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Every week Link TV's Documentaries team gives their unique insight into the doc industry, and also Link TV's own programming. Look for notes from Lorraine Hess, Link TV's VP of Acquisitions and others working to bring you the world's best films.


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A Pig By Any Other Name...



KenG, Link TV Contributor

What can one say about a two-year-old Dutch pig named Dorus? That he was gentle with children and liked to take strolls in the local village? That he happily ate... well, almost everything? That if he could dream, he'd be dreaming about a retirement home for pigs called the Promised Pig Land?


Yes, there really is place in North Holland called the Promised Pig Land. While it's doubtful that Dorus was contemplating Pig Land while being raised by a kindly butcher named Gerard, it is never far from the viewer's thoughts as the festival crowd-pleasing doc DIVINE PIG unfolds. You see Gerard, an affable Dutchman who wields a carving knife like nobody's business, has established a peculiar biennial tradition -- a naming contest for a pig he raises from birth. The person who comes up with the winning name, earns a parcel of meat. But not necessarily from the pig named.


While the naming contest has been good publicity for his butcher shop, Gerard discovers that once the pig is named it is transformed from anonymous animal to adored pet. And some of his customers, not to mention his wife, don't want him to butcher it. Even Gerard is not immune to Dorus's charms and wonders whether Dorus will be saved by Promised Pig Land -- a pig farm that cares for pigs like pets. Really. For these lucky pigs, no butcher shop is in their future.


There's a slight catch, however. It costs about 1000 Euros to secure a berth in Pig Land and that is the dramatic tension here -- will Dorus generate enough donations to save himself?


  Dorus poses bravely with Gerard in front of the butcher shop 

Dorus poses bravely with Gerard in front of butcher shop.


Not everyone feels sentimental about Dorus's predicament. Some cultures consider the pig downright dirty. If Muslims and Jews can agree on at least one thing -- it is that pig meat should be avoided. It is not entirely clear why that is, but some passages from the Old Testament tend to suggest that only herbivores, like cows, are OK for eating. It is explained that pigs will eat just about anything -- dead rats, even their own offspring if born dead. Perhaps there's some wisdom to those dietary restrictions after all.


Nor will Dorus garner much support from the scientific community. Apparently there is keen interest in the potential use of pig parts for human transplants. Turns out that the physiology of pigs and humans are surprisingly similar -- especially the functionality of the heart, liver and kidney organs. In fact, some research suggests that parts of the pig's pancreas might be helpful in treating people with diabetes. When a young Muslim woman with diabetes is asked whether she would find a pancreatic pig transplant acceptable, dietary laws not withstanding she'd happily accommodate the transplant.


Ultimately, it is the butcher Gerard who defends the pig's honor most persuasively. As he sees it, they're tidy animals, compatible and undemanding. While they are indeed noisy eaters they don't love everything. Leftover Chinese food gave Dorus an upset stomach. Perhaps most importantly, Gerard lauds pigs for the tasty meat they provide and the efficient manner in which their body parts can be carved up for consumption. Almost nothing goes to waste.


As for Dorus, suffice to say, beware charming butchers. 


Click here to watch a trailer for this film.


-Posted October 17, 2011 by KenG, Link TV Contributor




Darwinian Dilemmas in London



KenG, Link TV Contributor

It's what every documentary filmmaker prays for:  as the cameras roll, an unexpected and stunning real-life event unfolds. Such is the case with Marc Isaacs and MEN OF THE CITY, a sensitive portrait of working men (from wildly disparate social strata) who toil in London's financial district. It is the fall of 2008 and while Isaacs is shooting a scene at a hedge fund office, it is announced that Lehman Brothers, the storied US investment firm, has just collapsed. The traders in the office sit frozen and stare, with unbelieving gazes, as their computer screens are filled with blinking red numbers. It will be the worst day in the firm's history.

Isaacs' film, however, is not about the financial crash. Much to his credit, Isaacs declines to chase down that story and remains focused on what this film is really about--the decisions we make each day about how we're going to live our lives and, perhaps more importantly, our unconscious disconnect from the world around us. Fortunately for us, Isaacs is fastidious about portraying each man with uncompromising dignity. We come to understand their choices, or lack thereof, with unexpected compassion.


Men of the City

They are an odd cross-section of men, including, most memorably: David, a confident hedge-fund manager; Steve, a spiritual street-sweeper; and, Fakruhl, a struggling Bengali immigrant. It is David, the financial wizard, who we come to know first. He compares his job to "trying to follow 24 soccer matches simultaneously." His ex-wife says wistfully, "He enjoys his job even when it's terrible." And even though he may walk away from his multiple laptop screens as he curses a deal going south, he doesn't stay away for long.  When he does take a break, David directs carefully staged photo shoots of his children on weekend visits and then creates eerily life-like (and life-size) portraits of them.  If only those photos could talk.

The highlight of this doc, however, is not the flashy, high-flying David. Surprisingly, it is Steve, the street sweeper, who charms with his spiritual journey: "why was I put here on earth?" he asks sincerely. He harbors no resentment about his unglamorous job and wonders why people think he should feel bad about it. He sees it as a "graceful act" and when you see him doing it...well, it almost is.

Despite his gentle nature and thoughtfulness, he's eccentric and very much alone -- a void left curiously unexplained.  There's no such personal disconnect for Fakruhl, the Bengali single father whose life revolves around his young teenage daughter. As Fakruhl sees it, a father should "live his days so his children's lives can be beautiful". And though there are times when his daughter seems exasperated by his complaints about the way she dresses ("too western"), there's no denying a familial tenderness between them. This bond also explains why Fakruhl is determined to work two jobs and, despite his limited language skills, endure a painful job search punctuated by the recurring plea: "Job please. Job please." Life is tough, but when he's with his daughter, Fakruhl is almost content. 

In imagery and storytelling, there is the recurring theme of Darwinian survival. And while the film is partly a cautionary tale about how people can lose their humanity as they tackle life's challenges, Isaacs has said that his primary goal is for the audience to make a connection with the people portrayed. With these moving and memorable portraits, and in just 58 minutes, he nails it.


