On the Slate

October 1, 2001


The Britannic and other bazaar tales

Being the largest vessel ever to sink is probably not the distinction the builders of the Britannic were hoping for. Inside the Britannic is a 50-minute special produced by Brentwood Communications of California. Sister-ship to the Titanic, the Britannic sank with remarkable ease. Was it an accident, was she targeted by a German U-Boat, or did she explode due to a cargo hold full of ammunition? Divers will explore the wreck in the hope of solving the mystery. Distributed by Santa Monica-based Solid Entertainment, the hour will be ready by the end of this year at a budget of about US$500,000.

On a completely different note, Solid is also handling Without A Net: The Making of NYPD Blue. Produced by Red Board Productions of Hollywood, California, the 51-minute film ventures behind the scenes during the last season of David Milch’s award-winning television show. Known for his flair and improvisational approach, Milch battles time and exhaustion to get the last episodes in the can on time. Also wrapping at the end of this year, the budget for this hour is roughly $220,000.

The Great Bazaars, produced by Santa Barbara-based McCourry Films and distributed by Solid, is a 50-minute trip to the marketplaces of Fez, Istanbul, Marrakesh and Cairo. These bazaars continue to trade spices, gold, perfume and coffee, but face increased competition from the West. Bazaars was written by Walter Weiss, who also penned The Bazaar: Markets and Merchants of the Islamic World (Thames & Hudson). Ready for the end of the year, the budget is about $275,000.

San Francisco’s Frontier Productions will soon be wrapping Yasemin Dalkilic: World’s Deepest Woman, a 48-minute film capturing the action as Dalkilic tries to become the world champion of freediving. Battling oxygen deprivation and nitrogen narcosis, Dalkilic plans to plunge to the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Ready for the end of this year, the project carries a $175,000 budget and has been picked up by National Geographic International.

Ship Shape

Tall Ship Chronicles is a 16 x 1-hour reality series following the tribulations that affect the 45 passengers and crew aboard the tall ship Picton Castle as they sail around the world. The ship left Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, in November 2000 and will travel for 19 months, visiting 22 countries before returning in June 2002. The two-person production crew is comprised of a director and a DOP (who also covers location sound). Each director will spend four months aboard, with the DOPs changing every seven or eight months. The series is being shot using the Sony 150 DV camera with offline editing done on a Mac G4 using Final Cut Pro, and online editing on the Quantel Edit Box.

Tall Ship Chronicles is being produced by Halifax, Canada’s Topsail Entertainment. It began broadcasting in Canada on the Life Network in July 2001. The broadcast schedule features a new episode every month until late 2002 and is budgeted at just under CDN$200,000 (US$120,000) per episode. The series is being produced with assistance from the CTF License Fee Program, the Roger’s Cable Network Fund and the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation. Distribution is being handled by DEX Distribution (also of Halifax), with the first eight episodes available in January 2002 and the last eight available in January 2003. Look for a behind-the-cameras peek at Tall Ship Chronicles in the January issue of RealScreen.

A colorful history

The golden age of the British Empire is resurrected in a colorful retelling from London’s Trans World International and Carlton Television. The copro partners are tackling their fourth major project in less than three years using archived color footage and building on the award-winning ‘Colour’ branded titles. The British Empire in Colour follows The Second World War in Colour, Britain at War in Colour and The Queen Mother in Colour.

The series will include footage from Australia, New Zealand, India, Africa and Britain. It features color scenes from as early as 1906 of the Trooping the Color parade and royal procession. However, the greater part of the footage is from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Delivery is scheduled for January 2002. ITV in the U.K., which commissioned the previous Colour titles, will air the new doc in the first half of 2002. The same team who worked on the other projects is behind British Empire, with Stewart Binns as producer, Alastair Waddington as executive producer and Lucy Carter as series producer.

