From Jay Bobbin of Zap2It:
‘Rookie Blue’ producer salutes ‘Flashpoint’ as a ‘game-changer’
Tassie Cameron was a co-executive producer and writer of “Flashpoint” — which included Amy Jo Johnson in its cast, and had American runs on CBS and ION — before becoming a creator and executive producer of the Missy Peregrym-starring “Rookie Blue,” which starts its fourth ABC season Thursday, May 23. Read more.
Five years of working on a show you love, that’s like five giant scoops of ice cream. Having the luxury of ending a show on your own creative terms, that’s like getting whipped cream on top. Seeing so many colleagues rewarded with nominations and awards for the bar-raising work they did on the show – work that made the rest of us look great just by association – that’s covering the whole thing in sprinkles. And we couldn’t imagine a sweeter cherry on top than this very unexpected award … the most prestigious thing a TV writer can hope for.
From the beginning, we aspired to the white-knuckle suspense of 24 and the succulent, saturated production values of CSI Miami – which we explicitly referenced when we first pitched our ideas to CTV. But the transformation from the slightly darker original premise into a more commercial “action procedural”‘ happened fast and smoothly, once CTV reconsidered it as a series. That groundwork was laid in intense creative collaboration with EPs Anne Marie La Traverse and Bill Mustos, as well as our original executives from CTV – and when CBS joined up early in the process, they obviously brought a lot to the table as well, based on their strong track record in sustaining procedurals over many years. What emerged from this was a formula that we hoped would welcome new viewers every week with a self-contained story, while rewarding the more committed fans with “loyalty points” – those story moments that add up to the more complex, slow-burn, (ideally) addictive character arcs where you have to keep coming back to find out what happens next.
We had ambitious hopes of course, but from where we stood, the level of success the show eventually hit wasn’t even on the landscape of realistic possibility at that time. Especially for a show so firmly resolved not to pretend to be American. But these were (and are) changing times in TV. And the mountains that our EPs moved to make it happen, the way they pushed for the highest standards from every technical and artistic department, and the awesome, visionary talent of our signature director David Frazee launched the show with a level of polish and unapologetic swagger we didn’t often see then on homegrown shows. US and international audiences aside, what we’re proudest of is that Canadians watched it in serious numbers, and (from what we hear from the fans) that they felt it was theirs.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced as showrunners in making this series?
When the pressure hits – and pressure is pretty much a constant on a speeding train like a TV show – it can feel overwhelming. There’s so much time-sensitive business to stay on top of. The toughest thing to remember, even in the darkest times – when you’re sure this is the episode that’s going to break you, when you literally don’t know how you’re going to keep breathing – is that it’s just a show. It’s just TV.
Your blank computer screen may not fill fast enough, you could fail to find a brilliant yet diplomatic compromise between all the creative voices needing to be heard, you could disappoint everyone and never work again. But there are human beings out there who risk a heck of a lot more every day than a missed deadline, some who are busy facing life-threatening danger in fact, not in fiction. So you get over yourself and get back to work.
We learned the best way to do that is to step back, breathe deeply, and remember why you love what you do. Re-read your original pitch document, the one that was so full of passion and ambition. Remember that your dream to have a shot at making a show actually came true. The risk of a long-running show is that in the chaos and storm of its practical demands, you forget why you began, the fire you once had to push this boulder up the hill. In our own case, every time we reconnected with the real people from our fictional world, every time we dipped back into research, the inspiration came back stronger than ever, which made the struggle feel manageable and (ultimately) worthwhile.
Tell us about the experience of being honored in front of your friends and peers at the WGC Awards.
We’ve heard that you may have a new series in development – is that correct, and if so what can you tell us about that?
We actually have two – one with CBC, one with CTV, both dramas – and we wish we could tell you more but we’re going to have to wait…
If you could step in to a “guest showrunning” position, past or present, on any Canadian show, which one would it be and why?
