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CBC Gem’s Decoys is a heartfelt mockumentary on par with Best in Show

It’s been almost a year and a half since I spoke to David Pelech about his web series, Decoys. Back then, the Canadian creator—who was also an associate producer on the pro wrestling film Fighting with My Family—was one of over a dozen projects seeking IPF Funding. Decoys received it, and now it’s set to debut on CBC Gem.

Created and written by Pelech—who most recently got the all-clear on a post-camping COVID-19 test—Decoys is a mockumentary series in the vein of the Christopher Guest classic Best in Show. Rooted in fact, Decoys follows a handful of Canadians as they carve their way into a competition for top bird at the Northern Alberta Carving Cup (NACC).

In Episode 1, we’re introduced to Donald (Pelech), a young man who takes up duck decoy carving to connect with his recently deceased dad; Margaret (Kelly Van der Burg), his outgoing girlfriend who tolerates his hobby; Amandeep (Rup Magon), a recent immigrant to Canada using duck carving as a way to integrate himself into Canadian culture; Simran (Nelu Handa) is his supportive wife; Mary Jane (Alice Moran), Frank Brunswick (Brian Paul) and Zeke (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) are veteran competitors; Rhett (Brandon Oakes) is the original bad boy of Alberta carving; Barb (Tracey Hoyt) and Dennis (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) represent the Planning Committee for the NACC.

We caught up with Pelech to talk about Decoys‘ road to CBC Gem.

It could be so easy to just take this as straight-up mockery, but knowing about you and your family and this background, it still blows my mind that this is an actual thing and that people do these for competition.
David Pelech: Yes, the subcultures that exist once you start poking around are quite vast, and this is just one of the entertaining ones that I find particularly entertaining.

You initially told me that we would be following these people all the way through to the end of the competition. Were you able to stick to that original plan?
DP: Yeah. We see them begin their journey more or less, the carvers beginning their carvings, setting out and why they’re doing it, and Barb and Dennis and their struggles getting this off the ground. We follow through to the end of the Northern Alberta Carving Competition, and you see who is crowned the champion.

In your initial planning, was there a Barb and Dennis, or was that a late decision?
DP: Once I had to get down to brass tacks to scripting out the entire series … we had an outline and a bible, but I had to start putting the episodes down on the page. Part of the development process was discovering the delightful characters that were Barb and Dennis, because there were constraints on the time and the size of the episodes, so we could only have so many competitors. One way to really round out the ensemble was to have Barb and Dennis, the organizers, appear and be featured throughout to kind of guide us through how they put the event on, and the kind of behind-the-scenes intrigue. It was just a fun way and it was discovered in the writing processes that they’re fun, interested, and very representative of what these hobbies and crafts require, which is dedicated volunteers who care deeply about it.

One of the things that I love about the character of Donald is that you can see that he’s trying to connect with something that he lost when his father died. You have that heart, you’re cheering for this guy because he misses his dad and this is his only connection.
DP: Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s always the challenge of trying to balance those, as I say, some bigger performances and some frankly off-the-wall comedy scenes with that heart and that intention. I’m very proud of everyone who was willing to hold together with that notion that we were trying something that does try to pluck at the heartstrings as well as make you laugh.

For every sweet moment, there’s Brandon Oakes coming in there as Rhett just messing things up. He’s so good!
DP: Yeah. He’s fantastic. As a performer, being able to perform with him, that was pretty special. There were a few scenes that we did that, it was just amazing. He’s so talented. I think he had a really good time having some comedy things to play with because I’m not sure he always gets that, so it was fun to let him have some freedom and do things that were a little sillier or raunchier than he usually does.

