USC Annenberg Professor Dan Birman (left) and USC Annenberg alumna and adjunct professor Megan Chao (right)
Photo Courtesy of Victor Figueroa

Professor and alumna to produce multi-part documentary based on bestselling book series

USC Annenberg professor Dan Birman has had his eye on the work of revered author and historian Thomas Cahill for more than twenty years.

In 1995, Cahill released “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe,” which recounts Europe’s transition to the medieval era and the lesser known tale of the Irish monks who diligently copied Western texts, preserving a culture that might have otherwise been lost.

“It was a brilliant read, a brilliant story,” Birman said.

Soon after reading the book, the award-winning documentarian recalled seeking out Cahill to discuss the possibility of a documentary.

Birman thought the book would make a good standalone film at the time, but Cahill has since put out another five bestselling books about the history and development of Western civilization. Birman and Cahill both agreed a series of films would be more fitting.

With the seventh and final book coming out September 2016, they also agreed that now was the time to get started. Cahill sold the rights to adapt and produce his books, collectively known as The Hinges of History, to Birman and his company, Daniel H. Birman Productions.

“My long association with [Birman] gives me confidence that the series will represent my work,” Cahill said in a press release about the acquisition.

Joining Birman as a producer on the project is Megan Chao, a USC Annenberg alumna and adjunct faculty member. She has worked at Birman’s company since 2009, starting out as a researcher and working her way to up to the head of development and production.

They also recently teamed up with Canada-based production company Breakthrough Entertainment and are now looking to sell the series to a television network.

Once they find a network partner, the task will become imagining Cahill’s work for the screen.

“We will be working through how we make something this big accessible to television,” Birman said. “The scope is so big.”  

With Cahill’s original intent in mind, they will revisit “the beginnings of Western Civilization through the little-known stories of those who had the greatest impact on its evolution.”

The title, The Hinges of History, Birman explained, refers to a hinge on which a door hangs, “a hinge opens us up to something new, a new direction.”

“Cahill gives us an even greater understanding of who we are and our role in the western world,” Birman said. “His extraordinary historical perspective is the basis for a relevant and altogether unprecedented series.”