There are definitely shows whose writing rooms we’d have loved to hang out in and observe from the inside – not as “guest showrunners,” more for the great company, and to watch and learn. Like The Eleventh Hour for the dazzling convergence of talent in the room. Bomb Girls for the great female-fuelled stories set in a fascinating time. Slings and Arrows because of its smart and subversive take on classical theatre, a world we’ve both known from up close as actors. Among the shows in the works right now … the rooms of Orphan Black and Played have some Flashpoint alums on their staff and both sound like a lot of fun.
What are you watching these days?
From a media release:
The 2013 WGC Screenwriting Awards Winners – Celebrating Canada’s Screenwriters
It was a loud and lively night in downtown Toronto as the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) celebrated Canada’s screenwriters at the 17th annual WGC Screenwriting Awards. More than 600 revelers from the film, TV and digital media industry came together to congratulate the finalists and cheer the winners.
Screenwriters Andrew Wreggitt (The Phantoms), Martin Gero (L.A. Complex), Kim Coghill (Less Than Kind), Dan Williams & Lienne Sawatsky (Sidekick) and Julie Strassman-Cohn & Jill Golick (Ruby Skye PI) were just a few of those recognized. A complete list of winners is below.
The co-creators of Flashpoint, Mark Ellis & Stephanie Morgenstern, were recognized with the prestigious WGC Showrunner Award for their leadership and the creative vision that took the show through five spectacular seasons.
Screenwriters Anne-Marie Perrotta, Simon Racioppa and Lienne Sawatsky received the WGC Writers Block Award for their invaluable contribution at the bargaining table and beyond, assisting the WGC in obtaining minimum fees for animation writing.
The 2013 WGC Screenwriting Awards show was hosted by Ryan Belleville (Satisfaction, Almost Heroes) and written by Bob Kerr (22 Minutes). Dishing out awards were special guest presenters including Yannick Bisson (Murdoch Mysteries), Sergio Di Zio (Flashpoint), Erica Durance (Saving Hope), Susin Nielsen (Robson Arms; Arctic Air), Dave Lawrence (Fubar; Fubar II) and Ken Craw (Heartland).
2013 WGC Screenwriting Awards Winners
Sidekick “I, Sidebot”
Written by Dan Williams & Lienne Sawatsky
CHILDREN & YOUTH
How To Be Indie “How To Make a Christmas Miracle”
Written by John May & Suzanne Bolch
A Sorry State
Written by Mitch Miyagawa
MOVIES & MINISERIES
Written by Andrew Wreggitt
SHORTS & WEBSERIES
Ruby Skye P.I.: The Haunted Library “#Creepy”
Written by Julie Strassman-Cohn & Jill Golick
Less Than Kind “Jerk Chicken”
Written by Kim Coghill
The L.A. Complex “Down in L.A.”
Written by Martin Gero
WGC Showrunner Award – Mark Ellis & Stephanie Morgenstern (Flashpoint)
The Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize – Wild Medicine by Adam Garnet Jones
Writers Block Award – Anne-Marie Perrotta, Simon Racioppa & Lienne Sawatsky
Tassie Cameron (Rookie Blue, Flashpoint) is one of the speakers at the upcoming Toronto Screenwriting Conference on April 6 and 7. She shared her thoughts on the conference, cross-border diplomacy, and keeping the rookie in Rookie Blue.
What do you want to convey at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference?
I don’t really have anything to convey, beyond the fact that one can actually have a career as a Canadian screenwriter: I’m just happy and proud to be there, in such great company, representing for Canadian content, series and writers.
I’d rather answer questions any day then try and tell people what I think they should hear. But I guess I’m hoping I can help demystify the process — encourage great new writers that it’s possible to get a series on the air that you’re proud of and part of — and help share any shortcuts or helpful hints that might make life as a screenwriter in this country a little easier.
What do you hope to get out of it?
While I’d love to meet the other guest speakers — many of whom are heroes of mine — my only real agenda is to be as honest, open, informative, and helpful as I can be: to give back to the city I love, to the amazing new writers that are out there, and to the community that nurtured me.
Have conferences like this played a role in your career development?
