Non-Fiction To Go

Natural History...
July 1, 2000

Natural History

All things great and small

Amsterdam-based producer/distributor Off The Fence Productions and Johannesburg’s Wild Side/Aqua Vision Productions are at work on a 13 x 30-minute series called Great Rivers of Africa (w/t), which explores the aquatic lifelines of the African wilderness. The series will explore (both above and below the water line) the wildlife that depend on these rivers for survival. The rivers covered in the series include the raging Zambezi as well as the humble Hoanib, a river that flows only once per year. Set to wrap in the fall of 2001, the series has a budget of about US$80,000 per episode.

Off the Fence has also just completed its first feature effort as well. The Great Dance is a 75-minute film about a race between man and prey in the Kalahari desert. During the contest, a San hunter attempts to run down an animal, tracking it at high speed in 120 degree weather, until he or his prey collapses from exhaustion. This race to the death is rarely attempted, and has never before been filmed.

The film is also available in a one-hour television format, and was produced in collaboration with South Africa’s Aardvark Productions, Earthrise Productions, Liquid Pictures, as well as KirchMedia, E.TV and Primedia Pictures.


(In and) Out of Africa

Our memories of a place are often very different from the real McCoy, the details blurred by the passage of time, the setting mentally preserved as we last witnessed it. With this in mind, Brussels-based Belgavox Productions is working on an 8 x 52-minute series about Africa, titled Resonance.

Each episode is devoted to a different African country, and features the reflections of an African national based away from his/her homeland, as compared to the images of the territory captured by a European cameraman. According to information provided by Muriel Ortsman of Belagavox, ‘The thread that will guide the production of the series is the meeting of the ways between these different views – the fantasy images of the one merging with the realism of the images filmed by the other.’ The budget per episode is US$189,000.

The two pilot programs, one on Mali and the other on Cameroon, will be ready to air by February 2001. Copro partners include Belgium-based Gourma Films, as well as African national broadcasters ORTM (from Mali) and CRTV (from Cameroon). Canal+ Belgium has already bought the Mali episode, and the prodco is in negotiations with additional broadcasters, including RTBF in Belgium, La Cinquieme in France and Radio Canada.

Belgavox is also currently working on another series, Stories from History. Budgeted at US$71,000 per episode, the 10 x 26-minute series looks at significant events from around the globe. The first two programs, ‘Germany Rediscovered’ and ‘Independence for the Congo,’ have already been completed, while the remaining episodes will be in production throughout the rest of this year and early next. No broadcasters or copro partners have signed on for the series as yet. SR


Get your own damn coffee

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a waitress/ female food service engineer? In film and television, they are sometimes portrayed as the bitter woman with the heart of gold, the disillusioned glamour girl, or even the seasoned slattern – but what are they really like? In The Secret Life of Waitresses, Toronto’s Moira Holmes & Associates will follow six women as they go about their daily life, both on and off the job. The feature-length doc will be shot on digital video (with some 16mm and 8mm) and may even feature a ‘waitress-cam’ (à la Ele-Tele). The producers promise you will never look at waitresses the same way again.

Ready for late fall of this year, Canadian broadcasters TVOntario, WTN, SCN, and access have already signed up. The film will be distributed by Montreal’s Films Transit International. The tab for this feature comes to about US$240,000.

Deeper shade of blue

Munich’s H5B5 Media is working on a project that will result in both a 90-minute large-format feature and a TV documentary. Both dubbed Ocean Men, the films will focus on the staggering free-diving (no air, no apparatus) records being set by Pipin Ferreras and Umberto Pelizzari, the current world champions of the discipline. With a single breath, they dive to depths of over 160 meters (525 feet) – and live, which is the important bit. Free diving might now seem like an extreme sport, but for centuries it was a discipline learned by spear fisherman and pearl divers. Ferreras and Pelizzari are the undisputed kings of the sport now, and this year they will attempt to break their previous records.

