NATIVE AMERICA is a premium PBS series that explores the world created by America’s first peoples.
- It describes their foundational belief systems that synthesize science and spirituality.
- The 4-part series captures the incredible diversity of the expressions of these beliefs across North, Central and South America.
Providence Pictures’ President and Executive Producer/Director, Gary Glassman was preparing for a panel on Cultural & Arts programming at Sunny Side of the Doc when he shared the development history of NATIVE AMERICA.
- I reposted the NATIVE AMERICA Case Study in time for the series’ PBS broadcast on October 23, 30, & November 13.
You can listen here to Gary’s account of the 17 years it took for NATIVE AMERICA to reach the screen (18 min:
- In 2001, Providence Pictures produced THE LOST KING OF THE MAYA for the PBS Science strand NOVA.
- According to Gary Glassman: “Filming in a royal Maya tomb that was dated to 400AD and investigating the ancient city of Copan, I was overwhelmed by the complexity and sophistication of the culture. Carved and painted murals and artifacts that depict a Maya pantheon of Gods, beautiful monumental architecture and city planning, one of only a handful of writing system ever invented, advanced astronomical knowledge, all indicated a level of cultural sophistication that matched any in the world.”
- “I became intensely curious about when all this started. And I wanted to know how the Maya world was connected to Native American societies to the north!”
- Glassman put together a paper pitch and took it on the road.
- He was encouraged by Yves Jeanneau, then a France 2 commissioner and now executive director of Sunny Side of the Doc.
- Thomas Schreiber of NDR also showed serious interest.
- “But no American broadcaster came on board, and a committed US broadcaster is key to launching most specialist factual series.”
- “Despite the disappointment, I never abandoned the core concepts of that original pitch.”
- “New ideas kept on sprouting up, and I continued to develop them as the years passed.”
- “I met Beth Hoppe when she was leaving NOVA to go to WNET New York to work on the PBS series SECRETS OF THE DEAD. We always stayed in touch.”
- “In 2013, Beth moved to PBS to head up PBS National programming, bringing in Bill Gardner as her #2.”
- “I pitched Beth and Bill, and the subject and concept immediately resonated with them.”
- “PBS funded us to develop an expanded treatment.”
- “They wanted to feel confident that such a big project was built on a solid thesis and had major scholars involved.”
- “It was critically important to establish the authentic participation of Native American communities as advisors, producers and production personnel, and as talent.”
- It was 3-6 month project for a “small fee.”
- 100-page deliverable
- There was no video in the expanded treatment.
- “We began a search for a series producer who was familiar with PBS’s entertaining, informative and curated programming standards.”
- “I was fortunate to find Julianna Brannum, a member of the Comanche Nation and an experienced producer who we felt sure that we could work with.”
- “Together we visited many Native American communities to gain their confidence and support.”
- “We particularly committed to respect their rituals and ceremonies, giving them final editorial control over these scenes and involving them through the editorial process.”
- An extensive Style Guide included examples of cinemagraphic styles, portraiture of participants, animation examples, and more.
- PBS fully-funded the series with a grant from the Anne Ray Foundation.
- The foundation had prioritized Native American culture, and was looking for qualified projects with PBS and other potential partners.
- There is no co-production partner.
- After PBS gave the greenlight, the contract was signed in only 3 months.
- $750,000 – $1,000,000 / episode.
- Includes promotion and outreach costs.
- Through the production process and collaboration with Native participants, Glassman and the production team decided to abandon dramatic recreations, which they determined were inauthentic, and instead create animated ‘sacred stories’.
- They tested and then committed to a hand-drawn animation solution realized by Oscar-nominated Daniel Sousa of Handcranked Productions.
Editing / Post-production
- “It was such a key role that we gave our chief editor, Rob Tinworth, a producer credit.”
- There were many working titles – Lost Worlds of the Americas, America Rediscovered.
- “NATIVE AMERICA as a title came to me nearly at the end of post. Like any good title it’s simple and obvious.”
- September, 2017
- Version: 53’45”
- No International version
First Public Screening
- An episode was screened to great applause at the Native Crossroads Film Festival at Oklahoma University to a 95% Native American audience.
- October 2018.
Budget Breakdown (estimate)
- Staff: 35%
- Pre-production: 1%
- Talent: 5%
- Archival, music and animation: 20%
- Field production 20%
- Post: 10%
- Admin 8%
- Original concept: 2001
- Pitched to PBS National (Beth Hoppe / Bill Gardner): November 2012
- Contract to develop treatment: September 2013
- Delivered treatment: January 2014
- Signed production contract: December 2015
- Commenced production: January 2016
- Delivered series: September 2017
Timeline by Phase
The total series timeline: 90+/- weeks, which includes:
- Development: 3 months
- Pre-production: 26 weeks
- Location photography: 53 shoot days over 22 weeks
- Edit: 9+/- months
- Providence has produced 50+ hours of documentary programs for PBS, Discovery, History, Nat Geo, BBC, and Arte since 1996.
- Gary’s films have won and been honored with nominations for the industry’s most prestigious awards – six Emmys, two Writers Guild Awards, the AAA Science Journalism Prize, the CINE Golden Eagle Special Jury Award, and more.
- Links: Providence Pictures / Facebook / Instagram
- Executive Producer/Director – Gary Glassman
- Series Producer – Julianna Brannum
- Producer/Directors – Scott Tiffany, Joseph C. Sousa
- Producer/Editor – Rob Tinworth
- Editor – Sean Sandefur
- Music – Ed Tomney
- Animation – Handcranked Productions – Bryan Papciak
- Narrator – Robbie Robertson
History Case Studies
Original research from DocumentaryBusiness.com:
- Public Television Case Studies: Ten Documentary Success Stories
- History: Ten Documentary Success Stories
PBS Ratings 2017
- PBS History Audience: American Experience, American Masters & Secrets of the Dead
- NOVA Tops 4.5 million viewers
- PBS Science: Top 5 non-NOVA
My Upcoming Markets & Conferences
SUNNY SIDE OF THE DOC La Rochelle, France. June 25-28
Panel: “The Future of Pubcasters: Adapt or Die”
NEWF: Nature, Environment & Wildlife Filmmakers Congress
Durban, South Africa. July 16-18.
Director Noel Kok has organized a great program that combines conservation and wildlife film-making. Make it your reason to come to South Africa. More to come….