I was lucky enough to go to the Canadian Film Centre — so conferences and speakers like this were part of the daily fare. But yes, every time I got to meet or listen to an honest, interesting human being who was doing this for a living, it both relaxed and inspired me. It’s not brain surgery, right? It’s just cool people, telling stories, fighting the good fight, working insanely hard for what they believe in, and trying not to be jerks along the way.
You’ve had a diverse career in various genres and formats – is that what it means to be a working writer in Canada?
Yes, definitely. Unlike the US, you’ve got to be a jack of all trades up here, if you want to work on a regular basis. And I’m starting to think that’s our national secret super-power. Because you can’t be too specific up here if you want to work consistently, it means you have to be — get to be — pretty solid, fast and informed about a bunch of different genres. Which teaches you new skills, keeps you flexible and open, and gives you tons of different kinds of experiences to draw on. Nothing’s ever wasted — it all just becomes part of your tool-box. Which means you end up with a pretty damn cool tool-box.
You’ve also spearheaded a couple of the major cross-border successes — what do you think it takes to work successfully with an American broadcaster in the mix?
Big, open, diplomatic ears. You need to listen really carefully to what your US partner is looking for — figure out how it aligns with your primary Canadian broadcaster — and then forge whatever creative peace needs to be brokered in between, making sure both networks feel heard and answered to. It’s a delicate dance, but when it works, it’s magic. Ideally both networks are on the same creative page from the beginning, which makes life a lot easier.
What would you say is the legacy of Flashpoint’s success?
Flashpoint opened the doors for all of us working in this country. It was smart, emotional, polished, prime-time storytelling that not only grabbed Canadian viewers, but crossed a bunch of borders and raised a bunch of bars. And it looked and sounded gorgeous. It was huge for Canadian television.
What’s new for Rookie Blue this upcoming season? How do you keep it fresh as the core cast loses some of their rookiness? Has the balance shifted at all in the serialized vs episodic elements?
There’s lots of new stuff in store for this season: new characters, new dynamics, new revelations. We’re trying to keep it fresh by not being afraid to change a little bit as we go along — and we’re trying to keep it honest by changing in the way that our rookies do. They’re growing and learning and shifting, and we’re trying to reflect that growth within the series. We also seem to be adding a new “rookie” every season, which helps refresh our premise.
And I think we’ve maintained a pretty steady balance between episodic and serial storytelling. All our episodes try to tell at least one good crime story, beginning to end; but at the end of it all, we’re a character-driven show, and we let our main characters drive the narratives, as we always have.
Anything else you want to add?
Nope … just excited to see you all at the TSC!
(photos by Derek Langer)
I spent last Sunday night in the press room at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards. It was quite the night for Canada. The Sony Centre in downtown Toronto was at capacity with Canadian celebs, writers, directors and producers. The two hour broadcast aired on CBC in staggered time slots across the country, with a half hour of red carpet hosted by Shaun Majumder.
This was followed by an hour and a half of Martin Short singing show tunes and cracking one-liners. Oh yeah, I think we gave away a few awards in there too.
The biggest question surrounding the event has perhaps been what to nickname the actual award. While some felt that a nickname would present itself as Canadians talked over the event, others believed a nickname should be chosen and presented to the media as the “official nickname” of the awards. Twitter was ablaze with suggestions and theories over what the nickname should be. When I asked the winners and presenters I heard everything from the obvious “Screenie” to the more imaginative “Candy,” “Geminini,” “Ceesah,” “Huggy,” and “Awardy.” It’s safe to say that by the fifth broadcast one nickname will have broken ahead of the pack.
This was the first year that the film-based Genies and the TV-based Geminis merged into one meta-broadcast. While the ratings were up from last year’s Geminis by over 75%, there was some question about whether the separate ceremonies should have been combined at all.
With two industry galas preceding the main event, a plethora of the awards were given out earlier in the week, saving some of the audience favorites for the televised broadcast on Sunday night. While the members of the Academy worked hard to pare down the categories into a manageable amount, they didn’t quite cover everything. Writer/director Sarah Polley requested categories for crew contributors at next year’s event.
