Production News

March 1, 2000


Give me the pinã colada and no one gets hurt

Florida’s TVS (The Television Syndication Company) says interest for their HD travel programming kept them hopping at this year’s NATPE in New Orleans. High Definition Travel, which will run to a total of 117 x 30-minute episodes, is being produced by TVS’ in-house prodco White Mountain Entertainment and coproducers around the world. Delivery for the series will run throughout 2000, with a similar number of projects on the slate for the next four years.

This year’s 117 episodes are broken down into a number of series: From Sea to Shining Sea (52 episodes, looking at each U.S. state and featuring some of America’s best-loved cities), and 13 episodes each of: Cote d’Azur (life on the French Riviera), Fiesta (festivals held in the cities and towns of Spain), Australia’s Icons, Scenic Switzerland, and The Ultimate Escape (places where you can get away from it all – if you’ve got the cash). Plans are underway for a number of ancillaries, including merchandise, travel opportunities and online, to name only a few.

TVS is in negotiations with several broadcasters, with announcements likely pending for MIPTV. Each episode of High Definition Travel will run for about US$100,000.

Also being distributed by TVS, TacFORCE has just begun production. Produced by Orlando’s Bruno White Entertainment, the 13 x 30-minute HD series will track the world’s elite fighting forces as they train for combat emergencies around the world.

How about a series about elite fighting forces on romantic getaways?


Little miracles

Claire Panke is a veteran nurse turned filmmaker, with ten years experience in a neonatal intensive care unit. Her unique background offers her a perfect perspective for her film A Chance To Grow, a 52-minute effort that follows three families experiencing the world of the neonatal icu for the first time. Besides examining the work of the doctors and nurses (and the miracles they are sometimes able to perform), the film will also tackle some of the ethical issues surrounding birth.

The film was shot on miniDV, transferred to BetaSP and mastered in DigiBeta. Although Panke (and her New York company, Little One Productions) developed the film with her own money, she has since attracted the attention of New York’s Gabriel Films (Jonathan Stack is serving as executive producer) and Discovery in the U.S.

The US$260,000 film, which has just been accepted to the Double Take Doc Fest,will be ready to air this summer.

Programming in your own backyard

Trucks, shovels, cranes and giant bulldozers are among the heavy equipment covered in Monster Machines, a 4 x 1-hour series from Kaos Entertainment. Based in Santa Monica, California, the company (formed by John Scheer and Rob Englehardt in 1995) has previously produced such projects as Train Wrecks, Super Fires!, Super Racers, Skywatch and Cyberwarriors.

With a budget of approximately US$1 million, Monster Machines is currently slated to enter production in March, and will be seen on TLC near the end of this year.

‘About two years ago, I became fascinated and engrossed by construction sites,’ says Scheer. ‘After Rob and I formulated a proposal for a series on these things, I met with Steven Cheskin [VP of programming at TLC] and discovered that a big building was going up next to Discovery’s headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. There was a massive hole in the ground, and the cranes were grinding away. When Steve told me that he dreamed about doing a show on these things, I pitched him our idea. That’s how the whole thing started.’ ‘Earth Movers,’ which will explore bulldozers, scrapers, paving machines and dump trucks, is scheduled to be the first episode.

‘When it comes to camera movements and shooting techniques, we’re doing a variety of things to keep the show interesting, informative and entertaining,’ says Englehardt. ‘For instance, we’ll place a camera onto a bulldozer, so viewers will feel that they’re riding on the machine – especially when a car drives by the bulldozer. Thanks to our camera work, they’ll believe they’re towering over the car from about 20 feet. Additionally, a pedestrian may walk past the tires of a dump truck, which are about 15 feet in height, so people will hopefully obtain a good perspective of these things’ size and stature.’

Computer animation will also be an integral part of the series. ‘We’ll composite a shot of a crane with images of the Statue of Liberty piled on top of one another – something which will also emphasize the machines’ height and power,’ reveals Englehardt.

Other episodes will explore equipment such as the Newell Shredder – a machine capable of shredding a car into bits and pieces of metal within 30 seconds.

