The importance of winning Emmy(s)

As they move into series production (nonfiction), Associated Producers partner Elliott Halpern says next year the company could be looking to double its production volume (it’s currently producing six to 10 hours a year).

But then, Associated Producers already probably works harder than most double-Emmy winners. Halpern and Simcha Jacobovici just earned their second in a row for hitting India’s mean streets to focus their cameras on child prostitution, and before that, trekking to Africa and hanging out in the Ebola zone.

The 10-year-old Toronto-based indie prodco broke the Emmy record last year with its The Plague Monkeys win; written and directed by Halpern, the Ebola virus doc, which aired on a&e’s Investigative Reports, nabbed the first Best Achievement in Investigative Journalism award to go to a cable broadcast rather than one of the alphanets.

Now they’ve done it again with The Selling of Innocents, produced with Ruchira Gupta and director William Cobban, which aired in the u.s. on hbo’s Cinemax.

Both docs premiered on cbc’s Witness in Canada, and The Selling of Innocents, which tracks the sex trade from Kathmandu to Bombay’s sex factories, had its world premiere at the first World Congress Against Commercial Exploitation of Children, held last fall in Stockholm. The Selling of Innocents also won a Silver Nymph in Monte Carlo and picked up a Gold Apple in New York.

As to the impact of the double-Emmy nod, Halpern says it makes preselling easier, particularly with American broadcasters, and is particularly useful because the recognition is for investigative journalism, an area where network comfort level augmentation is particularly desirable.

‘It also ensures that buyers look at the film, and in some cases it makes them prepared to pay more,’ says Halpern.

Associated Producers doesn’t tackle easy projects and therefore, along with the shelves of awards for its international investigative forays, come certain risks as the films tread dangerous territory, and due to the international nature of the stories, they can be a hard sell to broadcasters wanting a local angle.

The marked disinterest in stories that aren’t domestic was evident in broadcasters’ queries as to whether The Selling of Innocents was a sex-tourism story, and the reaction upon learning there were no Western bad guys to hang a hat on.

The fact that David (a small indie prodco from Canada) has beaten Goliath (the big u.s. nets) two years running, indicates to Halpern that the likes of cbs, abc and nbc, despite their vast news resources, are putting less and less effort into genuine investigative pieces, ‘where they actually have to commit a substantial amount of resources to a single story,’ and are moving more towards newsmagazine programming as they step away from the research-intensive pieces that sometimes do not pan out.

Coming up next:

Jacobovici is director on Hollywoodism, a feature-length doc based on Neal Gabler’s book An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, for cbc, Channel 4, a&e and zdf, slotted to air in the spring. Currently in post, it’s reaping strong u.s. theatrical interest given its obvious cinematic qualities and the issues it addresses. ‘It has tremendous potential for a theatrical release,’ says Halpern, ‘because it’s dealing with the history of cinema itself, in a radical way.’

Quest for The Lost Tribe is another feature-length doc Jacobovici is directing for cbc and a&e which is based on the biblical legend of the lost tribes of Israel. There were originally 12 tribes, now all Jews claim descendence from two of them. The others disappeared and are assumed to have been assimilated into the Assyrian empire. ap looks for and finds the 10 lost tribes. It’s posting and set to air in the spring. Halpern describes the epic as a ‘spiritual Indiana Jones adventure.’

And finally in prepro is Scandals: Now & Then, a six-part series for The History Channel that explores how society’s mores have changed by comparing a historical and present-day scandal in each hour. It’s set for production in April and a director is not yet attached.

As to writing on the projects, Halpern says, ‘we’re of the school that if you prescript you lose opportunities, we don’t actually do any writing until we have a rough cut.’

Malofilm is the distrib on Hollywoodism and Scandals, Alliance is distributor on Quest.