog, the Montreal producer is also planning a one-hour special entitled On The Border of the Abyss. The doc profiles a Canadian doctor who travels to the world’s hot spots to offer his medical expertise to the people most in need of it. Scheduled to be completed for the fall of 1999, the hour is destined for Canada’s CTV, and carries a budget of approximately CAN$300,000.


The final act played out

London’s Worldview Pictures will soon be wrapping up A Death In The Family for delivery this November. The 52-minute film is the final chapter in the life of A.J. Bannister. Bannister was hurriedly convicted of a murder which took place during a drug deal gone wrong, and was subsequently sentenced to death in a Missouri prison. The film (which is actually the third on Bannister for Worldview, following The Execution Protocol in 1992, and Raising Hell: The Life of A.J. Bannister in 1995) examines the impact of an execution on the family and friends who are left behind. Death is being represented by London’s Louise Rosen Ltd., and so far has been picked up by AZ Media in Germany. The production carries a budget of approximately US$450,000.

Also from Worldview, Bad Luck: The Gene Lottery is a 52-minute production looking at the implications of genetic testing on everyday life. Principle photography will begin in October, with the finished product scheduled to be completed by early 1999. The $350,000 doc has been picked up by TV8 Sweden so far, but Louise Rosen Ltd. has just begun its search for prospective outlets.


An active Imago-nation

Norwich’s Imago Productions may have only been around for just over a year, but company managing director Vivica Parsons has been involved in television for more than 20 years. Part of Imago’s niche include projects which cater to the affordable natural history market. Budgets for their productions usually range from £16,000 to £80,000 per episode.

One of the projects being worked on is a 13 x 30-minute series for Anglia TV entitled Whipsnade. The series chronicles the trials and tribulations of the animals of the Whipsnade Wildlife Park. Hosted by Eastenders star Pam St Clement, the series focuses on the parks pioneering efforts in wildlife conservation, animal breeding, and the education of both vets and the general public. The series will be ready for the beginning of 1999.

For National Geographic, Imago is working on Wildlife Rescue International, a 13 x 30-minute series concerned with the efforts in endangered species preservation. Each episode focuses on different species, and the daily activities of the people who work with the animals. Wildlife will be ready to air by March of 1999.

In a different vein, Imago will also have a new season of Craven’s Collectibles ready for the beginning of next year. The 12 x 30-minute series for Anglia TV looks at collectors and their hoards, and features such highlights as `Is it a Fake?’, and `Collectables of the Future’.

Fear and loathing in Kruger, Africa

What happens when you mix an Italian distributor, a South African production company and several elephants? Two one-hour specials and some dizzy elephants.

Roman distributor GA&A and South African producer Provision are working together on a pair of elephant tales which may make viewers think differently about the gentle giants of the African wilderness. Kruger – Seasons of Change is a 52-minute examination of the impact elephants have on their environment through the course of a year. The thugs of the outback, elephants eat the food of other animals, kill trees by stripping them of their branches and leaves and generally rough up the smaller animals of the Kruger National Park. Produced for approximately US$270,000, the special will be completed for the winter of this year.

The production partnership is also working on African Elephants – On the Pill or on the Block, a 52-minute special which will be completed for late 1999. Since the wholesale slaughter of elephants was halted, the problem with elephants now has become over-population. Some of the themes tackled in the program include habitat destruction, rogue elephants who kill rhinos, and matriarchs on the Pill. The project carries a budget of around $400,000, and has just begun the pre-production stage.


Cohens chronicle Egoyan

They’re not the Cohen Brothers, they’re the Cohen siblings. Brother and sister producer team Robert and Shari Cohen are in post-production on their CAN$150,000 documentary chronicling director Atom Egoyan’s (Exotica) experiences mounting his opera Elsewhereless.

Directed by Shari, who has also helmed a few The Body: Inside Stories docs for Toronto producer Barna Alper, the Cohens followed Egoyan for seven months as he rewrote and prepared to direct an opera which he first penned 15 years before. The result will be the hour-long Road To Elsewhere, which has been licensed by Adrienne Clarkson Presents for the CBC in Canada, as well as by the Canadian arts channel, Bravo! Shot in a variety of formats, including 16mm, Beta SP and digital handycam, the doc was funded in part by the Rogers Documentary Fund and by the opera fund, The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Foundation. Delivery is set for late fall.

