Creating an ‘Apocalypse’: A Massive Archive Undertaking

Apocalypse: The Second World War was both a massive hit in territories around the world, and a gargantuan undertaking for Paris-based prodco CC&C and the series' directors, Isabelle Clarke and Daniel Costelle and producer Louis Vaudeville. In advance of an airing of a 'making of' special on the Smithsonian Channel in the U.S. realscreen spoke to Smithsonian's David Royle and Joy Galane and CC&C's Louis Vaudeville about this archive-based international television event.
January 14, 2010

Directors Isabelle Clarke and Daniel Costelle and producer Louis Vaudeville of Paris-based Clarke, Costelle & Co. and a slew of international partners (among them, France 2, NHK Japan, Smithsonian Channel in the U.S., National Geographic Channel International and NDR-ARD, Germany) spent two and a half years on what was to be a mammoth archival undertaking. At a cost of 3.7 million euros, the team behind Apocalypse: The Second World War amassed more than 600 hours of footage from 100 sources in 17 countries, much of it taken by front-line soldiers, operatives, resistance fighters and ordinary citizens, and painstakingly restored and colorized the clips, presented in HD and 5.1 surround sound. Fifty percent of the footage used in the six-part series had never been seen before on television.

The series proved to be a major hit for France Télévisions upon its airing in September, with eight million viewers tuning in to the September 22 episode on France 2. Overall, 13 million viewers in France tuned in to at least one episode of the series, which adds up to 25% of the French population. National Geographic Channels International also reported great success with the series, as it landed the global distrib rights outside of France and the U.S. In America, Smithsonian Channel aired a reversioned series, narrated by Martin Sheen. The series has been seen worldwide by 40 million people.

David Royle, EVP programming and production at Smithsonian and Joy Galane, executive producer for Smithsonian on the series, both say they were floored by the scope of the project, in terms of the footage gathered and the attention to detail in the colorizing. One archivist on the project, Washington-based Bill Murphy, sent up to 1,000 reels of material to France, says Royle.

‘One of the things that Isabelle and Daniel did very cleverly was they worked with some of the best archivists from around the world, who knew how to dig deeper than people had done in the past,’ says Royle. ‘Also, they allowed them the time to do that.’

Before the actual act of colorizing the film, which took place at a rate of one minute per day, intensive research needed to be made on each color choice. Vaudeville says the research was made easier thanks to the Internet and the scores of dedicated WWII collectors and historians around the world.

‘One of the best colorists in D.C., Dave Martin, said it was almost impossible to tell what shots had been colorized and what hadn’t,’ says Galane, who worked on a color-correct for the U.S. version. Smithsonian will be airing a ‘making of’ on February 21.

‘At times, it’s almost painfully intimate as a series,’ says Royle. ‘It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war.’

‘It did well in every territory because we tell a human and a non-nationalist story,’ sums up Vaudeville. CC&C is currently working on two new series that will cover other major aspects of 20th century world history in color and HD – the rise of Hitler and the Cold War.

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.