On the Slate

The Little Tramp's later years
In the early days of film, America adored Charlie Chaplin. The 'Little Tramp' was the king of the silver screen, appearing in more than 70 films. But by the 1950s, the love affair had ended.
October 1, 2002


The Little Tramp’s later years

In the early days of film, America adored Charlie Chaplin. The ‘Little Tramp’ was the king of the silver screen, appearing in more than 70 films. But by the 1950s, the love affair had ended. The London, U.K.-born actor/director – who moved to the U.S. in 1913, though he never became an American citizen – was under heavy suspicion of being a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy era. When Chaplin departed American shores for Europe in 1952, U.S. immigration officials indicated that he would not be allowed back. Chaplin surrendered his U.S. re-entry permit in Switzerland.

This part of Chaplin’s life is well documented. However, little is known about the years that followed. In Charlie Chaplin – The Forgotten Years, Swiss prodco Mesch & Ugge will explore Chaplin’s life and work during his post-U.S. period.

In this one-hour special, viewers will learn that although Chaplin settled into a relatively quiet life in a small village on Lake Geneva, Swiss intelligence officers kept him under surveillance for years. The filmmakers have secured access to these files and will disclose their contents for the first time on TV, along with footage from private archives. Additionally, Chaplin’s children and friends, including Geraldine Chaplin, Sophia Loren and Petula Clark, will share memories and anecdotes.

The Forgotten Years, a copro with the Swiss Broadcast Corporation, is slated to wrap this winter – in time for the 25th anniversary of Chaplin’s death, on December 25. Distributed by Montreux, Switzerland-based Accent Films International, the doc is budgeted at US$260,000.

Top of the charts

Impact: Songs that Change the World is a series that will put the spotlight on the pop-music songs that have had the greatest impact on the world since the 1950s. The chosen tunes range from Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and The Beatles’ ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, with nods to the Bee Gees (‘Stayin’ Alive’) and the Sex Pistols (‘Anarchy in the U.K.’) along the way.

Commissioned by Canada’s Corus Entertainment and produced by Corridor Group Productions in Toronto, Impact will be available internationally as a 10 x 30-minute package. For broadcasters interested in more Canadian content, Corridor is also making a 14 x 30-minute version that includes additional domestic talent, such as Shania Twain and her hit ‘Any Man of Mine’.

Impact is slated to premiere in January 2003 on Canadian country music channel CMT, followed by a showing on the W Network (both are Corus-owned). The series’ budget is around CND$750,000 (US$475,000).


Are we there yet?

Each year, there are around 3,000 attempts to hike the full Appalachian Trail in the U.S., a 3,500-kilometer path that crosses 14 states, from Maine to Georgia. Less than 10% of those who embark on the journey reach the end.

Trek, a two-hour doc produced by Chapel Hill, U.S.-based Cirque Productions, follows four men – Leon Godwin, Brian Burnham, Max Schoenberger and Andrew Kucera – who undertake the challenge. The footage of their trip will illustrate how they dealt with everything from inclement weather and rough terrain to the physical and mental strain of walking 45 kilometers per day, every day, for six months.

Stamford, U.S. distributor CABLEready has already signed on to Trek. Cirque has also partnered with Steamboat, U.S.-based Planet Productions to complete post-production on the documentary, which has a spring 2003 delivery date. Trek‘s budget is in the US$200,000 range.

Finding the Fokker

In 1929, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd of the U.S. Navy set out to fly across the South Pole. His expedition of three planes – a Ford monoplane, a Fokker Univeral and a Fairchild monoplane – was fraught with complications, not least of which was getting around the Rockefeller Mountains of Antarctica.

Six months in, Byrd was confounded as to how to tackle the range, so he sent out three members of his crew in the Fokker for closer assessment. The plane crashed, but the men miraculously survived and were found about a week later. Byrd and his team ultimately completed their expedition, though they left the Fokker behind.

Almost 75 years later, the Antarctic Preservation Society, led by founder Chris Rudge, is planning an excursion (in 2003/04) to recover the remains of the plane. Byrd’s Lost Flyer, a one-hour one-off, will follow Rudge’s attempts to resurrect the Fokker from its icy resting place.

