Global Production

Crystal gazing
August 1, 2001

Crystal gazing

Wondering what you were going to do with that five minutes between reality shows? Toronto’s Ricochet Films has a solution – a collection of five-minute interstitial films that cover almost every aspect of life in the undersea world. The series, dubbed Ocean Crystals, will run to 75 films in total, packaged in thematic collections of six to 10 individual titles. Episodes include ‘Ice Pack’, ‘Shark Fury’, ‘Mammal Kingdom’ and ‘Deep Danger’. All are shot in 16mm and feature original music.

The collections are being distributed by Toronto’s Octapixx Worldwide, and will be ready to air by January of next year. The budget for each short is in the US$10,000 to $13,000 range. So far, Octapixx has completed presales with Canadian francophone broadcaster Canal D (meaning French dubbing will soon be completed), as well as RTL in the Netherlands.

Whither Eden?

The Living Edens is entering its sixth season this year, and plans are in the works to add four more titles to the fold. Produced by Washington’s Devillier Donegan Enterprises, in association with PBS, the four new shows will all be ready for the fall, with budgets that run in the US$800,000 region.

First up is ‘Temple of the Tiger: India’s Bandhavgarh Wilderness’. Produced by Harry Marshall (of Icon Films in the U.K.), the film focuses on the Bandhavgarh National Park, one of the most important tiger habitats in India. One of the main focal points of the story will be an abandoned temple that stands in the center of the park. Formerly the home of royalty, it now offers shelter to tigers, bats, monkeys and cobras.

Next is ‘The Lost World: Venezuela’s Ancient Tepuis’. Produced by Adrian Warren, the project examines the ecosystem of that part of the globe which was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Lost World, including Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall.

‘Arctic Oasis: Canada’s Duke of York Bay’ is being produced by Adam Ravetch, and will look at the Canadian north as it returns to life in the spring and summer. ‘Arctic Oasis’ will also focus on the life of an Inuit hunter as he teaches his son to survive in the harsh northern Canadian environment. (For the record, not all of Canada is that cold…)

The last Living Eden for the year is ‘Big Sur: California’s Wild Coast’. Undertaken by producer Bruce Reitherman, the film examines one of the most famous ecosystems in the world, both above and below the water.

Not in the Living Edens family, but wrapping soon, is Fleisherfilm’s The Power of Play. Produced in association with and distributed by DDE, this hour-long film is being produced for Animal Planet, and looks at the critical importance of play in the lives and development of both animals and humans. It examines the reasons behind play and how it has evolved. The film has a budget in the $500,000 area.

Giant waves and submarine killers

Ever have the urge to surf an 80-foot-high wall of water? Of course you haven’t. Most well-adjusted people would not. But five of the world’s best surfers have. They were towed out into the waters off Hawaii as El Nino whipped up the coast in 1998, leaving destruction in its wake. Produced by Minneapolis’ Tremendous! Entertainment, Condition Black is a one-hour special for the ‘Nature’ strand at Thirteen/WNET. Large format producer/director Jon Long captured all the stunning 70mm action around what are considered the highest waves ever surfed. Airing on PBS in winter 2002, the US$330,000 film has found presales to National Geographic Channels International and Channel 4 in the U.K.

Tremendous! has also begun shooting The Wild Bunch Ranch, a 13 x 30-minute series that pays a visit to the home of Susan Eirich and Jean Simpson, two animal trainers raising a family that consists of bears, wolves, foxes, wolverines, big cats and chickens. The animals earn their keep by acting in movies and commercials. The series is in production for U.S. home video and is about $45,000 an episode. Wild Bunch will wrap this December.

Was the U.S. Navy responsible for the largest stranding of beak whales in history? Scientists performing necropsy on the whales discovered that they likely died of physical trauma caused by an extremely loud noise. Tremendous! is examining whether or not the U.S. Navy’s new anti-submarine systems could have been the culprit, as well as what impact the system might be having on other marine life. Ready for the fourth quarter of 2002, the one-hour Killer Sound Waves is budgeted at $350,000, significantly less than the U.S. Navy’s anti-submarine program.

Our next caller is a newt from Shropshire

Life empty? Kids left home? Have you considered ponying up for a black rhino? Norwich’s Imago Productions has eight hours of continuous programming on the slate that is aimed at giving six endangered species a home (well… figuratively). Adopt A Wild Animal is a conservational outreach effort that is now in its second year. It will broadcast on Animal Planet International and Discovery Network Europe, and it brings together conservational charities, animal experts and celebrities to raise environmental awareness. This year’s animal celebrities are lemurs, orangutans, bears, chimps, tigers and black rhinos. Filming will take place throughout Europe, the U.S. and Africa. This day of programming will hit the air at the end of November, and is budgeted at about US$275,000.

