Non-fiction to go

November 1, 1998


From Tiger Skins to Space Suits

Until recently, London’s Trans World International was a producer/distributor which specialized only in sports programming. They diversified last year, producing about 20 hours of factual, non-sports programming. This year they have expanded even further, producing about 70 hours, with over 100 hours on the slate for next season.

One of the productions in the works is a series called Inventions That Changed Our Lives. The series will be available in either a 6 x 26-minute or a 3 x 52-minute version, and will be completed for late 1999. The series looks at how the process of invention is accelerating, and how people have begun to take lifestyle revolutions for granted. The series also plays `what-if’ with some common discoveries, to examine what would happen if they had not been made.

Inventions uses footage culled from the BBC Worldwide archives, and will be destined for the international market, although sales are not being sought until the series is wrapped. The approximate budget of each episode is US$250,000.

Trans World is also producing their annual Nobel Peace Concert program. The award ceremony has grown from a small formal affair to a huge annual concert celebrating the people who work for peace. NRK Productions will be producing a version domestically for Norwegian Television, and Trans World will use part of that production for their own international version. The concert film will be available in mid-December, featuring performances by Alanis Morissette, The Cranberries, Phil Collins and Elton John, among others.


Gator, Gator, Goose

Norwich-based Survival is working on Band on the Run, a one-hour doc following a troop of banded mongoose as they move through Kenya’s Savannah. (Paul McCartney could not be reached for a comment about the use of his album titles). The hour will be completed by September of 1999, and carries a budget of around £400,000. Band is destined for C4 in the U.K. Survival is also working on an hour for Discovery in the U.S. entitled Swamp Alligator. Oddly enough, the production examines the habitat and life of the American alligator, and features unique underwater footage of life in the swamps of the Florida Everglades. Ready for January, the project carries a budget of around £400,000. Both projects are being distributed by London’s ITEL.

The long and winding road

Natural History New Zealand in Dunedin is working on a 2 x 60-minute documentary with no name. The series had the NHNZ crew travel on a 5000km Tibetan passage which follows the ancient route for pilgrims from Lhasa to Mount Kailash. Highlights include filming the ruins of the Guge Kingdom, and the scenic holy mountain, Kailash. The production should be wrapped up by March of next year, and although no broadcasters are committed yet, discussions are well underway with international concerns. The budget for the project is a thrifty US$400,000 an hour.


Hidden Heroes

Toronto’s Gorica Productions is working on a one-hour documentary about the soldiers and civilians who served their country by infiltrating the Axis during World War II. The stories focus on Canadians of different ethnic backgrounds who trained in facilities like the top-secret Camp X, which once operated outside of Toronto. After their Canadian training was completed, they were dropped into enemy territory to gather vital information. The stories especially focus on the work of French, Chinese, Japanese and European immigrants who returned to their former countries to help the Allied cause.

Domestically, Behind the Lines (working title) has a first window in July of 1999 on Toronto-based History Television, and will then be broadcast on Saskatchewan’s SCN and the Knowledge Network. No international partners are involved yet. The budget for the doc is around CAN$165,000.

The Knights of the Long Knives

Secret societies have existed for as long as there has been civilization. Men have gathered together in secret places to perform mysterious rituals and advance clandestine causes. Brotherhoods of the Millennium is a look at how one of the first modern secret societies, the crusaders, are connected to organizations like the SS. The production follows the evolutionary trail from the Knights of Malta, to the Knights Templar, to the Teutonic Knights. For as long as we can remember, forces like these have been at work under the surface of society, wielding powerful and mysterious forces.

The 4 x 60-minute series is being produced by New York’s RPM Media, in association with Studio MI in Slovania and Al Sayyar Art Productions in Syria. The series will be hosted by actor Michael York, and should be ready for the Summer of 1999. The four-hours carry a budget of around US$800,000, and there has been some interest expressed by a rather large broadcasting society, but as no quill has been put to contract yet, they will have to remain secret.

Ready for a similar release date, RPM is also putting together a 4 x 60-minute series specifically on the Knights Templar dubbed The Templar Legacy. The series follows their 600-year progress from Templars to modern Freemasons. Shot in 16 countries, the series has the input of people like Robert Brydon, a Templar and Freemason scholar, and custodian of one of the world’s largest libraries on the subject. The budget is similar to that of the secret society production, and the same unnamed broadcaster is interested. Both projects are being distributed by New York’s ATA Trading Company.

Four Horsemen, enter riding

The United States has played host to disasters of both Biblical and Shakespearean proportions. (Many Ross Perot campaign jokes come to mind). The story of one which proved to be the most potentially deadly is headed for the small screen. Ready for the end of this year, Melt Down on Three Mile Island, is being produced by New York’s Stewart/Gazit Productions for PBS’ American Experience. Equipment failure, human error and bad luck combined to create America’s worst nuclear disaster ever. (How do you spell China Syndrome?). The one-hour production carries a budget of around US$500,000, the average for an American Experience.

For winter of the turn of the century, the New York prodco is also working an another production for the American Experience strand. Very tentatively titled The Flood of 1927, the hour will look at the greatest flood to ever strike the U.S. When the Mississippi bubbled over her banks, it was more than just a natural disaster – it helped develop the Mississippi delta and even altered race relations. Rather than being a look at a disaster, the doc is intended to be a cultural and economic history instead.