The 3 x 60-minute series has a budget similar to the Second World War in Colour (US$500,000 per episode), and is equally labor-intensive. Eager to gain as much mileage as possible from the Colour brand, another spin-off will follow. America at War in Colour is being coproduced with Carlton Television and PBS affiliate KCTS Seattle next year. The Colour of War -The ANZAC Story, a copro of TV One (New Zealand), Channel 9 (Australia) and TWI is currently in development, and also trades in on the brand, but is unlikely to include archived color footage. Denise Jeremy

The return of Otzi

For a man long dead – 5,300 years to be precise – Otzi continues to be a popular guy. The Neolithic-era mummy, whose remains were discovered in the ice in the Otzal region of the Austrian Alps (hence his nickname), will be the subject of yet another doc, this one a 52-minute special for the Discovery Channel’s ‘Ultimate Guide’ strand. According to Steve Manuel, executive producer of Ultimate Guide: Iceman, this project is a follow-up to last year’s The Living World of Otzi the Iceman, a one-hour copro by Discovery U.S., Germany’s ZDF and Austria’s ORF, among others. But, he adds, this program will go much further.

‘[The Living World] was about how Otzi lived and died. It was a speculative film about those two aspects of his life,’ Manuel explains. ‘Now, however, there has been a major development in the story. Now, we know with complete authority how he died.’ After 10 years of CT-Scans and forensic tests, scientists have concluded that an arrow in the back felled the iceman. Says Manuel, ‘Our task now is to speculate on his murder.’

Discovery shied away from the copro route this time around, opting instead for a full commission. Italian filmmaker Brando Quilici, who has the advantage of direct access to the Italian scientists working on Otzi, will oversee the project. Like Otzi’s murder, the production budget is a mystery. But, evidence gathered from The Living World raises US$800,000 as a plausible figure. Ultimate Guide: Iceman is scheduled to air in March 2002.

Secrets deep and cold

Stamford, Connecticut, is a hive of activity as distributor CABLEready prepares to distribute a slate of new releases to be shown on TVs around the globe by fall of next year.

CABLEready will be working with Minneapolis-based Broadview Media to distribute two of its new productions: Lost Squadron and Treasure Hunters of the Great Lakes. Squadron is a two-hour special telling the story of eight U.S. fighter pilots forced to crash-land in Greenland during World War II. The US$300,000 film will follow the tale to the present, including the recovery, restoration and flight of one of the P-38 aircraft. In Great Lakes, a 6 x 1-hour series, the producers will accompany divers on a trip to the bottom of the Great Lakes, source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and grave to uncounted wrecks. The temperature of the Great Lakes has kept these unfortunate vessels in pristine condition, so expect some interesting finds during this $150,000 per hour series.

The distrib will also be working with Wisconsin’s Murphy Entertainment Group to produce Journey to the Bottom. The program will take viewers on a two-hour exploration of the ocean floor using the Benthic Explorer (Ben), a new deep-ocean vehicle that will spend a year at the bottom documenting new life in this alien landscape. Ben’s inventor is Doug Hajicek, who is also an executive producer with copro partner White Wolf Pictures. (Hajicek has developed many underwater camera and lighting systems.) Journey has a budget in the $150,000 per episode range.

Got any Monet?

San Francisco-based Actual Films is working with PBS member station Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) to present a 3 x 60-minute series called The Rape of Europa (w/t). The series focuses on how Nazis systematically traded, destroyed or looted the art treasures of Europe, and how contemporary detectives are trying to recover this lost loot. Based on the Lynn H. Nicholas novel of the same name, the series will cross countries and continents on the trail of some of the most well-known treasures of the art world. It will also tell the stories of the people who protected these works at great risk to themselves – by burying them, hiding them, or smuggling them to safety – often right under the noses of hunting Nazis. Stories will come from living witnesses to the events, as well as noted scholars. Not limited to events of the past, the series is also a modern-day detective story, with descendants of the original owners tracing their families’ property to museums and private collections in order to recover them, often by way of a courtroom.

The Rape of Europa is the second collaboration between OPB and Actual Films. The partners recently completed They Drew Fire, a doc about American combat artists of World War II that premiered on PBS in 2000. The new series is expected to reach 10 million viewers through the PBS system, and carries a budget in the US$1.5 million range. The NEH is already aboard as a funding body.

