On the Slate

Solving tough cases
October 1, 2004

Solving tough cases

It’s often hard to tell whether life imitates art or the other way around, but Montreal, Canada’s Cineflix is betting that true crime investigation will be just as popular on the factual front as it has been on the fictional. True Crime Scene is a 6 x 1-hour series that examines real murder investigations using cutting-edge science and dramatic reenactments. Following a format proven in the fictional realm, each episode will begin with a murder scene and then work through interviews with witnesses and piles of evidence, to wind its way towards the final dramatic pay-off where the crime is solved and the guilty revealed.

Investigations include a look into the death of the wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard (the crime that inspired The Fugitive), and the 1988 stabbing of Lynette White in Cardiff, Wales – a crime that forensics helped solve a decade after the fact.

Wrapping in September, 2005 with a budget of about CDN4 million (US$3 million), Crime Scene is coproduced by Cineflix and Franco-Canadian broadcaster Galaxie, in association with Discovery Canada, Canal D, Discovery Europe, France 3, and in collaboration with Stone City in the U.K. The series has the help of the Quebec Film and Television Tax Credit, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit and the Centre National du Cinema.

Also upcoming from Cineflix is A Dog’s Life, a 10 x 30-minute ‘dogusoap’ about the rescue and rehabilitation of dogs saved from desperate circumstances. Filmed at the North Shore Animal League just outside New York City, the series will follow the staff of experts and dog lovers as they rescue abused or injured dogs and help them find new homes. Ready for March, 2005 the series carries a budget of about CDN$1.2 million ($911,000), and is produced in association with the Life Network in Canada, The Quebec Tax Credit and the Canadian Tax Credit.

Moving from man’s best friend to mankind’s greatest accomplishments, Cineflix will also soon finish The Greatest Ever. This CDN$3 million ($2.3 million), 8 x 1-hour series features top-ten countdowns of the greatest marvels of science and technology in a particular field, counting down until one is named ‘the greatest ever.’ The producers promise a ‘rock video pace’ that will grab viewers right out of the gate, and enough CGI and 2-D schematics to impress even the most jaded cable junkie.

Wrapping next July, the series is coproduced with Greatest Ever Productions of Ireland, with the participation of The Quebec Tax Credit and the Canadian Tax Credit, as well as other international financiers. BC

Off the beaten track

Auckland, N.Z.’s Katipo Productions will deliver 11 x 1-hours of Julian and Camilla’s World Odyssey in early 2005. Odyssey is culled from the footage and experiences collected during a year-long adventure the two stars undertook when they visited the non-touristy spots of the world, such as land mine clinics in Cambodia, an ashram for child slaves in India and sex change operating rooms in Thailand. Other stops include South Africa, Laos, Cuba and South America. The two stars also endure the more common adventures experienced by travelers, such as food poisoning and rip-off schemes.

Each episode of Odyssey comes in above US$50,000. The series is being distributed by Norwalk, U.S.-based CABLEready. Interestingly, the stars of Odyssey, Julian Hanton and Camilla Andersen, are also the co-founders of Katipo (serving along with co-execs Tom Fowlie and Ian Hart). Hanton spent some time as director at TVNZ, while Andersen has worked on both music videos and docs. They founded Kitapo in 2003. BC

You’re in the army now

Its current deployment to Iraq is the largest the Arkansas National Guard has experienced since World War II. It’s the perfect opportunity for New York-based DCTV to see what it takes to turn average Joes into G.I. Joes.

Off to War follows 57 citizen soldiers as they transition from their normal lives in Arkansas, through training and into deployment in the Middle East. Hardly super-soldiers, these are the everymen who populate the state. Included are the stories of Sergeant Ronald Jackson and his stepson, who leave the care of their turkey farm to Jackson’s wife and father; and minister/Sergeant Joe Betts, who leaves a new church and congregation – as well as his wife and three children – to serve in Iraq. All the members of the Guard undergo six months of training to turn them into a lean fighting machine. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Discovery Times is aboard as broadcaster/coproducer. London’s Extreme Entertainment is handling distribution. Although the series began as a three-parter, it has since grown to five episodes with possibly more to come as the story in Iraq unfolds. The entire run is currently scheduled to wrap by February or March of 2005, although that could change if more of the US$250,000-plus episodes are required. BC

Diamond life

Resplendent with their little polar bear monikers, some Canadian diamonds have become famous throughout the world. It’s only natural, therefore, that others would want to take a shot at similar fame and fortune. In Queen of Diamonds, a one-hour special from Alberta, Canada-based Mark Miller Productions, adventurers Eira Thomas and Catherine McLeod-Seltzer set off on a quest to find Canada’s next big diamond mine in the cold northern wastes of Nunavut. The show will follow them from their Vancouver offices to the corporate boardrooms of New York where they try to woo investors, and to Rankin Inlet in the far north. Success means enormous wealth. Failure means freezing their assets off in the unforgiving north. Produced for the Global Television Network in Canada, the special is being hosted by Global news anchor Kevin Newman.