Viewers will be surprised at how candid Egoyan is in the film’s interviews, says Shari, and adds that the doc captures the auteur at a crossroads in his career as he revisits an early work while receiving two Academy Award nominations. andy hoffman

UNITED WILDLIFE: More than the Sum of the Parts

A year after Partridge Films and Survival came together under the standard of United Wildlife, the companies have over 120 hours of programming in production and development. With most carrying substantial budgets, UW promises to deliver a plethora of blue-chip specials before the turn of the century. London’s ITEL will be distributing all the projects listed below.

With perhaps the greatest name given to a one-hour documentary special, Frogs: The Movie is being produced by Survival, and is scheduled to be completed by September of 1999. With a budget of around £300,000, this production visits every continent, searching for different members of the frog family (which is comprised of almost 4000 species). Witness as Survival producers tackle frogs as small as a pea and those the size of a rugby ball.

Survival will also be offering Ice Whales for some time in June 1999. The hour will explore the lives of a trio of whales who manage to survive in the frozen waters of the Arctic: belugas, narwhals, and bowheads. The special is being produced for roughly £420,000.

The somewhat melodramatically titled, Jaguar: Eater of Souls is another Survival offering. Completed for July 1999, this hour is a coproduction with National Geographic. Cameraman Nick Gordon has spent ten years filming in the Amazon basin, capturing rare footage of the elusive Jaguar as it swims and gives birth (and snacks on the occasional soul, apparently). The hour has a price tag of around £460,000.

From Partridge Films, The Company of Ravens should be completed for the beginning of next year. With a budget of approximately £400,000, the hour will look at the unique relationship of these birds to humans, and explore how they have worked their way into our folklore and myth. Ravens is a coproduction with New York’s WNET.

For otter fans everywhere, Partridge is also working on an hour entitled River Wolves. Scheduled to be completed for March of 1999, the title stems from the name South Americans give to their native giant otters. At six feet and weighing seventy pounds (ÁAy Caramba!), these otters might not be the cuddly creatures you expect them to be. River Wolves floats a budget of around £400,000.

Reptiles (working title) is a 4 x 60-minute series from Partridge Films. Ready for some time in 1999, the series is being produced for roughly £350,000 an hour. Reptiles is also being coproduced by wnet. Each program will be a self-contained special about four main groups of reptiles: snakes, lizards, crocodiles and turtles and tortoises, exploring how they have adapted during their 300 million year stay on the planet.

PRODUCTION PROFILE: Scandinature Around the Globe

From the relative seclusion of a refurbished barn in Karlstad, Sweden, Scandinature Films manages to cover the natural and social history of the world. This list of programming will all be completed by the end of next year.

Cuba – The Caribbean Pearl is a 3 x 52-minute series which explores how the natural history of the island is a reflection of Cuba’s culture. The political system which has cut Cuba off from most of the world has also protected its wildlife from exploitation. Cuba will explore many of the habitats and species which are unique to the island. The production is being coproduced with RTV Comercial Cuba, WDR Germany and ITEL. The budget is approximately US$1.8 million.

The 52-minute special, Foxes of Talan, demonstrates the innovative behavior of a group of animals struggling to survive in a difficult habitat. Foxes are the only animals who manage to outlast the winter on the island of Talan, in the Sea of Okhotsk. They live on birds they kill during the summer, and which they store underground (in a fox freezer, as it were). When the summer returns, life is restored to the islands, but in the depths of winter, the foxes are alone. Foxes is a coproduction for Discovery U.S., NHK Japan and WDR Germany. The hour has a budget of $460,000.

There are very few places on Earth where life continues as it has for thousands of years, undisturbed by time or technology. In Sweden’s far north (the Laponian area), such a wild and undisturbed place still exists. The area is the habitat of wild reindeer and a native tribe called the Saami, who’s lives are intertwined. Laponia is a 52-minute portrait of the annual cycle of life in the area, examining the natural history of the environment, and how the Saami interact with it. Coproduced with WDR Germany and TV4 Sweden, the hour carries a budget of $495,000.

Scandinature also has several projects in the early stages of development. Mysteries of Movement will be an hour-long examination of the elephants in the Etosha National Park in Namibia. With a forecasted budget of around $400,000, the producers are working on deals with potential coproducers.

A possible winner of the RealScreen title of the year award, The Mane Event is an hour profile of a family of lions in Etosha National Park. The projected budget for the piece is $410,000. No coproducers have been confirmed as of press time.

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.