-Posted September 8, 2011 by KenG, Link TV Contributor




Tiananmen Square Revisited



KenG, Link TV Contributor

At a time when Facebook and other social media weren't at our fingertips, how did national protest movements manage to takeoff? It wasn't easy. In Michael Apted's gripping and prescient doc, MOVING THE MOUNTAIN, we get a first-hand account of China's 1989 Tianamen Square protest from five of the leading student participants. All of them became fugitives on China's "Most Wanted" and either fled to the United States or ended up in prison.  

One of them, Li Lu, 26, a bespectacled, soft-spoken young man, serves as the doc's primary narrator and offers an intimate glimpse into how his political orientation was shaped as a child of Mao's Cultural Revolution. Born in 1967, Lu was shuttled from one foster home to another after his parents were sent to labor camps for "re-education" in Marxist doctrine. Lu recounts his childhood as unrelentingly grim. But when an earthquake destroys half his village he makes an important discovery. Amidst the chaos and rubble, he finds brightly colored Western postcards with smiling faces. These people, amazingly, seem to be enjoying life. For Lu, just 10 years old, it's a life-changing realization. There's an alternative to the oppressive world he has known. 

In 1978, at about the same time that Lu's political conscience is starting to evolve, China flirts briefly with controlled public dissent when the so-called "Democracy Wall" is created in Beijing. The wall was conceived by activists in China’s nascent Democracy movement as a way to record news events and ideas. The government initially encouraged their work as many postings highlighted failed policies of prior regimes. But it wasn't long before the wall began hosting critical postings on current issues and, more sensitively, government officials. The wall lasted less than a year. One of the government's sharpest critics at that time, Wei Jingshang, was imprisoned 15 years for his pro-democracy postings. Wei became an instant national figure and Li Lu's hero.

In the years following the Democracy Wall, Lu came to realize that to effectuate meaningful change he would need to travel to the heart of China -- Tianaman Square in Beijing. It was there that students and intellectuals were converging to once again explore democratic reforms. And so in the spring of 1989, with just a change of underwear in his pocket, 19-year-old Lu sneaks onto a train and travels more than 1000 miles to Beijing. Once in Beijing, he finds that a more structured political protest is beginning to take shape. The goal was not to overthrow the government. Rather, the students sought to achieve greater individual rights and a more democratic process. When Lu reflects on the conundrum of how China is able to control the population while it denies them basic human rights, he says:  "...when you deny people their rights, you deny them their humanity; when people exist without humanity, the government is able to turn them into political tools."

As the reform movement begins to find its voice in the largest city square in the world, it will have some competition for attention in the form of a visit by Mikhail Gobachev to Beijing. It is the first time in 30 years that there will be a Chinese-Soviet summit meeting. While the visit is highly anticipated, Chinese officials were less than enthusiastic about Gorbachev's "glasnost" -- a concept of transparency in government. The Chinese authorities had good reason for concern. In 1989 there would be the collapse of five communist countries in Eastern Europe: Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. In fact, just two years after Gorbachev's visit to China, glasnost would become a key factor in the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union.

When Gorbachev arrives in China on May 15, 1989, he draws an unprecedented foreign press corps of more than 3000 journalists. At the same time, the student protest movement is just starting to peak in Beijing. With the eyes of the world on Gorbachev, the students move strategically to capture the spotlight by staging a hunger strike. It's a huge public embarrassment for China. Days later, martial law is imposed. Tanks and rifle-toting troops block every entrance to the Square. The students refuse to leave and there are now estimates that over one million people have joined them in peaceful protest. Simultaneous demonstrations are reported in more than 150 cities across China. In just a few weeks, the student movement has become a people's movement.


Moving the Mountain

But it is short-lived. After 13 days of martial law, the military is instructed to take back the Square "at any cost".  The tanks roll in and the troops start to shoot. Lu says that at first they thought it was plastic bullets. But then they started to see blood. While no official statistics exist, eyewitness accounts say that 100's, if not 1000's, of unarmed protesters were killed. On the government controlled television and radio it is reported that the Square is cleared without violence.


Looking back, do Lu and the other student leaders have any regrets? For the most part, the answer is no. Most of them still believe in the cause and continue to work for change either abroad or in China. There is, however, one notable exception. Wang Chaohua, once China’s "Most Wanted" #14 and the leading rep for the intellectuals, says: "I won't say I killed anybody. But there might be many people who died because of my actions. Because of the mistake I made." As she speaks, her voice trembles, tears start to flow and she is overcome with emotion. Four years after the event, Chahua still carries an unbearable weight of responsibility for the students who died. She lives in the US but no longer talks about working toward reform. "I'm scared by 1989. I don't think I can play a role in the future. To live far away from politics is a way to live."


As for Lu, he is still a believer in the cause. Educated at both Cambridge and Columbia, Lu lives in the US and thinks he will be summoned to serve in the future. He says: "I think a great movement will never die. The spirit will reveal itself in different faces, but the spirit is still there." In this respect, Lu sounds very much like his childhood hero, Wei Jingshang, who said about China's efforts to control dissidents: "Cut off the branch and sprouts will grow".


When Lu reflects on his life so far, he thinks about a Chinese legend he was told as a child: There was an old man living with his children in a village. Their only problem was that they had to travel over a mountain each day to reach the fields. So the man decided to move the mountain. Each day he and his children would move a few rocks. When asked how he could possibly move the mountain like this the old man said -- I probably won't, but I have children and my children will have children. And they will continue. And the mountain will be moved.


After screening the film, I watched a terrific panel discussion about the movie that includes Apted, Trudie Styler (the film's producer) and Larry Cox (ED of Amnesty Internaional). Conducted in December 2010, the conversation focuses on the film's relevance today and, in particular, recent Nobel Peace Prize Winner Lui Xiaobo’s inability to accept his award because of his incarceration by Chinese authorities. Xiaobo, a Tianamen Square protestor, is serving a 10-year prison term for co-authoring a book about political and legal reform in China. The discussion is highly recommended and includes a surprising update about Lu’s recent return trip to China. Watch it here.


