N.Y. POST HOUSE LAUNCHES DOC PRODCO: Stolen Car's new indie, Hitchhiker Films...
April 1, 1999

N.Y. POST HOUSE LAUNCHES DOC PRODCO: Stolen Car’s new indie, Hitchhiker Films

Commercial post house by day, doc indie by night, New York-based edit boutique, Stolen Car, has legitimized its factual efforts with a new incarnation: Hitchhiker Films. Hitchhiker is a collaborative effort between Stolen Car principles Gus Reyes and Tom Donahue, and independent filmmakers Maite Quinn and Lisa Wood Shapiro. Quinn and Shapiro have both worked for WNET’s City Arts (for which Shapiro won a production Emmy), and CBS Eye On People. Shapiro also recently produced Fight Like a Girl for BNN, which aired to critical acclaim on A&E’s Inside Story.

The new factual entity is a natural progression for Stolen Car. With access to five AVIDs and a full sound and graphics studio, the post facility had begun doing docs at night, when the facilities were freed from the big-money efforts. Donahue was already in the process of editing a feature-length doc for Cinemax called Naked States, but Hitchhiker represents a significant expansion into the non-fiction field. Shapiro aims to have Hitchhiker’s first series completed within three months – and hopes to make a mark on the U.S. (and eventually, international) landscape within the first two years of being open for business.

Hitchhiker is looking to produce mostly verité films, and surprisingly, Shapiro says she has had a lot of interest from cable outlets. ‘People are very hungry for it. We’re not talking about reality television, we’re talking about real documentary series with a strong story.’ Shapiro explains that Hitchhiker’s vision of verité does not necessarily include Brit-style docusoaps, or the reality television currently being viewed on U.S. TV – ‘snuff films for the masses,’ as she terms it.

‘Our goal is to film the everyday – ordinary lives, and the untold and hidden stories that are within them,’ she offers. ‘That’s our strength: filming the family that you walk by 20 times a day, but who you never notice until we do the documentary on them.’ Brendan Christie


The Hebrew-language version of National Geographic Channel Europe, launched in Israel on April 1, has produced a flood of pitches from Israeli producers. NGCE has committed US$1.6 million a year to Israeli-produced programming. ‘We’re looking at doing close to 50 hours of programming a year, which is made by Israelis for Israelis,’ says Kirsten McConnell, ngce’s director of international business development. ‘And hopefully out of the 50, we’ll probably take 10 or 15 hours… and take that to the rest of the world; we’ll show it on the rest of our feed.’

NGCE began broadcasting its English-language version in Israel last December. The next step was to try and win one of only two new cable licenses being offered by the Israeli government for a Hebrew-language channel. ngce entered the competition, along with Discovery and more than 50 other competitors. Cable operator Tevel initially gave its spot to another channel, but when the government turned it down, Tevel contacted ngce. Enticed by a highly penetrated cable market (1.1 million subscribers) and the prospect of increased revenues, NGCE jumped in to become the first Hebrew-language channel owned by an international broadcaster. As of April 1, its English-language version was pulled and replaced with fully-subtitled programming. Cable operator Golden Channels awarded the other license to the drama channel viva.

The 50 hours of locally produced programming on NGCE’s Israeli broadcast will include a weekly topical news show (National Geographic Today), 16 hours on wildlife, adventure and exploration, natural phenomena and world cultures, and four one-hour specials.

McConnell, who is also NGCE’s managing director of Israel, says she is currently in the process of setting up a home base there. John Pruzanski has been hired as the executive producer to help get the ball rolling with proposals from studios and independent producers in Israel. Susan Rayman

IGEL MEDIA GOES TO MARKET: hopes to raise US$30-$40 million for production and acquisition

German media companies are finding stock market listings increasingly attractive. One of the latest to take the plunge is documentary production and distribution company Igel Media.

Sixteen years ago, Hamburg-based Igel (or International and German Entertainment Licensing) Media was a gleam in the eye of Christian Lehmann-Feddersen, former freelance journalist then managing director of a film distribution company.