The film will also explore the two divers’ training – from learning to breathe with Shaolin monks, to free diving with sharks. It will also consider the female Ama divers of Japan, considered by many to be the ancestors of modern free diving.

For the large-format film, H5B5 has secured the talents of Bob Talbot, an underwater cinematographer who has worked on such features as Free Willy, as well as a number of acclaimed IMAX docs. The TV aspect of the project will feature more of the background story, including the history of the sport and some of the dangers of deep dives. Both films will be completed by next spring. The budget for the projects is in the US$5.5 million region.


Adam, Ken Adam

London’s NVC Arts continues to stretch its boundaries, moving away from what might be considered normal fare for the music producer. One of the projects currently in development is The Man Who Made Bond, a 52-minute film looking at Ken Adam, the production designer whose work has helped make Ian Flemming’s character the stuff of film legend. Adam was the mind behind some of the technical toys that graced The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldfinger among others.

Besides his work on the Bond features, Adam’s imagination was also harnessed for a litany of other notable works, such as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Around the World in 80 Days. In 1996, Adam was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the movie industry.

The film will encompass Adam’s film career, but will also tackle his larger-than-life personal history, including his family’s escape from the Nazis, and his own exploits in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

The film is being made with Adam’s cooperation, and will be completed for the spring of next year, at a budget of about £200,000 (US$300,000).

Set to wrap for next summer, NVC Arts and London’s Tiger Aspect are also working on Beat Route II. Beat Route is a 6 x 26-minute series combining history, tourism and views of unique cultures, as told through the music of different lands. This series will focus on cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok and will come in at a budget of about £125,000 per episode.


Do what thou whilt…

London’s Airborne TV is working on an updated version of The Other Loch Ness Monster for release this summer. While Loch Ness is better known for her aquatic beastie, there is an oft-forgotten creature who was known to stalk her shores – Aleister Crowley. Crowley, the famous turn-of-the-century Satanist and all-around bad guy, practiced his dark rituals at Boleskin Lodge, on the shores of the Loch.

The production was originally a 30-minute effort by BBC Scotland, but the new version (which will be a copro with MacBeeb) will run to an hour, and will feature a more lengthy story than the original, including Crowley’s links with Nazi Germany and the English government, Crowley’s run-in with Mussolini, and the current state of the Golden Dawn Society in the U.S. Ready for this summer, the new production carries a budget of US$160,000.

Cloak and dagger

‘As a non-fiction producer, I’m constantly looking for new and unique content,’ says Robert Jaffe, president of L.A.-based Jaffe Productions. ‘Since no one had done an inside view of the CIA’s missions, I knew that a doc on the subject would make interesting viewing.’

Top Secret Missions of the CIA highlights a selection of the CIA’s most dangerous and challenging missions. The series premiered on the History Channel in the U.S. last year. The second season of 4 x 60-minute episodes is now in production, with air date yet to be confirmed. Each episode is budgeted in the region of US$165,000.

‘The CIA has a memorial wall at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia,’ Jaffe says. ‘The wall has 77 black stars that represent fallen CIA agents. The names and missions that accompany 20 of those stars have been revealed to the public, but the agency will not divulge any information pertaining to the remaining 57.’

Securing support for the show from the CIA’s top brass was a tad difficult, according to Jaffe. ‘It took a lot of cajoling and meetings to persuade the CIA to give us clearance to document the stories that have been widely published in books and journals,’ he recalls. ‘However, they were very happy with the first series, so about a hundred more doors have since opened to us.’

