A+E Networks’ History is gearing up to kick off its premiere non-fiction documentary strand — ‘History’s Greatest Mysteries’ — with a one-off special exploring the legacy of D.B. Cooper.
Produced by Lost Arts Pictures in association with 3BMG, The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper (pictured) follows top D.B. Cooper expert Eric Ulis and his team of specialists as they explore the untouched Washington backcountry to hunt for the missing evidence Cooper — the pseudonym of a man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in 1971 — left behind.
Ulis will also work closely alongside a retired FBI agent who, armed with leads regarding the identity of Cooper, attempt to solve the infamous skyjacking.
History’s mystery strand, hosted and narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne (pictured), will additionally investigate a range of topics from the sinking of the Titanic and President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lost ice ship and the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico UFO incident.
Each title in the franchise will showcase new evidence and perspectives, including never-before-released documents, personal diaries and DNA evidence to unearth fresh facts about these infamous chapters in history.
The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper is executive produced by Grant Cross, Ross Weintraub, Myles Reiff and Eric Ulis. Max Micallef serves as executive producer for the History Channel.
‘History’s Greatest Mysteries’ kicks off with The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper, premiering Nov. 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History.
Ahead of the premiere, Realscreen caught up with Cross (below), president and founder of Lost Arts Pictures, a joint venture launched by Cross’s Lost Arts Entertainment and 3BMG (3 Ball Media Group), to discuss the impact COVID-19 had on production and how the full-service prodco managed to overcome various challenges in production.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was the genesis for History’s The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper?
I came across a news segment with Eric Ulis, and instantly noticed his strong on-camera presence. As I learned more about Eric and his investigation into the D.B. Cooper case, I felt his work was deserving of its own limited or full series, and thus, we began the process of development. The time-consuming part for us as a production company was vetting Eric’s extensive work and authenticating his claims. We spent months corroborating his research. Once the History Channel entered the picture, they too spent quite a bit of time confirming the information we were presenting them.
Eric very much wanted to get to the truth of the case, was making impressive progress and had stacks of documents to support his work. I can’t tell you how many times during the production process myself or one of our producers received a call from him late at night giving us new information found in released case files. This crime is definitely an obsession for him and that comes across in the documentary.
What separates The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper – and more broadly, ‘History’s Greatest Mysteries’ – from the majority of History programming currently available?
We approached this project with a journalistic-type mentality. We didn’t know the outcome of storylines in advance, rather we were following the investigation wherever it led us, including when it came to the FBI person of interest and the untested DNA evidence featured in the documentary. We’re grateful to have a network partner who saw the value in the years of research our talent had done and were willing to see the story play out along with us.
And any time you can get a living legend like Mr. Fishburne to lend his voice and likeness to a show, it instantly elevates and differentiates the project from others.
What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered in making this film?
We took on a couple major challenges with this project. Our two main storylines involved: a physical search within a federally protected wildlife sanctuary, and the pursuit of a living person of interest who has been on the FBI’s radar since the original skyjacking took place in 1971. Both required some delicate maneuvering and extensive vetting by our internal team, and for our field crew to be sensitive and respectful in the process.
For instance, getting access to even search the land involved us traveling to Washington and meeting with officials first. Then, once we were given the greenlight to film on the land, we followed parameters that limited the number of people and ways in which we could approach our search.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the production process for The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper?
The bulk of filming took place before the pandemic surfaced here in the States. However, our final act was still pending at the onset of the pandemic, as a few remaining pieces of the investigation were wrapping up.
To get things to the finish line, our post team devised a workflow that allowed editors to access servers remotely, and we of course implemented the necessary production protocols before stepping foot back into the field. There were a few instances where we were forced to move production to a different county based on newly implemented local mandates. And I also have to credit History for their inventive efforts to get Mr. Fishburne’s voiceover recorded remotely.
Main photo courtesy of The History Channel