At the time, the German landscape was essentially dominated by public broadcasting, while documentary production fell into three categories: information only, with experts explaining and declaiming; purely educational; and narrative long-form films, independent and emotional, made primarily for a minority audience.

The arrival of commercial TV, with its need for more competitive programming, initially meant little interest in documentaries per se, though their operating conditions stipulated they show them. These windows were then contracted out, resulting in shows like Spiegel TV, which, in turn, forced the public broadcasters to reappraise their approach.

Igel set out to be a twin-track company, the second track being children’s programming because Lehmann-Feddersen decided ‘if children grew up with quality television they would be more likely to stay with quality television as they got older. And that’s essential if you want an audience which appreciates documentaries.’

Igel’s catalogs are composed primarily of perennial evergreens such as wildlife, art, science, literary and historical offerings, something Lehmann-Feddersen hopes investors will find attractive.

‘We’re targeting not just institutional but also private investors – people who will believe in what we do and support us. It’s not just altruism because we are a business and in business to make money. But we do it through encouraging talent and quality.’

Just under 50% of the company is being listed and Lehmann-Feddersen hopes to raise between US$30 and $40 million, the bulk of which will go into production and acquisition.

Although German, Igel Media sells worldwide, is represented at all the major markets and has clients ranging from ABC in Australia to ZDF.

‘We had to look abroad,’ says Lehmann-Feddersen. ‘You need money to produce quality and there is only so much to be found in Germany. This is our home market, and we know it best, but we also sell to the BBC, Channel 5, the Discovery Channel, Readers Digest, NHK in Japan, and many others.’

Although Igel has long-term, on-going coproductions with Nature Conservation Films in Holland and Germany’s Transfer Film and TV, Lehmann-Feddersen often finds working with German producers difficult.

‘There are some very fine craftsmen working today. But a lot of the time, they are working on domestic subjects commissioned by the domestic broadcasters, or with an approach that suits the domestic market. They tend to present their themes more analytically rather than telling a story that is gripping or exciting or entertaining.

‘In the end, that leaves them with only a minority audience in the international market and that’s not what we’re looking for. So we work with them, as we do very successfully with Transfer Film and TV, to help them become more competitive abroad. Seeking a listing can help us drive the process forward.’

Igel Media is listing on Hamburg’s `Start-Up« Market this month, a move which may be followed by a listing on Frankfurt’s Neuer Markt (New Market). Simon Kingsley

DOC QUOTA DOUBLES DOWN UNDER: move a response to High Court decision

As of March 1, the commercial free-to-air networks in Australia – Seven, Nine and Ten – have been ordered to increase their domestic annual documentary subquota from 10 to 20 hours of programming a year, and to include New Zealand docs in their new content standard.

The move was in response to a decision by the High Court of Australia that the current standard was inconsistent with a treaty between Australia and New Zealand called the Closer Economic Relations Treaty (CER). Under the new agreement the High Court stated Australia’s broadcast regulatory body, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), could not treat New Zealand doc programming differently than Australian programming, as had previously been the case. This was in response to a complaint filed by the New Zealand documentary industry in 1996.

As Donald Robertson, manager of media and public relations at the ABA, explained regarding the increase: ‘The ABA felt that the [documentary content standard] quota was vulnerable to docs coming in from New Zealand. It’s particuarly vulnerable because N.Z. does make a substantial quantity of docs each year. So, [the decision to double the doc quota] was to reinforce the objectives of the legislation, which was to promote Australian culture.’

The new content standard does not affect doc programming at either the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) or the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). Christine Cowern

WATSON TO GRANADA FROM UNITED: dual role includes project and talent development

Paul Watson, recognized as one of the U.K.’s most talented and controversial documentary-makers, has left Granada and joined United Productions.

At United, Watson will have a dual role – to develop new documentary projects and nurture fresh program-making talent. He has already begun work on a feature-length documentary for United called The Wedding, commissioned by Peter Dale at Channel 4.