On the subject of combining the two awards shows, Kevin O’Leary (Dragon’s Den) was all for it. He agreed that combining film and tv was the smartest thing to do, creating a wider audience, building ratings and inspiring a higher level of awareness for Canadian productions. Spoken like a true Dragon.
A show this big doesn’t happen without its fair share of controversy. This year’s malcontent came courtesy of several decisions that surprised the audience and ruffled a few feathers. The hot-button issue was CBC’s choice to stagger the broadcasts across different timezones. While this is a classic fight between coasts, staggering this event handcuffed media to one of two realities: hold off on live tweets, announcing the winners, and posting photos until the last broadcast was airing, or spoil the results for those further west. I didn’t see anyone doing the former, especially since audience members were offering digital congratulations during the awards.
Another piece of controversy arose when the award for Best Comedy Series was given in the off-air pre-show. Taken by Less Than Kind, the award was given out to an almost empty theatre, while the attendees snagged one last cocktail before the live broadcast. A compromise was made when a pre-taped segment of the Less Than Kind winners on stage was spliced into the broadcast (the same with Brian Williams who won for Best Sports Host).
LTK showrunner Mark McKinney had positive words down in the press room. “I don’t hold it against the Academy, as they’ve done a lot of things right and done their job for year one. But next year, they won’t get away with the same thing.”
Despite the controversy, attendees of the awards were in high spirits. The red carpet was bustling with celebs and a wild scrum of photographers before the event. The post-show cocktail party was so popular that it continued until staff from the Sony Centre hustled everybody out to the after-party several blocks away.
The audience engaged with Martin Short, and the spirit of camaraderie was evident in the theatre as well as the press room where not only winners appeared, but nominees and attendees also showed up to hobnob with the media vultures and test out the press room food.
Martin Short proved not only to be a nominee and talented comedian but a true entertainer as well, when he busted out a song I’ve dubbed “Marty’s Night” about his chances at winning an award. When he lost in both categories, he kept his good humour, maintaining that his “rock bottom is everyone else’s dream.” Short wasn’t afraid to press a few buttons, poking fun at Cheryl Hickey’s pregnant “ice cream” belly, and critiquing the Housewives’ collective intelligence level. He also brought back some beloved characters from the past.
Jiminy Glick (The Martin Short Show) joined Majumder during the red carpet broadcast, embodying Joan Rivers and bringing life to the pre-show. Some of the major presenters during the awards included Catherine O’Hara (SCTV), Adam Beach (Arctic Air), Kristin Lehman (Motive), Allan Hawco (Republic of Doyle), Allan Thicke (Growing Pains), Sarah Canning (Primeval: New World), Rick Mercer (Rick Mercer Report), Meg Tilley (Bomb Girls), Jody, Ronnie and Mary (The Real Housewives of Vancouver), Gerry Dee (Mr. D), Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint) and many more.
The last award of the night was given out for Best Dramatic TV Series. Unsurprisingly the final award went to the team from Flashpoint, making them the big winners. This was undeniably a big honor after wrapping their fifth and final season by their own choosing. The series finale aired in December last year.
Flashpoint also took home awards for acting, writing, and the team was honoured for their achievements in television at the industry gala on Thursday night.
The Five Best Things About the Canadian Screen Awards:
- Martin Short as a bagpipe.
- A professional, multi-camera broadcast with an elegant stage, celebrating Canadian achievements.
- The sheer volume of media interested in covering this event.
- The mini roast beef amuse-bouches served after the awards.
- Seeing a theatre filled with diverse Canadian talent, excited to celebrate each other and themselves.
The Top Five “Opportunities” for Improving the Canadian Screen Awards:
- One live broadcast, country wide (no spoilers!).
- A better balance between Film and TV at the Main Event.
- Better media information, press packages, and subtitles on the press room feed during the awards.
- A longer live broadcast, or at least some wiggle room at the end for overages. If the Oscars can close in on 4 hours we can at least manage 2 and a half.
- PICK A DAMN NICKNAME! Tell the press and market it or they’re going to end up being called The Pointies or similar.
And just for good measure, here’s my buddy Strombo looking steeped (yep, I’m bringing it back!):
What were your favorite moments? What would you change?