As it happens, I finished writing this blog on June 4, 2011, the 22nd anniversary of the Tianaman Square protest. After doing a final edit, I glanced at the NY Times headlines for the day. In the first column on the left:  "Mourning a Boy, Crowds in Syria Defy a Crackdown; With Internet Blocked Protesters Are Still Able to Mobilize".  And on page 7, another headline: 'Told to Keep Low Profile, Chinese Artist Takes a Stand". It's a story about Wang Jun, a 28-year-old artist in Beijing who was detained because an arts festival he helped organize included a reference to Ai Weiwei, an artist and social critic who has been in police custody for two months. After being questioned and held for more than 17 hours, Jun was released with a warning: keep off the internet, move to another part of town, don't talk to anyone. But just a few hours later he was sharing his story with a foreign journalist. The reason? He says he is not willing to compromise his ideals.


Lui Xiaobo is not alone. The spirit lives on. Mountains will be moved.


To watch a trailer for MOVING THE MOUNTAIN, click here.

To watch the panel discussion of MOVING THE MOUNTAIN, click here.


-Posted June 14, 2011 by KenG, Link TV Contributor


Just Six and Working on His Memoirs


KenG, Link TV Contributor

After being immersed in the turbulence of Middle East politics (see my blog entries on JAFFA ORANGE and LAILA’S BIRTHDAY), a small puddle of sunshine appeared on my desk: a 47-minute bio doc called ANTOINE. It’s about the real and imaginary lives of Antoine Huong, a blind, six-year-old Vietnamese French Canadian.

But don’t feel sorry for Antoine. He may be blind, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see. Or, as Antoine asserts pragmatically: “My eyes ended up at my finger tips, my ears, my nose, and my mouth.” And his worlds, both the real and imaginary, are so animated that the screen can hardly contain them. Cleverly, filmmaker Laura Bars allows Antoine to hold the mic, and occasionally the video cam, so you can hear and feel his kinetic energy.


Antoine jumping

When the film opens, Antoine is recounting what he calls his memories and non-memories. He says he remembers being in his Mother’s stomach and then an incubator. He doesn’t quite remember what the incubator was made of, but he is fully aware of his premature birth and the medical consequences: too much incubator oxygen caused his retinas to detach and the result was blindness. His dictation into the mic is precise and without sentiment.


How much Antoine truly remembers or understands about his circumstances is hard to figure. But based on what you see here, it hardly matters. Antoine’s real and fantasy worlds are so creatively constructed that they give him multiple opportunities to show off his personality and intellect.

In one of his worlds, Antoine is a famous detective searching for an elusive Madame Rouski, a fictional character who has had the misfortune of dissolving into water. He recruits two classmates, Maelle and Juliette, to assist him in his mission. As Antoine puts it, he likes being a detective because it enables him to “do and say the things that I imagine. My detective kit is made up of my brain and my microphone”.  

In an especially compelling segment, the three novice detectives stumble upon a dead white pigeon and Maelle, who is black, tells the bird: “We’ll take you to the church so they can bury you…Since you are white, they’ll like you.” In a flash, there is the painful recognition that even small children who play together as color-blind companions can be cruelly aware of prejudice.


Antoine reading braille

And for all his bravado, Antoine has his difficult moments. While playing with Maelle, he accidentally bumps her head. Unable to fully process Maelle’s complaint that he has hurt her, Antoine declares: “you’re not my friend anymore”. When a teacher warns him that that he won’t have many friends left with that kind of behavior, Antoine, for once, is silent and a flood of tears quickly washes over his face. For a moment, you are reminded that he’s just a little boy trying to find his way in an unseen world.

Fortunately for Antoine, those moments are rare. His life appears to be filled with a good deal of joy and he has a ferocious appetite for learning. In fact, when he talks about what he fears, it is “the fear that we can’t know everything. The fear that we can’t touch everything.” He may be right, but honestly, it’s hard to imagine that fear, or anything else, is going to get in Antoine’s way any time soon.


Watch this film online now.


-Posted April 18, 2011 by KenG, Link TV Contributor



This Orange is Bittersweet


KenG, Link TV Contributor

After writing my blog for LAILA’S BIRTHDAY, a film about the anxiety of living in the West Bank, I was looking forward to screening Eyal Sivan’s documentary JAFFA - THE ORANGE’S CLOCKWORK.  I imagined that the extraordinary branding success of the Jaffa orange--a brand name that in the 1970’s was second only to Coca Cola in worldwide recognition—would be a bright spot in an area usually associated with unrelenting conflict.

I was mistaken.  It seems that even the planting of an orange grove has political consequences in the Middle East.  While Sivan’s doc is not especially kind to 20th century Zionism, it is a fascinating journey that vividly illuminates Arab discontent over the creation of Israel.  Surprisingly, the increase in tensions between Arabs and Jews was, in part, a reaction to the evolution of Jaffa’s citrus industry.

But first, a bit of history.  The Zionist movement, which commenced in the early 1900’s and sought to establish a homeland for Jews in the land now known as Israel, was largely a reaction to the horrific pogroms in Eastern Europe.  As the Zionist movement gained momentum, so did the immigration of Jews to the Middle East.  Although the first Jewish kibbutz in the region was established back in 1908, most of the orchards were owned by Arabs.  Even by the early 1940’s, fewer than 10% of the orchards were owned by Jews.

According to Sivan, however, the Zionist movement used a variety of artistic images to suggest that Israel was a barren region before the Jewish migration.  We see early Zionists using modern equipment to turn desert land into lush orchards while Arabs till the soil by hand in traditional garb. Politics aside, the poster art created from the early 1900s through the 1940’s used a rainbow of deeply hued colors to create vivid and mesmerizing images. Dreamy “Arabian Nights” in soft pastels conjure an exotic past and, later on, more vibrant colors show an impossibly ripe citrus bounty cultivated by handsome men and shapely women, the green-thumb Zionists.


Jaffa: The Orange's Clockwork


Israeli historian Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin asserts that the narrative in this Zionist artwork was:  “We’re returning from exile…and, with modern machinery, we’re bringing back to Palestine its fruitfulness”.  This message, repeated over and over in posters, photographs and “news” footage, began to stick and people believed it. While Jews helped modernize how goods were farmed and sold, the Arabic citrus business had been a thriving industry dating back to 1850.

At first, the turn-of-century Jewish migration did not create conflict.  However, as the migration accelerated and the introduction of agricultural innovations started to eclipse the traditional system, tensions began to simmer.  It didn’t help that the rapidly expanding kibbutz network was under intense pressure to hire Jewish immigrants rather than local Arabs.