Other Dreams

Although Kartemquin Films has been producing documentaries since 1966 – an incredible 35 years – it was the breakout film Hoop Dreams that put the Chicago prodco on the map. Hoop Dreams won just about every award there was, and went on to become the highest-grossing doc of all time.

Not one to rest on its laurels, Kartemquin has a full slate of films pending, including 5 Girls, set to air on PBS’ P.O.V. strand this month. Distributed by New York’s Women Make Movies, this two-hour movie is the end result of two years of filming by director Maria Finitzo, who followed the lives of five teenage girls. Unlike many films tackling similar themes, this feature will concentrate on the girls’ resilience and their ability to make tough choices.

Haibinh and her family left Vietnam when she was 10, risking everything for a chance at education. Corrie is openly bisexual at a time when most kids will do anything to fit in. Aisha’s parents are divorced, but her father has big dreams for her – and spends his whole life making sure nothing and no one gets in the way. Amber and her mother got into an argument on her 16th birthday, so she left home and never went back. She moved in with a boy under house arrest on the west side of Chicago. But she survived, made it to the honor roll at school, and was accepted to the University of Illinois. Toby’s life is one of privilege, but it’s not a fairytale. She’s surrounded by the exceptional, and she has to be one of the elite.

5 Girls will be part of a community action campaign that highlights the works of positive, strong, young women. It includes community and school outreach, as well as web and radio efforts. The film is being undertaken with the support of Active Voice, a non-profit organization helping groups use film and TV as tools for community building, citizen engagement and partnership development. Budgeted at about US$600,000, the film enjoys the support of both The Donnelley Foundation and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

New Americans will be a 6 x 1-hour series capturing the intricacies of immigrating to America by following five families day-to-day as they undergo the process. While each of the stories has its own producer, the executive producers for the series are Gordon Quinn and Steve James. The series producer is Gita Saedi.

Ogoni refugees from Nigeria speak English and are well educated, but they struggle to make ends meet. Barine is the mother of four teens and sister of slain Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Israel is a chemical engineer. Though they did not choose to come to America, he and his wife, Ngozi, are determined to succeed. (Story producer, Steve James)

Dominicans Ricardo and Jose are baseball prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. The episode follows them from the Dodger camp in Santo Domingo, to spring training in Florida, through to their first years in professional baseball. (Susan Aikin and Carlos Aparicio; associate producer, Lucila Moctezuma)

Naima is a Palestinian woman who marries Hatem, a first-generation Palestinian/American. With one brother dead and another imprisoned, Naima is determined to leave the West Bank behind her, but the violence of her past is not easily escaped. (Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn; associate producer, Fenell Doremus)

Anjan is a computer programmer from Bangalore (India’s Silicon Valley) who migrated to the San Francisco Bay area to pursue an internet fortune. Anjan is only one of 60,000 other Indian immigrants who have come to chase the cutting-edge version of the American Dream. (Indu Krishnan)

A Mexican and a Vietnamese family work as meatpackers in rural southeast Kansas. It’s an old story: poor and Third World immigrants carving out a life working in one of the country’s most debilitating industries, in communities that are ambivalent about their presence. (Renee Tajima Pena and Evangeline E. Griego)

New Americans is about globalization, using outreach to help viewers and students understand the enormity of the trials facing new immigrants, as well as the biases they face within the system. While the film has not yet attracted a distributor, it has a long list of supporters, including The Woods Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Soros Foundation, the CPB and PBS. Internationally, it has been picked up by the BBC in the U.K., VPRO in the Netherlands and SBS in Australia. Aiming for a winter 2002 wrap, the budget for this series is over $2 million.

In the one-hour special Refrigerator Mothers, Kartemquin tackles the stories of women who raised autistic children under the shadow of professionally promoted blame. In the ’50s and ’60s, it was considered a woman’s duty to raise healthy, happy children. When a child was diagnosed as autistic, doctors pinned the cause of the child’s behavior on frigid, detached mothering, hence the term ‘Refrigerator Mother’. The filmmakers use this sad story to delve into what happens when authority goes unquestioned and science is placed above humanity.

