Non-fiction to go

Winners & Losers:...
November 1, 1999

Winners & Losers:

Low-down from the MIPCOM Market Simulation

By Mary Ellen Armstrong

A wide variety of non-fiction was on offer at the 11th Market Simulation/Bourse Aux Coproductions for documentaries, held at MIPCOM on October 4. The seminar, presented in association with The Banff Television Festival and IMCA and sponsored by RealScreen, played out before a full audience and brought together producers from Canada, France, the U.K., Spain and the U.S., all presenting disparate projects.

Hosted by Pat Ferns from the BTVF, the ‘jury’ for the session consisted of Muriel Rosé of France 3, Paul Hamann of the BBC, Chris Haws of Discovery International and Renate Roginas from Media Finance International, a France-based company that consults on coproduction partnerships.

First up was Paul Eichgrun of Toronto-based Dramarama Productions, who pitched a 2 x 5-minute project called Geisha: The Life, The Voices, The Art. His company (which most recently produced Rock ‘n’ Roll Invaders for Bravo in the U.S. and Bravo! in Canada) has secured Lisa Dalby, author of American Geisha, as a consultant. Dalby is also currently working on Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha, and Eichgrun is hoping to piggyback on the hype that film will create, probably in 2001. Eichgrun emphasized that his film will not focus on the geisha and their clients, but on ‘the geisha and their art, geisha as a community of women artists.’ The budget for the project is US$230,000, and a Canadian license fee from Bravo! is in place for $45,000.

Response from the panel indicated that, apart from having to differentiate the project from others on the same topic, a one-off special would probably be more saleable. It was also suggested that the project could have HD potential. Both Haws and Hamann had recommendations for potential female, Japanese-speaking directors. From the audience, Keiko Bang (of Bang Productions, see pg. 30) indicated her interest in becoming involved as a coproducer. Her company is developing a similar project and has already pitched it to Discovery Asia. The pitch may have also solicited the participation of ARTE and NVC Arts in the U.K.

Pitch #2 came from Bertrand Loyer of Saint Thomas Productions in Paris, and managed to generate some spirited opinions. Tentatively titled Animal Homosexuality, the 1 x 52-minute project is budgeted at US$650,000. Canal+ has committed US$115,000 as a copro investment and $40,000 for first window in France. Docstar is in for another $50,000. Loyer, who has done blue-chip work for Discovery, the BBC, Canal+ and France 2, pitched it as a project ‘based on extensive research and science.’ He added that the topic may prove to be too much for ‘puritan’ Anglo-Saxon audiences, and said the BBC had told him to try Canada.

Response to Loyer’s very graphic trailer were mixed. While Haws called it a ‘fascinating subject,’ he was skeptical that the film would work devoid of on-screen experts, and he questioned whether the film could avoid the human homosexuality issue all together. Meanwhile, Hamann called the tape ‘salacious,’ adding that he doubted the research. He also took issue with the last line of the v/o on the trailer: ‘Let yourself be tempted by Animal Homosexuality.’ Said Hamann: ‘I think this is an important topic. I question whether this is the film to present it.’ Rosé from France 3 called the approach ‘daring,’ but wondered whether the idea was just to show a lot of animal sexuality. She also wondered about programming, as most NH slots tend to be family-oriented. Roginas encouraged Loyer to re-negotiate with Docstar, calling the current deal ‘not a good agreement,’ considering that big pre-sales or copro partners were still needed, and were most likely to be found in Germany, the U.K. and France.

The third pitch came from Steven Seidenberg of London’s Café Productions. The project, a 52-minute one-off called War Games, is to be produced in association with Polish director Dariusz Jablonski (The Photographer). Seidenberg said the film deals with the untold story of former Polish Army colonel, Ryszard Kuklinski, who was the CIA’s highest placed source within the Warsaw pact armies. ‘It’s a rattling good yarn,’ Seidenberg said of the spy story. ‘Can a patriot betray his country and still be a patriot?’ Seidenberg said Jablonski had arranged exclusive access to Kuklinski.

There are four versions planned for War Games; two feature versions and two 52-minute versions. All interviews with Kuklinski will be filmed twice – in Polish and English. The budget is US$450,000 and Telewizja Polska is in for $70,000. Another $30,000 will come from media. Seidenberg was not optimistic about a U.S. pre-sale, given Jablonski’s directorial style.