In the early 1930’s, as Arabs became increasingly alarmed by these developments, riots erupted in Jaffa and the surrounding agricultural communities.  When an Arab strike closed down Jaffa’s port in 1936, a port in Tel Aviv was created.  This was a critical turning point in the conflict. The Tel Aviv port, jointly controlled by the British and Jews, undermined the Arab boycott by facilitating citrus exports. As their control over Jaffa’s produce began to slip away, Arabs who had wanted to end Jewish immigration and claim Palestine as their own soon realized they had lost their leverage.

Sivan estimates that over 85,000 Arabs were expelled from Jaffa in the decade prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. Whether the Arabs were expelled or, as some Zionists assert, left on their own, the Jaffa orchards were ultimately deemed “abandoned property” and came under Jewish control once Israel was established. As Tel Aviv prospered, Jaffa’s port became a small fishing harbor. 

This might seem like a natural place for the Jaffa orange story to end.  But it doesn’t.  Ironically, the orange that had become a powerful symbol of what the Zionist movement could achieve got turned on its head by the Palestinian Liberation Army (“PLA”).  Starting in the 1980’s, we see PLA poster art that couples the orange with violent imagery:  blood dripping from an orange pierced by weapons, an orange in heavy metal chains, an orange that looks like a grenade.  The goal of the poster art was to encourage a boycott of Israel’s exports.  And so the orange, once a symbol of Zionist prosperity, was now used to suggest fierce Israeli aggression.

In perhaps the most bitter of ironies, some of the orchards in Jaffa were later destroyed to preserve water as well as to prevent them from being used as cover for rocket attacks into Israeli cities.  Sivan includes jolting newscast footage of orchards being destroyed by Israeli tanks. However, the doc is disappointingly vague as to how many orchards were destroyed or whether Israel’s defense operations were legitimate.

At doc’s end, however, an Israeli poet and journalist, Haim Gouri, is allowed to have the last word.  Reflecting on a time when Arabs and Jews once worked cooperatively in Jaffa’s orchards he says:  “To talk of the [Jaffa] orange is not nostalgia.  It’s more than that.  It’s a sort of ticket.  A ‘memory ticket’ to a future I hope is foreseeable”.  I hope he’s right.

-Posted March 29, 2011 by KenG, Link TV Contributor



How Does 3D Impact Factual Budgets? 3D: Part 2/2

Peter Hamilton

 Peter Hamilton


We asked Hoff Productions to explore the 3D premium for a typical episode in a cable series.

Hoff Productions is a Real Screen Global 100 producer that has delivered hundreds of programs to leading U.S. channels. The company is based in the Bay Area, and began testing 3D in 2009.

We examined a hypothetical ‘Crime’ program that would be budgeted in 2D/HD at the $325,000 level, which is close to the ‘Sweet Spot’ for leading U.S. Factual channels.

The Hoff team cautions that the analysis is date-stamped: NAB 2010. “The caveat is that 3D technologies, workflows and budgets are changing, and changing fast!” 

Hoff’s generous contribution to our Case Study takes us behind the line items where 3D makes the greatest impact versus 2D/HD budgets. The findings will help you track evolving 3D processes and costs across your own work plans.


Production Assumptions

  • One hour
  • 2D/HD Budget: $325,000
  • Genre: Crime
  • CGI title and story elements: 5 minutes
  • Field: 2D/HD: 8-10 days
  • Post:
    • Offline: 2D/HD: 30 days
    • Online: 2D/HD: 5-6 days
  • Upconversion from 2D/HD to 3D: 10 minutes


  • “A 2D/HD crew is composed of a shooter and sound technician, and this project would require 8-10 shooting days.”
  • “A 3D crew is composed of:
    • The Shooter who is concerned with composition and camera movement, exposure and focus.
    • Engineer: There are enough engineering considerations during a 3D shoot to require engineering support for setup and maintenance of camera and recorder.
    • The Sound Tech who functions as in a 2D shoot.
    • Stereographer/Convergence Adjuster:  A fourth person, a stereographer, may be needed, depending on the expertise of the crew and the complexity of the shoot. The stereographer will also participate in composing shots and camera moves as well as adjust convergence during the shooting.”
  • “Economies will emerge in the coming year or so:
    • The Engineer is likely to be phased out as Shooters gain expertise, and as cameras become more refined and field tested.
    • An experienced Shooter might at some point eliminate the need for a Stereographer/Convergence Adjuster.
    • This will depend, however, on improvements in camera technology.
    • The consensus is that we are a year or so away from the 2 person 3D crew.” 
  • “3D requires an extra half-day to double the time spent in the field versus 2D/HD:
    • Some production companies are reporting that they can shoot almost as many 3D setups in a day as in 2D. However, they are shooting to a script, and often with multiple cameras so they can hopscotch from setup to setup. Their crews are significantly larger than those typically used in factual TV shooting.
    • Under difficult location conditions, Hoff’s experience has been that we could only shoot one third as many daily setups in 3D as 2D/HD.
    • We believe that 2.5X the field days for 2D/HD is the minimum required for a 3D program with the same production values as a 2D/HD project with a $325,000 budget.  The 3D budget would account for 20 shooting days.”
  • Cost Comparison:
    • 2 person 2D/HD crew with equipment: $2-3,000 / day for 8 days: $20,000+/-
    • 3D crew with equipment: $6,500 / day for 20 days: $130,000+/-
    • 3D Premium: $110,000 +/-


  • “The 3D layer adds 33-50% to the graphics budget.”
  • 3D Premium: $10,000+/-

Post: Offline

  • “3D and 2D/HD are offlined in the same way, requiring around 30 days for our hypothetical production.”
  • “Offline editors pay close attention to transitions between shots that could affect convergence. Significantly fewer cuts are made in 3D than in 2D/HD, which helps balance out the overall edit time.”
  • 3D Premium: None

Post: OnLine

  • “Standard desktop software-based solutions, with 3D tools for adjusting convergence, color correction, image adjustment / axial offset, mastering, etc. are available for as low as $2,000 a day.”
  • “Online rooms that meet advanced 3D delivery specs, such as those outlined by Sky TV, cost around $600/hour. These suites use high end systems such as Pablo, Mistika and Smoke.”
  • Cost Comparison:
    • 2D/HD Online: $1,600 / day / 5 days: $8,000+/-
    • Standard 3D: $2,000  / day / 10 days: $20,000+/-
    • Advanced 3D: $4,800  / day / 10 days: $48,000+/-
  • 3D Premium
    • Standard: $12,000
    • Advanced: $40,000

Post: Upconversion

  • “There are multiple solutions for 2D to 3D conversion, ranging from fully-manual to fully-automated. The more automated the process, the less expensive it is.”
  • “We recommend against automated upconversion.  It makes too many mistakes, and it extrapolates the convergence.  Manual upconversion will be necessary until the algorithms improve significantly.”
  • “At Hoff Productions, our consensus cost estimate, for April 2010, is $18,000 / minute for 10 minutes of manual conversion.”
  • 3D Premium: For 10 minutes: $180,000

The 3D deliverables, and therefore their costs, have not yet been standardized by the channels. At least one additional set of 2D/HD masters will be required.