Funded by the Independent Television Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rice Foundation and the Illinois Humanities Foundation, Refrigerator Mothers is expected to air on PBS in 2002. No distributors are yet attached to this $400,000 film.

A cigar is a cigar already

New York’s David Grubin Productions is at work on a 2 x 60-minute series

covering the early years of Sigmund Freud, the man dubbed ‘the father of modern psychoanalysis’. Young Doctor Freud covers the span between 1856 and 1900, from Freud’s birth to his publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, with its revolutionary theories about dreams and the role of the unconscious. Shot in Europe, the series is being produced with Washington’s Devillier Donegan Enterprises and PBSs, and will wrap May 2002. The budget for each hour is about US$650,000.

Think you’re smart, eh?

Welsh distributor S4C International and the A&E Network in the U.S. have come together for a group of coproductions, the first of which will be a 3 x 60-minute series called Ancient Discoveries (w/t). Produced by California’s Wild Dream Films, the series is expected to be completed by September 2002.

Ancient Discoveries examines inventions we thought belonged to the modern era, but that have actually been around for much longer. Topics include the compass, clock, false teeth and cosmetic surgery, with each program looking to modern production methods and their ancient equivalent. The price tag for the series is US$700,000. A&E is handling distribution within the Americas, S4CI without.

Social Issues

Borderline justice

In a tale that could have been written by Edgar Allan Poe, a 22-year-old mentally challenged woman is sentenced to life in prison after an infant she was babysitting dies. The child suffered heat exhaustion when a heating/cooling system heated rather than cooled one hot summer day while both slept. How such a sad accident can be construed as murder taxes the imagination, and has become the premise for Swabec Grunberg’s Borderline. Grunberg relies on only the facts to reveal the incredible nature of the story: this was Eunice’s first job, her first time living away from home (a huge step for someone with her learning disability), and her first murder – at least in the opinion of a jury in Owego, New York. Furthermore, she was represented by a public defender with no criminal law experience.

Grunberg, who taped the trial and the media flurry surrounding it, unravels the chain of circumstances which culminate in the murder conviction of a young adult with the mental/emotional capacity of a five-year-old. We learn how an ambitious small town sheriff dupes a docile Eunice into signing a prepared murder confession – in exchange for a ‘Happy Meal’ – hoping to win the sheriff’s approval. This proves to be a deal with the devil, which all but assures her conviction. This poignant tale of justice gone awry has a budget between US$200,000 and $250,000 and is due to wrap in late 2002. The doc is a production of Log TV of Ithaca, New York, with partial funding from the Generoso-Pope Foundation. Copro financing is being sought. Carl Mrozek

Murder, Mayhem and Bull

Los Angeles-based Kismetic Productions is finding interesting stories in the most unlikely (and unfriendly) places.

Although society denies it, women have proven they can be just as evil as men (trust me…). There have been nearly 100 female serial killers in the last century, over half of them in the U.S. Their crimes are as brutal and shocking as their male counterparts, but their motives appear more complex. Based on the research of crime historian Jonathan Kellerher, Murder Most Rare: Inside the Mind of the Female Serial Killer divides female serial murderers into seven categories: Black Widow, Angel of Death, Sexual Predator, Revenge, Profit or Crime, Team Killer and Question of Sanity. Disturbingly, Kellerher suggests that female serial killers are unusually talented at their chosen discipline. Ready for 2002, Murder Most Rare is a 4 x 1-hour series coproduced with Los Angeles-based Original Productions. The budget for this fright-fest is in the US$900,000 range.

Keeping in theme,Addicted To Murder: On the Trail of the Vampire of Dusseldorf, takes a look at German director Fritz Lang, whom the press dubbed ‘The Vampire of Dusseldorf’. This one-hour film, from Kismetic and Washington- based Story House Productions, follows Lang from age 10, when he drowned a friend in the Rhine, up to his 15-month crime spree in the late ’20s, when he terrorized that German city with brutal rapes and murders. The hour also features Dr. Karl Berg, one of the pioneers of serial killer profiling, who studied this ‘gentleman’ killer. Ready for 2002, Vampire carries a non-life-threatening budget in the $500,000 range.