Canadian prodco Parallax Film Productions is producing the documentary for Discovery Channel U.S. and Munich, Germany-based True Stories is distributing. Budgeted at US$400,000, Byrd’s Lost Flyer will wrap in May 2003.


Unfriendly skies

Montreal, Canada-based Cineflix Productions will enter the world of aviation investigations this fall, when it begins production on Mayday (w/t).

Whenever a plane crashes, many people’s instinctive reaction is to ask what went wrong. Using the information retrieved from the black boxes of several aircraft and computer graphics, Mayday – a 6 x 1-hour series – will recreate the fateful moments of certain flights in an attempt to provide some answers.

The episodes will include the 1977 collision of two B-747s in Gran Canaria, which resulted in 603 deaths; the 1998 Swissair 111 crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, during which the pilot desperately tried to employ by-the-book emergency measures; the 1999 crash of Egyptair flight 990 off of Nantucket Island, U.S., caused by the suicide of the copilot, according to a recent ruling by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration; and the crash of the Concorde in Paris in 2000 shortly after takeoff.

Cineflix is coproducing Mayday with French prodco Galaxie Presse and the U.K.’s Stone City Productions for British broadcaster Five (formerly C5). In Canada, the Discovery Channel and Canal D have signed on. An additional deal with Discovery U.K./Discovery Europe is pending. Budgeted at CND$2.5 million (US$1.6 million), the series is slated to wrap by fall 2003.

No rest for the famous

Dead Men’s Tales is a 6 x 50-minute series that is part biography and part medical mystery. While the subjects – including the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Harry Houdini, Adolf Hitler and Vincent Van Gogh – have each been the focus of more than one exposé, this program will focus on their deaths rather than their lives.

Drawing on the investigative skills of a team of doctors and forensic scientists, Tales will employ the latest diagnostic techniques and contemporary evidence to assess the illnesses and deaths of various historical figures, as well as the implications for the historical events surrounding them.

Washington, D.C.-based Big Rock Productions is producing Tales with Toronto-based AAC Fact. The budget for the series, which will be ready for delivery by first quarter 2003, is in the US$1.5 million range. Discovery Health U.S. and Discovery Health Canada commissioned Tales.

Food of the gods

Chocolate. Just thinking about it can set the mouth watering. One of the most sought-after legal substances on Earth, chocolate has had an impact on economics and politics since its invention in the pre-Columbian Americas.

Chocolate, Secrets Unwrapped, a 2 x 60-minute project from Sydney, Australia-based Beyond Productions, will take an in-depth look at how the delectable food stuff has been produced through the centuries and the role it has played in the rise and fall of empires around the globe.

Recorded in high definition, Chocolate is a coproduction with Silvergrass Communications, also of Sydney, for pubcaster ABC Australia. The budget is pegged at US$350,000 per hour; delivery is estimated for third quarter 2003.

Also from Beyond comes Backyard Science, a 26 x 30-minute science program by kids, for kids. Coproduced with London-based Pearson Broadband, each segment is 15 minutes long, with the programs packaged in half-hour episodes.

Every segment is based around a central experiment or project – one that is practical and easy to follow – executed in kid-friendly, non-laboratory settings (in other words, no Bunsen burners), such as kitchens, gardens and sheds. The hosts, who are also children, narrate the stories but are rarely seen speaking. This is intended to make dubbing into different languages easier. The producers are planning to market Backyard Science to a host of territories.

Backyard is being produced for $80,000 per half hour; pre-sales have been secured with several groups, including tvo and tfo in Canada. Delivery is slated for mid-2003.


It’s a long way to Tipperary

World War I started with the killing of a member of the ruling family of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, on June 28, 1914. By the time the war ended four years later, millions of soldiers and civilians all over the planet were dead, and the world had changed.

Termed the ‘Great War’, the conflict had a tremendous impact on human history. The First World War, a 10 x 60-minute or 5 x 60-minute series, will touch on how every major event of the 20th century – even September 11, 2001 – is its direct outcome, from the Islamic jihad to globalization.

London, U.K.-based Southern Star Factual, with its Factual Factory joint-venture partner Wark Clements of Scotland, is making the £2.6 million (US$4 million) program, which will be modeled on the seminal three-volume study of the same name by Oxford professor Hew Strachan. The documentary will use letters, diaries, photographs, artifacts and period music, as well as archival film footage and present-day location shots, to provide a global perspective on World War I’s causes and outcomes.

