Production News

May 1, 1999


Be your own best friend

Let the giggling begin. Solo Act: A Brief History of Masturbation is a new doc looking at, well… you know. Don’t make me explain it.

Destined for theatrical release, the roughly US$400,000 feature-length film looks at the subject historically, sexually, socially, politically, and culturally – with a strong dose of humor added in for good measure. Solo Act will make extensive use of archive footage and movie clips (insert your own joke here), as well as animation.

The film is being produced by Scottish-born, New York-based filmmaker, Diane Best of Helping Hand Films, with the help of New York’s Lumiere Productions, and executive producer Michael Hausman of Cinehaus (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Firm, Amadeus, etc.). Jan Rofekamp, of Montreal’s Films Transit will act as co-executive producer, and will also be responsible for international sales and marketing.

Solo Act is made up of a series of chapters joined by animation: ‘Different Strokes’ examines the differences between the sexes; ‘Onan The Destroyer’ considers the myth of masturbatory insanity; ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ takes a look at the religious aspects, while ‘The Law of Desire’ looks at the legal. ‘The Media and Masturbation’ looks at masturbation on television. ‘Knotty, Knotty’ considers the approximately 500 deaths a year that the FBI claims are the result of auto-erotic asphyxias. (In one case, a 57-year-old man was found slumped over a vacuum cleaner by his neighbor, after suffering a heart attack during an auto-erotic encounter with his Hoover.)

So far, Channel 4 in the U.K. and Germany’s Telepool have signed on, among others. Solo Act will be ready for early spring of next year.


This year’s model

Evolution continues to be a hot topic in the scientific community, even a hundred years after the death of Charles Darwin. While it’s hard to argue the facts of evolution (say, if you were to compare the average politician with an ocelot), many still see evolution as the greatest sham ever perpetrated by the scientific community.

Washington’s Clear Blue Sky Productions and Boston’s WGBH Science Unit are teaming up to put together a 8 x 60-minute aiming to be the definitive look at the matter. The project is a bit of an evolution for Clear Blue Sky itself, as the producers have never done television work before.

Evolution (w/t) examines the evidence for, and implications of, this perennially controversial theory. It trails Darwin’s voyage of discovery and demonstrates how his notions have become the backbone of the modern life sciences. Set to air in 2001, the series has a budget of about US$8 million, and will include a major Internet effort, teachers kits, and a companion trade book. The executive producer on the series is a former VP at Disney’s Imagineering, Richard Hutton.


Gorillas in the Bronx

Although New York has frequently been referred to as a jungle, people really mean it when they say it now. At the Bronx Zoo, they’re in the process of building a Congo-esque Rain Forest – an honest-to-goodness exact replica of a jungle primeval. Opening in June, the Congo Rain Forest stretches over six and a half acres of New York, and aims to make visitors feel like they’ve been transported into another world. Besides just being entertaining, the creators hope to educate visitors and make them aware of the precarious nature of the Rain Forest.

Dunedin’s Natural History New Zealand and the Discovery Channel are working together on a one-hour doc about the Congo project, dubbed Building Congo in the Bronx (w/t), which will be wrapped by October of this year. With the help of world-renowned zoological, conservational and research organization, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the producers will examine the development, construction and the opening of the park. Sources at the N.Z. producer suggest that this will only be the first of many productions to come out of their relationship with the wcs.

The head of production for this special is NHNZ’s Peter Hayden. The production has a ballpark (Congo Park?) budget of US$500,000.

I’ll have mine to go

Survival is at it again. The U.K. producers are aiming to have even more natural history ready for completion in September.

Fast Food is a one-hour look at Africa’s Impala herds. Prey for pretty much everything that moves in the wilds of Africa, the Impala has had to learn how to be a survivor. They have managed to flourish by discovering new ways to outwit the various and sundry beasts who continuously stalk them. With a budget of approximately £450,000, the special is being distributed by London’s itel.

Also being handled by the distributor is Survival’s The Burning Heart, an hour about the wildlife of the Australian interior. Fighting harsh climate and encroaching civilization, some of Australia’s wildlife is fighting for its life. The hour comes with a budget of roughly £380,000. No koalas were harmed in the making of this special.


I am a rock. I am an island.

Although PPM Multimedia of Madrid, Spain, is probably better known for their animation work, the distributor also has a healthy slate of documentaries on the go, many of which are still in production.

Produced by Madrid’s Arteseros TV (which specializes in historical docs), Under the Shadow of the Rock is a 3 x 45-minute series, which should be completed by late summer. The US$90,000 doc looks at the role of the British Colony of Gibraltar during the Second World War. The Nazi war machine raced across Europe, but came to a standstill when they tried to take `The Rock.’ In 1942, Gibraltar acted as a springboard to the Allied invasion of North Africa, and Spain soon became the focus of both combatants’ attention. The series is on the hunt for a broadcaster.

PPM is also representing Eastern Spain’s Trivision for their 13 x 5-minute series La Fiesta. Eventually, the series will climb to 62 x 5-minutes, but it can also be arranged by topic into hour-long episodes. The initial series has a budget of $300,000.

The series will visit over a hundred towns and villages in Spain to record La Fiesta – the annual ceremonies that take place in the countryside and towns. Gunpowder and fire, bulls and historical recreations, all turn rural Spain into a colorful mosaic of pagan and religious rituals. La Fiesta will be broadcast on Spain’s Canal 9.