Hamann called the proposal ‘attractive,’ but added that the plethora of spy exclusives on British TV has diminished the audience. Rosé expressed interest from France 3 for its ‘history dossier,’ as the French market for spy stories has not been as saturated. Haws said it was unfortunate War Games couldn’t be completed in time for the Berlin Wall anniversary, but indicated TLC might have an interest, which would in turn make it more attractive for Discovery Europe. From the audience, Sleeping Giant president Jim Hanley added that a Canada/U.K./Polish copro could be possible if 20% of the film could be counted as Canadian-content, a definition which could mean about CDN$120,000 (US$80,000) out of the domestic funding system.

Pitch #4 was a project from Cero en Conducta and Filmax Group in Spain called The Orvichs, A 20th Century Trade. The 2 x 50-minute project was pitched by Pera Roca from Filmax. Roca described the partnership between his company and Cero as a ‘joint venture,’ adding ‘we have development money, and they have talent.’

While the panel seemed confused by the written proposal (an excerpt: ‘. . . we will get a quality product. . . showing an evocative document from the country through the centuries. . . ‘), the demo trailer was a hit. Members of the Orvich family proved entertaining and engaging, even in sub-titles. The family, which escaped the Balkan wars to Spain early in the twentieth century, told anecdotes of how they established a traveling cinema, showing films in barns to people who had never before seen a movie. The budget for the project is US$250,000 and Roca hopes it could be the pilot for a series on families in Spain.

Haws called the demo ‘delightful,’ adding ‘this is a classic example of a horrendous document betraying your clip. Get someone else to write your proposals.’ He suggested that Angela Rumbland of People & Arts, Latin America would likely be interested, as well as Travel and TLC. Rosé also admitted that she was confused by the document but compelled by the clip. She said that while it’s unlikely France 3 could coproduce, they could be a potential broadcaster. Roginas suggested a feature-length version could do well, and that perhaps an organization like UNESCO would be interested in supporting it.

The last pitch came from Lisa McWilliams and Sharon Baker from Delaware-based Teleduction. The company, which specializes in current affairs, had previously pitched a project called Central Casting as the Market Simulation and it subsequently aired on Bravo. The latest project, Homeopathy: Mystery and Miracle, is a 60-minute one-off budgeted at US$300,000 and shot in 16 x 9. Baker, the director, pitched the special as a focus on the ‘efficacy and science’ of homeopathy rather than an in-depth history. The featured patients and doctors come from around the world: the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany. The project will make use of dramatic reenactments to portray the history of the philosophy.

Haws directed the duo towards Kathy Quattrone at Discovery Health, but wasn’t sure what legs the project would have on other Discovery outlets. Rosé from France 3 indicated hesitancy about the re-creations and added that it’s a topic the broadcaster had probably covered in one of its news-magazines. Hamann’s concern was a prevalence of similar projects on the market, and Roginas suggested the duo get a good distributor.

A last project, labeled ‘a surprise’ by Ferns, was an animated documentary project from Taxi and API Productions in France. The audience was shown a 5-minute pilot for a documentary called The Risen Past. The clip featured a CGI-created Ramses II who raises himself from his tomb in the museum of Cairo to tour the remains of what was his palace. The clip was followed by a short ‘making of’ feature which explains how the animated Ramses was created with the help of forensic scientists who aged the mummy of the Pharaoh to reflect the man at 50.

Reaction to the clip was positive, even though the animation had not been completely perfected. As to cost, the team suggested that each one-hour episode would cost about $1.5 million, but that they hoped to help finance it with licensing and merchandising deals. France 2 is already on board.

Hamann responded by passing along his card and a request to meet about it.


`You are Heeled!’

Only recently excavated, the Lion Tower at the famous Tower of London looks as though it could be one of the oldest zoos in Europe. The Lion Tower is a 60-minute story telling the tale of this forgotten menagerie, its animal inhabitants and the odd sorts who thought it was a good idea to store animals in a primitive high-rise. The production, being undertaken by Lion Television in London, is destined for BBC2′s Timewatch strand during some time in the spring of 2000. The budget is in the US$300,000 range.

Also from Lion comes Great Undertakings, a 6 x 30-minute series in which Lion takes an off-kilter look into the realms of death. Lion explores our conceptions and beliefs about death through the eyes of the undertaker, the person who prepares the dead for their final rites. The series itself is being undertaken (…sorry) for Channel 4, and will make its trip into the ether this December. The budget for this macabre tale is about $130,000 per half hour.