Watson’s track record speaks for itself. Dubbed ‘the father of fly-on-the-wall documentaries,’ he made such classics as The Family, The Fishing Party and The Home. While at the bbc, he also made Sylvania Waters – the controversial Australian-based docusoap which led to accusations that Watson manipulated his subjects unfairly.

Recently, Watson has been working with Granada, where he created the South Africa-based production White Lives for C4. His departure from Granada is described as amicable. ‘We’ve had four fantastic years working with Paul, and we wish him well in his new role,’ said Granada controller of factual Charles Tremayne.

Luring Watson to United is a coup for UP chief executive John Willis who said: ‘United is developing a reputation for innovative, diverse and high-quality factual programs – and for attracting the best new and established talent. Paul Watson’s appointment typifies our approach.’ Andy Fry

WEIL MOVES UP AT DNE: new controller of programs to fill Haws’ shoes

Peter Weil has been appointed VP, controller of programs, for Discovery Networks Europe (DNE) after a short period as acting executive producer. Effectively, he fills the void left by Chris Haws, who moved to Discovery hq in Bethesda earlier this year.

Weil’s appointment follows his successful commission of ten one-off programs by different production companies for DNE under the umbrella name Pilot.

Senior VP and general manager for DNE, Nick Comer-Calder, said: ‘In Peter, we have found the right person to lead our programming team. He is a distinguished producer, skillful manager and a strong strategist.’

Weil’s broadcast credits go back 25 years. He worked on Granada’s World in Action before founding Barraclough Carey North in 1994. More recently he has worked on series such as Pound for Pound (BBC2) and The People’s Parliament (Channel 4). In his new role, he will be responsible for programming strategy, planning and reversioning for DNE. Andy Fry


Prospero Productions of Perth, Australia, has brought a £500,000 suit against Survival Anglia in a claim of copyright infringement. Survival, which repackaged Prospero’s Hutan – Wildlife of the Malaysian Rain Forest as Malaysian Jungle and then sold it to Channel 5, has claimed that the infringement was more the result of a clerical error than malicious intent, and has contested the writ.

The series was sold to Survival through London’s Primetime Television, allegedly with a contract that allowed for some manipulation of the credits. A Prospero spokesperson claims that Survival’s alterations went too far, and that the required producer and director credits were completely removed – only to be replaced with those of Catspaw Productions, which is a Survival entity.

It was Prospero director Ed Punchard’s parents, who live in the U.K., who caught the oversight. Channel 5 pulled the last episode of the series after the initial complaint and altered the credits for the final episode they aired. Brendan Christie

ZDF TO LAUNCH DIGITAL THEATER CHANNEL: commercial broadcasters voice complaints

German public broadcaster ZDF is planning a digital `Theater Channel.’ Announcing the move last month, ZDF director Prof. Dieter Stolte said it ‘would confirm our competence in cultural matters and close a gap in our digital offerings, which the commercial broadcasters would be unable to fill.’

Theater programming has a tradition at ZDF, including live and recorded shows, dating back almost 40 years.

With an annual budget of DM 13 million, mostly for rights and new productions, the channel (yet to be named) will also carry documentaries, talk shows, and readings as well as a daily magazine show. ZDF plans to make considerable use of existing archives.

Intended to raise ZDF’s profile, as well as that of its digital service, the channel, on air for eight hours a day, could occupy already available windows, such as on ARTE before 2:00 p.m. and KinderKanal after 7:00 p.m.

The public broadcaster’s paymaster, KEF (Kommission zur Ermittlung des Finanzbedarfs der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten), has also yet to approve the plans, as have the individual German states.

Meanwhile, the commercial broadcasters have reacted angrily, with the VPRT (Verband privater Rundfunk und Telekommunikation), Germany’s commercial broadcaster association, accusing ZDF of simply moving unattractive programming to make more room for popular offerings.