Featuring re-enactments of CIA missions, the new season includes interviews with E. Peter Earnest (former CIA chief of Soviet Operations Branch) and Duane Clarridge (former chief of the Counter Terrorism Center). Also interviewed are Dino Brugioni (a high-ranking officer in photo analysis department and founder of the National Photographic Interpretation Center) and David Murphy (former deputy chief of operations in Berlin). Simon Bacal


Things that go bump in the void

Discovery will be delving into the far reaches of the final frontier – thanks to a year-long initiative called 2001: A Discovery Space Journey, a series of 4 x 60-minute specials focusing on cutting edge developments in space. The series will debut this winter along with Discovery’s third ‘Watch With the World’ event, Inside The Space Station, a look at the building of the international space station.

Like previous ‘Watch With The World’ specials Raising The Mammoth and Cleopatra’s Palace: In Search of A Legend, the program will air in more than 100 countries and over 20 languages during primetime on the same day.

’2001 has always been associated with great space stories,’ says Mike Quattrone, executive VP and general manager of Discovery Channel U.S. ‘I was really attracted by the space station’s magnitude – it’s the largest thing built in the history of the world. And it will be an integral portion of our children’s lives.’ Quattrone says the show’s budget falls ‘within the seven-figure range.’

The other segments will include ’65 Worlds,’ which explores the solar system’s 65 moons, some of which are larger than Mercury and others smaller than Manhattan. The other two specials in the series are ‘Planet Storm,’ an exploration of weather patterns on other planets, and ‘Fireballs From Space: Comets, Asteroids and Meteors,’ which covers the celestial bodies that cross paths with Earth and sometimes threaten our existence. Simon Bacal

Dating… Then Babies

Hot dates and toddlers are the order of the day at Los Angeles-based Pie Town Productions, an independent headed up by partners Tara Sandler, Jennifer Davidson and Scott Templeton. Two of its top shows, A Dating Story and A Baby Story, are well into their second and third year of production respectively. Currently airing on TLC, both titles are comprised of 50 x 30-minute episodes, each budgeted under US$50,000.

A Dating Story features real-life matchmakers who set up two friends on an unscripted blind date. Candidates are selected by the producers after they have contacted the show via e-mail, or a special telephone hotline. ‘We conduct separate interviews with all three parties: the matchmaker, the guy and the girl,’ says Sandler, the show’s co-executive producer. ‘The audience learns a bit about their dating history, and hopefully understands why the matchmaker is setting these two people up on a blind date. We see the guy and girl separately preparing for their adventure, and we follow them on the date.’

Sandler recalls that the first season’s second match up did not go well for the blind daters. ‘During the date, we have the opportunity to approach each person individually and get their perspective on the date so far. On this date, the guy rolled his eyes and indicated that things were not good – so the remainder of the date went from polite to downright rudeness. He yelled at the waiter, and started yawning in front of the girl. Needless to say, there was no second date.’

However, Sandler insists that many dates end on a far more positive note. ‘One guy met his date at her home, and she had a little bunny rabbit in her hand when she opened the door,’ Sandler laughs. ‘From that point onwards things went very well – they had a wonderful dinner and went dancing. Today, they’re still seeing one another.’

Charting the lives of expectant parents, A Baby Story zeros in on pregnancy’s emotional challenges, and explores families’ dramatic moments of expecting, birthing and bringing baby into the home environment.

‘The series follows couples from the seventh month of pregnancy through to delivery,’ says supervising producer Christine Davis. ‘Basically, each episode comprises four acts. In Act one, we interview the couple. We find out how they met and their decisions to have children. Act two follows pre-natal activities, which include baby showers, yoga classes and hypnosis sessions. Act three is labor and delivery – we shoot the entire labor and delivery. In Act four, we return to the couple’s home and see how the baby is settling into the new family.’

In selecting couples for the show, the producers choose people who offer interesting stories and maintain healthy relationships. Couples are referred by midwives and hospitals, among other sources. ‘We pick happy couples who offer positive family environments,’ Davidson says. ‘This season we have some fabulous stories. One episode concerns a woman, whose husband and baby tragically drowned a couple of years ago. She’s now married and pregnant again – so her story is definitely an example of light at the end of the tunnel.’ Simon Bacal

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