Just wrapping from Lion, Dogs Behaving Badly is the true story of a `Dog Whisperer.’ (Anyone can do horses…) Claiming to cure any canine behavioral problems, this nut (um, I mean specialist) travels from kennel to kennel, spreading doggie piece of mind. For ITV in the U.K., the 50-minute special has a budget in the $220,000 area, Scoobie-snacks not included.


WGBH in Boston is in development on a production that should be a hot seller next year. Fire (w/t) is a 2 x 120-minute series to begin shooting this January for a fall completion. Fire tells the story of fire on Earth, and of man’s interaction with this sometimes uncontrollable force. From primitive hearths to nuclear barbecues, fire has been an integral tool in the development of mankind.

One of the first topics covered in the production will be fires in nature. The `GBH team was lucky to be involved in a controlled scientific burn in Alaska last summer. A full 2,000 acres were put to the torch by scientists (who are generally up to no good at the best of times…) in order to see what the effects of wild burns are. In Alaska alone, 500,000 acres of forest are consumed in wildfires each year – in a natural cycle that sees every wooded area razed at least once every 75 years. Scientists hope to understand this natural system so they can prevent such wholesale destruction as was witnessed when 1.5 million acres of Yellowstone National Park burned in 1988 – the result, scientists suspect, of our not allowing forest fires to burn out naturally.

The four hours are based on the work of Stephen Pyne, a scholar who has published a series of five books entitled The Cycle of Fire. Shooting is planned to take place in Australia, South Africa, Sweden, the U.K., and maybe Russia. The estimated budget for the series is over US$2 million and, as of press time, no other broadcast partners had signed on.

Getting to the top… and to the bottom

Ready for the autumn of 2000, Washington’s CBO Productions and True Stories International of Germany are hard at work on a 4 x 58-minute series entitled The Fleet: German Battleships. The series profiles the myths, military ambition and the defeat of the German fleet during the Second World War, in battles against the British and American navies. The series uses rare footage (including private 8mm films made aboard the Graf Spee, one of Germany’s most famous battleships), and the stories of living witnesses to tell the tales. So far, the Graf Spee episode has been sold to ARD/WDR, with strong interest for the others from German public television. The budget for the series is about US$700,000.

Reinhold Messner was the first person to climb all 14 of the mountains on Earth that rise higher than 8,000 meters. Just for the hell of it, he also climbed Mount Everest without the use of oxygen. True Stories has obtained Messner’s consent for a film about his life, making use of his private archives, films and tape recordings. The result will be a one-hour special dubbed A Living Legend: Reinhold Messner. The hour is being produced by Tommy Bayer and True Stories, and has only now begun pre-production. While no broadcasters have signed on yet, there has been strong interest in Germany.


Kickin’ butt in HD

The HD world is quickly becoming more accessible to non-techies. Case in point: a new 13 x 30-minute series from Orlando’s Bruno White Entertainment called Special Ops. The series is dubbed `one of the most advanced shows on television,’ and will take viewers into the world of elite military units as they train for every eventuality. The series will be shot in HD, and will take advantage of Dolby 5.1 sound and the latest in night vision video equipment.

Production begins this November at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and focuses on the U.S. Army’s Guard of Honor, the 82nd Airborne. Shooting is not confined to the U.S., however, and will take place all over the world.

Distribution and merchandising for the series is being handled by Florida’s Television Syndication Company, with episodes beginning delivery in January of next year through 2001. The approximate budget per episode is about US$200,000.


Family tales

Amsterdam’s Nature Conservation Films has managed to bring together partners from all over the world to tell some important wildlife stories.

Gates of Hell is a 52-minute film set at the geyser in the Lake Bogoria basin in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where two million flamingos live and thrive under the watchful eyes of a host of predators. The program will be completed in October of next year (with the last shoot scheduled for January), and is being undertaken by Fergus Beeley (ex-BBC NHU), and Andrew Anderson. The project is a coproduction with Dutch broadcaster EO, National Geographic and NHK Japan. The price for this flamingo fling is in the US$800,000 range.