Imago is also hard at work on a 50-minute film called Legends of the Gobi, which has been picked up for distribution by Hit Wildlife in the U.K. Legends is the tale of life in the Trans-Altai Gobi desert of southwestern Mongolia. It follows Choy-jin, a legend among desert nomads, who brings viewers a unique perspective on the only wild camels left on Earth, the bactrian camels. Ready for November, the film is destined for National Geographic and has a budget of about $300,000.

A Family Affair

From South Africa’s Wild Hooters comes a one-hour film called Ground Hornbills (w/t) that takes a cameraman’s-eye-view of the world of the largest hornbill on the planet, the Southern African hornbill. Standing three feet tall, and dressed in steel gray plumage, these birds run a cooperative group which sees a half dozen or more working to raise the young. Able to consume anything up to the size of a small rabbit (with snakes, lizards, tortoises and almost anything small enough to wrestle down on the menu), these birds have a unique hunting approach because they kill while out on patrol (rather than taking their prey somewhere off-camera to do the deed…).

The film will concentrate on a group of seven birds that cameraman Kim Wolhuter has been following for some time. The central character of the movie will be a one-year-old hornbill that still limps from last year’s attack by a martial eagle. Ready for December 2002, the budget will be in the US$400,000-plus region.

Baby steps

Before they thundered their way through North and South America, they were just somebody’s baby. And to prove it, Toronto’s Paula Salvador Productions is working on Dinosaur Babies: The North American Story, and a counterpart film Dinosaur Babies: The South American Story. Both 50-minute efforts look at the rarest of finds – the remains of baby dinos.

Only about 10 different kinds of dino baby fossils have been found throughout the world, and most of those have come from the Badlands, a dry stretch of ground that borders Canada and the U.S. In the North American film, viewers will visit the dig sites and meet the paleontologists who have found and studied these remains. Toronto’s Hall Train Studios has created the little beasts in CGI, and the producers will use contemporary animals to extrapolate the likely behavior of the subject dinosaurs. Ready for November, the film is being produced in association with the Canadian Television Fund as well as broadcasters Discovery Canada, Discovery Networks, the Knowledge Network in Canada and Société Radio-Canada, a Canadian French-language pubcaster. The US$450,000 film is being distributed by Ellis Entertainment in Toronto.

The South American incarnation of this story looks to discoveries of thousands of loaf-of-bread-sized Sauropod eggs in Argentina, including 12 with embryos still in them. Computer generation will recreate these and other dinos from the area, to give viewers a glimpse into life for the littlest of dinosaurs (well, before they grew up). In development, the film has a budget around $460,000.

Those little worries

Just as you were getting ready to start sleeping again (or eat cheese…), Lyon-based Mona Lisa Productions is getting ready to release more installments of its Squatters – Wildlife on Man series. The first four films (‘Flea Zone’, ‘Cannibal Mites’, ‘Fly Wars’ and ‘Termites Attack’), have already won 45 international awards to date. The new episodes will also take advantage of Mona Lisa’s Environmental Scanning Electronic Microscope (ESEM), a filming technique the producer has patented.

Ready for this fall is ‘Mutant Mosquitoes’, an hour on one of the tiniest scourges to both man and beast. Inhabiting the planet since the dinosaurs roamed, mosquitoes carry viruses that threaten dreaded diseases, like malaria and now the West Nile Virus. The episode will focus on both the mosquitoes themselves and our war against them, from Singapore to New York City.

Produced with France 2, La Cinquième, Discovery Channels, and French funding bodies IRD and CNRS, several more episodes are also in the works, including episode six, which is titled ‘Louse Hunt’. The budget for each episode is about US$325,000. Start scratching now.

Also from Mona Lisa comes Heroes of Nature, a 10 x 52-minute series coproduced with France 3. Heroes looks at 10 people who have dedicated their lives to protecting a particular species or animal. Each episode focuses on one hero and their team, using a ‘live DV’ look, lots of modern music and a mixture of people and wildlife footage. The first episode in the series will be released this fall, and features Canadian Paul Watson and his fight to protect whales and other sea creatures. Six more episodes are in pre-production and will be released by the end of 2003. Each has a budget of about $325,000.

Picture this…

Sierra Club Productions, the film arm of the eco-group that boasts a membership of about 800,000, launched last year with the mandate to make fiction and factual films that ‘reflect the Sierra Club’s belief that every person is connected to, inspired by, and responsible for the natural world.’

One of the first productions to come from the unit will be a comprehensive biography called Ansel Adams, a look at the world-renowned photographer. Born in 1902, Adams photographed wild America for almost 100 years, introducing the world (and many Americans) to this vast country. The second focus of the film will be Adams’ commitment to nature, and his belief that man has a moral commitment to the natural world.

Produced by Ric Burns’ New York-based Steeplechase Films and the Sierra Club (in co-operation with the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust), the 60-minute film is slated to appear on PBS in spring 2002. The budget for this project will be just under US$1 million.