The First World War is a commission of Channel 4 in the U.K., with broadcast slated for late 2003 or early 2004. Delivery of the finished production is set for May 2003.

Separate from Strachan’s study, of which only the first volume, To Arms (Oxford University Press), was published recently, War will have its own book tie-in.

The British bulldog

Winston Churchill is arguably the greatest Englishman of the 20th century: as Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 (and again from 1951 to 1955), he led the British Empire through its darkest and finest hour – World War II. He also had a way with words, making him one of the more quotable historical figures, a master of the sound byte before the sound byte was invented.

TWI and Carlton Television, both of London, U.K., have a budget of more than US$2 million to profile the former soldier, adventurer and formidable leader of the British government, in Churchill, a 3 x 60-minute series. Boston, U.S.-based PBS affiliate WGBH is a third coproduction partner.

Expert sources contributing to the story, which will delve into the man behind the public persona, include Celia Sandys, his granddaughter and a historian.

Churchill builds on TWI and Carlton’s successful marriage, which previously resulted in The Second World War in Colour, Britain at War in Colour and America’s War: The Perilous Fight. Delivery of Churchill to ITV in the U.K. and PBS in the U.S. is scheduled for May 2003.

Up, up and away

Every school child learns the story of the Kitty Hawk, the first airplane to successfully cruise the skies, flown by Orville Wright. Less well known is the struggle the pilot and his brother, Wilbur Wright, endured to get the plane off the ground in North Carolina, U.S. on December 17, 1903. For the 100th anniversary of that historic flight next year, Kitty Hawk: The Wright Brothers’ Journey of Invention will fill in that back story.

Using the established school of thought about lift dynamics, the brothers were confident they were on the verge of their achievement in 1901, but they almost quit when Wilbur suffered a crash during an attempted test flight. An invitation to an engineers’ convention led the brothers to reevaluate the inherited thinking on the physics of flying, resulting in their breakthrough outing.

Delivery of the two-hour film to PBS affiliate Connecticut Public Broadcasting will take place in April 2003, around the time of the film’s gala premiere at the Aviation World’s Fair, a plane-buffs’ convention in Newport News, U.S. A tie-in commemorative DVD, including images from a collection of the brothers’ photos held by the U.S. Library of Congress, will also be sold. Kitty Hawk is produced by Waco, U.S.-based DGVF Productions and is budgeted at US$320,000.


French connection

New York-based filmmaker Omonike Akinyemi knows what it means to be an African-American woman in the United States. What she doesn’t know – but plans to find out – is what it means to be a woman of African descent in a multicultural society other than her own, specifically in France. Paris/Black/Woman: A Critical Exploration of the Lives of a New Generation of Black Women in Paris, a one-hour film, will focus on women whom Akinyemi met in the City of Light between 1997 and 2001.

Nga Manga is an actress from Cameroon who is struggling to find ‘non-stereotypical roles’ in French film. Crystelle, who emigrated from Nigeria and spent her early days in Paris working as a prostitute, is beginning to carve out a new life. Martinique-born Victoire, a former model, runs a Web magazine focused on black identity during the day and works as a hospital attendant at night. Lydian Doacle is an Afro-French woman from central Africa, now in her early 20s, about to strike out on her own. Sisters Célia and Hélène Faussart of Bordeaux, France, who together founded ‘Afropean-styled hip-hop’ music group Les Nubians, are fast building a fan base among French youth.

Paris/Black/Woman is slated to wrap in January 2003. At press time, the primary financiers of the doc were Akinyemi’s prodco, Image Quilt Productions, and 507 Net, a French film association. The film’s budget is approximately US$115,000.


The boys in blue

The New York Police Department bears the responsibility of maintaining law and order in America’s largest city, and by most accounts it’s relatively successful. But, what goes on behind the scenes? NYPD – At Close Range is a four-part, one-hour doc series, from Ireland’s Graph Films, that will reveal the inner workings of the force’s key departments through the eyes of Irish-American police officers.

Episode one looks at the NYPD’s emergency services unit, which is called in when a situation is too dangerous for a regular unit. Episode two follows the narcotics department on drug busts, including crack-house raids. The third episode features the vice squad, the team that cracks down on child pornography, prostitution and gambling. Episode four shows the Manhattan North homicide squad’s efforts to close unsolved murder files.