Cry Havoc! and let slip the Y2K

The Y2K bug, as it has been dubbed (i.e. the suspected and impending failure of everything electronic at the turn of the century) has been front and center in the news recently. There are a number of areas where the bug could do more than ruin the lives of teenage computer nerds – it could also effect banks and financial institutions, utilities, hospitals and unsuspecting travelers. Millennial Fears: Fact or Fiction? is being produced by Colorado’s Grizzly Adams Productions, and is being distributed by DTG Entertainment in Encino. No broadcasters are yet involved with this US$500,000 production. Millennial Fears will be completed for some time in January of 1999. Set your watches now, while you still can.


Debussy for Clods

Israel’s Noga Communications and German coproducers Euroarts International are working on a 60-minute film which will introduce viewers to the world of composer Claud Debussy. The film uses Daniel Barenboim’s performance of the Preludes (Book 1), and sets it against a background of Spanish Gaudi architecture, ballet and historical material from Debussy himself. Entre quatre-z-veux: Daniel Barenboim plays Claud Debussy’s Preludes (Book 1), (not exactly the shortest title in the world), will be ready for the Spring of 1999, and has a budget of US$400,000.


Burning Elephants Visit the Grand Canyon

London’s Wall to Wall Television is working on a 3 x 50-minute series called Into the Flames. The three-hours looks at the science of fire and hears the testimony of witnesses to the `world’s most terrifying fires’ (insert ominous organ music here). From blazing forests to plane infernos, the series promises to provide the definitive view of fire fighting. The series is tied to Channel 5 in the U.K. and TLC in the U.S. In Germany, Premiere and ORF are involved. The series will be wrapped by December 1998, and has a budget of around £600,000. A second series to follow this one is looking very likely.

Another 3 x 60-minute effort pending, builds on the success Wall to Wall has had with their natural history recently. An Animal’s World looks at the secret lives of lions, elephants and chimpanzees. Although nothing is burned in the entire three hours, the series has been picked up by Discovery in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K. The budget lurks around £900,000, and the series will be completed by May 1999.

Natural Born Wonders is a new 6 x 60-minute series, which takes viewers to the world’s most visually stunning natural wonders. Some of the locations explored include Niagara Falls, Ayers Rock, The Grand Canyon and The Dead Sea. Already involved are: Channel 4 and PBS in the U.S., as well as ORF, WDR and Premiere in Germany. The series will be completed by September 1999, and carries with it a rather breathtaking budget of around £1.5 million. All three series are being distributed by ITEL in London.

I’ll have mine without ice, thanks

If you haven’t heard of Sir Earnest Shackleton yet, you will soon. Shackleton set out with his crew in 1914 for an expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. Unfortunately, harsh ice conditions trapped his ship for ten months, leaving her helpless crew to drift at the mercy of the floes, before finally crushing it to splinters. The crew escaped onto the ice, where they lived for five months on penguins and fish, before they finally landed on a glacial rock called Elephant Island. For five more months they lived there, before managing to make their final escape back to civilization. Through his ingeniousness and dogged determination, Shackleton did not lose a single man through the whole ordeal.

The story will soon be a book called Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, published by AA Knopf (U.S.) and Bloomsbury (U.K.) this November. A 90-minute documentary, called Endurance: Shackleton’s Epic of Survival, is also in the works by New York’s White Mountain Films, in association with the American Museum of Natural History, based in New York. Negotiations are still underway with international broadcasters, but the film will be distributed by London’s Louise Rosen Ltd. The ‘over US$1.5 million’ film will be completed for June of 1999.

Rosen is also offering Time Capsule: Message In A Bottle, available for some time in January 1999. Time capsules were the big thing in the 1930s, and since that time thousands have been buried around the world. Andy Warhol alone left over 600 of them (freak). In the far future, will they be looked at in the way that we look at the pyramids now, or will we just look like a bunch of pack rats desperate for immortality?

Time Capsule is a Zia Films production, in association with the Center for Independent Documentary. The 60-minute doc carries a budget of around $300,000.

Solid Film Choices

Solid Entertainment in Brentwood is a producer/distributor with a lot on their plate for the beginning of the new year.

The one-hour 100 Visions pairs 60 American and 40 Russian high school students who have grown up in the Cold War, and uses film, theater and television to help them explore how political propaganda has effected their lives. Ready for March, 1999, the doc is being produced by Tennessee’s Germantown Community Television Foundation, and carries a budget of around us$170,000.

Moving from the political circus to the honest-to-goodness Big Top, A Circus Life is a 2 x 50-minute look at a dying form of entertainment. In the middle nineteenth century, the circus was one of the most popular forms of distraction, but little remains today. Chappie Fox has made it his mission in life to collect and showcase circus wagons, the ornate coaches and cages that brought circuses to town. (Someone had to do it, and his name is Chappie, after all). Ready for release in February of 1999, the doc is being produced by Los Angeles-based Coyote Run Pictures, and has a budget of around $250,000.

To more mechanized coaches: Empires of Steam examines the few remaining steam trains that ply the routes of India and northeast China. This 50-minute cinematic view of the last remaining artifacts of a dying age is produced by McCourry Films of Santa Barbara, and has a budget of around $150,000.

The 50-minute The San Patricios tells a historical story from a different side. In 1846, thousands of unemployed Irish and German immigrants were recruited into the u.s. army to fight against Mexico. Badly treated and locked into fighting an unpopular war of conquest, many deserted to fight for the Mexican cause. At war’s end, these men were captured and court-martialed as traitors, but to many Irish and Mexicans, they remain heroes even today. Ready for release in winter of this year, the production is the work of Vista, California’s Mark Day Productions, and carries a budget of around $145,000.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.