A pioneering New York partnership that specialises in high-end international documentaries has hit the ground running with a debut slate brimming with Oscar-winning theatrical talent and the prospect also of the first-ever continuing non-fiction series for HBO.
Julie Goldman, Caroline Stevens and Krysanne Katsoolis, all previously associated with Wellspring Media, have teamed up to create Cactus Three, based in the downtown Manhattan district of Tribeca.
Drawing on their years of combined experience and contacts, Cactus Three has gathered together new projects from Peter Gilbert (Hoop Dreams), John Battsek (One Day in September), Christine Legoff (Murder on a Sunday Morning), Steven Cantor (Devil's Playground), John Landis (Blues Brothers), Michael Epstein (Hitchcock And Selznick), Susan Kaplan (Small Wonders) and Morgan Neville (Hitmakers), among others (see below).
In addition, Cactus Three is in final negotiations with HBO on what would become a documentary companion to the pay-TV network's signature series, such as The Sopranos.
Family Bonds is envisaged as a long-running show of weekly half-hours that follow the same set of real-life characters, in this case New York's Evangelista family of bounty hunters who track down bail jumpers across the US. Cantor is directing.
Cactus Three is unusual in that it straddles the worlds of both documentary production and international co-financing and packaging. Typically, US production companies with a reputation for creating their own theatrical-calibre documentaries depend on outside agents to sell those projects to financiers, broadcasters and distributors.
With Cactus Three this all happens under one roof. An example might be Steven Cantor's Southern Exposure: The Life And Work Of Sally Mann, which Cactus Three is executive producing having also brought the project to Nick Fraser's Storyville strand at the BBC.
The company will now ensure that the film is tailored to both the needs of the UK broadcaster and those of its American co-production partner HBO. "We can bring a project to the BBC, say, and then look after that project both creatively as well as from the business end," explains Goldman. "We can also mediate between the different, specific needs of the various partners involved. Which can be quite challenging."
This all-in-one approach helps explain why Cactus Three has attracted a formidable client list. Besides the BBC and HBO, its worldwide roster of co-production partners already encompasses PBS, Trio, NHK, IFC, AMC, Discovery, Bravo, and ARTE. Cactus Three is also the North American representative of the TV stations France 2,3 and 5 through their co-production arm, MFP.
"We are getting as many broadcasters coming to us as filmmakers," notes Katsoolis. "We have shown ourselves to be flexible enough to work with very different entities, and we are also able to move freely between the theatrical and television worlds."
The rapidly changing funding landscape for features, and the fast growing acceptance of documentaries in cinema houses around the world "means we are having to reinvent the wheel every time," adds Stevens.
European soft money, for example, is a part of the equation even for non-fiction titles. A case in point is a project about the late-1970's rise and fall of the New York Cosmos soccer club that is being produced by Battsek's Passion Pictures with the involvement of the BBC. Conceived as a theatrical feature - and one billed as "the Boogie Nights of football" - NY Cosmos is looking to take advantage of the UK's sale and leaseback tax-based initiative more commonly applied to dramatic features. The film will also involve a theatrical sales company.
Here's a partial list of their projects, either completed or in production:
* Easy Riders, Raging Bulls - Based on Peter Biskind's bestseller about Hollywood in the late 60s and early '70s, (Trio/BBC/TF1 International)
* Devil's Playground - explores the Amish coming-of-age ritual known as Rumspringa (HBO/Channel Four)
* Slasher John Landis looks at slasher sales through the eyes of the greatest used car huckster of all time. (Independent Film Channel)
* Cutting Edge - A definitive look at the art of film editing from the team that made Visions of Light (NHK/BBC/Starz-Encore)
* Southern Exposure: The Life and Work Of Sally Mann - Ten years after directing the Oscar- nominated Blood Ties, Steven Cantor revisits this renowned photographer. (HBO/BBC)
* Final Cut - Michael Epstein's behind-the-scenes look at Heaven's Gate, the only movie that ever sunk a studio. (Trio)
* Honky Tonk Blues: The Life and Death of Hank Williams (WNET-American Masters/ Nashville Public Television/BBC)
* A Year With Pavarotti (BBC)
* Swank - Peter Gilbert explores the culture of the Swank fashion competitions in contemporary South Africa.
* The American Ruling Class - A highly stylised dramatic-documentary hybrid that uses animation, montage, dreamscapes and full-fledged musical numbers to address socio-political issues (BBC)
* The Other Side - How governments and corporations attempt to stifle journalism during conflicts and wars from Vietnam to Iraq. (MFP/France 2