Non-fiction to go

December 1, 1998


Tails on a grand scale

The Cheetah Family, from Nature Conservation Films in The Netherlands, with the help of U.S. coproducers National Geographic, and Igel Films in Germany, is storytelling on a grand scale. The 35mm film follows the life of a family of cheetahs, from the birth of the main subject (named Cat), until the time when she becomes mother to her own brood of cubs. The story focuses on the fight for survival, and the playfulness which leads to the discovery and development of the skills necessary for survival. The film will be available in an 80-minute cinematic format, as well as a 52-minute television version. Nature Conservation Films is also making a 17-minute version of the film available to give viewers and potential buyers a taste of what’s in store for them in the longer version. Ready for spring of next year, the production has a budget in excess of US$1 million and is being distributed by NCF.

The coproduction partners are also hard at work on a 52-minute film entitled Golden Jackals of Oldonyo Gol. The film looks to dispel some of the negative images and bad pr which jackals seem to have been stuck with, and show them as resourceful and intelligent animals, surviving the harsh climate of Africa’s Oldonyo Gol Mountain area (mostly through treachery and murder, and… sorry). The production will be ready early in the new year, and has a million-dollar budget.

Latin snakefest

California producer/distributor Tomwil Inc. is working on a nightmare entitled Anaconda: The Giant Snake of the Amazon. This one-hour hunt for one of the world’s largest snakes was shot in Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela. Anaconda is a coproduction with Discovery in the U.S. and is destined for that broadcaster’s Wild Discovery strand. Discovery has the production slated for all its territories excluding Europe. Tomwil has distribution there along with international home video rights. The production will be ready to air in early 1999, and has a budget in the mid six-figures U.S.

Old-age feeding frenzy

There is an adage which states that when you get something right, you just shouldn’t mess with it. Sharks are firm believers in this credo. The underwater predators have changed little in the millions of years they have existed on the planet. In fact, they have changed so little that modern sharks still closely resemble their prehistoric relatives. Jurassic Shark, from U.K. producer Survival (United Wildlife), is a one-hour look at the slow evolution of this species, and examines the threats which sharks face today. The one-off is being coproduced with Channel 5 in the U.K. and Canal+ in France. Ready for the end of 1999, the hour has a budget of around £450,000. The production is being distributed out of London by ITEL.


And the livin’ is easy…

Summertime is a one-hour production about the life and musical development of George Gershwin. The project is an Associated Media and Transfer Film production (both of which are based in Berlin), in association with Hamburg producer/distributor Igel Media. The project was commissioned by German public broadcaster NDR, and should hit the airwaves some time early next year. The production has a budget of around US$600,000, so hopefully your daddy’s rich, and your mamma’s good lookin’.

In your face

Hollywood Up Close and Personal is meant to be a weekly entertainment series keeping viewers up-to-date on the latest doings of the glitteratti. Each half-hour episode will feature three up-close-and-personal interviews with stars, and will be tied into upcoming releases and newsworthy events. The segments are individualized so that they can stand-alone, and therefore can be integrated into existing formats. Distributed by California’s Rigel Independent Distribution and Entertainment, and produced by ABER Productions and Goldbar Entertainment, the pilot of this 52 x 30-minute series has wrapped, with weekly production set to kick off this winter. The first few episodes will begin running early into the new year. Destined for the Fox Family Channel in the U.S., each episode has a budget of around US$75,000.


The Empires Strike Back

Not content with a mere ten hours of historical movers and shakers, Washington distributor Devillier Donegan is looking to expand on its Empires theme with another 15 hours of new product.

Joining Islam: Empire of Faith (3 x 60-minutes for March of 2000), Napoleon (4 x 60-minutes for October 2000) and The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization (3 x 60-minutes for July 1999) are four more series which should be ready to air some time in 2001.

All four are still in the development stage, so details have yet to be carved in stone. The proposal includes a 4 x 60-minute series entitled The British Empire, by London’s Brook Lapping. London’s Anthony Geffen will be putting together a 3 x 60-minute dubbed The Mongols: The Devil’s Horsemen. L.A.-based Lyn Goldfarb and Margaret Koval are slated to produce four hours called The First Century A.D.: The Roman Empire. Very early in the planning stages is a three or four hour series tentatively dubbed On this Rock: The Roman Catholic Church. Ominous hints suggest even more Empires over the next five years.

The new series should be confirmed this month, and will begin delivery about two years from now. The budgets per hour should be similar to those of the series already in development, meaning in the range of US$600,000 per hour.

Come out with your hands up already

For over two hundred years, the United States has enjoyed the protection of Federal Marshals. From the dusty, silver-badged horsemen of big-screen westerns to the modern task forces, Marshals are the romantic figures of legend who track down fugitives, and generally uphold the law. (Roll credits, ride into sunset here). From Andrew Solt Productions in L.A. comes a 3 x 60-minute series for tlc called Marshal Law. The series should be wrapped up for the Spring of 1999, and has a budget in the range of US$1 million for the three hours. The series is being distributed by Solt’s distribution arm, SOFA Entertainment.

