Production News: Non-fiction to go

October 1, 1998


Lincoln’s life & times

To a large extent, Lincoln’s personal life reflected the country which he governed. Married to the daughter of a slave owner (whose two brothers were fighting for the South against the Union), and having lost two children, Lincoln’s marriage was as turbulent as the times in which he lived. For the American Master strand on PBS and Boston’s WGBH, New York’s David Grubin Productions is working on a 6 x 60-minute series which delves into the personal life of one of America’s most famous leaders. A House Divided: Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln will be ready for broadcast late in 2000. PBS is the major funder for the US$2.5 million series.


A century of the macabre

Next August would have marked Alfred Hitchcock’s 100th birthday. The director, famous for his meticulous planning and shot execution, was brought to Hollywood by David O. Selznick (who is known for, among other things, burning down half of the American South in Gone With The Wind). Selznick was a much different filmmaker than Hitchcock. Indecisive and sometimes random, Selznick wanted to create spectacle. Even though they were complete opposites, between them they managed to revolutionize Hollywood.

Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood is a 90-minute doc from Michael Epstein (The Battle Over Citizen Kane) for WNET’s American Masters on PBS. Germany’s Telepool is also involved. The special is narrated by Gene Hackman, and profiles a time of monumental change in the Hollywood system. Footage was gathered from the two filmmaker’s productions, Hitchcock’s private home movies, and home movies provided by Selznick’s son, Danny. Ready for late fall, the doc has a budget of over US$500,000 and is being distributed by Montreal’s Films Transit.

Also being distributed by Films Transit is The Last Cigarette, a close look at the appeal and propaganda of tobacco. Produced by New York’s Kevin Rafferty, the project is tied to Discovery in the U.S., Telepool in Germany and the BBC in the U.K. Ready for the end of the year, the 90-minute film also carries a budget of around half a million dollars.

A few famous Canadians and a brewery

Vancouver’s Paperny Films is working on a two-hour look at Canadians who have gone south of the border to make it big. True South Strong and Free will profile big name entertainers and business people who have left Canada for their dreams. The production enlists the aid of writer/journalist Jeffrey Simpson (CBC, The Globe and Mail) to tell the story. Shooting begins in the spring of next year, with delivery set for spring of 2000. In Canada, Paperny has a deal with public broadcaster, the CBC, but are looking for international coproduction partners for the CAN$600,000 project.

Paperny is also looking to follow up on a docusoap pilot it broadcast last year. Brewery Creek is one of the first forays into the field by a Canadian. The test series ran to eight, ten-minute episodes on the CBC, but the new series will run to a full 30 minutes. The length of the series is still to be determined, with the possibility existing for either six or thirteen episodes. Brewery Creek is set in an East Vancouver apartment building full of the artsy and the odd. The producers are currently looking for broadcasters who might be interested.


20 hours of fan-hitting fun

Studio City’s GRB Entertainment is adding fuel to the disastertainment fire with a 15 x 30-minute series entitled Inferno. Coproduced with Edmonton’s Great North Productions, the series takes viewers into the heart of raging blazes, in both the world of nature and in the heart of the city. Episode titles include: `Serial Arsonists,’ `Towering Infernos,’ `Irreplaceable Treasures’ and `The Science of Arson Investigation.’ Production will be finished by January (barring any unforeseen disasters). The episodes carry a budget in the range of US$100,000 to $150,000. Discovery in the U.S. is the broadcaster involved at press time.

GRB also has another 26 half-hours of What Went Wrong in the works for The Learning Channel in the U.S. Ready for March of 1999, the magazine-style investigative series will carry a budget of around $150,000 per episode. Watch out for falling plane parts.

GRB is also working on What Went Wrong for the non-human set. Animal Comedy TV is a 13 x 30-minute series which will wrap in the Spring of 1999, and features blooper footage cut into segments with titles like `Know Your Human’ and `Kung Fu Theatre: Turtle Fury.’ The budget per episode ranges between $100,000 and $125,000. The production will appear on Animal Planet in the U.S.


