Netflix takes int’l rights for Yap Films’ Unabomber docuseries

Elliott Halpern and Elizabeth Trojian
The four-hour docuseries, commissioned by Reelz, arrives two years after the story of Ted Kaczynski was adapted as a scripted series by Discovery.

In early 2017, U.S. network Reelz commissioned Yap Films to produce a two-hour documentary about Ted Kaczynski – better known as the Unabomber – and the FBI’s 17-year, $50-million hunt for him.

While the case was widely known in the U.S., it was not necessarily as well known outside of North America. However, that all changed when Discovery aired a scripted series, Manhunt: Unabomber, in the summer of 2017. The global reach of the scripted show was further amplified when Netflix acquired global rights to the project.

With audiences across the world talking about the scripted series, Yap principals Elizabeth Trojian and Elliott Halpern (pictured left and right) started to realize their in-development Kaczynski documentary was becoming a hotter commodity than they first anticipated.

“Before, we’d be talking to international networks and they vaguely knew the story of the Unabomber. All of a sudden they were saying “wait, you’re doing something on the Unabomber?,” Yap president Elliott Halpern told Playback Daily.

“It was one of those serendipitous things that happen sometimes – there was suddenly a level of interest internationally that didn’t exist before,” added Yap CCO Trojian.

The growing global interest – coupled with the level of access Yap gained to Kaczynski and his brother David Kaczynski – piqued the interest of Netflix, which acquired global rights (outside the U.S. and Canada) via a deal with the project’s international distributor Cineflix Rights and Connect3 Media.

As well, Bell Media picked up Canadian TV and streaming rights, with the doc set to air later this year on Discovery Canada and stream on Crave. The series is made with the participation of Bell Media, Rogers Documentary Fund, Rogers Cable Network Fund, and the assistance of The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit. Outside the U.S., the project is called Unabomber – In His Own Words.

With Netflix aboard, the producers were also able to expand the series to a four-hour project (2 x 2 hours). But it wasn’t simply the added financial backing that convinced Reelz and Netflix to expand the series: Halpern and Trojian had gained exclusive access to 18 hours of previously unheard prison interviews, in addition to audio of a 16-year-old Kaczynski undergoing controversial CIA-funded Harvard Psychology experiments.

On Reelz, the first two hours aired last night (Jan. 26), while the final two hours will air tonight. A premiere date has not yet been announced for Netflix or Discovery Canada.

The launch of the docuseries comes at a busy time for Yap, with the prodco also set to launch a trio of documentaries on OUTtv later this year. The three films, UnprotectedKiller in the Village and Undetermined will launch as part of OUTtv’s Queer Crime programming strand.

Unprotected examines Pennsylvania’s Cobra Video Killers, while Killer in the Village looks at the investigation around the murders committed by Bruce McArthur in Toronto’s gay village. Undetermined focuses on violence against transgender women of colour.

Yap’s true-crime slate for 2020 also includes Gangster Gold, a doc produced for PBS’s hit series Secrets of the Dead. Gangster Gold, produced with the participation of the Rogers Documentary Fund, looks at the fierce competition between treasure hunters trying to locate the buried fortune of the 1930s gangster and bootlegger Dutch Shultz.