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Director Tim Southam on getting into bed with good ideas

From studying economics, philosophy, literature and political economy in university and working in magazine ad departments, to writing and directing in television and film on both sides of the border, Tim Southam‘s diverse career has helped him mine some of his favourite themes. Highlights include The Bay of Love and Sorrows, Drowning in Dreams, One Dead Indian, Trudeau: Maverick in the Making, as well as directing for series such as Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, House and Bones. He answered a few questions recently about his career through a Canadian lens:

Some of the current Canadian series you’ve directed include Rookie Blue, Haven, Flashpoint – any highlights (or dirt) to share about working on those?

Flashpoint and Rookie Blue are great examples of pan-North American thinking in Canadian TV production, and of a real home-grown confidence about the kind of story that can appeal to audiences around the world. We’ve had this confidence for a long time in movies and documentaries, and we’ve always known that we had the skills and imagination to do it in series TV. It’s just harder in series because of the sheer scale of the enterprise. Witnessing the producing and creative tour-de-force that put us in this position has been exciting.

Haven is less explicitly home-grown than Flashpoint or Rookie Blue, but it is an example of our ability to work the genre card to a fairly exacting level and then play convincingly to a niche audience worldwide. All three shows know exactly what they want to be. For a guest director this is a critical factor in delivering a strong result. You want a capable production team that can state clearly what it’s going for, and one that’s confident enough to trust the director to deliver it. All three shows have these qualities.

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Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town “a game changer”

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You have to expect people involved in a TV show to sing its praises to the media. But when someone who’s not doing a press junket is moved to reach out to me about a project, my skepticism drops a little. And when I see a screener of the project that confirms its worth, I ask if I can quote him singing its praises.

OK, it’s now happened once, so it might be too early to call it a trend.

Peter Keleghan is one of the huge ensemble cast bringing to life the reimagining of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, tonight on CBC. In his words:

“My rose colored glasses were broken so I think I’m right in saying it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in years. Seriously. It might be one of the consistently best entities of writing, directing, editing, laughs, cries, etc. I’ve ever been involved with. Knowing it was a labour of love when we shot it; we all thought it was going to be great. We may have underestimated it. I’m not one for hyperbole (except for today I guess!) but I think it’s a game changer for Canadian TV.”

I won’t place bets on game changing in a slash-the-CBC mentality era, but Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town feels like the perfect story at the perfect time on the perfect network.

Keleghan also pointed out a couple of highlights to look out for: Keshia Chanté’s anachronistic version of Burton Cummings’ “I’m Scared” and Colin Mochrie’s mug to the camera, which made it into the final cut.

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Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town’s Malcolm MacRury on making “Anne of Green Gables on Acid”

Malcolm MacRury (Cra$h & Burn, ZOS: Zone of Separation, Republic of Doyle, Deadwood, The Man Without a Face) is the screenwriter and an executive producer on Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, based on Stephen Leacock’s classic book as well as the author’s life. MacRury recently answered some questions on this literary reimagining, airing Sunday, February 12 on CBC.

In the television movie, co-produced with Movie Central, the elder Stephen Leacock (Gordon Pinsent) narrates the tale of his boyhood self at age 14 (Owen Best). The movie combines two key stories from Leacock’s comic masterpiece: the sinking of The Mariposa Belle steamer with its holiday crowd in the perilously shallow waters of Lake Wissanotti, and the frantic campaign to save Mariposa’s hotel and bar from the Liquor Commission’s shutdown.

Why this book at this time for you?

I’ve loved Stephen Leacock ever since I fled academia to write comedy. Here was a genius who could do both — write best-selling humour books that went around the world and also teach political economy at McGill. I’ve been on a mission to bring his comic masterpiece, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, to TV for about 20 years. The stars finally aligned when the centenary of his book and the 75th anniversary of the CBC coincided. Timing is everything!

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