Funded by Grand Scheme Media & Creative Skillset, I’m running a series of very affordable 2 day script-editing workshops, with some excellent, experienced guest screenwriters, around the UK between April 22nd & July 16th (in Newcastle, Belfast, London, Cardiff, Bristol, Salford & Glasgow). More details, & how to book can be found on the TRAINING NEWS page of the Grand Scheme Media website http://grandscheme.tv/
Last weekend I went to a screening of THE EICHMANN SHOW, a film originally shown on BBC2 a couple of months ago, which I’d wanted to see but missed. The film was shown in aid of the Holocaust Educational Trust www.het.org.uk and screened at the Phoenix Cinema East Finchley, followed by Q&A with producer Laurence Bowen, writer Simon Block, cast Martin Freeman, Rebecca Front, Nicholas Woodeson and most interestingly Ron Huntsman, one of the members of the original TV production team whom the film was about (played in the film by Ben Addis).
The film is about the issues facing the production team who covered the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961, the burden they felt in bringing to the attention of the world the full horrors of the holocaust. This was the first time a worldwide TV audience had this sort of access to this information; and, as I found out through the film and the Q&A, the trial marked a turning point in international acknowledgement of the full horrors of the holocaust.
LAURENCE BOWEN discussed how the story of the film had come to his attention – footage of the Eichmann trial on youtube, googling the men who filmed the trial – director Leo Hurwitz (Antony Lapaglia) and producer Milton Fructman (Martin Freeman).
The film and the discussion afterwards highlighted the power of film, of visual images – whether it was the memorably horrific images of the Nazi prison camps; or the chillingly composed face of Adolf Eichmann at the trial, as he listened, seemingly unmoved, to day after day of the most heart-rending witness testimonies.
It also made me reflect on the power of narrative – whether in a factual drama, with actors, like THE EICHMANN SHOW; or in the documentary footage of the trial itself. The film and the discussion afterwards touched on the fact that before the worldwide screening of excerpts of the Eichmann trial, a lot of the survivors of the holocaust didn’t talk about it – often because what they were claiming was so mind-boggling that it wasn’t believed. Or because people couldn’t face the fact that what they were claiming might be true. Eichmann had been in hiding in Argentina and was only arrested, taken to Israel, and tried in Jerusalem in 1961. And even at this stage, 16 years after the end of the 2nd world war, there wasn’t widespread discussion or acknowledgement of the holocaust.
The film contains some truly horrific, gruesome images from the holocaust – although this makes up only a very tiny part of the film. But they help illustrate what a lot of the film is about – how the production team had to focus on the material they were gathering, do a professional and dispassionate job in recording and live-editing it so that they could present it to the viewing public and press. And how traumatic it was for these people who had to listen day after day to the first hand testimonies of victims telling the most extraordinary and harrowing accounts of what they had been through and witnessed.
It was fascinating to hear first-hand from Ron Huntsman, an important part of the original production crew, about the logistical problems faced by the production team. And it was very moving to hear his admiration for the film and talk about the memories it evoked for him (he was only 28 in 1961).
Also to hear Rebecca Front talk about her one day’s work on the film (a brilliant performance), packing up at her hotel in the evening and realising she hadn’t washed off the concentration camp ‘tattoo’ on her arm; and in turn remembering a story her father had told her about one of his work colleagues who was a holocaust survivor. One day, when this work colleague had been wearing short sleeves her father had seen his tattooed number on his arm, and had thoughtlessly asked him, ‘Aren’t you too angry and ashamed to let the tattoo be seen?’ To which his colleague had answered, ‘Ashamed? No I’m not ashamed. They should be ashamed not me.’
From a producer’s POV it was inspiring to hear Laurence Bowen talk about how this story came to his attention.
Below is an article by Laurence that originally appeared in BROADCAST a couple of months ago –
(NB I think this is an object lesson for writers and producers in how you need to be constantly on the lookout for wonderful story ideas like this)
‘We’d decided to look at pitching some historical factual drama ideas. I’d always been interested in the Nazis who’d escaped capture at the end of World War II, so off to Google I went.
‘Nazis who escaped capture’: 542,000 results. Josef Mengele, Klaus Barbie … and Adolf Eichmann. He’d slightly dropped out of public consciousness and I wasn’t aware of anything that had been produced about him recently.
‘Adolf Eichmann’: 532,000 results. What had he done again? Ah yes, the SS officer put in charge of the execution of the Final Solution. Captured by Mossad in Argentina in 1960 and smuggled back to Israel on an El Al flight. Then put on trial in 1961.
