Production News

June 1, 1999


Par for the course

Although the world was disappointed at the appearance of a distinctly un-kilted David Grimmer at MIP-TV, the future still remains bright for Scottish Television Enterprises and distributor Cascade Worldwide Distribution. The Glasgow-based sister-entities have a number of productions in the works that have attracted the attention (and copro dollars) of the world.

The Old Course is a one-hour (or 2 x 30-minute) look at the oldest golf course in the world. Coproduced with London’s Antelope Films and NHK in Japan, the special offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at St. Andrews, a golf course established May 14, 1754. (It is generally believed that lying about your golf score was invented the following June.) Shot in HD, the approximately £100,000 program will be ready by August.

Celtic States is a 3 x 60-minute series looking at how the Welsh, Irish and Scottish have had a measurable impact on the religious, social and political face of the United States. (Even thought they still call them the Boston Sell-tics.) A surprising number of American presidents were even of Celtic descent.

A coproduction with RTE in Ireland and S4C in Wales, the series should be wrapped by the beginning of next year with a budget of approximately £550,000.


Big decisions

Beverly Hills-based Interlingual Television Programming has just announced a deal with Animal Planet for a one-hour special set for release in the second quarter of 2000. A Herd of their Own will feature the talents of world-renowned wildlife filmmaker Tim Liversedge and a trio of pachyderms from Botswana. The hour follows the progress of three orphaned elephants raised by human parents.

Everything has gone well up until now, but at ten years of age they’ve reached adulthood, and it’s time to either join the herds of wild elephants roaming the country, or choose to stay with their adopted human family.

Besides this potentially dramatic turn, Herd explores many issues, including the risks involved for elephants in the wild, and the social structure which drives these great animals. Although Discovery is already involved in this approximately US$500,000 production, Interlingual is currently talking to international broadcasters.


In its never-ending quest to out-do its previous efforts, the BBC Natural History Unit may be creating the most visually notable series in its storied history. Living Britain is a 6 x 60-minute series on the indigenous wildlife of Britain through the seasons. An array of natural history is explored, reflecting the diverse – and largely unknown – side of British wildlife.

The budget for the series is rumored to be in the £3 million range per hour. The series is part of the BBC/Discovery joint venture, so U.S. and U.K. rights have been sewn up. Sales for the remaining international rights are being undertaken by London’s HIT Wildlife. (For those leery about the title, the series could easily be repackaged under the name Living Island, or something similar.) The BBC plans to broadcast the series over the six weeks leading up to the millennium.


Junk adventure

The age of adventure and exploration is not over – at least not for Paris’ Tele Image International.

Coproduced with France 2 and Voyage France, along with the help of Italy’s RAI 3, in association with RTBF in Belgium, Explorers of the Forgotten Islands is a promising 6 x 60-minute recreation of the exploits of the great nineteenth century adventurer, Bougainville. Director and explorer, Patrice Franceschi, will lead 17 people on a year-long exploration in a reproduction of a Junk, which has been dubbed `Song Saigon.’ The adventure will be based on the exploration of the tribes, wilderness and oceans surrounding the 30,000 islands between the Bay of Bengal and Micronesia. Each episode will focus on a particular aspect of the trip, including sunken treasure and lost tribes of headhunters.

Filming has just begun, with delivery of the series set for September of 2000. The budget for the trip is roughly US$2 million (Fr 12 million).

Southern Adventure

German broadcaster ZDF, along with French coproduction partner La Cinquième, is putting together a 52-minute special tracing the path of famous eighteenth-century explorer Alexander Von Humbolt. In 1799, Humbolt and his French companion/physician/botanist Amé Bonpland set out to explore Central and South America. The party climbed mountains, trekked through the thickest jungles, and even managed to befriend the natives (rather than wiping them out with war or disease, which seemed to be the fashion at the time). To this day, and thanks to his humane interaction with the natives, Humbolt is remembered as a folk hero in many parts of the globe.