VPRT president, and SAT.1 chief, J-rgen Doetz said, ‘the public broadcasters are using their niche channels to disguise their program expansion as socially and culturally valuable.’ Simon Kingsley

DOC AVIV: Israel’s debut doc fest. Top prize of US$10,000, plus int’l copro forum

Israel’s first-ever international documentary film festival, Doc Aviv, happening this month from April 3-7 in Tel Aviv, is the brainchild of indie producer Ilana Tsur, with help from fellow indie producer Ruth Lev-Ari and Tel Aviv Cinematheque. She felt it was high time to promote Israel’s doc industry to both locals and the world at large. ‘There is a lot of documentary filmmaking in Israel… and it doesn’t get the attention and weight that it should have,’ Tsur says.

Doc Aviv participants are not required to pay an entry fee, and most of the screenings (around 50 in total) are open to the public. The founders hope that broadcasters take note of the turnout. ‘We decided to create some kind of statement to show there is a public, and where there is a public there will be a need for the television channels to show [doc] films,’ Tsur says. Attendance will be a surprise, but Lev-Ari anticipates 6,000 to 7,000.

The festival features an international competition, with a US$10,000 prize for best film. Twelve finalists (nine international, three Israeli) have been selected from more than 300 submissions. Part of Doc Aviv’s mandate is to expose Israeli filmmakers to world trends in documentaries. ‘Only very few people are lucky enough to go to international film festivals,’ Tsur says. ‘Instead of going to festivals outside of Israel, we thought it would be a great idea to have one here.’

The first Israeli forum for international coproductions, initiated by indie producer Orna Yarmut, has been located in the festival as well. Twenty proposals – picked from 30 semi-finalists by Tue Steen M-ller, director of the European Documentary Network – are being pitched to an international panel including commissioning editors Nick Fraser (of BBC2) and Sabine Bubeck (of ZDF/ARTE). The finalists were prepped on pitching during a workshop in March.

Yarmuts hopes the forum will help break down stereotypes about Israeli doc-makers. ‘Israeli filmmakers are expected to stick to themes of the Holocaust or the Israel-Palestinian conflict; there is a notable reluctance to engage in coproduction on other themes.’ Susan Rayman

DIRECTV AND U.S. NETS SETTLE: local affiliates win out-of-market rights decision

Directv, the largest satellite TV company in the U.S., and four of the nation’s major broadcast networks have settled their court battle over out-of-market satellite TV rights.

The lawsuit against Directv, filed last month by ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and their affiliate stations in a Miami court, charged that the company provided its subscribers with illegal out-of-market programming. Under the settlement, certain viewers who had previously received network programming – including flagship magazine shows like 48 Hours, Dateline and 60 Minutes/60 Minutes II – from Directv via satellite will now have to return to receiving the programming from local affiliate stations via antenna.

With over 4.6 million subscribers, the lawsuit is a blow for California-based Directv. In a press release the company responded to the lawsuit by saying, ‘Directv is disappointed that the broadcast networks and, in particular, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), have chosen to continue this anti-consumer crusade.’

John Earnhardt, director of media relations at the NAB, says the reasoning behind the lawsuit was clear. ‘It was to protect the local broadcaster who owns the copyright for that programming in their local area.’

Under the settlement, all parties involved have agreed that Directv will have a specific timeframe within which to disconnect those subscribers who have been receiving the controversial programming. Christine Cowern

FOX LORBER CONVERTING 80% OF CATALOG TO DVD: one-third of titles non-fiction

Fox Lorber Associates has re-affirmed its commitment to DVD with an accelerated schedule for conversion of its home video library. According to Dan Gurlitz, VP of sales for Fox Lorber’s home video division, the New York-based producer/distributor’s move into DVD began in September 1997. ‘Through the course of late ’97 and all of ’98, we were releasing about 10-12 DVD titles per quarter,’ he says. ‘This year we’ve accelerated it more so, to where we’re releasing – I would say conservatively – between six and 12 a month.’

