Backlot: TV Pioneer Award — Rola Bauer

Issue 56 - TV Pioneer Award Rola Bauer: The Pillars of the Earth
Egon Endrenyi/Tandem Productions

Tandem sold "Pillars of the Earth" into 170 territories.

Tandem founder to receive honor for work on ‘The Pillars of the Earth.’

When she was growing up in Canada, Rola Bauer wanted to work at the United Nations.

“I thought that would be so cool, working with people from around the world, negotiating,” the founder of Germany-based production and sales outfit Tandem Communications says.

In a roundabout way, the recipient of the Television Pioneer Award, one of the International Visionary Awards at this year’s Women’s International Film & Television Showcase got her wish.

Like workers at the U.N., Bauer negotiates deals that reach across borders and require the diplomacy to bring a wide range of players to the table. And if it’s all about who you know, then Bauer’s address book contains contact information for executives in area codes worldwide.

“Maybe that’s why I’ve ended up where I am,” Bauer says. “I’ve created my own U.N. at Tandem.”

To make The Pillars of the Earth, a $40 million, eight-hour TV epic starring Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Rufus Sewell and Donald Sutherland, Bauer and Tandem connected production partners in Britain (Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free) and Canada (Muse Entertainment). She also got broadcasters from Germany, Spain, Hungary, Austria and Canada on board.

The adaptation of Ken Follett’s medieval best-seller was financed without U.S. or U.K. money, unheard of for a project of its size. After Pillars was finished, Bauer sold it to Starz Entertainment in the U.S., Channel 4 in Britain and about 170 other territories worldwide.

“Rola has been doing something extraordinary, producing entertainment that crosses borders — that’s truly global — and her talents really came to the fore with Pillars,” a spokesperson at event organizer the WIFTS Foundation says.

“In most women’s award shows, it’s the same women every year,” the spokesperson adds. “We try to look outside to find women who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.”

Bauer certainly fits that bill. Based in Munich, where she lives with her husband and two children, she’s a long way from Hollywood. And despite more than two decades at the job, she only now is getting her due.

Bauer did her first co-production in 1985, while with Alliance Entertainment, as the assistant to famed Canadian producer Robert Lantos. It was Sword of Gideon, a miniseries based on the same true story that inspired Steven Spielberg’s Munich.

“It was a Canadian-French-U.S. co-production shot in Israel, Italy and Canada and then sold to HBO,” Bauer says. “That was my start.”

More than 20 years later, while many talk about a global entertainment market, Bauer and Tandem are living it. The company’s bridge-building résumé includes credits on the high-end miniseries Ring of the Nibelungs, Dune and The Company. All were produced with multiple partners in several territories.

As Pillars rolls out worldwide, Bauer is closing financing for its sequel, World Without End, and is deep in preproduction on Pompeii, a four-hour mini based on a Roman-era thriller by The Ghost Writer novelist Robert Harris that Tandem is putting together with Sony Pictures Television, Scott Free and Peace Out Prods.

“We’re one world, and ultimately, we are a small world,” Bauer says. “Through cooperation and collaboration — between partners, between countries — we can build up possibilities that weren’t there before.”

Bauer will receive the Television Pioneer Award on Dec. 5 during the WIFTS at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.            

Other Women’s International Film & Television Showcase Honorees
To be presented Dec.5 in Los Angeles

Elizabeth Grant Entrepreneur Award
Julie Carmen, actress/psychotherapist

Environment Award
Muriel Saragoussi, agronomic engineer

Lifetime Achievement Award
Millicent Hill, educator

Cinematographer Award
Sue Gibson

Costume Design Award
Tracy Tynan

Screenwriter Award
Kelly Reichardt

WIFTS “IT” Award
Keren Lerner, founder, Top Left Design

Dove Award
Frances Crowe, peace activist

Career Achievement Award
Susan Legaspi, partner, Zuehls, Legaspi & Co.

Humanitarian Award
Lydia Cacho

Visionary Award
Zeynep Fadillioglu