Produced with the participation of the Canadian Television Fund and the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office, the doc will be ready to air early in 2005. The budget for the project is CDN$130,000 (US$100,000). BC

A spiral out of control

A quick survey of recent additions to city skylines reveals a startling change: form has flipped function the bird. And the swooping, soaring, teetering, undulating buildings that are springing up where rectangles once reigned have catapulted their architects into a sphere of celebrity normally reserved for rock stars – the requisite hype, hysteria and petulance included.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is one such celeb-itect, and Twisted Torso just might be his Yoko Ono. Commissioned by Swedish developer hsb, Twisted Torso will be a spiraling, 190-meter high condo in Malmo, Sweden – a height that will make it the tallest residential building in Europe. Only, the project’s partners are constantly squabbling over rising costs, and cracks are already appearing in the structure’s façade.

Sweden’s WG Films captures the ensuing drama in The Architect and the Twisted Tower, a one-hour one-off that counts TV9 in Spain, YLE Finland, Sweden’s SVT, TV Ontario and ETV in Estonia among its broadcast partners. Budgeted for E296,000 (US$357,000), the film focuses on the plot’s main characters: Calatrava, who brings construction to a halt when he refuses to make concessions despite being E10 million ($12 million) over budget; HSB HD Johnny, who struggles to keep the project under control; and Ingvar, the unfortunate soul assigned to navigate the cultural differences between the Spanish visionary and the Swedish contractors. Zurich-based First Hand Films is distributing the doc, which will be completed in early 2005 and is looking for finishing funds. KB

That’s not Wright

One of the few buildings still standing after the Kanto earthquake shook Japan in 1923 was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel. Built on a floating foundation, it surfed the tremors like a Betty carving a swell. Tragically, it was demolished in 1968. Indeed, a shocking 20% of the celebrated architect’s work has been plucked from posterity, while still others have been allowed to decay. Among them is the Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. Built in 1909, it was the prototype for the Imperial and is one of the last remaining examples of Wright’s Prairie style.

New York-based Travelfilm and Garry McGee‘s one-hour one-off The Last Wright takes a closer look at this crumbling landmark. Though covered in guano and graffiti, colored tile and leaded glass details remain intact and hint at the structure’s former elegance. Restoration carries a price tag of US$7 million, but a successful renovation could also attract tourists and help revive Mason City’s downtown core.

Archival photos and film will trace the hotel’s history from posh retreat to strip club. The film will also use the building to discuss its architect (who ran off with a client’s wife in 1910, the same year the hotel opened), the town where it’s found, and the turbulent century in which Frank Lloyd Wright was prolific. Production wraps in January with a final budget of about $200,000, a portion of which was covered by the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for the Arts.

Travelfilm has also partnered with Prague-based prodco Armada Films to coproduce Wichterle. This E120,00 doc ($145,000) paints a portrait of Otto Wichterle, inventor of the soft contact lens. Though he liberated four-eyes around the world, Wichterle lived in communist Czechoslovakia and was, therefore, unable to capitalize on patents and licenses that would have made him rich. Czech TV is also a partner in the 52-minute film, which will be ready in May, 2005. KB

Behind the voice

Filmed in high def, the producers of The World Of Nat King Cole: The Definitive Documentary promise the project will not be just another star-studded tribute. The film examines not only the singer’s celebrity, but also the performer’s place in the civil rights movement and his efforts at tearing down race barriers.

Produced by the U.K.’s Double Jab Productions, the 60-minute (or 90-minute) special enjoys the support of the Cole family and will offer feature interviews with everyone from Cole’s wife and daughters to Sir Paul McCartney, BB King and OutKast.

Ready for the 40th anniversary of Cole’s death in February, 2005 the project carries a budget of about £500,000 (US$900,000). A relatively new prodco, Double Jab Productions was formed by award-winning doc-makers, including Stuart Watts (Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World), Ian Hunt (Christopher Reeve: Courageous Steps) and Kari Lia (The Colonial House). The project is being distributed by London-based Electric Sky. BC

Jumbo in the Sky

It takes more than fairy dust and happy thoughts to get a hulking metal bird stuffed with 555 passengers off the ground. Millions of dollars is more like it, accompanied by a wealth of engineering expertise. But don’t count your fowl before it flies – Tweedy hasn’t left the nest yet.

London-based prodco Darlow Smithson plans to capture the Airbus A380′s first flight for Giant of the Skies, a 3 x 1-hour series. Sporting a double-decker design, the A380 will be able to take its passengers 8,000 miles around the world, making it the biggest commercial airliner carrying the greatest number of people across the longest distance. The virgin voyage is scheduled for early 2005, but the series will show how the plane’s parts were manufactured throughout Europe – in the U.K., Germany, France and Spain – before traveling by land and sea to the assembly line in Toulouse.