  • Field:  + $110,000
  • CGI:  + $10,000
  • Post:  + $40,000
  • Upconversion:  + $180,000
  • Deliverables:  TBD

Total Cost

  • 2D/HD:  $325,000
  • 3D:  $665,000+/-

3D Premium

  • + $340,000+/-

The Last Word from Hoff Productions
“This is a helpful exploration of 3D costs…as of late April, 2010.”

“But it is very important to understand that costs are dropping…and extremely fast. In six weeks from now, the 3D price is likely to be lower.”

“The most volatile issues are standardizing camera technology and the cost of upconverts.”

“Discovery is pressing hard on both of these issues. Discovery enjoys the scale, commitment to 3D, and relationships with tech vendors, to quickly develop and implement cheaper, standardized solutions.”

3D Rollout Watch

  • Nine Network Australia announced the 3D broadcast of an upcoming national Rugby tournament. It is claimed to be the first terrestrial 3D broadcast.
  • Meanwhile, James Cameron called for an initiative to certify 3D against cheesy upconversions.

Resource Tip
Check out Real Screen’s very useful Global 100 list of Factual production companies.

Note on Sources
We conduct interviews with network executives, producers, distributors and experts, as well as attend conferences and track published sources. Actual budgets, rights and deliverables vary from project to project.

Many thanks to our readers for your feedback and support! Your suggestions are most welcome with respect to both content and getting the word out about our adventure.


This article was originally published at DocumentaryTelevision.com on April 28, 2010.



3D: How Hot? And How Much? Part 1

Peter Hamilton

 Peter Hamilton


We closely followed the recent NAB Conference in Las Vegas. We wanted to know: “Is 3DTV really as hot as we hear?”  The answer: “No! 3D is much hotter than we thought!”

In this edition:

  • Our first look at 3DTV as it pivots from niche to mainstream.

Next week:

  • How much expense does 3D add to a typical Factual production budget, and to which line items?

Do we want 3D?
Call it the Avatar wave: audiences went crazy over their first 3D cinema experience, and the early evidence is that many of them are eager to bring 3D home.

  • Channel 4 led European broadcasters by testing the new format with a successful weeklong 3D promotion in November.  C4’s centerpiece was a documentary:  a long-lost 3D newsreel of the Queen’s 1951 Coronation.
  • BSkyB launched its Sky 3D channel in April 2010, with coverage of the Premier League matchup between Man U and Chelsea. The service was delivered mainly to pubs, where Sky reported that it was watched by 100,000 viewers. Two weeks later, the 3D audience doubled when 200,000 pub viewers watched  Man U draw with mid-table Blackburn.  
  • Amongst recent well-publicized U.S. 3D trials, CBS broadcast the Final Four via DirecTV, Cablevision tested National Hockey League games, and Comcast successfully covered the U.S. Masters Golf Tournament.

Where is the 3D Consumer Market Heading?

  • Equipment manufacturers, distribution platforms, channels, studios and leagues jumped on the Avatar wave.
  • These players formed various 3D partnerships to run trials of production and distribution processes, as well as to stimulate consumer demand.
    • Consumer electronics manufacturers are betting that 3D will become a required feature of television sets. According to research firm DisplaySearch:
      • 3D-capable TV shipments worldwide are forecast to rise from 2.5 million in 2010 to 27 million sets in 2013.
      • Within five years, 3D-enabled TV sets will account for over 39 percent of all global shipments.
      • The price premium for 3D capability on a TV set will fall from about USD500 in 2010 to USD175 in 2014
      • However, battles are still raging over various formats and standards, inhibiting confidence in the final economic model, and therefore holding back investment across the value chain.