PBS loves it to death

Since television was first introduced to the world, many viewers have had the unfortunate experience of dying. Hoping to tap into this potential niche market, PBS has a number of programs in production for the deceased, or those just considering it.

Facing Death: The Six Deadliest Diseases (working title) is a coproduction of Washington’s Manifold Productions, London’s Café Productions and Oregon Public Broadcasting. The 3 x 60-minute series features author and family practitioner Dr. Sherwin Nuland, who offers `take-charge’ advice on mortality. The doctor combines research, life stories and scientific facts about major diseases to put a compassionate and uplifting spin on shuffling off the mortal coil. Ready for January 1999, this series has a budget of roughly US$1.2 million.

Toronto’s Sleeping Giant Productions is working on a 10 x 30-minute series which looks at society’s views of death. Several topics will be explored, including the fear of death, death rites, children’s views of death, and defining death (i.e. the act of being dead). An accompanying book is being published by New York’s Allyn and Bacon Inc. Distribution and major financing is being done by Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a project launched in 1981 at the CPB, with funding from the Annenberg School of Communications). The series will be completed for the Spring of 1999, and carries a million dollar price tag.


The usual reservations

Washington’s ABC/Kane is working on a 13 x 30-minute series for The Disney Channel called The Great African Wildlife Rescue. The series concerns itself with vets who capture animals in South Africa for relocation around the world. Before conservationists start thinking about burning down the Magic Kingdom, all the animals captured are either endangered species destined for reserves, animals who have escaped from sanctuaries, injured animals, or animals destined for relocation in theme parks such as Disney’s. (Which, coincidentally, is how they get their confection-stand workers too). The series will feature guest-vets, allowing viewers to watch the captures through their eyes, and spend time with them as they work and wait. Wildlife Rescue is being distributed by Buena Vista International and will be ready for air at the beginning of next year. The series carries a budget of approximately US$120,000 per episode.

Rooting for the underdog

For those of you who have had enough of ranging with lions and swimming with big-toothed sharks, Rome’s Paneikon offers a unique opportunity to roam with packs of wild herbivores. Realm of Prey is a 52-minute examination of the other end of the food chain – the one generally ignored by natural history filmmakers (unless an unfortunate member of the crew happens to be dangling from a slathering predator’s mouth). The program will examine animal instincts and their methods of survival against astounding odds. Ready for January 1999, the hour is being produced for roughly US$250,000 and is being distributed by London’s itel.

Getting grubby

South African producers Provision and Roman distributor GA&A, are working on a 52-minute special called Grabbing the Grub. Ready for the spring of 1999, the hour looks at the cycle of life in Africa, from the big and photogenic scavengers (vultures and hyenas), down through the smaller birds, reptiles and insects, and right down to the humble ant. Recycling might be a concept we humans are just coming to terms with, but nature has always been a conscientious consumer. The hour demonstrates how nothing is wasted in nature, and most especially in this harsh climate. The budget for the hour is about US$350,000.

Is that kelp in your inlet, or are you happy to see me?

Produced by Sydney’s David Hannan and Paul Scott Productions, Australia’s Marine World is a 2 x 60-minute series exploring the diverse marine world around Australia. Follow the two divers as they explore the world’s largest reef, swim over the biggest seagrass bed, examine enormous kelp forests, and meet the marine life that love them (the kelp and grass, that is). The series will be completed by May 1999, and is available through ITEL. The cost of the production is around US$500,000.

Safety First

Paris-based Europe Images International is distributing a 4 x 52-minute series called Wild Havens. Produced by Paris’ Léo Productions, the series will be completed by June 1999. As the title suggests, the four-hours looks at places where animals find refuge from the rat-race, and generally forget about their part in the food chain. The series carries a total budget of about US$1 million, and is being broadcast on France 2.