Also from Andrew Solt Productions comes Nature’s Wrath: Extreme Weather. This 3 x 60-minute series features some new information on and footage of floods, avalanches, and tornadoes. The project is also destined for TLC, and will be wrapped early in 1999. With a budget similar to Marshals, sofa is also handling the distribution of this series. I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

My dog told me to do it

Greystone Communications of North Hollywood, one of the busier producers for American cable, have a new series called The Big House which should be wrapping early into the new year. The 4 x 60-minute series looks at several prisons in the U.S., including Folsom State Prison (home of Charles Manson, among others), Alderson Federal Women’s Penitentiary (temporary hang-out of Billie Holliday), Atlanta Federal Prison, and San Quentin State Prison (also home of Charles Manson, who apparently needs a change of pace every once in a while). The series is being produced for The History Channel, and carries a budget of around US$125,000 per hour.


The Film Everyone’s Toking About

Grass, an examination of marijuana prohibition, is the latest feature-length documentary offering from veteran director/producer Ron Mann (Twist, Comic Book Confidential) and his Toronto production/distribution company Sphinx Productions.

The CAN$1.5 million production, currently posting, consists mainly of stock footage but will also include animation sequences from Paul Mavrides, co-artist on The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers cult comics.

Toronto’s CityTV has pre-bought Grass and Canadian distributor Lions Gate Films will handle the theatrical and video release. The Beastie Boys may compose the film’s soundtrack and Mann is hoping to `score’ a U.S. distribution deal with New Line/Fine Line.

Mann wore an executive producer’s hat on Toronto Film Festival favorite this year, Brakage – the feature doc about legendary U.S. experimental filmmaker Stan Brakage. Riding high on strong screenings at Telluride, Toronto and The Hamptons film festivals, Brakage has been invited to screen at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival.

Jim Shedden, curator of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, directed Brakage while Alex Francis-Shaw produced and edited. Budgeted at under CAN$500,000 the film was funded through a Bravo! (Canada) license fee, the Canadian Television and Cable Production Fund and interim financing from the Rogers Documentary Fund. U.S. distributor Zeitgeist is planning a spring art-house release while Domino will handle a theatrical in Canada. Montreal’s Films Transit is inking European sales. Andy Hoffman

On the Cover: This Really Blows

Race for the Superbomb, a two-hour production for The American Experience strand on PBS, will be ready to irradiate viewers by the middle of January. Produced by Massachusetts-based 51 Pegasi Pictures for Boston’s WGBH, the million-dollar doc is a look at the development of the hydrogen bomb. Motivated by fear, U.S. and Russian scientists raced to discover the weapon that would tip the balance during the Cold War. The production tells both sides of the story, and explores the propaganda-induced terror which acted as the prime motivator for the quest.

The film is being done with a 16:9 ratio to future-proof it against the hd world, and will run in a letterbox in North America. Major funding for the project comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, with corporate funding from Liberty Mutual and Scotts/Miracle Gro.


Virginia’s Henninger Media has several personalities, but isn’t in the least bit dangerous. Capable of acting as a producer, distributor or studio entity, Henninger can handle all of its domestic productions from conception to post and delivery. For their international efforts, they use New York-based distribution partner, Fox Lorber Associates.

One of Henninger’s new productions, Curse of the Hope Diamond, is a one-hour for TLC in the U.S. Ready for mid-1999, the production traces the three century-long history of the rare blue gem, and explores both the myth and reality of the curse the diamond is said to carry. The production carries a budget of around US$275,000, which is pretty cheap compared to the cost of the subject it covers.

From cursing to cruising: nascar racing is one of the most popular forms of auto racing in the U.S. Pole Position examines what it takes to compete in the field (other than a car, which is obviously pretty integral). The hour will be completed for early in 1999, and is destined for the Discovery Channel in the U.S. The budget is roughly $350,000.

Private I is another one-hour destined for Discovery in North America. Private investigators are largely misunderstood figures in society. Most viewers think of Sherlock Holmes, Kojak or even Jim Rockford when they think private eye, but like some things on television, that image isn’t entirely accurate (please see afore mentioned jackal film). This hour gives viewers a chance to ride shotgun with investigators as they conduct their day-to-day business. Ready for early 1999, the production has a budget of around $325,000.

In the Beginning…

London’s Alastair White Distribution is the new venue for the talents of Southern Star/Explore/BBC Worldwide veteran Alastair White. Born at the beginning of October, one of awd’s goals is to help develop and distribute the work of African producers.

The first two projects in White’s catalog are Pearls of the Ocean and Africa Wild. Pearls is a 6 x 30-minute series produced by Cape Town’s Cotton Road Television. The series explores six secluded island communities, examining both the landscape as well as the music, poetry, and storytelling of the native people. Shot on film, this series should be completed by April of 1999. At press time, no broadcasters had signed on yet, but the reasonable budgets should ensure that situation doesn’t last long. Thanks to an very favorable pound vs. rand dollar exchange rate, the programs are being produced for about US$50,000 an episode.

Africa Wild is a coproduction between awd and Cotton Road, and is available in either a 13 x 26-minute or 6 x 50-minute series format. The series focuses on the repercussions humans might expect as they cut deeper and deeper into animal habitats. Sometimes wild animals fight back out of an innate drive to survive. Some of the stories include those of elephants turning on game wardens, baboons ransacking homes, hippos mugging tourists, and sharks who snap and decide to stand up to fishermen. The series has a similarly favorable pricetag, and will also be ready some time in April.

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.