Titled An Expedition Into the Unknown, the partners should have the hour wrapped by the fall. The budget attached is in the US$350,000 range.


A few words from the underdogs

by Brendan Christie

Underdog Productions is a South African independent film company that works in a number of fields – from documentary, to features, to Internet design. Established in 1993, Underdog has a large slate of factual on the go, and is actively seeking coproduction partners for most of it. Most recently, the company completed a 2 x 60-minute series called Death, which has won several international awards, and is being handled by Rome-based distributor GA&A.

Sexual Millennium is a 4 x 24-minute review of how our perceptions of human sexuality and gender have changed at the dawn of the new millennium. In the last 40 years, technology, democracy and education have spurred on a rapid revolution in the liberalization of our views.

The series is being planned for the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation), and will go into production late this year for the middle of 2000. The budget should be in the US$80,000 range – a steal, thanks to the weak South African Rand.

UFO Africa is a 3 x 26-minute series looking into African UFO sightings, abductions and legends. Many African tribes tell tales of men from the sky, and some even possess astrological knowledge only recently gleaned by Western scientists. The series will rely heavily on eye-witness accounts and video footage. The budget hovers around US$110,000.

Stimulation is a 52-minute (or a longer 75-minute) exploration of South African drug culture in the ’90s. The sub-culture reflects the changing racial and economic landscape of South Africa – a landscape where the future is more uncertain than ever, and drug use has exploded. A one-hour fix comes in at $70,000.

The moderately named Bad Habits is a 6 x 24-minute look at serial killers. (South Africa has the second highest incidence of serial killers in the world.) The series will look at the killers’ background, communities, victims and actions. The goal is to try to comprehend what seems to be incomprehensible – the urge to kill for self-gratification. The series is being completed with the help of South Africa’s chief forensic psychologist Micki Pistorius, a world-renowned expert on serial killers. (Everybody needs a hobby.) The price for the series? A rather unthreatening $120,000.

IMAX of the north

by Leo Rice-Barker (Playback)

Montreal-based Coscient Group’s large-format film subsidiary, SDA Panorama, has resumed shooting on their first IMAX production, Symbol of the North. Some early footage was shot last fall in Northern Quebec, with additional photography planned this summer in Sweden.

‘Symbol of the North is a celebration of the rugged and still uncharted polar region, its peoples and principal migratory animals,’ says Andre Picard, president of SDA Panorama.

Symbol of the North is budgeted at CDN$5.5 million and will be released in IMAX theaters in June 2000. The film is produced in association with the Swedish Museum of Natural History, Imagica Corporation of Japan, Tourisme Quebec, the St-Felicien Zoo, and the Nunavik Tourism Association. Screenwriters are Georges-Hebert Germain (in collaboration with David Homel) and Saami documentarian John E. Utsi. Martin Dignard is producing and Bill Reeve is the director. Picard and Desiree Edmar of the Swedish Museum of Natural History are exec producers.

Picard is also coproducing Journey of Man, a 3-D imax film featuring the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil. Hydro-Quebec is the film’s principal sponsor. Iridium and Chlorophylle are also sponsors.

SDA Panorama’s principal investment partner is Capital Communications CDPQ, a subsidiary of the Caisse de depot du Quebec.

Picard is a former VP film with the Imax Corporation. His large-format producer credits include Rolling Stones at the Max, the first-ever large-format feature, Titanica, and the Oscar-nominated Fires of Kuwait.

Coscient Group retains worldwide distribution rights to Symbol of the North.

Mipdoc market simulation

(with files from Mary Ellen Armstrong)

Pat Ferns, Canada’s most stimulating simulator and president of the Banff Television Festival, hosted the tenth annual Market Simulation last month at MIPDOC in Cannes. With a supporting cast of Anna Glogowsky (Canal+), Helen Gratten (Explore International), Renate Roginas (Media Finance International), and Chris Haws (Discovery Europe), Fern dissected five new projects – most with a distinctly European slant.