The director for Decoys is Sebastian Cluer. Had you worked with Sebastian before and what was that experience like?
DP: I had not worked with him before and the experience was extremely positive. We were doing about nine pages a day and what Sebastian brought to the table, and I’m sure you know that his experience with Kenny vs. Spenny and things like that, allow him to very quickly capture the essential stuff in a very loose way, but he’s not missing anything. He does a lot of almost pre-cutting it in a way in his head, so he knows camera positions, he knows timing the cues, things like that. Then we were motoring, the operators had the cameras on their shoulders for 95 percent of the day. We were working very hard to get all of the material and let the performers have improv takes. Seb was very strong and very committed and he bought in completely and he just kept us calm and moving forward, and just on a pace that was manageable, but not burning everyone into the ground. It was great.

Do you have a plan in place if there’s going to be another season?
DP: I can only give you a hint at what I’m thinking, but there are national woodworking competitions. Just put that in the back of your mind, there are national woodworking competitions.

Season 1 of Decoys is available on CBC Gem on July 17. Get a sneak peek at the show and the characters.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Roger Petersen leaves Breakfast Television Toronto

After replacing the departed Kevin Frankish on Citytv’s Breakfast Television in Toronto, Roger Petersen has departed too.

Toronto Mike broke the news late on Monday afternoon, stating the veteran broadcaster was fired from the long-running morning program.

Petersen made it official via his Twitter account on Tuesday.

“I’m no longer with Breakfast Television,” he began. “It was wonderful, it was an incredible time. Wonderful people to work with, a wonderful crew who put that show together. When you look at all the work they do, it’s all behind the scenes and they don’t get enough credit for it.

“Thank you, the two years that I had with you guys was amazing,” he continued. “Dina, it was wonderful sitting on that couch with you. We had some magnificent laughs, beautiful laughs, genuine laughs.” Petersen rhymed off memorable interviews, including with Prime Minister Trudeau, Danny DeVito, Steve Earle and the people in Toronto “that make this city go.”

“I want to say a big thank you to all of you, the viewers, for joining us over the last two years,” he said. “It has been incredible … I will miss you all.”

In addition to Kevin Frankish, Breakfast Television has said goodbye to Winston Sih, Adam Wylde and Jennifer Valentine.

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Mental health remains top of mind in Season 2 of Ghost BFF

When we last saw Ghost BFF‘s Amy (Vanessa Matsui), things weren’t going well. She and Mitchell (Dan Beirne) had broken up, and she’d been haunted—literally—by Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn), Amy’s best friend who had committed suicide.

Season 2 is a struggle too.

Available on Shaftesbury’s KindaTV now, Ghost BFF reunites the two best friends—one living, one dead—for more hijinks. Created and written by Matsui, she admits to being caught off-guard by a second season renewal.

“Never did I think a second season was going to happen,” she says with a laugh. “I had to write it really fast, much faster than I did with the first season. I learned that’s a real rookie move. You should have multiple seasons in mind in case that green light keeps going.” Like the debut season, Ghost BFF digs more deeply into Amy’s struggles as she addresses unemployment, single life, unexpected challenges, and the continued grief of missing her friend.

Often, a web series doesn’t allow for a ton of character growth outside of the main player. Not so with Ghost BFF. Horn’s Tara evolves, in search of closure with her mother (Angela Asher), to help Amy heal and to gain a better understanding of her own narrative of what happened the day she died.

“I have a hard time not finding layers in the characters that I portray,” Horn says. “It’s not fun to play someone who is one-note. This is a comedy about suicide and I didn’t want the humour to come at the expense of such an intense, serious subject.” Eight PSAs accompany the new episodes, offering advice on mindfulness, depression, anxiety, boundaries and self-care. With COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc with our lives—and many Canadians staying indoors—mental health continues to be important and talking about it even more so.

“In Season 1, Amy would use band-aid solutions to deal with her mental health,” Matsui says. “In Season 2, she isn’t wearing band-aids. She is being forced to deal with her real self, which is I think what a lot of people have had to do in this very isolating time.”

“Normalizing talking about mental health is really important,” Horn says. “I used to joke about having a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other. But that was my coping mechanism. I was very lost for a long time. But the pandemic has forced me to face myself. And, with things like Ghost BFF, I’ve started to talk about my mental health.”

Season 2 of Ghost BFF is available on KindaTV now.

