On the Slate

March 1, 2002


Caring for the fallen

It didn’t take long for Looks Medienproduktionen (founded in 1995 in Rostock, Germany) to attract significant outside interest. Just last year the company became a subsidiary of Zurich-based media concern Distefora. With the new partnership and a permanent staff of eight, Looks has begun work on a number of ambitious projects. Versions of the following films will run between 45 and 52 minutes for German television, but the producers have feature versions in the planning stage.

Erwin Kowalke and his wife Gisela have a unique calling: they hunt for the dead. In the forests and fields of Germany, the couple searches for the forgotten fallen of the Second World War – pilots who crashed and were lost, and soldiers who died where they fought, only to be omitted from recorded memory.

The couple looks for corpses and skeletons, trying to identify them so they can be taken from the missing-in-action lists and properly laid to rest. They and their work are profiled in the film Hunters of the Fallen, a project being undertaken by Looks, ORB Germany and (which will handle international distribution). Ready for late 2002, the film carries a budget of about US$300,000.

Most hospitals spend as much as they can on the care of their patients: state-of-the-art labs, surgeries, X-ray rooms, ambulances – the whole package. Most, however, don’t cater exclusively to birds. A Hospital for the King of the Skies profiles an institution that cares solely for the falcons of wealthy Arabian oil barons. Once a necessity for hunting, falcons have become an important status symbol, and no amount is spared for their well-being.

Ready for May 2002, the film is being produced with Discovery Germany for VOX in Germany, Paris prodco ZED and French broadcaster Planète. The film also enjoys support from the German Filmfoundation MSH. King of the Skies carries a budget of about $300,000.

What can the toilet tell you about the state of society? Apparently, quite a bit. Originating in the deserts of Mesopotamia and evolving into what we are now familiar with, the toilet is a fixture in which society is reflected (sometimes more accurately than others). The Cultural History of the Toilet will wrap near the end of this year at a budget of about $250,000. It is currently being considered by a German outlet.

More experienced than Jimi Hendrix

Paulist Productions of Pacific Palisades, California, has found inspiration for its current slate upon high. Soon wrapping for The History Channel in the U.S. is the one-hour Judas: Traitor or Friend, produced for about US$170,000. Up next is a massive undertaking called The Jesus Experience, an eight-hour look at the place Jesus holds in several different cultures, including early European, Latin American, African and Asian. This new series comes with a price tag of about $1.7 million, but the producers have friends in high places…

Great leaders (and notable nurses)

Although Doc en Stock is just wrapping Rape as a Weapon of War, a film about the sexual crimes committed in Bosnia in the mid-’90s, and Harkis: The Crime, on the killing of 100,000 Harki by the French army and the Algerian National Liberation Front, the Paris-based prodco has a number of new projects ready for production.

Leaders in the Making is a 10 x 52-minute series that recounts the ascent of 10 different 20th century leaders, from birth to prominence. Leaders begins with a profile of former Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin. The series has already attracted the participation of ARTE France, and will wrap at the end of 2003. Each episode has a budget of approximately (euro)300,000 (US$260,000).

The French Bridget Jones is a 52-minute special produced with Canal+ for a 2003 release date. Along the lines of the similarly titled feature film, this hour follows two women in their daily lives: film critic Elisabeth Quinn and director Sylviane Grisoni. Bridget Jones has a budget of about (euro)230,000 ($200,000).

Being A Nurse is a 52-minute doc that looks at the daily life of these little-understood caregivers. Produced by Doc en Stock for France 3, the film will wrap this autumn with a budget of about (euro)275,000 ($240,000).

The Mystery of Flight MA 20

Hungary’s Markerfilm is trying to solve a mystery. Flight MA 20 from Budapest to Beirut was 10 kilometers away from a safe landing and showed no signs of trouble when it suddenly disappeared from the flight controller’s screens. Two hours later, investigators discovered the plane had dropped into the sea. Péter Pintér wants to know why. Pintér is the son of the lost pilot and is himself a pilot for the same airline. The puzzle becomes more complex when the cargo and passengers are factored in: 49 representatives of the Palestine Liberation Front, a single Hungarian national, the crew, and – some suspect – a cargo hold full of weapons.

Markerfilm plans to wrap the film this year, and has begun initial investigations into the whereabouts of the wreckage. They have attracted some interest, but as of press time, no one had signed on the dotted line. With a planned length of 52 minutes, the special carries a budget under US$300,000.


Paris-based Point du Jour will be revisiting history in the coming months, in a slightly different way. Rather than examine the great societies as entities unto themselves, the producers plan to take a horizontal slice through the space-time continuum, comparing great cultures at the same moment in time. At the Times of Charlemagne will compare the world of Charlemagne to those around him, giving viewers a better idea of what history was like at that moment. Available in either a 90-minute or 2 x 50-minute format, the project is being undertaken for arte and will be ready for September at a budget of approximately (euro)500,000 (US$430,000). Look for the approach to continue in At the Times of the Crusades, which the producers will tackle next.