‘Adolf Eichmann trial’: 308,000 results. Wikipedia, Hannah Arendt, remember.org – 111 witnesses, five months long, Israel only 13 years old as a nation, the Holocaust not really known nor understood as a historical identity. A show trial, but a chance for the story of the attempted extermination of the Jews to be put on a world stage, and Eichmann sitting there through it all in that glass box, rearranging the papers on the shelf in front of him, twitching, often expressionless, immutable.
I started watching some of the witness testimonies on YouTube: ordinary men, women and some who were children in the early 1940s telling their stories. I’d never seen this before.
As I fought back the tears, I wondered who had filmed these images. The camera was moving, zooming in sometimes, picking up on details – hands, body language, reactions from the audience. There must have been a few cameras.
‘Filming of the Eichmann trial’: 68,700 results. ‘Eichmann Trial televised’: 4,700 results. Interesting.
This was the first time a trial had ever been televised and it was shown across the world in 37 countries. The world’s first global documentary series? No, the world’s first reality show. Shown daily by ABC, NBC and CBS. So who filmed it?
‘The televising of the Eichmann trial’: 335 results. The producer of the trial series? Milton Fruchtman.
‘Milton Fruchtman’: 28 results. Fruchtman was 33 in 1961. He’d worked on features with Rita Hayworth and Cary Grant before making documentaries.
Israel didn’t have television in 1961; the government saw it as a corrupting bourgeois force that would undermine its attempt to establish Hebrew as a national language. So Milton went straight to the top and pitched the idea of televising it to the then prime minister Ben Gurion.
He hired Leo Hurwitz to direct it. A founder of the American documentary tradition in the 1930s, Hurwitz was appointed head of production at CBS in the 1940s. After helping to invent multi-camera news, he was blacklisted under McCarthy for his left-wing beliefs. The Eichmann trial was his first official paid job in 11 years, and his first time out of the country since his passport had been taken away.
A quick search for Eichmann documentary and drama productions.
‘Milton Fruchtman… Leo Hurwitz… Eichmann trial… drama… TV… film…’: zero results. This story had never been told – bingo!
I’d spent my whole professional life searching for good stories. This one was real, and huge. Two film-makers bringing the story of the Holocaust in detail to the world for the very first time. The birth of mass media. And a TV series that literally changed history.
I pitched it a week later to BBC head of history Martin Davidson. He loved it and asked me to pitch it directly to BBC2.
The BBC, it transpired, was planning a Holocaust season in January 2015 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. Could I deliver the finished film by December, they asked me a year ago? Of course!
I left Broadcasting House with a commission but no writer, script, director or cast, half the budget missing and no locations.
After a sleepless night, I had a conversation with my partner at Feelgood, Philip Clarke. If we could hire a writer and archive researcher immediately; if we scouted for locations while developing the script; and if we got a pre-sale form and a distributor, and could raise the missing 50% of the budget through equity and pre-sales – then we were in with a chance.
Writer Simon Block threw himself into the project within days of getting a call from me. We got a director, Paul Andrew Williams, I’d wanted to work with for 10 years, and a producer, Ken Marshall, who became a brilliant ally as the production began to take shape across three countries.
Terrifyingly, with four weeks to go, we had locked in a production start day in Lithuania, with only 75% of the budget and no lead actors. But a world-class cast came together – I’m still pinching myself.
A friendly accountancy firm, Nyman Libson Paul, with a very proactive film-financing wing, Goldfinch, pulled the 25% out of the hat just as we hit the wire by introducing us to Indian financier and producer Sheetal Talwar.
We filmed the majority of the drama in Malta with co-producers Gary Tuck and Gina Marsh. Most of our Jerusalem exteriors were filmed there after UK production insurers were unable to provide cover for an Israel shoot during the recent war.
The final piece of the jigsaw? Amazingly, Milton Fruchtman was still alive and living in California. I began a long and informative series of phone calls and email exchanges with him.
So that’s it. Here we are 12 months later with the film in hand. It’s been an extra-ordinary, terrifying, wonderful, almost bankrupting year. I’ve felt very privileged to be able to work with the material we have and some of the original archive of the trial. It remains truly humbling.’
The film is in the process of being sold around the world at the moment and I’m sure it will turn up on DVD or Netflix quite soon – apologies if it’s a little frustrating reading this and not being able to watch the film itself!
Until next week
All the best
April 17th 2015