Animal Planet calls on ‘Wild’

vancouver: On Nov. 15, Vancouver producers Jeff Barmash and George Erschbamer of Cinevu Films begin 13 episodes of Call of the Wild, the first dramatic series commissioned by Animal Planet, a division of Discovery Channel....

vancouver: On Nov. 15, Vancouver producers Jeff Barmash and George Erschbamer of Cinevu Films begin 13 episodes of Call of the Wild, the first dramatic series commissioned by Animal Planet, a division of Discovery Channel.

Based on the Jack London classic, Call of the Wild promises high adventure in the outdoors and lots of animals, says Barmash. The family-oriented series has been in development for two years, he adds. Production takes place at the well-used Bordertown set in Mission, east of Vancouver.

Team Entertainment is handling foreign distribution, while the rest of the financing comes from the Animal Planet presale, tax credits, gap financing and a Canadian sale, though no domestic network had anted up at press time.

Canadian Nick Mancuso (Stingray) leads the cast of British Columbians in the Canadian content production. Production budgets, says Barmash, are in line with other b.c.-shot Canadian series such as Cold Squad and Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy.

Cinevu previously produced the feature Confessions of a Trick Baby and line produced the pilot and first season of the sci-fi series Sliders.

The producers were slipping another service deal into their schedules just before Call of the Wild started. They Nest, an mow for the USA Network, went into production Nov. 1 with Thomas Calabro, John Savage and Dean Stockwell in the leads. The suspense-thriller is about killer cockroaches. Production wraps Dec. 6.

*Peak peek

Silver Peak Studios – which comprises converted railway buildings – could be Canada’s largest film and television production facility by January.

Based in Squamish, an hour north of Vancouver and midway to the posh Whistler Ski Resort, the studio will have 130,000 square feet of usable space once BC Rail signs off on a 20-year lease of the 27-acre property, says entrepreneur Jim Karmann of Silver Peak Entertainment. BC Rail confirms it is considering the proposal.

Most of the space will be taken up by a 92,000-square-foot special effects studio, which is twice the size of The Bridge Studios’ effects stage in Burnaby. The Bridge currently offers the largest effects stage in North America.

Karmann says Silver Peak will open the Vancouver market to more and larger feature films. At present, one large film like Mission to Mars swamps the city.

Required improvements to the existing structures are cosmetic, he adds. Two 15,000-square-foot soundstages require soundproofing. There is 8,000 square feet of production and executive office space.

Located in an industrial area off the Sea to Sky Highway, the studio is near a deep-water port, the ocean, rivers and lagoons, accommodations and a regional airport. High-priced talent, he says, can stay either in Whistler or Vancouver if Squamish isn’t their taste.

Karmann says he is negotiating with potential production tenants.

The start of phase two, which will depend on demand, is to include four purpose-built, 20,000-square-foot soundstages and the creation of New York and Midwest America street facades, a cemetery, a log cabin and a ranch farmhouse.

According to Karmann, a commercial producer was introduced to the site two years ago when he made a Panasonic ad in the area. Recent productions Flight 180, Final Run and Runaway Train have already used the facilities.

*Dotto total

An institution on b.c.’s Knowledge Network, Dotto’s Data Cafe will celebrate its 100th episode on Nov. 30. As host of what’s called Canada’s most popular computer show, Steve Dotto has been dispensing cyberspace wisdom since January 1996 with his own brand of know-how and humor. He covers everything from skills development to technology basics and surfing the web.

Dotto’s Data Cafe is a perfect example of how public television can both educate and entertain,’ says Bohdan Zajcew, Knowledge gm. The show also airs on access in Alberta, asn in Atlantic Canada, scn, Television Northern Canada, tvontario, Canadian Learning Television and Discovery Channel.

*Daughter dilemma

Veteran Vancouver line producer Lisa Richardson of Dogwood Films is overseeing a cbs mow called In the Name of the People. Production runs until Dec. 6.

Starring Scott Bakula, Amy Madigan and Richard Thomas, the television pic is about a death row inmate who, in his final days, asks the parents of the girl he murdered to raise his daughter when he’s gone.

*Atomic lineup

New animation company Atomic Cartoons has a bevy of Christmas-themed projects flowing through its doors as subcontracts.

For Los Angeles-based Tundra Productions, Atomic artists are currently at work on the designs and storyboards for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Island of Misfit Toys, a 3D sequel to an earlier 3D Rudolph story. Owned by GT Merchandising & Licensing Corp., Rudolph ii will be released in time for Christmas 2001.

Also in the works for Tundra is a 22-minute pilot episode of television distributor Scholastic Entertainment’s Stellaluna (based on the children’s book of the same name and about a little brat raised by birds). Atomic is handling designs and storyboards here, too.

For Phil Roman Entertainment, Atomic is providing full preproduction – which includes design, color, storyboard and timing – for Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, a 44-minute Christmas special based on the classic Yuletide ditty of the same name.

And Atomic has just completed a stint (boards, sheets, timing) for Sunwoo Entertainment on the 26-episode first season of Milo’s Bug Quest, a series about a noble ant who flits around the medieval countryside battling the evil emperor Mordoch. The series will debut in Korea and has hopes of releases in European and North American markets.

*Kudos

Locally produced documentary Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way, directed by Vancouver filmmaker Grant Greschuk, was honored with the Michael Blaustein Biography Award at the National Black Programming Consortium’s 1999 Prized Pieces Awards in Pittsburgh, Penn., on Oct. 23.

The documentary is a portrait of one of the first black women entertainers in Hollywood.