Continuing its ‘Guardians of the Dream’ series, Point du Jour will wrap The Pyramids this October. Like previous episodes, this 52-minute film examines history through the eyes of contemporary ‘guardians’ who labor to keep the past from disappearing from memory. Produced for Voyage in France, the film has a budget of about (euro)100,000 ($87,000).


Diamonds in the rough

Everybody loves a get-rich-quick scheme. At least that’s what Indigo Films in California is hoping. (It’s a safe bet…) Indigo is working on a one-hour special for the Travel Channel in the U.S. called America’s Best Places To Find Money and Treasure. This hour takes viewers to a number of locations where they have a chance to get rich quick, including a mountain in North Carolina where a woman found a 1,000 carat ruby, and a place in California where a man panning for gold found 800 ounces in a single day. In production from March until July, the budget for this project is approximately US$125,000.

No hablo…

If you’ve ever wondered what your dog has been saying about you, don’t miss Talking to Animals, a 4 x 30-minute (or 2 x 60-minute) series being undertaken by the BBC, Discovery U.S. and London-based distributor Indigo Factual. Ready for August, the series looks at the ways the wild kingdom communicates. Whether by singing in frequencies unheard by the human ear, or through scent, or by way of polarized light, animals carry on complex conversations the likes of which we are only beginning to understand. The series presenter, Charlotte Uhlenbroek (herself an author of a thesis on chimp calls), will take viewers into habitats as varied as the frozen arctic, the Australian outback, or even the virtual world of a computer-generated habitat. This project will run to about US$2.2 million.

The same three partners have teamed up with Maziar Bahari Productions in Iran to work on a 51-minute doc called And Along Came A Spider. (Maziar Bahari’s most recent effort was the film Football: Iranian Style.) Ready for May, this $130,000 film explores the controversial history of the so-called Spider Killings, which took place in Mashhad, Iran, between July 2000 and July 2001. The killings victimized prostitutes, and as such were celebrated by Islamic hard-liners who felt the murders cleansed society of a corrupt element. Saeid Hanaei, a 39 year-old builder, eventually confessed to the murders, claiming they were in accordance with his Islamic teaching, but a district court in Mashhad disagreed and sentenced him to death. The film will try to put the murders into the context of Islamic society, and will include an interview with a young Iranian prostitute, examining her family life, her clients and her trade, in a country where adultery is a capital offence.

How would four Western businessmen manage in the world of the tribal Maasai? That’s the question behind Warrior School, a one-hour film produced by Angeleye Film & Television in London. Distributed by Indigo Factual, this film follows four businessmen (German, Japanese, French and British) as they attempt to spend one week as pupils in warrior school. The Maasai value three basic values: respect, responsibility and bravery – but, how will these traits translate between cultures? The film follows the four participants into their everyday worlds to see how the experience affected them (and for that matter, how it affected the Maasai). In development, the film has a budget near $300,000.

TV with bite

Ojai, California’s Thomas Horton Associates will take to the waves for more adventure in the coming year. Some of the first items on the slate are Shark Attack Files IV and Shark Attack Rescuers, two more films for Discovery’s ‘Shark Week’, set to air in August (bringing THA’s total to 30 hours of shark films since 1987). Shooting for the 50-minute specials will take place off the coasts of Mexico, the U.S. (including Hawaii), the Bahamas, and Australia (rough life…). The budget for these shark specialties ranges between US$250,000 and $325,000 per episode.

Two aquatic specials – which will not involve sharks unless something goes horribly wrong – are Fast Ships and Maritime Magic, both one-hour programs being produced for the Travel Channel and scheduled to be completed in November. The films follow-up the 1999 production Cities on the Sea, a film about the massive cruise ships that ply the world’s sea lanes. (Cities was a copro with TLC in the U.S.) These new specials will come in between $200,000 and $250,000. A third program could come from the Travel Channel partnership, but negotiations are still underway.

Interestingly, tha is also hard at work re-versioning two new hours from Japanese wildlife filmmaker Mitsuaki Iwago for international distribution. These films are the 11th and 12th from Iwago’s ‘Close-up On Nature’ strand that tha has worked on. Produced by tha and NHK/MICO (the distribution arm of the Japanese pubcaster), the international versions of these two productions should be ready by September. The films run to 50 minutes a piece, with a re-versioning cost of about $10,000.

Still in development from tha is: Freedom Lost, the story of Japanese American internment camps; No Use Talking, the biography of Harpo Marx; and Canine Heroes, which focuses on the training and use of search and rescue dogs during natural and man-made disasters. (No word yet as to how they handle shark attacks.)