President and CEO Richard Lorber predicts that at the current pace, 80% of Fox Lorber’s entire library (one-third of which is non-fiction) will be available on DVD within two or three years. ‘We believe the DVD format is ideally suited to the kind of programming we release, which are highly collectible, evergreen titles sought after by people who really appreciate the best quality reproduction and the additional contextual information that make DVDs very special,’ he says. So far, Fox Lorber has released more than 100 titles in DVD; there are currently 400 titles in the library.

The cost of authoring and compressing each title ranges anywhere from $10,000 to $18,000, depending on how much material is added to the program, Lorber explains. ‘We obviously have something approaching a couple million dollars invested in it and we continue to spend aggressively to get the best quality DVD materials produced.’

As one of the few companies jumping on the dvd bandwagon to date, Fox Lorber is able to take advantage of consumer demand. ‘I think the DVD market has a very high absorption level of product right now, as would any new technology,’ Gurlitz says. ‘You buy a new toy, you need new things to do with your toy.’

Among Fox Lorber’s April DVD releases are three non-fiction titles: Wisely Through the Seasons (4 x 60-minute series produced by the Royal Horticultural Society and Devon, U.K.-based Two Four Productions), Revival of the Dead (55-minute one-off produced by California-based Power Sports Productions) and An Intimate Evening with Anne Murray (60-minute one-off produced by Toronto-based Balmur Entertainment Ltd., in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Susan Rayman


Ciara Byrne made the jump from Washington’s Devillier Donegan Enterprises to London’s Lion Television last month to be head of U.S. development. The U.K. producers are looking to make inroads into the North American market.

Phylis Geller, former vice president of cultural programming and new media at WETA in Washington, has moved to Mandalay Media Arts in L.A. Geller will develop and oversee special projects at mma.

Kim Thomas, formerly the director of sales and coproductions at London’s Dorling Kindersley Vision, has been named as director of television sales at NVC Arts.

Bill Flanagan is the new senior VP, editorial director, at VH1. Flanagan, former editor of the now-deceased Musician magazine from 1985-95, was promoted from vice president.

George Bodenheimer has assumed all responsibility for espn’s domestic and international operations. Bodenheimer, formerly president of ESPN, has been at the sportscaster since 1981. Also at ESPN, William Burkhardt has been named senior vice president and managing director of ESPN International. Prior to joining the broadcaster in 1997, Burkhardt was senior VP of business development and administration at the Turner Broadcasting System.

Explore International has appointed Edwina Thring as senior sales manager for Latin and North America, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the U.K. and Ireland. Before 1998, Thring was a sales executive at Pavilion International.

Carlton has a new head of sales in the form of Judith Howton. The position is newly created. Prior to 1996, Howton worked at BBC Worldwide. Carlton has also announced a new press and marketing manager in Rachel Glaister, taking over for Mark Gray, who moved on to become head of programming development and acquisitions.

Julie Bellonte is the new VP of the International Home Video unit at National Geographic. Bellonte has been with the unit for over five years.


* London’s British Pathe has re-released its A Year To Remember video series through Telstar Video Entertainment (also of London). The series has been repackaged and expanded. * Getty Images is planning to move its corporate headquarters from London to Seattle. About half of Getty’s revenue was generated in the U.S. last year. * Discovery’s Cleopatra’s Palace broadcast tripled the cablecaster’s primetime audience average in the U.S., according to Nielsen. On average, 4.4 million viewers tuned in. Cleopatra garnered a 3.7 rating, making it the fifth highest-rated broadcast in the broadcaster’s history. * French broadcaster TF1 posted a 5% increase in revenues this year. TF1′s doc channel, Odyssée, is now being seen in over one million homes. * Everest, the IMAX extravaganza, hit video rental outlets March 30th. Produced by California’s MacGillivray Freeman Films, the video is being released through Buena Vista Home Entertainment. * Germany’s ZDF partnered with New York’s DLT Entertainment last month to produce a Broadway musical. Band In Berlin opened on March 7th at the Helen Hayes Theater. * The U.K.’s Grenada Media International is opening an Australian office to help facilitate the international distribution of their recently acquired Artist Services production entity. The new office will also be on the lookout for new production talent Down Under. * QuesTV, the European action-adventure documentary channel, doubled its audience share in Poland between October and December, according to Europe’s AGB rating service. * People And Arts launched into Portugal on TV Cabo at the end of March. * Look Communications Ltd., the Canadian company offering viewers a new digital alternative to cable, has added the Odyssey Television Network, Deutsche Welle and CNBC to their list of services. * Henninger Media, the Virginian post house, will provide direct access to the Image Bank Library through a master file of The Image Bank (TIB) footage stored in digital Betacam format. * Foxtel, a News Corp. company and primarily a cable-only operator until now, has launched a satellite service with access to 70% of Australian homes.