Also from EO and NCF, with PBS in the U.S., Chimpanzees – Return to the Forest is an accurately-named 52-minute special about a hugely-successful program to integrate orphaned chimps back into the wild. Launched 22 years ago by Stella Brewer and continued since 1976 by Janis Carter, the project has been documented from the start by filmmaker Hugo van Lawick and others. The special includes much of the unique footage van Lawick has shot since the effort began. The program will be wrapped by April 2000, with a budget of about US$400,000.

The Leopard Tale is a 52-minute film following the growth of a leopard from cub to dependent juvenile, to successful adult. Filmed in the Mala Mala game reserve in South Africa, the story begins with the story of the leopard mother and her two cubs, and continues until the youngest reaches adulthood. The special is aiming to be completed by October of 2001, with a budget of about $800,000. The Leopard Tale is a coproduction with WNET in New York.


Dancin’ for Jesus

For those just not spending enough time thinking hard about existence and the meaning of creation, Tel Aviv’s Provid has the answer: The Sun Sets For Us. The 60-minute film, a coproduction with NDR Germany and ARTE, is described as a film which ‘confronts man’s perception of himself as the center of existence, with the tenuous nature of his life in some forgotten corner of the black expanses of the universe.’ Fair enough. The film uses surrealistic cinematography and dance to tackle the subject (performed by the Bat-Sheva Dance Company and Orkater Amsterdam). Shot in Super 16 and video, the film will be completed by mid-2000, at a budget of around US$250,000.

On a less surrealistic, and lighter note, Provid is also in the early development stages on Jesus, Money and Peace (w/t). The production tells the tale of a Palestinian and two Israelis who have joined together to sell souvenirs to the Christians attending the millennium celebrations in the Holy Land. The film is in development, but will run to 50-minutes, and will be shot on video with a budget of about $100,000.


On Dasher, on Dancer…

by Susan Rayman

For many of us, our image of reindeer was shaped by tales of Rudolph and the gang, living up at the North Pole with Santa. But it isn’t really all fun and (reindeer) games.

In The Reindeer of Lapland, a US$250,000 one-hour one-off, wildlife filmmakers Jenny Walsh and Lesley Hammond (of Melbourne-based LJM Productions) look at the true lifestyle of these hoofed animals – known as caribou in North America – from the sometimes violent tussles between wild bulls to the importance of domestic reindeer to native Lapps.

Additionally, as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the many non-Laplanders who send millions of postcards to St. Nick each year, Hammond and Walsh acknowledge the ‘Santa Industry’ that has developed in this region of the Arctic Circle. Reindeer is scheduled to wrap in August 2001.

Also from LJM comes two more one-hour one-offs: At the Feet of the Gods: The Search for the Snow Leopard and Hippos of the Zambezi. Snow Leopard focuses on the imperiled lives of these majestic, Central Asian mountain cats, as well as the efforts being made to save them from extinction. Hippos tells the story of the deceptively placid-looking sub-Saharan water dwellers, particularly those wandering along Africa’s Zambezi river.

Hippos is set to wrap in August 2000, while Snow Leopard’s due date is November 2000. The budget for each is $250,000, and so far Network 10 in Australia is involved. Hammond and Walsh are shooting all three in wide-screen digital.

Canadian co’s to coproduce Journeywoman:

Series a spin-off from the popular website

It’s fitting that in the dying days of the twentieth century, even the new media/TV relationship is turning inside out.

Northern Lights Television of Toronto and Ocean Entertainment of Halifax are combining efforts to coproduce a CDN$1.3 million, 26 x 30-minute travel series based on the award-winning website Broadcasters are now being sought.

Launched in 1996 by creator and publisher Evelyn Hannon, the site is an on-line resource for female travelers, especially woman business travelers. Touted widely in media outlets such as USAToday and The New York Times, the site has picked up an array of website awards.

Hannon will serve as a content advisor for the series, to ensure that the show meets the standards of the site. (How’s that for a twist?) Hannon’s daughter, Leslie Ehm, will work with Ocean (The Resourceful Renovator, The Inn Chef) and Northern Lights (Deadly Inheritance) to adapt the series. Leslie, who recently hosted ITV’s daytime program The Fashion Police in the U.K., will co-host with sister, Erica Ehm, a well-known Canadian TV host and veejay.

Like the website, the series plans to feature insider tips from estrogen-enhanced travelers on destinations, safety advice, places to stay and play, and shopping and dining suggestions. MEA

About The Author