The first iron in the fire was J.H. Lartigue, My 20th Century, a proposal by Cineteve in Paris. The 52-minute film tells the history of France as depicted in the photographs of Jacques-Henri Lartigue, one of that country’s most famous photographers. The production is accompanied by a Fr 3 million budget (US$485,000), one third of which is already in place. Helen Gratten wasn’t interested, but suggested Channel 4. Haws, however, countered by saying C4 ‘doesn’t have the imagination anymore,’ and thought the producers should try London Weekend Television instead. In the crowd, Kim Thomas (formerly of DK Vision and a new acquisition exec for London’s NVC Arts), thought the project was ‘very attractive,’ and expressed some interest. Peter Worsley of Europe Images International thought they should try Northern Europe or Japan. Haws suggested People and Arts or PBS.

Next came The Arrow (see for a previous story), a project from GN Communications in Tel Aviv. The 52-minute production revolves around the alleged failure of the Patriot missile to protect Israel from Iraqi scuds during the Gulf War, and the subsequent development of an Israeli anti-missile missile system. The doc has a price tag of US$200,000, $50,000 of which is already in place. Chris Haws expressed concern over what he considered: ‘scare mongering and Israeli propaganda,’ but suggested Frontline as a possible outlet – even though the topic was probably too sensitive. Roginas suggested that the producers find political or private money, but that proposal was immediately rejected by the producer on ethical grounds. None of the panelists were overly sympathetic.

The Mysteries of Virgin Mary’s Apparitions from Galaxie Presse in Paris was next up. The 52-minute project intends to show how the incredible number of apparitions of Mary serve to sate our need for the supernatural and holiness. Almost all of the Fr 2.3 million (US$370,000) is already in place, and the producers were only looking for Fr 350,000. Helen Gratten thought it would be a difficult project to place, but Haws thought otherwise – although he did point out: ‘I have a sense – with the greatest respect – that this will be very French.’ When asked what that meant, he clarified by saying: ‘It won’t sell.’ Roginas thought it was a ‘purely European project. [Look for] pre-sales, not a coproduction, possibly with an Italian partner…’ Spain was also considered a prime territory.

City Cabs, a production of Palazzina Productions in The Netherlands, fared a little better. The project is a 13 x 52-minute series, using cab drivers as tour guides in international cities. The producers’ aim is to see what kind of lore and practical information can be gleaned from the drivers-turned-diplomats. Considering the small (US$45,000 an episode) budget, the production had remarkable production values. One third of the budget was already in place, and judging by the reaction of the audience the rest wouldn’t be hard to come by. Discovery Canada’s Trina McQueen suggested talking to Life Network in Canada. Toronto’s Sleeping Giant (a production company seemingly on everybody’s lips in Cannes) was interested in doing a coproduction deal, if they could get 20% of the elements required for investment from the Canadian government.

The main concern from the panel was length. Gratten had a problem with the hour, thinking it was too long to sustain interest. Kim Thomas suggested half hours, with hours for video (required, she said, to support a $13.95 retail price). Chris Haws actually liked the project – if it went to half hours – and suggested the Travel Channel.

The final pitch came from Fit Productions in Paris. Their When the World Spoke Arabic is planned as a 12 x 26-minute series looking at the time when Western civilization wallowed in the Middle Ages, and Arabian culture boomed in a cultural and scientific renaissance. The budget for the series is US$1.8 million, with two-thirds already in place. The producer estimated that 20% of the series would come from archives, and another 25% would be made up of expert interviews.

When asked about the production, Haws replied: ‘If I knew what the series was, I’d be able to answer the question. I think this is unfocused presently.’ He suggested People and Arts, or another U.S. broadcaster, but was concerned about number of episodes. He suggested retooling for a 3 x 60-minute, and highlighted the opportunities in publishing and other ancillaries. Helen Gratten thought that the series ‘has a cable and satellite feel. [It's not meant for] mainstream terrestrial.’ She suggested that the producers should consider ‘getting a distributor for an advance and to help them build across more media.’

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.