Shawn Ahmed and Scott Leaver should go out and buy themselves a lottery ticket. Why? Because in order for their new series, Touring T.O., to be shot they needed several things to align, including a tight production window. But the biggest coup the two pulled off? Landing veteran Canadian actors Ron Lea and Jayne Eastwood for guest roles.
“Ron Lea’s role was originally cast for Patrick McKenna, but he had a family emergency two days before he was supposed to be on set,” Ahmed recalls. “But then he recommended his friend, Ron Lea. He walked on set two days later and blew the doors off. We landed Jayne Eastwood because she happened to be in town for two days. Even we were like, ‘Why would you agree to do this? Don’t you want some time off?'”
Lea and Eastwood, along with Grace Lynn Kung (InSecurity), Laura De Carteret (Seed), Darryl Hinds (My Babysitter’s a Vampire) and Adrienne Kress (Ryan Gosling Must Be Stopped), all appear in Ahmed and Leaver’s eight-episode creation about two guys trying to eke out a living as the owners of Touring T.O., a rickshaw company operating in Toronto. Ahmed is Omar, a high-strung man with a mad crush on a gal named Marie Anne and a conundrum: if their company fails his work visa will be cancelled and he’ll be shipped back to India. Leaver’s Martin has an major issue too: he’ll be sent back to prison for parole violations if Touring T.O. doesn’t succeed.
Debuting on Bell Local this week, Touring T.O. is unique on a couple of fronts. Firstly, it showcases Toronto’s lesser-known or dubious landmarks as story points. Episode 1, for instance, finds the guys pedalling to Christie Pits to show a photographer a huge, white elephant standing in front of one home. The pasty pachyderm actually exists.
“Scott went up one morning and knocked on the guy’s door,” Ahmed laughs. “He answered the door with one kid under his arm, invited Scott in, poured him a coffee and let us film on his front lawn.” The elephant had been made by a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design. The student was moving out and was going to get rid of his project; instead it ended up across the street and a feature of Touring T.O. Ahmed says they researched Toronto’s history to suss out future locales like The Waverly Hotel, Fort York and Captain John’s Harbour Boat Restaurant.
Also unique to Touring T.O. is its fast schedule and shoestring budget. Ahmed and Leaver wrote the show’s pitch one day last November and were contacted within 24 hours. A month later Touring T.O. had been greenlit, papers were signed in January, and scripts were banged out in February. Shooting was a 10-day race in April followed by a couple of months of post-production. Stephen Papadimitriou (Ryan Gosling Must Be Stopped) had a two-week window between jobs so he could produce and direct Touring T.O. The same was true for Nelson Rogers (Royal Canadian Air Farce), the show’s director of photography.
“It was a very stressful time for everyone,” Ahmed deadpans.
Touring T.O. is available on Bell Local via the Bell Fibe network. On demand content can be found on channel 1217.