Nat Geo into Africa

The National Geographic Channel launched into South Africa last month. Now being broadcast into 200,000 homes, the channel is available on the Multichoice system in the DStv package. This newest NG effort will feature 40% locally-produced programming, some of which will also air on the other Nat Geo services internationally.

More History on Sky

The History Channel U.K. will double its air time on Sky’s analog service on May 1. An extra four hours will be added each day starting at noon. Currently, thc airs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily on Sky analog. To make room for the new hours, Sky Soap will be removed from the schedules. Sky Digital will continue to carry an expanded History schedule between 6 a.m. and midnight.

Pilot opens U.S. office

London-based producer Pilot Productions (of Lonely Planet fame), have opened an L.A. office to support Treks In Wild America, a series now in production. See ‘Non-Fiction To Go’ for more details on the series.

Streamlining at Aussie pubcaster

ABC International, the program sales division at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has ceased to exist. Instead, those responsibilities have shifted to ABC Enterprises, the division responsible for marketing a wide range of television and radio products, such as publishing, audio and video, and merchandising. The move is intended to streamline the pubcaster’s marketing efforts, and increase returns on investment.

ZDTV launches audio-streaming service

San Francisco-based computer-oriented cable outlet ZDTV, an affiliate of Ziff-Davis, has launched ZDTV Radio, an audio-streaming service, featuring news and info on technology, computers and the Internet. ZDTV Radio is one of a select group of content providers included on the recently launched Internet Explorer 5 for Windows. Greg Drebin, senior VP of programming and production for ZDTV, says the service is a ‘natural extension’ for the cable net’s TV and web audience.

New funding move from ITVS

The U.S. Independent Television Service, the not-for-profit funder with close ties to PBS, is launching a new funding scheme. The aim is to develop relationships between indie producers and local television channels. With an application deadline of April 30, the scheme will fund public television/indie producer partnerships of between US$10,000 – $65,000. ITVS’ contribution will be based on the broadcaster’s budgetary contribution and other funds in place. Regionally and culturally diverse projects are of particular interest, especially those encouraging discussion and using new ways to explore social, cultural and political issues.


GloboSat pulls Portugal with news, docs, education and sports

GloboSat’s Portuguese outlet rated first among pay networks during the first week of March, according to Marktest Audimetria. The channel also placed fourth among all networks, including terrestrials. The channel is comprised of programming from Globo TV (25%) and GloboSat’s Brazilian channels (75%) – which are made up of GLOBO NEWS, GNT (the documentary channel), SPORTV, MULTISHOW (entertainment), and FUTURA (educational).

NEA gives half million for film preservation

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded US$500,000 to the Treasures of American Film Archives initiative in an effort to preserve and showcase orphan films. In total, 12 archives offered their services to the Treasures effort, making new preservation copies of fragile films, providing screenings, and producing marketing efforts aimed at showcasing rare films in the participating archives. For more information, go to

AMIA announces archivist-to-be scholarship

The Association of Moving Image Archivists will award three scholarships in 1999. AMIA will dispense the third annual Mary Pickford Scholarship, the second annual Sony Pictures Scholarship, and the new CFI Sid Solow Scholarship. Each worth US$3,000, the awards are to help students planning on careers as archivists. The awards are open to students internationally, but submissions must be in by May 15. For more information, e-mail AMIA at, or check out their website at

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.