With diversity and inclusion hot-button topics, Tokens couldn’t be more timely. Or scathingly on point.
Created by Winnifred Jong, the digital series—available online now—skewers representation in the entertainment industry through Tokens on Call, a casting agency that sends over actors of any stripe to a production in dire need of someone to fill a role. Whoever happens to be on call is sent, fulfilling the diversity quota for that project.
“This is a commentary on the fact that, because there are so many choices for every role, people tend to bring in people that they know,” Jong says during a recent phone call. “Until you try to create a change in the dynamic, there is no change.” For Sammie Pang (Connie Wang), that means being cast as a well-built tattooed bouncer who takes out her enemies using kung fu. Written, directed and produced by Jong and produced by Trinni Franke, the eight-part series stars a plethora of familiar faces in Sharron Matthews, Daniel Maslany, Shelley Thompson, Jonathan Cherry, Christina Song, Russell Yuen and Amy Matysio as members of Sammie’s family of part of the productions she works on.
One of the most outrageous scenes in Tokens finds Sammie, Demar (Ryan Allen) and Vasant (Gabe Grey) playing triplets in a scene. It’s giggle-inducing and outrageous and part of Jong’s commentary.
Known for directing episodes of Coroner and Private Eyes, the Frankie Drake digital series A Cold Case and Global’s upcoming medical drama, Nurses, Jong has been juggling making Tokens between paying gigs, and called on favours from actors to help her make it. She cast Matthews—the two worked together when Jong was a script supervisor on Frankie Drake Mysteries—after sending the flame-haired actress all eight episode scripts and letting her choose her favourite role.
“I told her, ‘If you want any role, you can have it,'” Jong recalls. “She came back and said, ‘I’d like to be Director No. 2.”
Supinder Wraich began writing The 410 because she wanted to educate herself on the world her family is a part of. She learned a lot.
The three-part digital series, available now on CBC Gem, focuses on Suri (Wraich), a young South Asian woman who goes from social media influencer to drug dealer after her truck driver father (Gugan Deep Singh) is arrested for trafficking drugs. Wraich, who wrote The 410, based the show’s premise on news stories about Indo-Canadian truck drivers being arrested for allegedly smuggling drugs. Her family runs a truck driving school, and Wraich was surprised at how readily people shared stories about the crimes.
“There was a nonchalance with how I got the information,” Wraich says. “There wasn’t shame about it, which I was surprised by. It was, ‘Yes, this happened and this is the information that you’re looking for.'” Wraich got a lot of detail from her father, who had been approached early in his career to hide drugs in his truck. The 410‘s content didn’t hold up production either; the community opened its doors to filming in a gurdwara because they wanted the story told.
“My goal is to get this out to the community, to watch it and to say, ‘Yeah, it’s OK if somebody you know is in jail or if someone you know is suffering from depression, or you don’t have a strong relationship with your father,” Wraich says. “It’s very important for us to see ourselves on screen, so our personal issues don’t feel so isolated.”
When viewers first meet Suri, she’s cocky, self-absorbed, dressed up and posting a video with the city as her backdrop. By the end of the first instalment, she’s stripped bare emotionally and physically, stunned by her father’s secret life and the hundreds of thousands in bail money she must raise. Caught in the middle is Nani (Balinder Johal), Suri’s maternal grandmother, who shuffles around her home, making chai and questioning her granddaughter’s life choices. Throw in cop ex-boyfriend JJ (Jade Hassouné) and a mysterious dude named Billa (Cas Anvar), and there are plenty of folks to complicate Suri’s plans.
Aside from the compelling storyline and performances is The 410‘s look, feel and soundtrack; it has the vibe of a music video, something Wraich credits to director Renuka Jeyapalan. She stresses the project was a true collaboration from Day 1, with producer Anya McKenzie, writer Hannah Cheesman and executive producer Matt Power all helping out immensely. That help extended to Wraich’s family too; she filmed in her parents’ Rexdale, Ont., home and things didn’t always run smoothly.
“We took over their house for eight or nine of the 12 days of production and worked around them,” she recalls. “There were times where my dad had fallen asleep on the couch and was snoring, so we had cut a take and I’d say, ‘Dad, wake up!’ And then we’d go back to filming.”
Back by popular demand, Babe Nation Films and actress/writer/producer Vanessa Matsui are proud to reveal that the second season of the praised digital comedy series, GHOST BFF, has been greenlit and will begin filming in Toronto this summer.
