The efforts of Tim Ballard, former CIA and Homeland Security agent, and his nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad team to combat child trafficking worldwide are being documented in The Abolitionists, a 10-episode hourlong documentary series being shopped by EveryWhere Studios, the company of David Calvert-Jones, Dan Angel and veteran TV executive Tom Mazza.
For 12 years, Ballard served as a U.S. Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security, helping infiltrate and dismantle trafficking organizations that kidnapped children and forced them into sex and labor slavery. Frustrated by the red tape when chasing predators beyond U.S. borders, Ballard left his government job in 2013 to start O.U.R. Since then, he and his team of mostly volunteers — who call themselves the Abolitionists because of parallels to the movement to end slavery — have done missions with the cooperation of foreign governments and police departments in Haiti, Columbia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Mexico and other locations. Ballard recently testified before Congress in support of pending sex trafficking legislation.
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Early on, an investor came on board, offering money to film O.U.R.’s operations. The process started with a feature-length documentary, The Abolitionists, produced by FletChet Entertainment, which chronicled the launch of O.U.R. and its first two “jumps” (the documentary has had private screenings and is yet to be released theatrically.) The cameras kept rolling, with 1000 hours of footage documenting 11 completed operations in eight countries resulting in more than 250 victims rescued and 30 traffickers arrested. FletChet’s Chet Thomas and Darrin Fletcher approached EveryWhere Studios and teamed to produce a 10-episode series, which is being taken out to networks, along with the documentary, which could serve as an opening chapter in its original or a cut-down format.
The series was often filmed guerrilla-style because the sting operations are done undercover, with Ballard and his team assuming fake identities to lure the perpetrators. Here is an ABC piece on one of Ballard’s jumps, and below is a CBS News story on him.
Thomas and Fletcher serve as writers/directors and executive producers, with Thomas as the producer on the ground accompanying Ballard and his people on missions. EveryWhere is distributing the series, with Mazza, Calvert-Jones and Angel also executive producing along with Gerald Molen (Schinder’s List).
While the completed series is being shopped, O.U.R. is still in action, as is The Abolitions TV crew. The next jump is being planned for next month, and the hope is to be able to expnad operations to Europe soon. The task the men and women face is daunting — according to grim statistics, every 30 seconds a child is sold as a sex slave somewhere in the world, and about 2 million children are being trafficked as sex slaves today.
“No project has ever moved me in my career the way The Abolitionists did,” said Mazza, former president of Sony and Paramount TV. “These are true heroes, Tim Ballard is today’s Chris Kyle. To see the show was quite remarkable — it’s a mission for me as much as it’s a business.”
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