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Toronto Screenwriting Conference announces recipients of the Telefilm Canada New Voices Award

From a media release:

The Toronto Screenwriting Conference (TSC) is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Telefilm Canada New Voices Award. The emerging screenwriters were selected from over 30 Canada-wide applicants. Those receiving the honours this year are Marie Dame,  Ana De Lara,  Rebecca Hales,  Kim Izzo and John Ward.

About the winners:

Marie Dame: From Alberta/Ontario, Marie, is an actress, producer and writer. She is the recipient of the Writer’s Trust of Canada grant a BravoFACT writing grant. Her short film, Bar None, which she wrote and produced, premiered at the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival.

Ana De Lara: A Filipina-Canadian filmmaker and stand-up comic based in BC, Ana has written, directed and produced a number of award-winning short films which have been screened at Canadian and international festivals. She has turned her one-woman play into a feature-film script.

Rebecca Hales: Rebecca grew up in BC and recently completed the exclusive Bell Media Prime Time Television program a the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. She is currently working on developing both a dramatic and comedy series.

Kim Izzo: Kim is an Ontario-based journalist, author and screenwriter. She adapted her first novel The Jane Austen Manual into a screenplay which is being produced and her original feature-film project is being developed by Corus/Movie Central’s Script to Screen initiative. She is working on three original television pilot scripts and her third novel is being published in 2017.

John Ward: A Vancouver-based TV and comic-book writer, John is developing a on-hour episodic sci-fi pilot about a team of time-travelling mis-fits.

“The calibre of talent we are exposed to through this initiative every year is truly astounding,” said Kim Robinson, Toronto Screenwriting Conference producer. “It is an extraordinary challenge for us to single out just five individuals when the artistic breadth of these emerging writers is so strong.”

Carolle Brabant, Telefilm’s Executive Director, added: “We would like to congratulate the 2016 winners of the Telefilm Canada New Voices Award. The development and promotion of emerging talent is one of the best means of ensuring the continued viability of our industry. We’re also proud to partner again with the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. Screenwriters have a vital role to play in ensuring that Canadian films connect with their audiences.”

Each winner receives a pass to the TSC and a meeting with representatives from Telefilm Canada. The seventh annual Toronto Screenwriting Conference takes place on April 30 & May 1, 2016 at its new location, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

To qualify for the Telefilm Canada New Voices Award, candidates must have written at least two short films of which one has been produced, and have written one feature length screenplay, TV pilot or series treatment. They must not have previously produced a feature or TV series/pilot, nor received Telefilm Canada funding.

CBC announces new and returning series for 2016-17 season

From a media release:

CBC today announced five new original programs to its 2016-17 lineup of Canadian hits, along with the renewal of another 10 returning titles. Among the new titles are The Council (working title), a crime drama set in an isolated arctic outpost; observational series The School (working title); Northern-Canadian docu-series True North Calling; comedy series Four In The Morning; and Caught, a dramatic miniseries based on Lisa Moore’s novel of the same name. Series renewed for new seasons as part of the CBC-TV lineup include Murdoch Mysteries, Heartland, The Romeo Section, Hello Goodbye, Canada’s Smartest Person, This Life, X Company, Exhibitionists, Interrupt This Program and Crash Gallery.


6×60 (Winter 2017) – Take the Shot Productions and Entertainment One Television (eOne Television)
Adapted from the book by acclaimed author Lisa Moore, Caught is a riveting tale of bravado and betrayal, of complex characters and treacherous seas, of love, loss and last chances. Allan Hawco stars as David Slaney, who after six years incarcerated in a Nova Scotia prison for smuggling marijuana, has escaped. Slaney sets off on an odyssey that takes him deep into Latin America to reconnect with his once best friend and partner-in-crime who left him holding the bag years earlier. Slaney tastes freedom, but trusts no one and sees cops everywhere he goes.

 THE COUNCIL (working title) – New
10×60 (Fall 2016) – Lark Productions and Keston International Productions
The Council begins on the edge of the Arctic frontier during the endless days of the polar summer when a young woman, a renowned environmentalist, is found ritualistically murdered near the Canadian hamlet of Resolute. An investigation is mounted by the local RCMP inspector Mickey Behrens, an outsider and new-comer to the north who is running from a derailed personal and professional life, and her partner, officer Jo Ullulaq. A soulful counterpoint to Mickey, Jo is torn between the duty to his job and loyalty to his Inuit culture. The pair quickly discovers that the mystery extends far beyond the borders of the town and to the backrooms of Canadian parliament in Ottawa, the dark corridors of U.S. intelligence in Washington, D.C., the committee rooms of the Arctic Council in Copenhagen, the airbases of world powers, and the migrant conflicts at the border of Norway and Russia.