The Sierra Club is also working on a 3 x 1-hour series called Getting There: Transportation of the Future. Looking at alternative transportation options and new technologies that save time and energy, the series is a humorous peek at where we are, where we thought we’d be, and where we’re going in the future of personal transportation. The average American spends more than four years of their life commuting, and this series seeks a better way to spend those hours. Getting There will be hosted by non-driver Scott Simon, host of the Weekend Edition Saturday program on National Public Radio.

The series is being coproduced with Seattle’s PBS affiliate KCTS (which is also a member of public television’s LARK Production Consortium). Still in development, the series has a budget of about $325,000 per hour.

Tall, tall tales

The first fruits of the Cosmos Studios/A&E agreement are beginning to take shape, big shape. The initial project will involve dinosaurs – really big dinosaurs – the second-largest to have walked the Earth.

In Egypt in 1910, German paleontologist Ernst Stromer discovered four new species of dinosaur from the Cretaceous period of 100 million years ago. Among them was the Spinosaurus, a T-Rex sized dino with a five-foot sail running down its back. Unfortunately, the dig site was lost during an Allied bombing raid in WWII and had not been located since.

The site was rediscovered during a recent expedition, and nearly 6,000lbs. of bones have been pulled up, including the remains of a newly discovered dinosaur genus: the Paralitian Stromeri, which grew to 100 feet long and weighed about 70 tons. The expeditions and the discovery were captured by the cameras of California’s MPH Productions (producers of, among other things, the Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge in Australia), which also provided seed money for the new dig. Cosmos Studios, which financed the seven-week expedition, will coproduce and will release the two-hour film The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt theatrically before it goes to A&E.

Ready for the end of this year, the US$1.5 million effort signals the beginning of research at the site, so expect a revisitation. The film will be shot in Germany, the U.S. and Egypt, and will feature CGI animation of the lost dinos.

Dog meet dog

In case you were wondering if hippos, rhinos or elephants would make good baby-sitters, think again. According to Panthera Productions, they are three animals we consider to be ‘gentle giants’, when in fact they are anything but. Ready for December, Attack! Africa’s Man Killers is a terrifying look at these three thugs in sheep’s clothing. The one-hour special was commissioned and is being distributed by Australia’s Southern Star Wild & Real, and has a budget in the US$300,000 range.

On a less disturbing note, Southern Star will also be offering Cats in Crisis, a one-hour film about one of the most endangered big cats on the planet, the cheetah. Only five African countries can boast stable cheetah populations. One of the most successful programs has been the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Produced by Panthera Productions, this hour will be completed by February at a budget of about $300,000.

Southern Star will also be offering a one-hour film from Wild Dog Productions called Double Pack. (The hour will also serve as a pilot for a continuing series.) Although separated by continents, the wolf and the wild dog were once part of the same family, and both are still the most successful predators on their respective continents. This film follows two packs, one in the snow-covered north and one in the sub-tropical south. Ready for spring 2002, the hour carries a budget of about $200,000.

Stranded on a desert island

Rome’s Paneikon has a number of projects on the go, including a 2 x 52-minute series called The Islanders (w/t), a doc that examines how life has developed and adapted over time on some of the world’s islands. The series will focus on species that have become, as the producers put it, ‘prisoners in the Garden of Eden’, developing in unique ways in isolated environments. Ready for December, this series is being undertaken for Docstar, and will be shot in Super 16. The budget for the two episodes is roughly US$600,000.

Does domestication equal slavery, or is it a clever survival instinct? Paneikon explores that question in Their Choice Is Man, a 13 x 26-minute series looking at everything from the domestication of dogs and cats, to horses, pigs and elephants. The series suggests domestication might be a clever strategy to stave off slow eradication, a fate some say the horse may have faced had it not found a partner in humanity. The series uses contemporary stories as the basis for the examination of each species, and will tell stories from 13 different countries. Now in development, the series has a budget of about $800,000.

The UN estimates that almost a quarter of the land on Earth is threatened with desertification, and thus the survival of one billion people living in 100 nations is at risk. In China alone, deserts grow at the rate of 2,500 square kilometers per year. Paneikon will tackle this topic in the 52-minute Oases of the Mind, a look at the reasons behind the accelerated desertification of the Earth, and what can be done to stop it. It will research ancient techniques used to keep sand from advancing and look at the relationship between man and environment. The oasis will play a strong part in the story, a representation of a fragile coexistence in a harsh climate. Currently in development, Oases carries a budget of about $200,000.

Getting better all the time

In western Australia, there is a group of wildlife rescuers who are on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Ready for any and every emergency, the doctors of the Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre cope with exotic animals – from tiger snakes to kangaroos, dolphins and sharks – and handle over 1,000 cases a year.

Aussie Animal Rescue is a 13 x 30-minute observational series that follows the animals in need as they’re brought in for emergency attention. Ready for September 2002, the series is being produced by Perth’s Prospero Productions for Discovery Channels International (for Animal Planet), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Screenwest, and is being distributed by Granada Media International. The series carries a budget of about AUD$1.5 million (US$800,000).

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