Sex, Marriage & The Melbourne Cup

British Pathe wants to talk about sex. The London-based producer/ archive is working on a 6 x 30-minute series designated The History of Sex Appeal. History examines sexual attraction – that most primeval of forces – and how it has adapted and changed over the last 100 years. Topics tackled include the female shape, fitness, sex symbols, make-up and tribalism. Ready for delivery (no pun intended) in January 1999, the series bares a budget of around £60,000 per episode.

Given the above series, it was inevitable that the next Pathe production would be called The Wedding Story. The project will be available in a 1 x 55-minute, or 2 x 26-minute format, and examines the ritual and tradition of marriage in many cultures. The series tries to answer the question: Given rising divorce rates and increased infidelity, what role does marriage still play? The project should be ready for November, with a budget of around £120,000.

Pathe is also looking for coproduction and format partners for an ambitious 52 x 26-minute series called Week of the Century. The series examines exciting and quirky international historical events which have occurred on the week the show airs. For example, the last week of January features Hitler coming to power (1933), the death of Winston Churchill (1965) and Australia Day and the Melbourne Cup (1921). Pathe can supply the format, script and inserts for in-house production, or the entire production, depending on which the broadcaster prefers. The series is scheduled for broadcast in 2000, and carries a budget of around £60,000 an episode.

RDF starts thinking long-term

Part of the reasoning behind RDF taking on ex-BBC’er Steven Lambert last month was to beef up its series slate. Look for the London-based producer/distributor to start going long in the hopes of doing even more business. Even before Lambert’s arrival, however, RDF has a few new series in the works.

With no real working title as of yet, RDF is putting together a 3 x 60-minute series about rap music in America. Ready for the end of 1999, the series is destined for C4, and concentrates on not only the history of the musical genre, but also the violence which seemed to be inextricably associated with it. The short series carries a budget of around £500,000 total.

Set in a game park in South Africa, Daktari (only a working title, as there is a feature film of the same name), profiles a season in the life of the park. It’s an observational series (docusoap?) which follows rangers, vets and a whole cast of characters over a period of three months. Filming should begin some time in October, with the project scheduled to be completed in the middle of next year. The 13 x 30-minute series is being produced for about £20,000 per episode.

Under the heading of odd game shows, RDF is also working on a follow-up series to a pilot they shot for the BBC this summer. Wheeler Dealers gives two teams of players £1000, and then turns them loose for a week to see how much money they can make with it. The teams are given strict criteria as to how they can make their money. (In the pilot, one team could only make their money off fish. Yes, fish). At the end of the week, the team with the most money wins. The series is slated for four half-hours, and will be completed by early 1999. The budget per show is between £50,000 and £70,000.

Fighting for peace

In September of 1997, three Palestinian children chose to become martyrs to the Muslim cause by blowing themselves up in the center of Jerusalem. Among those killed in the blast were three best friends from a Jewish high school nearby. The Attempt tells the story of these six children, and talks to parents who have lost their offspring to the perpetual violence in the Middle East. Distributed by Israel’s Noga Communications, and produced by Noga, Paris’ Cineteve and Entre Chien et Loup of Belgium, the 60-minute production will be completed by December. The broadcasters involved at press time are France 2, RTBF in Belgium, Canal Horizon in France and Channel 8 in Israel. The budget for the hour is Fr 1.55 million.

Noga is also working on a 4 x 60-minute series called A Ray of Light in the Darkness. The series is being produced for Channel 8 Israel, and has a budget of US$130,000 per episode. The series looks at people living in the war-torn region, or more specifically, how they have managed to establish normal lives for themselves given their surroundings. The series will be completed by December.

In the `if-you-can’t-do-anything-about-the-constant-fighting, you-might-as-well-dance’ vein, Noga is also putting together a 45-minute special for Channel 8 called Ethnodance on the Block. The production looks at the annual August International Ethnodance Festival which takes place in Tel-Aviv, where French, Indian and Israeli performers try to bring together the diverse local community. Ready for December, the production has a budget of US$130,000.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.