8×30 (Summer 2016) – Serendipity Point Films
Four In The Morning is an edgy comedy that follows four friends in their twenties as they navigate life at the unpredictable, emotional and bewitching hour of 4 a.m. Dealing with themes of life and death, love and heartbreak, friendship and betrayal, it’s a series about self-discovery, disappointment and clawing after dreams that always feel out of reach.

THE SCHOOL (working title) – New
6×60 (Fall 2016) – Paperny Entertainment
The School is an intense, surprising and intimate series that, for the first time, looks deep into the incredible dynamic existing today between students and their teachers at a typical Canadian high school. Based on the award-winning UK format, The School offers unprecedented access into the day-to-day goings on at South Kamloops Secondary School in Kamloops, BC. Facing daily pressures at school, at home and in the world, today’s teens deal with seemingly insurmountable challenges. The School explores themes of teenage life and those all-important student-teacher relationships, which lie at the heart of everyone’s formative years. Fitting in, falling out, exam pressure, peer pressure, first love and last chances—The School uses warmth and humour to describe steps on the journey towards self-knowledge, at a time when both the present and the future remain uncertain.  The School is distributed by Endemol Shine and will premiere on CBC in fall 2016.

7×30 (Winter 2017) – Proper Television
True North Calling will reveal the north to audiences in an entirely new, modern and surprising way. The series follows one season in the lives of several young, dynamic Arctic dwellers carving out a life for themselves and their families on the frozen tundra. We follow the daily dramas as each deals with unforgiving terrain, and unpredictable weather, hunting, guiding, fishing and farming, travelling by snowmobile and dog sled, mixing traditional ways with modern technology, all while making a living in Canada’s most spectacular and treacherous environment.

These newly announced series will debut during the 2016-2017 season, along with previously announced new shows, including: Shoot The Messenger; Workin’ Moms; Kim’s Convenience; and Baroness von Sketch Show.


6×60 (Fall 2016) – Media Headquarters
Canada’s Smartest Person is an original competition series that inspires and entertains Canadians. Each week, competitors go head-to-head in a series of mind-bending challenges that redefine what it means to be smart. Based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligence, the series explores six categories of smarts including linguistic, physical, musical, visual, social and logical.

5×30 (Winter 2017) – Lark Productions
Hosted by Sean O`Neill of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Crash Gallery is a high energy, immersive television series that brings art to life.  In each episode, three talented artists face-off in a real-time creative arena, giving the audience a front row seat and the opportunity to share in the creative process.

26×30 (Fall 2016)
Exhibitionists is a vibrant series that pulls back the curtain on people who create, and why they do it. Hosted by actor, writer and educator Amanda Parris, this weekly show features Canadian artists as they reshape our country’s artistic landscape. Topical, innovative and entertaining, Exhibitionists explores the most exciting cultural happenings across Canada through a passionate lens.

HEARTLAND – Season 10
18×60 (Fall 2016) – Seven24 Films and Dynamo Films
Heartland continues the saga of a Western family as they chase big dreams and manage life’s setbacks, while holding on to what matters most: courage, love, family, and a home you can always come back to. Starring Amber Marshall, Graham Wardle, Alisha Newton, Michelle Morgan, Shaun Johnston and Chris Potter.

13×30 (Fall 2016) – Pivotal Media and Forte Entertainment
Bustling airport arrival and departure terminals see thousands of people every day, and each and every traveller has a unique story to tell. Host Dale Curd meets people from all walks of life who are in the midst of welcoming home or saying goodbye to their loved ones. He witnesses heartwarming, emotional moments that demonstrate the universal themes of love, loss, family, friendship, grief, and joy through each intimate story of arrival and departure.

 (Winter 2017) – Noble Television and Storypark Inc.
Interrupt This Program
 returns with new episodes revealing the surprisingly vital cultural underbellies of unsettled, global cities. In each compelling episode, passionate young artists display art as a form of protest, as a means of survival and as an agent of change. Viewers are guided through parts of the world they have most likely never seen and experience the creativity and vitality of some of the planet’s most intriguing, resilient cities.