NYPD carries a budget of about 500,000 euros (US$490,000). The project will be delivered to Metro Channel in New York and Dublin-based distrib RTE International by early January 2003.


Ouch, that hurts

Bullseye Television, the London, U.K.-based company behind such provocative programming as Wonderful World of Sex, is working on a new sensation-based series – World of Pain.

This 15 x 30-minute doc series for Bravo U.K. will explore all aspects of pain, from minor irritations to excruciating suffering, all packaged as entertainment. Each episode will focus on a different aspect of agony: for example, ‘In the Name of Love’ looks at the pain of passion; ‘On the Job’ features individuals who have experienced pain in the workplace (isn’t that all of us?); and ‘Pain in the Arse’…well, maybe it’s best to wait and see.

And, what would a series on pain be without at least a few outrageous anecdotes? Some that Bullseye plans to include involve do-it-yourself liposuction, a Brazilian wax for men (whatever you’re thinking, you’re right) and an aphrodisiac of stinging nettles – applied not ingested.

Budgeted at £650,000 (US$1 million), World of Pain is scheduled for broadcast in February 2003. Bullseye is also distributing the series.

You can try mine if I can try yours

The creative minds at London, U.K.-based RDF Television want to take viewers on a Wife Swap. Commissioned by the U.K.’s Channel 4 for broadcast in early 2003, Swap (5 x 50 minutes) is a format that offers viewers a voyeuristic take on what makes a marriage work.

Each episode follows the female half of two couples as they trade places for 10 days. The women, who have never met, go about their regular working lives, but each returns to the other’s home at the end of the day. This is when the challenge begins: how cantankerous or easygoing is the husband? Do they have children? What are the family’s established habits?

In one episode, for instance, the households have completely different operations. The first family shares all of the domestic chores equally, with the male partner pulling his share of the workload. In the second family, however, the king-of-the-castle husband leaves chores such as cooking and cleaning to his dutiful wife. At the end of the 10 days, the families meet to discuss the experience and how it has influenced perceptions of their own marriages.

Participants chosen for the US$900,000 series will come from various social backgrounds and locations within the U.K.

Exploration of Sea, Space and Self

Seattle, U.S.-based public channel KCTS has a full slate of projects lined up for delivery in spring 2003. First up is Inside Passage, a 2 x 60-minute doc special based on Jonathan Raban’s best-selling book Passage to Juneau: A Sea and its Meanings (Pantheon Books, 1999).

The Inside Passage refers to an ancient 1,600-kilometer sea route that extends from Puget Sound (Washington state) to Alaska. In the doc, Raban – who serves as narrator and host – journeys through the turbulent waters on his vintage sailboat, sharing both historical and personal observations. The author ponders George Vancouver’s expedition through the Inside Passage in 1792 and the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest, who still live in the surrounding area.

A copro of KCTS and the National Film Board of Canada, Inside Passage carries a budget in the US$500,000 range and will be filmed in HD.

Next up is Rare Earth, a 2 x 60-minute project that addresses the debate within the scientific community about the possible existence of extraterrestrial life. The focus of this doc is the theory of a couple of prominent naysayers. Paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee argue that life can only exist on this planet. Their hypothesis, called the Rare Earth theory, is convincing enough that NASA awarded them a $5 million grant to continue their research.

The first hour of the doc will explore life on Earth, including microbes that survive in hostile environments and near-extinct species. Hour two considers Earth’s place in the Milky Way and the makeup of the cosmos. Rare Earth is a copro with Discovery Canada; its budget is about $325,000.

Finally, KCTS is producing Bloodless Revolution, a one-hour one-off about the race among pharmaceutical companies to create blood alternatives. The synthetic substances currently in development do not necessarily look like blood – Oxygent and Hemasol are both milky white, for example – but they are designed to act like blood by carrying oxygen through the body. Despite the promise of this undertaking, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has placed strict regulations on testing. As a result, many clinical trials are taking place in territories such as South Africa. Success could change medical treatment for countless diseases and injuries.

Bloodless Revolution is a copro with Discovery Canada and carries a budget of about $325,000.

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.