Global Production

You're in Command
May 1, 2004

You’re in Command

Anyone who has ever wanted to test their mettle as a military commander now can – without even leaving the sofa. Command Decisions will give viewers the opportunity to see how an army was deployed during Roman times, or how strategic combat movements played out during the Vietnam and the first Gulf War conflicts.

The series, from Emeryville, US-based Michael Hoff Productions, puts its audience right into the action. The 13 half-hour segments, destined for

The History Channel in New York, use a blend of drama and quiz show elements. Archive footage and reenactments of the skirmishes are accompanied by analysis from experts such as US Army General Norman Schwartzkopf and historian Patrick O’Donnell, who weigh in on the battles, the commanders and the politics of the time.

Viewers can test their knowledge and intuition by answering multiple choice questions. They get to pick what they would do given the same intel as the real leaders, and are then presented with the historical response and shown how the real events played out.

Each episode is budgeted between US$75,000 and $125,000, and pilot episodes featuring Julius Caesar and Schwarzkopf have already been delivered. The project will wrap in September. Nick Rapp

Silk Road Revisited

In the 25 years since pubcasters NHK in Japan and CCTV in China coproduced The Silk Road, the original doc series shot in China on the ancient trade route linking the East and the West, nhk exec producer Haruki Kito says, ‘a lot has changed.’

Kito, whose team from nhk’s special programs center is now in China shooting the sequel series, explains, ‘It was difficult just to go there; now it’s pretty open to anyone’ – referring to the less bumpy political situation as opposed to terrain.

As nhk revisits the same locations with the same copro partner, Kito says the producers of Silk Road 2005 are benefiting from this smoother access, as witnessed by their first filming stop, an excavation site in Loulan where they are shooting an episode starring a 4,000 year-old mummy of Caucasian origin.

In the 4,000-year interlude between the mummy’s demise and exhumation, a lot has changed. Today Loulan is a desert, however, Kito says the mummy was found with a little bag containing a grain of wheat, which signifies the water, forest and wheat fields that used to flourish in the area.

It’s also evidence of China’s political climate change. ‘We could not have filmed that 25 years ago,’ says Kito, explaining that the kind of research and bureaucratic cooperation necessary to take part in an archeological dig is now feasible, whereas for the previous Silk Road series, they had no such access. ‘We just had a camera on a jeep, and shot,’ a method that successfully yielded 12 50-minute episodes that aired in 41 countries.

The new hd series, consisting of 12 one-hour episodes for Japan and four to six episodes for the international market, explores the country’s dramatic climate as well as cultural evolution in greater depth. The segment on Kucha, a remote border town once frequented by nomadic tribes, explores how the settlers there were keen to foster relationships with foreign visitors; the episode on Khara Khoto will look at the desertification of the region.

The approach for each episode is to have a historical figure relate the Silk Road story in first-person narrative. For the Loulan archeological segment, it is the mummy (once a beautiful lady, according to Kito) who leads the viewers through the latest discoveries. For Kucha, the narrator is Kumarajiva, a famous monk (also deceased) who translated Buddhist teachings into Chinese. cgi will be used to recreate elements such as Loulan’s lush past, and reenactments, such as an actor playing Kumarajiva, will also help bring the story to life. In all, about one third of the final product will be cgi and recreation.

Kito says the series has special international significance since it illustrates how incidences of turmoil often stem from extreme nationalism, and that the Silk Road story, like globalization, is about an exchange of people, culture and information. Along the route there were wars, but the discoveries made in the doc show how trade existed between the East and the West, and explore the cultural exchanges that flourished.

The coproduction is also an example of such an exchange, as it’s the first big hd doc undertaken in China. While crews may still bump along in jeeps, camera gear has improved – the production is the first to use Sony’s new hdcam sr package. The budget for Silk Road 2005 is around us$1 million per episode, with the costs of shooting in China split between the partners.

nhk will launch the doc on New Year’s Day in 2005, and cctv will bow the series sometime in 2006, which is also the date the international version will be ready. Additionally, there is an original soundtrack album planned, supervised as well as performed by Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble, which will blend East/West influences. Mary Maddever

A makeover smorgasbord

For most people, having a world-class personal chef or one’s own interior designer is only a dream. However, for those willing to brave the cameras, fantasies can become reality in the new makeover/relationship format Picture This.

Produced by Norwalk, US-based CABLEready and Toronto-based Re:Source Media International, Picture This will feature two plucky souls (friends or family) who attempt to create a slice of the good life for each other. Each contestant will hand over a scrapbook filled with photos and illustrations that represent his or her domestic fantasy. Their partner must bring the images to life using only the scrapbook as their guide. Potential vision-fulfillment tasks cover the gamut of home/lifestyle programming ground, from changing one’s appearance to room renovation and wedding planning.

Discovery Home Channel and Discovery HD Theater in the u.s. have signed on for the planned 10 x 1-hour series, budgeted between US$125,000 and $175,000. Picture This is scheduled to air during the fourth quarter of 2004. NR

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.