Ghost BFF follows two best friends, one alive, one dead, across space, time and the suburbs as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following a suicide.
The series will continue to challenge the stigma regarding mental health conversation, by building on the foundation set in season one. The second season of Ghost BFF promises to bring even more light, laughter, and openness to rather taboo topics like depression and suicide.
The series, created, directed, and written by Canadian Screen Award-nominated actress, Vanessa Matsui (The Handmaids Tale, Shadowhunters, The Smurfs 2) and produced and co-written by Babe Nation’s Katie Nolan, will be available for stream on Elizabeth Banks co-founded platform, WhoHaha and Whohaha channels.
“Creating the first season of GHOST BFF was an absolute dream come true,” share Matsui and Nolan. “We were overwhelmed with the amount of the love and acceptance we received from our audiences after watching the first season, that we knew we needed to create more. We are beyond excited to bring back these beloved characters for a second season, and will continue to encourage these important conversations surrounding mental health awareness”.
The series has been nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards. One for 2019 Best Web Program or Series, Fiction; and one for 2019 Best Lead Performance, Web Program or Series for actress/writer/co-creator Vanessa Matsui.
It’s been two years since TV, Eh? began our inaugural spotlight on web series seeking Independent Production Fund support, and the state of those series in Canada is booming. Projects like Save Me, Clairevoyant, How to Buy a Baby and Narcoleap are just a few of the many that received IPF support in the past and have gone on to full-blown web and television series.
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? Dozens of trailers for potential projects have been posted on YouTube. Check them out here.
With a deadline of March 31 approaching, creators are looking for support via views and comments about their potential projects before the IPF makes their decision. In 2018, the IPF approved funding for 17 scripted series (11 in English and six in French) including The Amazing Gayl Pyle, The Communist’s Daughter, Detention Adventure and Short Term Sentence. Here are a few projects that caught our eye, as well as the links to some honourable mentions. Watch, click, comment and help them all gain funding!
The Series:The Wait
The Creator: Matthew MacFadzean
The Idea: July (Keeya King) discovers she is a ghost left haunting a home after her family moves out. July is able to communicate with Melinda (Jessica Clement), the young woman who moves into the house. July realizes a figure named Dark John is on the hunt to collect her lost soul.
The Inspiration: “I had an image of a girl ghost looking at another girl and saying, ‘I see you,'” MacFadzean recalls. “I thought, ‘There’s something in that.’ There is something about the relationship between a ghost and a living person that maybe hasn’t been done to the extent that it could be.” A fan of what the horror genre is turning out now thanks to films like Get Out and the Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, MacFadzean wanted to explore what is a tale of possession and, ultimately, consent.
The first season will explore the relationship between these two women; MacFadzean was explaining the premise to writer and producer Mika Collins, who suggested that in addition to being about a haunting The Wait is also an LGBT story. If the project is greenlit, July and Melinda’s tale will be told responsibly.
The Plan: Ten 10-minute web episodes to start, focusing on July and Melinda’s relationship. MacFadzean says that he has plenty of stories to tell and characters to introduce if The Wait becomes an hour-long drama.
The Series:It’s OK to Be Awesome
The Creators: Rebecca Tremblay and Anne Lebans
The Idea: A gaggle of brightly-coloured puppets named Tez, Skye and Pinkerton teach kids aged 6-9 about mental wellness and empowerment.
The Inspiration:Lebans, a life coach, found that self-worth was missing from the female entrepreneurs she was working with. Tremblay, a teacher and puppeteer, used her creations to build self-esteem with adults and children. The two teamed up in 2016 and provided an after-school program in New Brunswick; everything they taught in it has been put into It’s OK to Be Awesome.
“Whether you’re an adult or a child, self-worth and confidence can really stop you from succeeding and they’re not part of the school curriculum,” Lebans says. “I realized, ‘Holy moly, we need to teach this to people so that the world can look different, feel different and have a happy, healthy life.’” The duo, along with producer Jessica Jennings of Hemmings House Pictures, received financial support from the Telus Fund—it supports projects with a health focus—to film a pilot episode, and It’s OK to Be Awesome is endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The Plan: A web series to begin with, but the team hopes a broadcaster follows.
The Creator: David Pelech
The Idea: In this mockumentary, cameras follow a group of characters competing in the Northern Alberta Duck Decoy Carving Competition.