The 3D Channels are Coming

    • Cable and satellite distributors worldwide are launching 3D channels to attract premium subscribers. (3D channels can be received through existing digital set-top-boxes.)
      • BSkyB is offering Sky 3D on its premium and HD subscription packages.
      • The 2010 FIFA World Cup will ignite 3D demand worldwide: 25 of the tournament’s 64 matches will be broadcast in 3D.
      • In the U.S., ESPN 3D will showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, beginning with the first World Cup match.
      • Discovery Networks is the 3D leader amongst U.S. Factual channels. Discovery attended NAB to promote its commitment, showcasing a 3D clip of TLC’s hit series Cake Boss.
      • Discovery recently appointed its 3D management team, comprised of editorial, production management and technical experts.
      • Discovery has partnered with Sony to develop a small 3D camera that is suited to shooting in its programming categories.
      • However, many editorial and operational issues are being resolved, and Discovery has commissioned only a handful of 3D projects.
      • AETN, Scripps, Nat Geo and other U.S. Factual network providers are actively working on their 3D strategies.
      • 3D channels face an acute shortage of content.  For example, Hollywood is releasing only 20+/- 3D movies this year. 
      • Sky 3D plans to add other genres to its core Sports and Movies lineup as soon as 3D programs are completed. According to Sky 3D, Documentaries and Arts programs will be included in the lineup.
      • With so few original 3D projects in the pipeline, programmers are investigating the upconversion of existing HD programs.
      • Upconversion technology is not standardized: proprietary systems are common, with big variances in cost and quality.
      • Many NAB attendees said that an acceptable workflow is to shoot in 2D while pre-planning for upconversion to 3D.
      • Channels are in discussions with producers to shoot original 3D sequences to replace HD inside existing programs. The hybrid output will combine original 3D and upconverted HD.
      • DocTV.com: “We hear that the shooting style for 3D is fundamentally different than for SD and HD.”
      • HP: “The 3D shooting style is definitely different. Storytelling through camera movement is much more important in 3D than in 2D. Transitions from one shot to another must be planned carefully when shooting in 3D. A finished 3D program or film will have many fewer cuts than in 2D, sometimes less than half as many.”
      • DocTV.com: “Does 3D change the editorial and production process?”
      • HP: “It does. Camera movement is often more effective than cutting. The placement of subjects and objects in a 3D frame can contribute to the editorial aspects of a production. So can shaping effects added to characters in a scene during post production. There are so many technical considerations in 3D shooting that it is mandatory to add an experienced stereographer to both the shooting and post production of 3D.”
      • DocTV.com: “We’ve seen people become fascinated with each new toolkit that comes onto the market, and they tend play with it at the expense of the story-telling.”
      • HP: “3D has a long history, and has mainly passed through its ‘gimmick’ phase. Avatar is a model: it was quite restrained in its use of 3D. Producers of live 3D sportscasts try very hard to make the players and fields look natural to viewers, and to capture the action of the game. TV and film execs are very conscious of the importance of marrying 3D techniques with convincing storytelling.”
      • HP: “Technologies, equipment and workflows are developing fast. At NAB, virtually all the manufacturers of cameras, edit systems, recording and storage systems, live broadcast equipment and exhibiting equipment showed some type of 3D-capable prototypes or available models. We expect that the industry will soon standardize around off-the-shelf products.”
      • DocTV.com: “Do you have a sense of the pace of adoption of 3D versus HD?”
      • HP: “The general belief is that the adoption of universal standards will be smoother for 3D than it was for HD. HD took three years to become SD. 3D is on a more aggressive curve. We expect that 3D will be standard for new commissions in12 -18 months.”
      • DocTV.com: “What keeps the promoters of 3D up at night?”
      • MHP:  “At NAB, we heard two related  fears:
        • There is not enough experienced, trained talent in the industry to produce the volume of good 3D content that will be needed to satisfy the public.
        • And that low quality content will alienate the viewing public and do serious damage to the acceptance of 3D.”
      • DocTV.com adds: “With so many standards, formats and processes still unresolved, there is concern that the economic model on the content side will turn out to be be marginal, or worse.”
      • For 2011, OWN is expected to commission 600 hours overall, including 200-300 new primetime hours. These are mostly series.
      • The remaining 300-400 hours are for daytime strips.
      • Fifteen original series have been announced to date, including:
        • Oprah’s Next Chapter, Visionaries: Inside the Creative Mind, Your Own Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, Gayle King
      • Live! Why Not? With Shania Twain, Behind the Scenes: The Oprah Show Final Season, and Breaking Down the Bars, a series about women who attempt to salvage their lives in prison.
      • Most, if not all, commissions are work-for-hire.
      • The series that are announced or are in development draw on a wide range of factual formats including: competition-based reality shows, life crisis intervention formats, observational docs, biographies, and extended celebrity interviews.
      • As well as Ms Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Discovery Studios, the well-established production companies commissioned to date include:
        • Mark Burnett Productions, 44 Blue Productions, Pilgrim Film & Television, Radical Media, Gay Rosenthal Productions, True Entertainment, Part2 Pictures, Love Productions, Snackaholic Productions, and Stuart Krasnow Productions.
      • The ‘Sweet Spot’ is a useful concept for mature U.S. factual networks. It helps us understand the programming decisions made by advertiser-supported Factual channels operated by AETN, Discovery, Rainbow, Scripps, MTV Networks, Nat Geo and others.
      • The ‘Sweet Spot’ benchmark is based on the network’s investment strategies, revenues, schedule, the competitive situation, contributions from co-producers and partners, the hours commissioned for a series, and more.
      • It is also based on the ‘going rate’ for comparable productions.
      • The ‘Sweet Spot’ is the cost that the Director/VP of Development/Programming is comfortable presenting to the final decision-maker, expecting buy-in for an approved idea that meets on screen standards and budgets.
      • Our ‘Sweet Spot’ analysis doesn’t apply as neatly to OWN as it does to mature channels. Amongst the unique factors shaping the situation are:
      • These are early days:  OWN hasn’t yet reached the scale of greenlit programs to establish firm cost benchmarks.
      • Our industry has never experienced the rebranding of a mid-level cable channel by such a dominant creative personality. We can’t predict how this unique situation will affect otherwise routine network decisions about investments in programming.
      • OWN hasn’t announced the ‘Signature’ or ‘Event’ programs that will anchor its promotions.
      • OWN’s plans and budgets will be shaped by Harpo Productions’ core experience, which is to create daily, talent-driven, syndicated programs. We can only guess at OWN’s tolerance for talent costs, including Ms Winfrey’s.
      • OWN’s chief executive is a highly-regarded and steady hand coming from MTV Networks, home of award-winning Factual entertainments of the kind that will be featured in OWN’s schedule.
      • DCI is a 50/50 partner, contributing expertise across every aspect of the network management process.
      • Deadlines: It’s May already, and OWN is under some pressure to close deals so that programs flow out of the pipeline by launch day.
      • New channels tend to pay a ‘launch premium’, particularly for programs that are highly promotable right out of the starting gate.
      • OWN’s concepts and production budgets will evolve in response to successful commissions, and then after launch, to ratings. As with all launches, there will be surprise hits and shocking misses.
      • OWN’s plans and budgets for ‘Signature’ series are not available.
      • Programs with high-level talent will exceed the ‘High’ benchmark.
      • Examples of the ‘High’ ($350+/-) primetime benchmark are: a reality series with recognized talent; and an observational documentary series that requires shoots in remote locations.
      • The ‘Low’ benchmark ($200+/-) applies to daytime strips.
      • Inspired by Oprah’s celebrated book club, OWN’s documentary film club will include a monthly documentary film series airing in primetime on the channel, an online community experience on OWN.tv, and potentially, a nationwide theatrical screening event.
      • OWN’s acquisitions process for documentaries.
      • The anticipated license fees.
      • And the potential impact of an Oprah endorsement on the niche market for documentary features.
      • OWN earned a tremendous buzz amongst independents and the creative community when it announced a partnership with ro*co productions to promote a monthly feature documentary.
      • According to OWN’s press release: “As an important part of the new channel’s programming mix, OWN will spotlight cinematic documentaries that can inspire and entertain, as well as provide opportunities for the audience to engage with each film’s emotionally gripping, universally important themes.”
      • Inspired by Oprah’s celebrated Book Club, OWN’s documentary film club will include a primetime airing on the channel, an online community experience on OWN.tv, and potentially, a nationwide theatrical screening event.
      • The application of the Book Club model to a dedicated documentary slot could be a game-changer for the niche:
      • Time magazine reported that book publishers credit an Oprah endorsement with increasing print runs by up to 500%.
      • According to a 2005 Business Week report on the book-buying ‘frenzies’ that Ms Winfrey inspired: “Publishers estimate that her power to sell a book is anywhere from 20 to 100 times that of any other media personality.”
      • ro*co productions is a division of ro*co films international, since 2000 a leading U.S. documentary film distribution company.
      • ro*co has distributed eight Oscar nominated feature documentaries: Born into Brothels, The Garden, Jesus Camp, No End in Sight, Promises, Regret to Inform, Street Fight, and The Weather Underground.
      • ro*co productions screens and recommends acquisitions to OWN, which makes final decisions and executes licensing agreements.
      • At the 2010 Sundance Festival, ro*co and OWN announced their first acquisition, Family Affair:
      • “At 10 years old, Chico Colvard shot his older sister in the leg. This seemingly random act detonated a chain reaction that exposed unspeakable realities and shattered his family. Thirty years later, Colvard ruptures veils of secrecy and silence again. As he bravely visits his relatives, what unfolds is a personal film that’s as uncompromising, raw, and cathartic as any in the history of the medium.”
      • Other acquisitions are in the pipeline.
      • OWN is also open to commissioning feature documentaries on a case-by-case basis.
      • OWN’s license fees for acquisitions are fair by industry benchmarks for widely distributed channels.
      • They are comparable to the license fees paid by HBO Documentaries, the market leader in commissioning and acquiring feature documentaries.
      • The television market for feature documentaries is a tiny niche, but one whose creative and cultural importance far outweighs its scale.
      • OWN adds a significant new force to this market by contributing a prime time slot on a widely-distributed channel, a stream of license fees, the powerful Oprah brand, and promotional clout.
      • And we can only guess at the impact of the Oprah Book Club model on feature documentary awareness, viewing, downloads, sales, rentals and box office.
      • Feature docs are acquired and scheduled by PBS for its Wednesday night documentary slot, the POV and Independent Lens strands, and by PBS stations.
      • Raising capital
      • High Production Values with no money
      • Putting together a 17 city theatrical release
      • Building a fan base and creating buzz
      • Clearance and Delivery issues
      • A look at actual contracts
      • Getting your work into retail and rental outlets
      • Making a TV deal
      • How to deal with world sales
      • Emerging Markets