Images courtesy of Shaftesbury.

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Preview: Smithsonian’s Hell Below heads for new waters in Season 3

Hell Below is heading to new heights in Season 3.

The documentary series from Parallax Film Productions Inc.—the crew behind Hitler’s Last Stand, Battle Castle and two previous seasons of Hell Below—has added CGI aircraft to its toolbox. The Vancouver company’s storytelling sets it apart from other projects in this genre with its grittily realistic filming, achieved through as much in-camera filming as possible, including explosions.

The purpose of Hell Below continues to be tracking submarine warfare throughout the course of the Second World War, and Parallax always hit the mark.

Returning Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Smithsonian Channel Canada, “Killer Strike” spotlights U-47 and its commander, Günther Prien, who is credited with the first official U-Boat kill of the Second World War when he sinks the SS Bosnia. Prien is recalled from patrol early and offered a secret mission to strike the British Royal Navy at its home port of Scapa Flow, in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Used as far back as the Vikings, Scapa Flow has served as the Royal Navy’s base of operations since the First World War. Fighting heavy currents and dodging blockships, Prien breaks into Scapa Flow, but there is no guarantee he will make it out again.

Expert analysis, re-enactments, stock footage and always-impressive CGI help tell these tales.

Future episodes cover the true stories of German U-Boat Commander Fritz Julius Lemp and the sinking of the SS Athenia, attacks on Allied shipping off the coast of Australia, and the rescue of George H. W. Bush by a submarine after he was shot down.

Hell Below airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on Smithsonian Channel.

Image courtesy of Parallax Film Productions Inc.

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Shaftesbury aces inclusive stories with Crave’s The D Cut

Shaftesbury truly is a production company providing stories for everyone. Want a time period drama? Check out Murdoch Mysteries, Frankie Drake Mysteries or Dead Still. How about a more middle of the road mystery? There’s Hudson & Rex and Departure, each with their own storytelling twist. Those looking for LGBTQ2S+ characters and stories can find that too, in Carmilla, CLAIREvoyant and the brand-new series The D Cut.

The D Cut, which debuted six Season 1 instalments on Crave, visits a combination bike shop and hair salon, the latter serving the LGBTQ2S+ community. Based on a true story, The D Cut stars Marie Marolle as hairstylist D and Amrit Kaur as her newest client Viva; the web-length instalments follow D as she interacts with her existing clients, friends and Viva.

The D Cut cast.

“The D Cut was inspired by a Montreal artist [who] had a salon that was in the back of a bike shop,” says Audrey Dwyer, who co-wrote the project with Wendy Litner (How to Buy a Baby). One of the interesting things about that, she explains, was there wasn’t a set price for haircuts, so it made the experience more accessible to people who wanted to explore their look or wanted just a simple haircut. Dwyer—an actor, director and playwright—was teamed with Litner by Shaftesbury, presented with a few real stories from the shop and created their own. And while there is a dramatic tale regarding the future of the salon hanging over all, the heart of The D Cut is the will-they-or-won’t-they between D and Viva.

The D Cut co-writer Audrey Dwyer.

“[Amrit and I] had very little time to connect,” Marolle says with a laugh. “We had just one day of rehearsal and had to make a connection right away. It wasn’t easy, but we hit it off and it went really well. I was super-nervous but there also wasn’t time to be nervous.” Though they had a tight production schedule of just four shooting days—with D. W. Waterson directing—in Toronto preceded by one day of rehearsals, the chemistry between Marolle and Kaur is there from the moment D and Viva lock eyes. It gave me goosebumps. It’s performances like theirs that get me excited about Canadian content, especially when there are inclusive, diverse stories being told.

“It’s actually pretty awesome watching a brown person kiss a French woman on-screen,” Kaur says. “I’ve never seen that, so I was really excited to be a part of it. Hopefully, I get to tell more gay stories because I love to.”

All six episodes of The D Cut are available on Crave now.

Cast images courtesy of Shaftesbury. Audrey Dwyer image courtesy of Caro Ibrahim.

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