‘We want to transform these things into characters,’ says Scheer, ‘so we’ll explore the machines’ evolution, the competition between their manufacturers and their many capabilities – elements which will hopefully keep the audience interested and watching.’ Simon Bacal

Real life, real turtles

These are exciting times for GRB Entertainment. The L.A.-based production house – which has operations in both Canada (GRB Great North Productions) and Berlin (GRB Deutschland) – will churn out more than 170 hours of original production this year. The company’s busy work schedule includes 13 x 30-minute episodes of Extreme Contact, featuring the ongoing adventures of Mehgan Heaney-Grier, Mark Rackley and Manny Puig. In each episode, Contact’s fearless hosts take on the predatory creatures of the Florida Keys and swamps – such as snapping turtles, sharks and giant sea bass. Production of the series, which debuts on Animal Planet in March, will continue until early July.

The company is also producing 13 half-hour episodes of Medical Story for Discovery Health. Currently in production until November, the series is slated to debut in July.

‘We’re focusing on a full variety of medical problems, procedures, diagnoses, accidents, recovery and other medical issues which people experience through life,’ says Gary R. Benz, GRB’s president and CEO. ‘We see the patients, we discover their health problems, we meet the doctors, and we learn about their options.’

grb spends approximately US$300,000 on each one-hour episode of its primetime cable shows.

Formed by Benz in 1987, GRB Entertainment has also produced such documentaries as Medal of Honor for tnt, War Dogs for Discovery, Real Heroes for Spelling Entertainment and The World’s Wildest Daredevils for Fox Family Channel. Simon Bacal


Kilted dead in 3D!

Next to the cuisine, the scariest thing in Scotland may be its ghosts. The Scots have spent centuries whacking each other with Claymores, and in the process have created countless haunted places, filled with the terrifying and the unexplainable.

Halloween 3-D is a new production in the works from German producer/distributor Telcast International. Although known more for their underwater exploits, Telcast is surfacing to explore the drier haunts of Scotland. Along with parapsychology students from the University of Glasgow, the filmmakers will witness the events of one Halloween night in three dimensions, as the students conduct their uncanny postgraduate experiments, and talk with six `seemingly’ normal people who have had encounters with the inexplicable and foreboding.

The one-hour special has been sold to ProSieben in Germany, and will be completed by spring of this year at a budget of US$1 million.

If you’re planning to watch, don’t forget your 3-D glasses. And if you’re headed to Scotland, pack a lunch.


Unemployed men with swords

Produced and distributed by Paris-based Ampersand, Samurai Blues is a 52-minute special which searches out the remaining descendants of the Japanese Samurai, and profiles their struggle to preserve the Samurai traditions in the modern world. The film is Ampersand’s final Asian effort. They have already filmed docs in Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and India, all in an effort at capturing ancient traditions before they are erased by modernization. As Ampersand puts it, they’re trying to stop the time machine for a short while, and capture the richness and beauty of Asian civilizations.

With the backing of La Cinquième in France, Samurai will be completed by June. Both a French and an English version will be available. The budget for the hour is over US$200,000.

Pills for Pubcasters

Warning: TVOntario, the regional Canadian pubcaster, might be trying to pull a fast one. And you may never know.

But it might not make a difference.

Placebo is a 2 x 1-hour science documentary about the placebo effect – a scientific mystery that tricks people into making themselves better. The first hour of the series is dubbed ‘Double Blind’ (w/t), and follows a psychiatric drug trial in which half the patients have been given an experimental drug and the other have only been allotted a placebo. Besides being a medical whodunit? (or, in this case, who’sonit?), the show will also address the medical ethics of experimenting on humans. Six to eight patients will be covered over the course of the hour.

The second episode is entitled ‘Sugar Pill’ (w/t), and will delve into the scientific mystery of the placebo effect. The hour also tries to evaluate whether or not tricking people into getting better is a valid treatment in and of itself. The main focus of the story will be on the evidence of the power of mind over body.

Produced by David Way of TVO Documentaries, independent production and science, the series is also being executive produced by Rudy Buttignol. Ready for air in the fall of next year, the production will soon begin shooting, at a budget estimated to be US$180,000. At press time, discussions were underway with TVO’s traditional U.S. partners.

Also on the sked at tvo is Party Girls. Pitched as a Two in a Room at Banff two years ago, the long format doc is finally underway, and will wrap in time for The View From Here’s 2001 lineup. Produced by Ottawa-based Les Productions Karalex, with the help of coproducers TVO and the BBC, the film concentrates on the phenomenon of Tupperware parties. The budget for the special is about US$300,000.

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.