Discovery Networks is in the Forefront

The Empty Pipeline and the Upconversion Solution

Does 3D Change the Game for Producers?
Hoff Productions is a Real Screen Top 100 U.S. Factual production company that began testing 3D in 2009.  We asked about HP’s experience with 3D:

The Adoption Timeline

The Last Word: What Could Go Wrong?

Resource Tip
Check out Real Screen’s very useful Global 100 list of Factual production companies.

Note on Sources
We conduct interviews with network executives, producers, distributors and experts, as well as attend conferences and track published sources. Actual budgets, rights and deliverables vary from project to project.

Many thanks to our readers for your feedback and support! Your suggestions are most welcome with respect to both content and getting the word out about our adventure.


This article was originally published at DocumentaryTelevision.com on April 21, 2010.


The Emerging ‘Sweet Spot’ for OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network

Peter Hamilton

 Peter Hamilton


This week, we look at how our ‘Sweet Spot’ methodology applies to the emerging factual production budgets for OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Next week, we examine OWN’s exciting partnership with ro*co productions to identify feature documentaries for a monthly slot inspired by Oprah’s celebrated book club.

OWN will launch on January 1, 2011, replacing Discovery Health in around 80 million of the 115 million U.S. TV homes.

OWN is a 50/50 joint venture between Discovery Communications (DCI) and Oprah Winfrey. Ms Winfrey is OWN’s chairman, and the channel is based in Los Angeles.

Oprah is without peer as a dominating creative media personality, producer, and effective advocate of personal and social improvement. Of the thousands of channels worldwide, we know of only one other that is branded with the name of its creative force: the Disney Channel.

According to Oprah Winfrey: “My vision for OWN is to create a network that inspires our viewers and makes them want to be who they are on their best day”.  Ms Winfrey enjoys “full editorial control over the joint venture and (is) responsible for OWN’s programming, branding and creative vision.”

OWN will announce its schedule later in the year. The channel’s declared target demo is Adults 18-49, though the audience is expected to skew Female.

Lifetime, Bravo, WE, TLC, HGTV, USA, MTV, Hallmark and Oxygen are amongst the many channels that actively compete for comparable program ideas.

OWN has not yet announced plans to launch international channels.

A Snapshot of OWN’s Development Process...

Recapping the ‘Sweet Spot’

What Can We Say about OWN’s Costs?


And then there are the routine factors involved in a new network launch:

OWN’s Budget Benchmarks

Despite these many ‘early days’ qualifications, OWN’s commissioning process is comparable to other networks. OWN is in the channels business. The announced producers are steady suppliers to other advertiser-supported channels, and their production costs are well-known.


($’000 / hour)       

Signature TBD

High $350+/-

Low $200+/-

OWN is open to programs outside these budget levels on a case-by-case basis.

Next Week:  OWN’s documentary partnership with ro*co productions.

Coming soon: Scripps Networks, HBO Documentaries, Smithsonian Channel, Canadian channels, PBS, BBC, Arte, Music Rights, Digital Deliverables, and much, much more.


Note on Sources
The data is taken from recent interviews with network executives, producers, distributors and experts, as well as from conference presentations and published sources. Actual budgets, rights and deliverables vary from project to project.


This article was originally published at DocumentaryTelevision.com on May 5, 2010.



OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network’s Documentary Club – Is it a Game-changer?