2000: Enter the dragon

It’s hard to distinguish whether China: The Dragon’s Ascent is a film, or a programming event. The entire project consists of 500 minutes of Super 16 film (to be broken down into a 10 x 52-minute series), an interactive CD-ROM, an extensive website, a stockpile of over 2,500 still photographs, and a book.

Dragon’s Ascent is being produced by London’s Totem Productions for First Media Distribution of Jersey. The project, however, is expected to well outlive the broadcast. All the materials – film, stills, reports, and research – will be stored at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, England, a Western specialist in Chinese history and culture. (The information will eventually make it to the website too.) The US$7 million project has been funded by The Chinese Civilization Education Trust, in collaboration with The Needham Institute and the Institute for the History of Natural Science in Beijing.

With a team of 30 working for the last five years, the project is aiming for a 2000 launch (The Year of the Dragon). The producers are talking to broadcasters but nothing had been firmed up as of press time.

China has opened its doors recently as it has not done during any point in the last century, so the access the producers have had is unique. China stands to be one of a small handful of nations poised to decide the look of the next century, but few outside of her borders understand her importance to history or her expectations for the future. The filmmakers plan to tackle subjects such as: how China changed the world; governance; food – the battle to fill 1.5 billion mouths; families; print and persuasion; health and healing; `An Ever Open Door’ – how China has traded ideas with the world for two millennia; and the making of modern China.



by Simon Bacal

A two-hour documentary for The History Channel, Nazi America: A Secret History, currently in production at Los Angeles-based Termite Art Productions, charts the rise of Nazism in the U.S. The special, budgeted at slightly above US$300,000, includes interviews with Irv Rubin, founder of the Jewish Defense League; Sue Canady, author of American Nazis; and Dr. William Pierce, leader of the Nazi movement.

‘The first hour takes us to the end of World War II,’ says writer-producer Greg Dehart, whose project will air during the final quarter of 1999. ‘We learn how the German Bund, the original name of the Nazi movement in the United States, was started by German immigrants during the 1920s. These communities, based in cities such as New York and Detroit, published their own newspapers, maintained their own exclusive neighborhoods and often boycotted Jewish stores. Things really came to a head in 1937, when the Bund organized a huge rally in Madison Square Garden. On one hand, the rally showed their strength, but on the other hand it alerted America to the rise of the party.’

The second hour will chart Nazism’s rise during the 1960s and culminate in the proliferation of today’s Neo-Nazi organizations.

‘Today’s Nazi movement is very big and dangerous – thanks to the Internet. There are literally dozens of Nazi websites on-line. Obviously people are receiving propaganda when they’re signing onto these things, but they’re also gaining a good insight into these organization’s agendas. Some websites are adorned with a massive Nazi Swastika, while others are more covert. They [visitors] don’t necessarily want to be hit on the head with everything, so these subtler websites are usually wrapped in Christianity. Initially, people will see crosses and images of Jesus, but as they get further into the website, the Nazi propaganda becomes more apparent. At the end of the websites there’s a call to join the movement, or buy Nazi-related merchandise. It’s all about recruiting people into the movement.’


by Simon Bacal

Incorporating home movies, photographs and audio tapes, Vietnam Choppers tells the emotional stories of helicopter pilots, crewman, mechanics and other personnel who saw combat during the Vietnam War. Scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel in late summer, the US$200,000-plus one-hour special, is produced by L.A.’s Termite Art Productions.

‘A good friend, who was never in the military, bought an old Huey helicopter,’ says producer Debbie LaPensee. ‘He researched its history and discovered that it had belonged to VMO2, a marine squadron in Vietnam. He flew the helicopter across country to attend `Pop A Smoke,’ an organization which meets every two years in Florida, and reunites helicopter pilots, crewmen, gunners, mechanics and anyone else who was involved with the Marine helicopter squadron. As a result, the guys in the squadron were able to see the helicopter again and recall their experiences – something which ultimately inspired me to make this documentary.’

During the war, helicopter crews located ground forces by asking them to `Pop a Smoke,’ whereby marines would pop a smoke grenade to mark their ground position. The grenade marked the landing zone and showed the pilots the wind direction – telling them that it was safe to land.

The documentary features interviews with veterans such as Mike Claussen, a crew chief on a CH-46 helicopter, and the only enlisted Marine Airman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. ‘He rescued 18 marines from three different locations in a minefield,’ LaPensee reveals, ‘so we were obviously very honored to interview him.’

Also interviewed are Ben Cascio, an H-46 pilot who was shot in the left eye and seriously wounded in the other while flying a helicopter full of patients in desperate need of medical attention. Will Reeves, a Marine crew chief who helped rescue 1,700 Vietnamese civilians in a flood on November 10, 1964, is also featured. In addition, the special includes an interview with Nancy Pless Monroe, whose son Stephen won the Congressional Medal of Honor for rescuing four men from a beach being held by 50 Viet Cong.

‘Shortly after winning the Medal, Stephen died in a freak motorcycle accident,’ LaPensee says, ‘but his mother attended the reunion because she wanted to connect with his former buddies – something which was really emotional and touching.’

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