Studio sets up unit for documentaries

Lions Gate Entertainment has formed a documentary unit to produce and distribute feature docs in partnership with broadcast nets.

Erik Nelson, who will serve as veep, will run development and production of the division, which will function as an arm of Lions Gate Television. Nelson will report to TV prexy Kevin Beggs.

Unit was established to develop, in conjunction with networks, docs to be distributed on multiple tiers, the first of which is theatrical. Lions Gate will produce and handle theatrical and home entertainment distribution on all outgoing projects.

Nelson said the unit would provide one-stop shopping for filmmakers and networks alike.

“Bring to us your masses of raw video and we’ll work together to develop your product and its commercial exploitation, in the best sense of exploitation,” he said. “HBO has done really well by commissioning documentaries that play well theatrically. We’re trying to do the same thing but for a broader base of potential networks.”

First project out of the gate is “Grizzly Man,” a co-production with Discovery Channel theatrical doc unit Discovery Docs. Directed by Werner Herzog, projects centers on amateur grizzly bear expert Timothy Treadwell, who periodically journeyed to Alaska to study and live with the bears. He was killed by a rogue bear in October.

Production is wrapping up in Alaska. “Grizzly Man” is slated to bow in theaters in the spring and on Discovery Channel in fall.

” ‘Grizzly Man’ is the latest example of the type of high-caliber documentary filmmaking the Discovery Channel is committed to creating,” said Discovery Channel exec veep-G.M. Jane Root.

Having recently handled the domestic release of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” with IFC Films and Fellowship Adventure Group, Lions Gate execs are hoping to share their expertise in the docu area with their TV colleagues.

“There’s a tremendous and ever-growing appetite for engaging nonfiction entertainment,” Beggs said. “Every network has to be looking at these films now and asking how to get into the business.”

Lions Gate doc division also will produce docus that preem on television. “We’ll evaluate every one we do. Something may be absolutely right for video but not for theatrical release — it all depends on the content,” Beggs said.

“Grizzly Man” is exec produced by Nelson. Andrea Meditch and Phil Fairclough are co-exec producers for Discovery Docs and Discovery Channel. Jewel Palovak, Treadwell’s partner, is also co-exec producer.

Discovery Docs has produced “With All Deliberate Speed,” “Liberia: An Uncivil War” and “Off to War.”

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