Peter Hamilton

 Peter Hamilton

This week we catch up on all that is happening with DOC 360’s favorite documentary media analyst, Peter Hamilton of documentarytelevision.com. Peter covers the world of documentary culture from the more premium echelons on HBO, PBS and Discovery to the  “feed the beast” tiers on basic cable outlets and everything in between. We are delighted to welcome him back.

The Oprah Winfrey Book Club changed book publishing. Will her documentary club do the same for feature documentaries?

We continue our ‘early days’ examination of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, with a 1st look at OWN’s documentary film club.

We look at:

Last week, we posted our initial look at how our ‘Sweet Spot’ methodology applies to production budgets for OWN’s early Factual commissions. The exceptional response to that post indicates the high level of anticipation felt across the industry for Oprah’s entry into channel branding and programming.


What the Sources Say about OWN’s Documentary Club

The Acquisitions Process

The ‘Sweet Spot’ for Feature Documentary Acquisitions

($’000 / primetime hour)        
High $150+/-
Sweet Spot $125+/-
Low $80+/-


Coming Soon!
Watch out for our upcoming analysis of the U.S. television market for feature documentaries.


We will cover cable/satellite networks:


And the PBS universe:

3D Update – Nat Geo
Nat Geo clarified its 3D plans for productions (‘exploring options’) and channels (‘no plans’ to launch 3D networks) in a statement reported by Real Screen on line. (May 12)

* Upfront wrap-up.
* Sweet Spots for Scripps Networks, HBO Documentaries, Smithsonian Channel, Canadian channels, PBS, BBC and more.

Note on Sources
The data is taken from recent interviews with network executives, producers, distributors and experts, as well as from conference presentations and published sources. Actual budgets, rights and deliverables vary from project to project.


This article was originally published at DocumentaryTelevision.com on May 12, 2010.



Amplifying the Voice of Muslim Women: A Review of Brigid Maher’s “Veiled Voices”

This week Doc 360 presents you with a terrific review of Brigid Maher’s documentary Veiled Voices, by the Emmy Award winning journalist and filmmaker, Anisa Mehdi.  Tune in to see a rebroadcast of Veiled Voices on Thursday, May 5 at 2pm PT and 5pm ET, and on Monday, May 31 at 8:30pm PT and 11:30pm ET, right here on Link TV. Check our listings for future rebroadcasts in June.  We will return next week with more from the ongoing blog of Peter Hamilton.


Anisa Mehdi

 by Anisa Mehdi

“Veiled Voices” is a film filled with loud, bright stories that enlighten an audience in need of authenticity about Islam in general and the lives of Muslim women in particular.  Brigid Maher, director, cinematographer and editor, shows sensitivity and skill in bringing these critical-yet-simple stories to light.

Simple?  Yes.  They are stories of the woman next door: a neighbor who is a mother and wife; a professional who teaches and travels; an individual facing challenges and disappointments who does not yield to inaction but rather overcomes and inspires.  These stories unfold gradually as they weave together across borders.

Maher profiles three women:  Huda Al Hasbash from Syria, Suad Saleh in Egypt and Ghina Hammoud of Lebanon.  These stories are woven together, each round deepening the contours of their lives.  We meet them first as professionals, then as wives or divorcées, then as mothers and cooks, balancing the many duties women have worldwide.  We meet their husbands, mothers and children.  Each round widens the panorama of women’s experience in these Arab and Muslim-majority countries.

Syrian mother and educator Al Hasbash defends wearing a headscarf and goes on to demonstrate that there need be no conflict between wearing a scarf and living a modern life.  She teaches dozens of women not only to read Qur’an, but to know their rights.  And she sizzles up a fine looking meal for her family while she’s describing her views to camera.

Dr. Saleh is a very public person, teaching at Cairo’s Al Azhar University and appearing on television call-in programs.  “We have reduced Islam to a veil and a beard,” she laments, when there is so much more.  Having reported on Islam and Muslims for 20 years I confirm her complaint.  This is a problem perpetuated in part by Muslims themselves.

Hammoud bravely sticks with her career in spite of betrayal by her husband; she keeps the affection and respect of her daughters who lived with their father after the parents divorced.  Students deeply appreciate the model she provides.

Relationships between women and men are good examples of ongoing stereotypes.  Due in part to mainstream media, pop culture, and ignorance, a prevailing view is one of oppression of women.  We read of “honor killings,” of girls forbidden to go to school, and women prevented from divorce in unacceptable situations.  None of these is permitted in Islamic law, even if culture in some Muslim-majority countries turns a blind eye.  We feel for Ghina Hammoud who suffered years in an abusive marriage.  In contrast, Huda Al Habash’s husband Samir Khalidi is the picture of an ideal partner.  He appreciates and supports her calling and is helpful at home, clearing the table and going over homework with one of their sons.   Dr. Saleh notes that while she may be qualified to sit on Egypt’s higher Islamic council, the reality is that the men who have the vote will not receive her.  Susan B. Anthony had to struggle, too.  Without a cudgel, Maher hammers home the point that Muslim women have rights, can be self-expressed, and like their sisters around the world, must overcome hurdles in their lives to accomplish their goals – even if that means redefining their goals along the way.

Some of the footage in this hour-long documentary will surprise viewers.  There are rooms full of women studying Islamic law and leadership.  They refer regularly to early examples of female leadership in the Muslim community, including the example of Aisha, youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  At 17 she was already an acknowledged scholar and teacher.  The filmmaker does not impose heavy control on situations, allowing the natural interruptions of life to play out on videotape.  A child fussing off camera is not quieted and the interview continues; when a particularly personal question is posed and the subject cries the crew cries too.  This is noted and we, the audience, are privy to a behind the scenes moment.

Muslim women from Malaysia to America are actively engaged in education, leaning on their religion as the primary tool in their call for equality and opportunity.  They are enlightening one another and non-Muslims alike.  Like the efforts of Azizah al Hibri in Richmond, Virginia and Zaina Anwar in Kuala Lumpur, the women in “Veiled Voices” are part of a necessary and natural movement to amplify understanding of Islam in the 21st century.

Anisa Mehdi is a Fulbright Scholar in Jordan.  She is a journalist and filmmaker.  Mehdi produced and directed the National Geographic Special “Inside Mecca,” and was executive producer of the PBS Frontline documentary, “Muslims.” www.anisamehdi.com