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Sienna Films: The challenges of ‘Combat’

Showbiz Update: Canada - Ontario - TV

When ABC nabbed Kandahar-set medical procedural “Combat Hospital” in early 2011 and requested summer delivery, Sienna Films’ Jennifer Kawaja and Julia Sereny faced mission impossible. “We had no writing room, no cast, no set, no production team,” recalls Kawaja, who’s produced indie features (Sundance players “New Waterford Girl” and “How She Move”), Canadian telefilms (Gemini-winning “One Dead Indian”) and provocative docus with Sereny for 20 years.

Sienna boarded “Combat” after the show’s creators Jinder Oujla-Chalmers and Douglas Steinberg pitched the concept to Global TV, which took it to Sienna. Show was developed with Oujla-Chambers and Steinberg in 2008. The timing was perfect. “We’d never focused on TV but, as the marketplace changed, we saw how brave pay and even network TV had become and started developing a slate,” Kawaja says.

Extensive story research began as Sienna — well versed in co-production financing — set about structuring the 13-parter as a co-production with fellow execs from U.K’s Artists Studio and Lookout Point.

Three months after ABC’s greenlight (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has rights outside North America), showrunner Daniel Petrie Jr. was leading his troops, Elias Koteas and Deborah Kara Unger were in costume and cameras were rolling on a vast indoor/outdoor set (based on the real NATO Role 3 hospital Canadians ran 2006-10). The show’s June preem hit a 2 million-plus Canadian aud, and became a ratings winner for Canada’s network Global, posting an average 1.86 million viewers per episode.

Repped by 3 Arts’ Carrie Stein, Sienna is a minority producer on Julian Fellows-scripted mini “Titanic” and has a full development slate: on the TV side, the 12-part international co-production “The Heretics” ; on the feature front, Randall Cole and Elyse Friedman’s “A Bright Tragic Thing,” an adaptation of Karen Connelly’s Burma-set novel “The Lizard Cage” and a comedy from “New Waterford Girl” scribe Trisha Fish.

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