The doc will deliver in the first quarter of 2005, and will air on C4 and TLC. C4 International is distributing the £360,0000 (US$647,000) program. KB

Innocence is no excuse

Medstar Television, the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based prodco behind the long-running Forensic Files series, will soon be offering The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping: Investigation Re-opened. Ready for February, 2005 – the 70th anniversary of the conviction of Bruno Hauptmann for the crime – Medstar re-opens the case, examining the faulty evidence that led to Hauptmann’s execution. From experts in handwriting, who will study the ransom note, to the results of a new two-year study conducted on the wood and nails used to construct a home-made ladder reportedly used to break into the Lindbergh home, no stone will be left unturned. Can Medstar do better than the original investigators? Maybe so, given that Hauptmann professed his innocence right up to his execution, insisting the real killer was friend Isidore Fisch – a German national who was already dead by the time of the trial. Even after the Heart newspapers offered what would be more than $1 million today for an exclusive, Hauptmann would not change his story.

With a budget of a little over US$300,000, the project is being distributed domestically by the producer and internationally by Norwalk, U.S.-based CABLEready. The broadcaster of record to date is Court TV in the U.S. Notably, the same partners will soon deliver the 200th episode of Forensic Files. The long-running series already shows on Court TV in the U.S., UKTV People in the U.K. and Vox Germany – as well as over 200 other broadcasters internationally. It has even spun off the Forensic Files Casebook. BC

Sharing spaces

While Endemol explores the potentially explosive dynamics between roommates in its globally popular Big Brother format, RDF Media is going beyond the drywall to investigate the ties that bind an entire community. Meet the Neighbors is a 4 x 1-hour series from the London-based prodco that moves five households into a specially built neighborhood where they reside for four weeks in an effort to built a modern utopia. Each household represents an archetype – for example, the challenging neighbor, the upstanding neighbor (a.k.a. The Jones), the pet-loving neighbor – and each originates from a different background, region and generation. A sure-fire recipe for peaceful cohabitation. Or not.

Airing on Channel 4 in the U.K., the series carries a per-episode budget of about £170,000 (US$305,000). RDF International is distributing the format, which will wrap in February. KB

Little shock of horrors

It seems mother was wrong when she said not to play with light sockets. Zapped, a 2 x 1-hour series from YAP Productions in Leeds, will show that electricity can be fun – at least when a team of medical personnel is standing near.

Budgeted for £700,000 (US$1.3 million), Zapped will capture a stadium full of people enjoying the jolt of a few volts. It will light up a night club with breath mints, and will film what happens to a rain-soaked volunteer who ventures onto a golf course in a metal cage during a thunder storm. As well, testimonials from survivors of lighting strikes and substantial electrical shocks will reveal how their physiology was forever changed by the experience. Beyond the crowd-pleasing stunts and hair-raising tales, the series will show that electricity, despite being everywhere, is largely misunderstood. C4 International will distribute the series, which will wrap in March, 2005. KB

Let your fingers do the talking

In its 2002 doc, Muddy Waters: Life and Death on the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, Australia-based Singing Nomads Productions investigated why the ocean’s most diverse ecosystem is steadily decaying. Now, producer Sally Ingleton keeps her head above water to follow two teenage boys in their final year at school. Each carries the same aspirations as most young adults, and both struggle through the typical teenage dramas. But these boys have yet another struggle – they are both profoundly deaf and communicate only through sign language.

Filmed over one year, Deaf School will take viewers inside the extraordinary world of the deaf. Carrying a budget of about AUS$300,000 (US$209,000), the one-hour one-off is being produced for SBS TV and will be ready for August, 2005. KB

It’s a wild world after all

When you think California, you probably think of the typical Cali scene: ubiquitous blondes, Venice Beach bodybuilders and surfers carving into a tube. But there’s another California – Baja. This strip of land, tacked onto the southern Californian coast, divides the Pacific from the Sea of Cortez (a.k.a. the Gulf of California), and is home to some of the most remarkable plant and animal life in the U.S. And, this bounty is not just surface beauty. Just off the golden sands, snuggled within the boundaries of the Sea of Cortez, sheltered lagoons offer whales a safe harbor to reproduce and giant manta rays room to prowl.

Baja: The Other California is a E450,000 (US$540,000), 50-minute project being produced by the U.K.’s Free Spirit Films and Austria’s ORF Universum. Ready for air in April of 2005, the project will broadcast on Austrian pubcaster ORF and WDR in Germany, and is being distributed by Washington, D.C.-based Devillier Donegan Enterprises and Buena Vista International Television.