The Inspiration: The idea is close to Pelech’s heart: his father and uncle both participate in duck carving woodworking.
“The way that they are so into it, and their passion for something that is so fringe and so unique, I thought that world was ripe,” Pelech says. “And it’s not a parody or mocking. I think it can be quite beautiful art, but sometimes they do take themselves a bit too seriously. They do enter competitions, so it is nice to have that driving a show. I’m trying to draw the heart out of it as well.”
The Plan: If it receives IPF funding, Decoys will take the form of six 15-minute episodes on CBC Gem.
“Episode 1 is at the competition and at the end, we’ve heard the finalists,” Pelech explains. “Then we go back in time and start meeting the characters on the road to the competition, six months out, four months out, and then in the final episode, we find out who wins. Who is the best carver in Lloydminster.”
A coming-of-age tale about a teenaged boy who partners with an Indigenous woman. Together they evade government forces on a journey to bring civil rights to androids.
A former event planner-turned assassin seeks revenge on the health-care system who murdered her mother and frames it on the only person she’s ever loved.
Miikshi the Meek Sheep
A shy sheep scientist and her loudmouth journalist best friend (a chicken) solves a subway train mystery. The entire world of the show is handmade using puppets and model miniatures.
La Professoressa A multilingual coming-of-age comedy about a failing jazz singer who adds new richness to her life, and voice, through teaching Italian to a variety of students in Toronto.
Late Night in the Studio
Archivist and host Moe delves into the catacombs of the CBC archives to dig up wacky (and totally fake) treasures.
Bobby and Bogey
This project follows Bobby, a kid in Grade 4 that needs a lot of help with … well, everything. He finds that guidance one day when he discovers a crusty old booger living in his nose that doesn’t want to be picked. The booger, named Bogey, agrees to mentor him as barter for staying in his comfy little nose apartment.
Trouble and Strife
A dramatic comedy about loneliness and need and intimacy, and how it’s easier to be a hero to other people’s lives than it is to be a hero in your own.
Denise, Sarah and Toni discover adulthood is not at all what they imagined as children. Now they must hold on to each other before they each fall apart.
Kit & Kat
An unapologetic, thirtysomething slacker and her precocious 11-year-old stepdaughter navigate the conservative world of Vancouver’s upper class.
A lot has happened since I last spoke to Leah Cameron and Natalie Novak.
The pair is the brains behind The Communist’s Daughter, a web series set in 1980s Canada that spotlights Dunyasha McDougald, the daughter of two Communists who struggles with fitting in at high school and supporting her family’s beliefs. Last March, they applied for Independent Production Fund support. Last April, they were one of 30 projects awarded funding to help get The Communist’s Daughter off the ground. In July, the series took the title at the CBC Comedy Originals Pitch Competition at Just for Laughs.
Now the duo, along with executive producer Lauren Corber, has one more goal before cameras roll: public support. A Kickstarter campaign kicked off a few days ago, and it’s chockfull of the humour and ingenuity that accompanied their IPF pitch campaign last year. And, as Cameron believes, those looking for IPF funding should take note of.
“Think of social media,” Cameron, the project’s writer, creator and director, says during a recent phone call. “If you can, try to find a voice or something that can be tangential to the project itself, but it’s sort of like an extension of it, so that you’re not just re-posting behind the scenes photos, but you’re doing something new and interesting for people.” Take advantage of social media’s strengths, she says, whether it’s images and video on Instagram or longer form posts on Facebook and making the word count work to your advantage on Twitter.
“I think that the seedling of that idea in and of itself, too, is also how timely the project is, to begin with, but that timeliness doesn’t live on its own,” producer Novak says. “It’s the mining of the Internet that we did to bring relevance to something that already felt relevant.” Cameron and Novak took full advantage of the current political climate during the past year, using #TrumpRussia in their posts alongside Cold War references and specific language (“Comrades,” “Everythink,” “Sayink”) to promote The Communist’s Daughter. The duo has likened their Kickstarter campaign to a PBS pledge drive, and have reached back to the 80s to make accompanying videos—where Cameron, Novak and Jim Butkovitch are decked out in that decade’s finery—look like they were filmed on VHS tapes.
The writing is done on all eight episodes, penned last November by Cameron, Waneta Storms, Peter D. Murphy, Kaveh Mohebbi, Clara Altimas, Jim Gorrie and Spencer Thompson. Now it’s up to fans, friends and family to make that final push and make The Communist’s Daughter a reality.