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Xbox breaks into documentary films

By Dawn C. Chmielewski

6:00 AM PST, December 19, 2013

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Xbox is breaking into the documentary film business.

Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox Entertainment Studios in Santa Monica will produce an original documentary film to launch next year on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 video game consoles.

The as-yet-untitled film will explore the events surrounding a notorious incident in the video game culture -- Atari's midnight burial of countless unsold cartridges of a highly promoted flop, "E.T. the Video Game," in Alamogordo, N.M.

The inaugural documentary film project comes with a Hollywood pedigree: It is the first production of Lightbox, a media company founded by Simon Chinn, a producer of the Academy Award-winning documentaries "Searching for Sugar Man" and and "Man on Wire," and his cousin Jonathan Chinn, Emmy-award winning producer of the television documentary "American High," whose more recent credits include the reality series "The Real L Word: Los Angeles" and "Hotel Hell." 

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

"Our collaboration with Xbox offers an unparalleled opportunity to make a unique series of films around the extraordinary events and characters that have given rise to the digital age," Simon Chinn said in a statement.

The world of documentary films, which long has been dominated by HBO, is seeing a sudden surge of interest from other distributors.  Online video streaming service Netflix will distribute the Oscar contender "The Square" to its subscribers, and the 24-hour news network CNN has moved into the genre with the launch of CNN Films and CNN Films Presents.

Microsoft signaled that it would begin developing original content in September 2012, when it hired Nancy Tellem, the longtime president of CBS network, to run a new production studio.  At the time, she also talked about working with Hollywood studios to create programming for the Xbox.

This year, Tellem announced that Steven Spielberg would produce a live-action TV series based on the "Halo" game franchise for Xbox Live, a feature that enables gamers to play against online opponents or access streamed movies and TV shows. It boasts 48 million users.

The documentary begins shooting in January, with Zak Penn, a writer on "The Avengers" and "The Incredible Hulk," directing.

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