Last year around this same time, I spoke to the creators of three potential series—Earthling House Huntress, Hit on Me and Free Space—looking for help from the Independent Production Fund. And though the folks behind Earthling House Huntress didn’t get the funding they’d hoped for, that didn’t stop them from going ahead with a first season of the series anyway, available on CBC.
Created by Ivy Johnson and Jordan Himelfarb, Earthling House Huntress takes place in a world where space travel is simple and aliens are coming to the Greater Toronto Area in search of real estate with curb appeal and a great price. Enter Liz Klein (Tess Degenstein), who specializes in helping ETs find a forever home.
Inspired both by Johnson’s real-life experience as a real estate agent’s assistant and the pair’s observations while buying their own home in Toronto—a good real estate agent spends a lot of time with people and has to be able to make friends with anybody—Johnson and Himelfarb thought Liz Klein would be the perfect ambassador to Earth, able to really be super-charming with the most bizarrely imaginable creatures. The bubbly introduction by Liz sets EHH‘s wacky tone.
“Do you fear an encroaching black hole?” Liz asks. “Want to take a dip in an ocean that isn’t boiling? If you’re an alien with access to high-speed intergalactic space transit and are looking to relocate, I can find your terrestrial forever home.” Nothing stops the ever-positive, endlessly energetic Liz from finding an alien a home. That’s evidenced in Episode 1 when she shows three properties to a bearded, wrinkle-faced laser gun-toting alien named Gorm (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) who hates bright, open spaces (his enemies could attack him at any moment) and accuses a collection of twigs in a vase of mocking him.
Part of the fun of EHH are the reactions the aliens have to things we’re used to. A platter of cookies is a potential threat, using remote car door locks are a challenge and a bathtub could be a bed. I may be looking too deeply into it, but I felt like EHH is, through the eyes of these otherworldly beings, shining a light on what new Canadians feel when they come to this country. They feel out of place and out of sorts, needing a Liz Klein to help them feel at home.
Future “Aliens of the Week” on EHH include Anders Yates and Nelu Handa (pictured above alongside Degenstein), as well as puppetry from Brad Cook and voice work from Tyler Murree. The series is directed by Simone Stock.
One of the mandates we set out for 2017 was to cover web series. It makes sense because they’ve become more popular over the past couple of years. The fact Natasha Negovanlis—star of the online series Carmilla—won the Fan’s Choice Award at the Canadian Screen Awards just cemented it for us: web series are here to stay.
Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The Independent Production Fund (IPF) has welcomed submissions for those looking to be awarded funding to bring content to the Internet or mobile platforms. Established in 1991 to provide financial support for dramatic television series, the IPF was expanded in 2010 to include financing drama series for the web. That mandate has been extended indefinitely. The result? Almost 70 trailers for potential projects have been posted on YouTube. Thanks to the Independent Web Creators of Canada, they’re all collected in one spot.
With the end of March approaching, creators are looking for support via views and comments about their potential projects before the IPF makes their decision; in 2016 they approved funding for 16 scripted series (nine English and seven French); five were renewals for past projects with the other 11 being new ones. (One of was Riftworld Chronicles, starring Erin Karpluk and Tahmoh Penikett.)
To kick off our online series coverage, we chose three projects that caught our eye and spoke to the creative folks behind them.
The Series: Earthling House Huntress
The Creator(s): Ivy Johnson and Jordan Himelfarb
The Idea: In a world where space travel is simple, aliens are coming to Earth in search of real estate with curb appeal and a great price. Enter Liz Klein (Laura Cilevitz in the teaser), who specializes in helping ETs find their fovever home.
The Inspiration: “We had already discussed a show about a real estate agent because I worked as a real estate agent’s assistant for about a year,” Ivy Johnson says. “We were buying a house in Toronto. That took a long time and we got to know our real estate agent and found that character so interesting. To be a really great agent, you have to spend a lot of time with people and make friends with anybody. We thought this character would be the perfect ambassador to Earth and is able to really be super-charming with the most bizarrely imaginable creatures.” Himelfarb and Johnson pitched the idea to CBC, who came on board and connected them with Sphere Media to produce Earthling House Huntress; this is Sphere’s first web series.
The Plan: Based on the HGTV concept, each seven-minute episode finds Liz Klein with a new client as she goes through three houses showing the client the homes. Each client being from another planet means very different needs from humans; the first couple needs a hot enough furnace to roast the egg sac containing their baby. “I think it’s rare to find someone for whom a web series is the end goal,” Johnson says. “Jordan and I have a 22-minute pilot episode in our minds. We’re waiting on that until the starting gun goes off [on funding]. For now, it could only ever be a web series and something we can keep going back to and have Canadian comedians come in and shine as great characters.”
The Series:Hit on Me
The Creator(s): Marvin Kaye
The Idea: After killing people for the last two decades, how does a middle-aged killer find love?
The Inspiration: “I was just trying to write something that was different from before,” says Kaye, who co-created Less Than Kind. “I had a crush on this girl in high school. My best friend went out with her for prom and it broke my heart and I wanted to kill him. That was my inspiration: how would a guy who kills people for a living react to being lovelorn.” The producers on Hit on Me are Lauren Corber and her LoCo Motion Pictures (the folks behind web series My 90-Year-Old Roommate), Kaye and Liz Whitmere.
The Plan: Eight episodes of up to 15 minutes each. Kaye says that while having Hit on Me be broadcast on television “would be like winning the lottery,” but he wants to concentrate on this shorter format where “eight assassinations leads to a relationship falling apart and a love triangle forming.”
“I just want to tell a great story in eight 15-minute blocks,” he says.
The Series:Free Space
The Creator(s): Matthew MacFadzean
The Idea: A black comedy about a family that runs a bingo hall at the end of the American empire.
The Inspiration: “I wandered into a bingo hall in Montreal in 1997,” MacFadzean recalls. “I sat down with some friends and the air was filled with smoke and shady characters. I wondered, ‘What if the revolution started here? What if the meek really do inherit the earth?'” The idea percolated for years until Donald Trump was elected president. Free Space deals with xenophobia and terrorism; an attack at a nearby bar puts focus on the bingo hall as the likely source of the violence. The son of the hall’s owners, Terry Buxton, is called on to protect the hall from scrutiny and uncovers a connection between the attack and his family.
The Plan: MacPhadzean is going at this process as if the funding is on the way for his proposed five episodes. In addition to the teaser, he and producer Chris Baker have posted two more short videos—a location scout and Free Space Initiative—designed not only to outline what Free Space is but drive eyeballs to the teaser. More content will be rolled out in the coming weeks. He’s also got an hour-long pilot in the can and first-season of hours mapped out; he can go forward with more seasons of Free Space online or expand and make the jump to television.