THIS LIFE – Season 2
10×60 (Fall 2016) – Sphere Media
Based on the original Radio-Canada hit, Nouvelle adresseThis Life is a family saga set in Montreal that focuses on Natalie Lawson (Torri Higginson), an accomplished columnist and single mother in her early forties whose terminal cancer diagnosis sends her on a quest to prepare her teenage children for life without her. Her tight-knit family – sister (Lauren Lee Smith), two brothers (Rick Roberts, Kristopher Turner) and parents (Peter MacNeill, Janet Laine Green), do the best they can to help her, while coping with their own responses to this revelation.

18×60 (Fall 2016) – Shaftesbury Films
Season 10 of Murdoch Mysteries, marking 150 episodes of the series, will continue to follow the heroes at the Toronto Constabulary as they solve crimes inspired by Canadian history and international celebrities of the early 20th century. Detective Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) will continue to use his cutting-edge forensic methods and scientific inventions to catch criminals and find unexpected adventures in his home life with wife Doctor Ogden (Hélène Joy) and his colleagues at Station House Four, while last season’s newcomer Miss James (Mouna Traoré) takes on more responsibilities at the morgue.

10×60 (Fall 2016) – Haddock Entertainment
Season 2 of The Romeo Section finds freelance intelligence agent Wolfgang McGee (Andrew Airlie) tasked with a covert investigation of a terrorist incident. The trail leads him forward into the dark side of intelligence services and backwards into his own past history of serving in that realm, and its tragic personal and social consequences.  Meanwhile, Lily Song (Jemmy Chen) is now a recruit for the Intelligence Service and working her way up the ladder, while taking drastic action to prevent her discovery as a double agent. Up and coming drug gangster Rufus (Juan Riedinger) gets caught in an escalating city-wide turf war which upsets the gangster hierarchy and triggers an attempted coup d’etat at the top of the heroin food chain.

X COMPANY – Season 3
10×60 (Winter 2017) – Temple Street Productions
Inspired by remarkable true events, X Company is an emotionally driven character drama set in the thrilling and dangerous world of WWII espionage and covert operations. During World War II, a real life spy training school existed on the shores of Lake Ontario. The series follows the stories of five highly skilled young recruits torn from their ordinary lives to train as agents at an ultra-secret training facility, Camp X.

These renewed titles join an impressive list of returning series that have already been announced, including: This Hour Has 22 Minutes (Season 24); Rick Mercer Report (Season 14); Schitt’s Creek (Season 3); Mr. D (Season 6); Dragons’ Den (Season 11); Still Standing (Season 2); Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays (Season 2), and When Calls The Heart (Season 2).

Toronto Screenwriting Conference announces WGC Writing Room Intensive with Wynonna Earp’s Emily Andras

From a media release:

The Toronto Screenwriting Conference (TSC) has announced the WGC Writing Room Intensive program with Emily Andras, Showrunner/Executive Producer of Wynonna Earp. Six participants will work with Andras to create a ‘spec-script’ episode of Joss Whedon’s cult-classic, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. They will join Andras on stage during the TSC to present a session that explores the writing room process, and will share with the group their episode live on stage. The seventh annual Toronto Screenwriting Conference takes place on April 30 and May 1, at its new location, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“We strive to provide writers the opportunity to not only learn from the most-successful working showrunners and executive producers today, but to also how to apply these advanced tools in a practical manner. Andras’ intensive program does just that,” said Kent Robinson, Toronto Screenwriting Conference Producer. Adding, “In addition the Writer’s Room Intensive, we’ve developed other new conference sessions that will fully engage screenwriters including the creating a successful series engine, writing a pitch perfect script, writing a pilot (that sells), and breaking a season.”

The Boston-born, Calgary-bred Andras has a diverse list of television credits to her name. Currently, she is the Showrunner/ Executive Producer for the supernatural, modern-day western Wynonna Earp on SyFy.

Previously, she spent three seasons as the Showrunner and Executive Producer of Lost Girl, and recently worked as the Supervising Producer on Killjoys. Andras’ other credits include writer and Co-producer of the police drama King, and Showrunner and Executive Producer of Instant Star. She has written for numerous other series such as Degrassi: The Next Generation, Sophie, Total Drama Island, and 11 Cameras. She was also hand-picked by Nora Roberts to shepherd her New York Times’ #1 best-selling Blood Magick trilogy to series.

An avid athlete, Andras grew up figure skating and playing rugby. These days, she lives in Toronto with her husband and two small children…but what Emily really wants to be remembered for is being pulled onstage to dance with Bruce Springsteen. Which totally happened.