DDE and BVIT have a number of other wildlife productions on the distribution slate, including Namaqualand: Africa’s Desert Battleground. A 50-minute film by South Africa’s Africa Wildlife Films and ORF Universum, the special outlines the seasonal struggle undertaken in one of South Africa’s most diverse terrains – Namaqualand. The filmmakers will follow the cycle of life through the barren, wet winters and into the scorching summers, when the landscape explodes once again with life and color, and insects and animals are able to thrive before the harsh months return. Ready for April, 2005 the project will run to about E500,000 ($600,000). Broadcasters already onboard are ORF, WDR, and the BBC.

The distributors will also be repping a 50-minute film from Austria’s Cosmos Factory and ORF called Laos Wonderland. Laos is home to only five million people, which is perhaps why the vast majority of this U.K.-sized country is still untouched wilderness as diverse as anything found in the Amazon or Congo River Basin. From deep forests that climb to the feet of steep mountains, to the Mekong river, which feeds a biosphere populated by creatures as diverse as tigers, giant butterflies and sun bears, Laos is one of the last remaining untouched nature refuges in the world. Ready for April, 2005 the E420,000 ($505,000) film will air on ORF and WDR. AA/BC

Slithery superman

For the unquiet dead, you might call Ghostbusters, but for problems of a more serpentine nature, there’s no second to Austin Stevens: Snakemaster. This scientist, photographer and adventurer, better known as ‘The Snake Man’, is famous for his serpent wrangling skills and slithery intel, especially when it comes to his two favorites: the cobra and the mamba.

For Snakemaster, a collection of 13 x 1-hour programs and two two-hour HD specials, the master expands his field to include some of the other deadly and strange animals of the world. Stevens will come face to snout with everything from black rhinos to Komodo Dragons for this collection of programs.

Produced by Bristol/London-based Tigress Productions, the Snakemaster set will air on Animal Planet and will wrap in October of 2005. The 17 hours of HD content carries a price tag of more than $5 million – heart medication not included. BC

Animal ‘check’-up

Animal Lifeline, a series produced by Southern Star Sales in association with Oxford Scientific Films and Rock Wallaby (all of Sydney), went over so well with Animal Planet International and Australia’s Network Ten that the broadcasters have asked for additional installments. Dubbed Lyndal’s Lifeline, the new 3 x 1-hour series will again follow Australian wildlife producer and presenter Lyndal Davies as she donates $10,000 to a front-line animal rescue project and then checks in to see how the money has made a difference in the lives of the creatures being rescued. For this series, Davies visits projects in Brazil, Namibia and the U.K.

With filming already begun, look for the series to wrap in March, 2005 and deliver sometime in the second quarter. Each episode of the series runs to about AUS$340,000 (US$240,000). AA/BC

You’re diggin’ my scene

Thanks to new subdivisions and sprawling fencing, not to mention an unprecedented level of government-sanctioned drilling and exploration, the migration corridors that spread through Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, Upper Green River and Red Desert are being squeezed off. This is drastically affecting the movement of wildlife – especially for the pronghorn antelope and the mule deer, two species which make the second-longest annual migration of any North American animal after the caribou herds of Alaska.

In Wyoming’s Wild and Sacred Corridors, Washington, D.C.-based American University and Jackson Hole prodco Lightning Sage tackle the problems of dwindling open spaces and a White House policy that gives the nod to aggressive development in pristine environments.

Delivered in the summer of 2005, the one-hour production carries a budget of about US$400,000. It is also one of the first productions former National Wildlife president and CEO Chris Palmer has been involved with since making a migration of his own to the American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. AA/BC

Great ape story

Could the remains of a seven-foot, 350-pound hominid prove a race of upright, bipedal super-primates once roamed the Earth? Nat Geo thinks so, and it will be presenting its evidence in The Ancient Superman, a project by National Geographic Television and Film Production.

The story starts in the 1930s, when scientists first discovered the remains. So outlandish and unlikely, they were relegated to a cardboard box and left to molder. There they remained until South African paleoanthropologist Lee Berger rediscovered them. Berger believes the skeleton is all that remains of a super-hominid. One, he postulates, that might have had an outsized brain to match its outsized body – a belief possibly supported by the remains of a hafted spear found with the body.

This 52-minute special examines the likelihood this giant was a dead-ended branch of the evolutionary tree. Berger will return to the original dig site to search for new clues, and even undertake a digital re-creation of one of these lumbering mammals in order to better understand what it is that might have been roaming the Earth 300,000 years ago.

Aiming to wrap in early 2005, the project is being undertaken within the Geo family, with the U.S. and International Channels also coming aboard. Distribution is being undertaken by National Geographic Television International, the unit that until September was known as Explore International. Superman carries a budget of about US$1 million. BC

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