That’s gotta hurt

With everything that has happened in the world lately, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch if it turned out that the sky really was falling. And in case you need to know what might happen if it does, Hollywood, California’s Original Productions is working on a 10 x 1-hour series for the Discovery Health Channel called Impact. The series deconstructs real accidents and traumas from the moment of impact (car accident, sports accident…), through medical treatment to the final and full recovery. Ready for mid-2002, each episode carries a budget of about US$350,000.

Also for Discovery Health, op is producing a 5 x 1-hour series called Skin Deep. As unbelievable as it sounds, the first instance of cosmetic surgery took place in India in the sixth century. Luckily, things have improved since then. This series will explore the origins of plastic surgery and all the milestones of its development. Each episode begins with an emergency in a hospital trauma center and then follows the case through the examination and reconstructive phases. Ready for late 2002, this series comes in at a similar budget.

OP will also tackle three new hours of Crash Files, an ongoing series that examines the ‘science, psychology, technology and forensic pathology behind crashes’, through arrangements with the National Transportation Safety Board and the French government. Examples of topics tackled include the Air France Concorde disaster and the John F. Kennedy Jr. plane crash. These three hours will be completed for late this year at a budget of about $1.35 million per episode.

Although there’s little chance of getting you back into a moving vehicle once you’ve seen all those crashes and blunt force injuries, op is also producing a 4 x 1-hour series for Discovery called Monster Garage. See what it takes to turn an everyday vehicle into a monster machine. Witness as custom vehicle manufacturers transform machines before your eyes, and put them through their paces. Ready for mid-2002, this car makeover has a similar budget.


Stars in the making

It’s somehow fitting that a sports documentary series for kids has a big team behind it. Kids World Sports is a 26 x 30-minute series being produced by Toronto’s Breakthrough Films & Television, Run With Us Productions and Fraser-Hecht Communications, in association with the Global Television Network in Canada, Washington PBS outlet WETA and Clear Channel Entertainment (one of the largest radio station owners in the U.S.). Distributed by Breakthrough Entertainment, the series concentrates on the world’s most inspirational future sports heroes. Subjects in the series include a kick boxer in China, a Cuban baseball player, and a soccer team in Croatia. The thread connecting the episodes is the love each of these kids feels for the sport.

The stories, shot in a music video style, are told from the athlete’s point of view (including input from the kids themselves and their friends). Currently in pre-production, the series should wrap in January 2003, with an approximate budget of US$120,000 per episode.

Not Your Mother’s Wildlife Doco

Natural History New Zealand is continuing to strike out on new, non-wildlife paths, but it has retained its connection to the natural world. On the slate are a number of projects, many aimed at the extreme adventurer in all of us. Or, at least, the couch potato who thinks adventure sports are ‘real neat’.

Ice Pilots is a one-hour special being coproduced with National Geographic (both the U.S. branch and Nat Geo Channels International). Ready for March 2003, this special tells the story of a flight crew planning to navigate the world’s polar regions. Besides examining how one of these risky missions into one of the world’s most inhospitable climates is undertaken, the special will also look at the history of aerial navigation in the Arctic and Antarctic. Ice Pilots comes with a budget of about US$280,000.

X Force is a 6 x 1-hour series coproduced with Nat Geo International, showing how extreme sports and science go hand in hand. Whether learning to read clouds to predict wind shifts, or calculating the buildup of dangerous gases during diving, a solid understanding of the way the world works is critical for extreme sports enthusiasts. Each X Force episode concentrates on a different area of extreme sports, explaining the science and physiology of the sport with computer graphics. Ready for October, the series has a budget in the $1.9 million region.

The Most Extreme is a 13 x 1-hour series being coproduced with Animal Planet. Wonder who the best jumper in the natural world is? Or the best thinker? Counting down the top-10 of 13 different disciplines, The Most Extreme looks to the natural world to see who’s the best in what they do. Ready for July, The Most Extreme has a budget of about $2.3 million.

On a more traditional wildlife note, NHNZ is also producing Tarsier, Littlest Alien with Nat Geo Channels International. This one-hour looks to the world’s tiniest primate, the tarsier. Only six inches in length, with eyes as large as those of a human and ears that can swivel independently, these ancient primates can turn their heads a full 180 degrees. (All of this sounds horrible, but I’m told they’re quite cute…) Looking to the facts and myths which have grown around the animal, this special will wrap in June at a budget of about $380,000.

For more disturbing information about animals, don’t miss Love in the Wild (formerly Animal XXX), an hour examining the incredible lengths animals will go to reproduce, and the remarkable ways in which they do, well… it. Ready for June, this hour has a budget of about $230,000.

Speaking of lost Spanish ships, NHNZ is teaming with Russian scientists to search for Spanish galleons lost off the coast of Cuba 300 years ago. Ships of Greed is a 2 x 1-hour series that recounts the search and exploration of these lost ships, which could contain a treasure in the billions of dollars. Ready for April, this series has a budget just under $1 million.

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.