Everything about Web series, eh?

CBC Gem’s Something Undone a genuine scare-fest

I like my horror/scary projects to be atmospheric. A jump scare is OK, but I prefer a general feeling of unease coupled with a tinge of a slow burn. It’s why I love Something Undone.

Debuting Friday on CBC Gem, Something Undone—created by and starring Madison Walsh and Michael Musi—manages what I thought was unthinkable: a genuinely spooky piece of work encapsulated in a six-episode web series.

And, it was written, produced and filmed during the pandemic. Created through funding from CBC’s Creative Relief Fund, which provided $2 million in development and production funding to a diverse range of original Canadian projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBC’s hook was projects had to be produced under strict COVID-19 guidelines.

“Mike and I started brainstorming,” says Walsh during a recent call. “We thought, ‘What can you maintain the quality and enjoyment of with restrictions on visuals? If we can’t have that many actors, what can we do? If we could only have one location, what could we do?’ That’s when we started to think about sound.” The result is Something Undone.

In the first episode we meet Jo (Walsh), a foley artist and her partner, Farid (Musi), who are the successful hosts of a Canadian true crime podcast. After her mother passes away Jo returns to her small Ontario town to sort through her mother’s things while continuing her foley work on the podcast. With Farid in Newfoundland and only available over the phone, a sense of desolation, loneliness, and unease begins to permeate Jo’s life. A disturbing sound Farid hears in one of Jo’s tracks leads her on a creepy, spooky path. Did the house, or something in it, cause her mother’s death?

“I was doing research about sound and learned that we, as human beings, perceive sound so realistically that we can make them up and hear them almost as if they were actually there,” Musi says. “I think that’s why watching a horror movie in our home is such an amazing experience. It doesn’t end when the movie ends. It stays with us.”

With strict safety guidelines in place early in 2020, Walsh and Musi headed off to write Something Undone in a spot many would consider a scary setting: a cottage in the middle of nowhere with no heat. There, they wrote for 10 days, fleshing out what they had established in the pilot into one big chunk and then found ways to break it up into six episodes with a cliffhanger for each.

And while you can certainly watch Something Undone on your TV via the CBC Gem app—the colour palette, visuals and set decoration are wonderful—watching it with headphones on my laptop revealed a whole other level to the horror. Every little creak and clatter can be heard.

“We spoke to our sound designer and he spent extra time really juicing the sound for direction and to make that audio experience with your headset,” Walsh says. “Because it is sound-based, yeah, go for your headphones.”

Something Undone debuts Friday on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of 4AM Film Studios.

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CBC Gem’s The Communist’s Daughter a funny peek at the 80s in all its excess

My formative years were spent in the 1980s. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the 80s celebrated consumerism and excess. I was, however, aware of the media’s portrayal of Communism—and the Soviet Union, specifically—during that decade through movies like Rocky IV, Red Dawn and then-WWF wrestlers Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov. And I was aware of how it all came to a head in 1989 when the Berlin Wall tumbled, signifying the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

That time, and the tumult that came with it, is explored in the new web series The Communist’s Daughter. Available now on CBC Gem, the eight first-season episodes are the creation of head writer and director Leah Cameron (Coroner), who has first-hand knowledge of the subject matter.

The Communist’s Daughter is loosely based on Cameron’s childhood: her father was a Communist during the 1980s. As a result, the family car was a Lada, Soviet Life magazine was delivered to the door, and family vacations were to Cuba to support the economy. In the first episode, viewers are introduced to Dunyasha McDougald (Sofia Banzhaf), a 15-year-old living in Toronto in 1989. Happily upholding the beliefs of her father Ian (Aaron Poole) and mother Carol (Jessica Holmes), Dunyasha finds her support of Communism challenged by her first day at high school when she meets Jasmine (Nadine Bhabha) and Marc (Kolton Stewart). (Look for Chris Locke, George Stroumboulopoulos and Neema Nazeri in funny supporting roles.)

It’s been a long road for The Communist’s Daughter. I first spoke to Cameron back in 2018, when she applied to the Independent Production Fund to produce the series. Now, with the debut close at hand, how did she tackle writing the web series?

“By the time I got to shooting the [IPF] teaser, I had a sense of, tonally, what I wanted the show to feel like in terms of comedy and casting,” Cameron says. “I had originally conceived of it as a half-hour comedy, so it was more a process of refining some of the characters and paring things down.” The first TV episode was broken down and served as Episodes 1 and 2 of the web series and a rough season outline followed. Cameron knew she wanted The Communist’s Daughter to be serialized and take place over time, using the frame of Ian running for a local election and Dunyasha beginning her school year in September and the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989.

“It’s a time when the family’s values couldn’t be more out of sync with what’s going on,” she says. “The Reagan 80s are a super-consumerist time, a super-conservative time and a time when I, growing up, said that my dad was a Communist and everybody thought that meant he was an evil person.”

Executive producer Lauren Corber—her LoCo Motion Pictures are behind Detention Adventure and How to Buy a Baby—is always looking for stories that speak to her, an audience for a project and if a creator is bringing something new to the table. She found all three in The Communist’s Daughter.

“Leah and [producer] Natalie Novak did an excellent job with their proof of concept video,” Corber says. “I had worked with Natalie before and was excited to work with her again. Leah came to the project with such a passion for the story. It was just undeniable that she would bring something special to the production.”

The Communist’s Daughter is available now on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of Conor Fisher for Pinko Productions Inc.

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Season 2 of Detention Adventure a slam-dunk with new mystery and characters

At the end of its first season, Detention Adventure teased a new quest to be tackled by our heroic foursome: a map hinting at the lost treasure of Ignatius Cockshutt.

The time for that quest is nigh, as Season 2 of Detention Adventure returns to CBC Gem on Friday.

But Raign (Simone Miller), Brett (Tomaso Sanelli), Joy (Alina Prijono), and Hulk (Jack Fulton) aren’t alone this time around; quick and quirky Kelly (Lilly Bartlam) joins the fray and adds a new dimension to the web series.

“We wanted to have a history expert this season,” says co-creator, co-executive producer, co-writer and director Joe Kicak. “Having Kelly in there really became the catalyst for this season. And, as you’ll see, she very much becomes part of the story arc.”

A big part of what makes the second season of Detention Adventure so enjoyable—aside from the nods to Brantford, Ont. (my hometown) and the addition of Workin’ Moms’ Sarah McVie—is the personal stories attached to the four main characters. From dealing with divorce or the death of a parent to feeling like the odd one out or an underachiever, Raign, Brett, Joy and Hulk face reality when they aren’t hunting for Cockshutt’s treasure.

“We wanted them to feel very real,” says co-creator, co-executive producer and co-writer Carmen Albano. “The emotional arc of our characters is important, so it had to be genuine.”

Detention Adventure serves up genuine scares too. Several scenes shot in a darkened church result in very creepy moments, making this adult wonder if it was a little too scary for kids.

“CBC told us to just go for it,” Kicak says with a laugh. “We shot one scene and they said, ‘We didn’t really get a jump scare,’ so we made it even worse. Then they said, ‘OK, maybe you went a little too far.’ It might scare some kids but, at the same time, you might have other kids who really enjoy the ride.”

Climb on board the ride this Friday.

Season 2 of Detention Adventure is available on CBC Gem this Friday.

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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.

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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.

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