The Emperor of All Maladies: Behind the Making of the Film

February 19, 2015

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” was published in 2010 and won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2011. And now, a three-part, six-hour documentary series based on the book debuts on PBS stations March 30 and continues on March 31 and April 1.

An article in Cancer Today, published by the American Association for Cancer Research, describes how the film came about through the passion of two powerful women in media: Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA, the PBS station in Washington, D.C., and Laura Ziskin, founder and former president of Laura Ziskin Pictures and a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer. Both had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to make a film about the disease. (Ms. Ziskin died in June 2011.)

Ms. Ziskin’s team had already obtained the rights to produce a documentary based on the book when WETA approached Dr. Mukherjee, assistant professor of medicine at P&S, with the same idea. Ken Burns joined the project as executive producer, co-writer, and senior creative consultant, with Barak Goodman, a Columbia journalism graduate, as director. The eventual film was the result of a working relationship among Mr. Burns’s Florentine Films, Laura Ziskin Pictures, and WETA, in collaboration with Mr. Goodman’s company, Ark Media.

Read the full magazine story and see a trailer of the documentary.