Kismetic is tackling The Carole Little Murders single-handedly. This hour follows a twisted trail of murder and mayhem that almost went unnoticed while the world watched the O.J. Simpson trial. The story goes something like this: In L.A., Carole Little, head of a multi-million dollar clothing line, receives an anonymous death threat. Then her house is bombed. And her boss is killed. A suspect is convicted, but it’s only a momentary lull. During several telephone conversations from jail, the convicted man pleads with a confidant to ‘be…careful’. His body is found hours later – murdered execution style. His death is followed by three more murders – all employees of the company. The FBI moves in to tackle the case, and what emerges is a story that includes the Russian Mafia, the Hollywood feature Anaconda, a contract killer, and lots of money. For delivery next year, this hour comes in at less than the Vampire of Dusseldorf.

To help alleviate any nightmares caused by all this, Story House is also working on Past Lives: The Search for Scientific Evidence of Reincarnation, a special to wrap next June. Over the last 40 years, Dr. Ian Stevenson has investigated nearly 3,000 cases of remembered past lives in children. Stevenson travels to Europe, Lebanon and India, revisiting his earlier cases to see how they have progressed. The hour has a budget of about US$500,000.

And now for something completely different: In Colombia, the Dominques family has been raising bulls and training matadors for eight generations. Their ranch in the hills of Cali draws crowds, and the pageantry of the ‘corridas’ is world renowned. But the cost of fame has been high. Juan Dominques has been kidnapped by Colombian drug lords and held for ransom. It’s All Bull is a one-hour special being undertaken by Kismetic that will be ready for next year at a budget of about $300,000.

Getting with the program

A unique cast of characters populate Peter Jones Productions’ Sunset Junction. L.A.-based Jones has a number of productions to his credit for PBS, A&E, AMC and others, but this film is intended for the big screen. Shot in 16 x 9 widescreen PAL, the film is completely self-financed, but it looks like a major U.S. broadcaster is likely to become involved.

Sunset Junction is the story of a self-supporting program for inner-city at-risk teens. Jones wants the film to play like a dramatic feature, so there will be no narrator, with the story carried by the characters’ personal histories and a verité approach. The film culminates with the 21st annual Sunset Junction Street Fair, a gathering intended to bring together warring gay and gang communities in the L.A. community. (Although warned by the LAPD that it was insane to attempt such a gathering, there has yet to be a single murder or injury in the history of the event.)

The main characters include: Michael McKinley, a former Beverly Hills hairdresser, founder and main motivator behind the fair and program; Steve Zimmer, a crisis counsellor who sends his hardest cases to Sunset Junction (the gangs, the pregnant, the drug addicts and the sexually abused); as well as six teens and young adults whose experiences act as the central focus for the story.

Ready for theatrical distribution in the spring of next year, the film carries a budget of about US$500,000.

Real Life

Food for thought

Toronto’s Red Apple Entertainment has a new series set to launch on the Life Network in the U.S. and the Food Network in Canada. Opening Soon, a 13 x 30-minute verité series, goes behind the scenes to find out what it’s like to launch a high-end restaurant in Canada, from conception and design to opening night, and everything in between. Characters include chefs, owners, designers and a slew of others. Distributed by Canada’s AAC Fact, production on the series should wrap by December at a budget of about US$60,000 per episode.

Keeping in the food motif, Red Apple is also working on a one-hour special called Launching Morimoto. Witness as celebrity chef Masuharu Morimoto (one of the famed Iron Chefs) prepares to open his own restaurant in Philadelphia with ‘restaurant impresario’ Stephen Starr. Picked up by both the Food Network in Canada and the U.S., the budget for the special runs to about $180,000. AAC Fact is also handling this special, which will debut some time in the spring.

In a different vein, The Surgeons is a 13 x 30-minute series that gives viewers an ‘intense and intimate’ insight into the world of specialty surgeons, both inside and out of the operating theater. The series has been picked up by the Discovery Health Network in the U.S., with a second window going to The Life Network. Distributed by AAC Fact, Surgeons will make its debut January 2002, and has a budget of about $60,000 per episode.

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