Joining Andras on the speaker roster are Master Class speaker, Glen Mazzara (Damien); Stephen Falk (You’re the Worst); Kenya Barris (Black-ish); Senior VP of Series Development for FX, Nicole Clemens (responsible for developing FX dramas including Man Seeking Woman, The Strain, You’re The Worst, Baskets); award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Corey Mandell; and former NBC & CBS studio exec. Jen Grisanti (author of Story line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story).

The WGC Writing Room Intensive is for registered TSC delegates who are WGC members in good standing. The selection process will be juried. Deadline to apply is Monday April 11, 5pm ET. For complete details, please visit torontoscreenwritingconference.com.

Thoughts on Branded Entertainment

Brands are increasingly shifting their ad spend from broadcast to digital platforms because a) more detailed measurement is available from those platforms than from broadcast and b) because audiences are increasingly shifting their viewing to digital platforms, many of which either allow the audience to skip ads (PVR) or strip the ads out (Netflix, Shomi and CraveTV).

So what to do to capture those online eyeballs?  For a few years now brands have been experimenting with branded entertainment or branded content.  Content can be any non-ad content created around a brand, such as a recipe or web series, while entertainment is specifically scripted content like that web series.  TV people, particularly web series producers, have in turn dabbled with financing from brands resulting in a few crossovers such as the web series “Carmilla” funded by Kotex and produced by Shift2, a division of Shaftesbury.  Many more are contemplating this funding model.

Recently I attended the BCon Expo conference put on by Brunico to bring together brands, agencies and creative to discuss best practices in branded content, to get a better idea of what was going on in this branded content world.  It was eye-opening to watch marketers discover concepts of storytelling that have been known to any form of media content creator since well, forever.   Examples:

  • If the characters are relatable, the audience will watch
  • Begin strong
  • Have a fresh concept
  • Get good at content creation and then optimize the platform (or in other words, adapt the content to the platform)

It seems to me that the advertising industry needs to talk more to people in the television and digital media content industries instead of trying to invent the wheel all over again.

The conference did present an example of that kind of collaboration. Shift2 talked about their latest web series employing what I think of as the “Carmilla” model.  Shift2 convinced the Royal Bank of Canada that a web series was the best way to reach millennials and created the 20 episode web series “V Morgan is Dead”.  Similar to “Carmilla”, “V Morgan” is first a drama series aimed at engaging its audience rather than selling to them.  The sales pitch is delivered with branded extensions on other platforms.  RBC conducted research which demonstrated to them that the strategy worked by driving traffic to RBC sites and increasing brand awareness within the audience.  Unlike “Carmilla” though, which has been renewed twice, RBC has not yet decided if it was successful enough of an experiment to warrant a renewal and a second season.

It is not yet clear whether this model is limited to the millennial demographic or can perhaps be replicated in the kids market or even older adults.  Over lunch brand marketers who I talked to were definitely interested in exploring the model but questioned whether branded entertainment could drive purchase decisions as well as increase brand awareness.

This kind of cross-pollination is of concern though to the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (“CAVCO”), which has been seeing a trend of more and more branded content on broadcast television.  When does a sponsored television show stop becoming entertainment and instead is advertising, and therefore ineligible for tax credits?  CAVCO has launched a public consultation for assistance with guidelines to ease the process and review for both CAVCO and producers.  In another consultation they are also exploring whether online distribution of linear productions can be a trigger for tax credits (currently a production must be licensed by a broadcaster or theatrical distributor), which would open up web series to the question of entertainment or advertising, in at least certain circumstances.

Production underway on original HGTV Canada series with Mike Holmes

From a media release:

When it comes to home renovation decisions, is it always ‘like father, like son’? HGTV Canada may have the answer. The network has proudly commissioned a brand-new, Canadian original series with Canada’s most trusted contractor, Mike Holmes, and his son Mike Holmes Jr. (MJ). Holmes and Holmes follows the unstoppable pair as they transform MJ’s modest bachelor bungalow into the perfect first home for MJ and his girlfriend Lisa.

Production is currently underway on the six, hour-long episodes and the series is scheduled to premiere this fall on HGTV Canada.

While Mike and MJ share a last name, a strong work ethic, and a desire to help others, they don’t always see eye to eye.  Their different approaches provide the foundation for unexpected moments of humour and drama – though they always vow to build it right. In addition to seeing the newest materials and building techniques in Holmes and Holmes, viewers will get a glimpse into the personal lives of the Holmes men.