Everything about Web series, eh?

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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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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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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Female-led web series Ghost BFF returns for Season 2

From a media release:

Creator, producer, and star Vanessa Matsui alongside producers Katie Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott of Babe Nation Films today announced Ghost BFF will return to Shaftesbury’s KindaTV for its second season on July 7. Ghost BFF, which stars Matsui (The Handmaid’s TaleShadowhuntersThe Smurfs 2) and Kaniehtiio Horn (Barskins, Letterkenny) in the lead roles, launched in 2018 and received two Canadian Screen Award nominations in 2019 for Best Web Series, Fiction and Best Lead Performance in a Digital Program or Series (Matsui). Award-winning actors Angela Asher (Bad Blood), Jean Yoon (Kim’s Convenience) and Dani Kind (Workin’ Moms), along with Steve Lund (Schitt’s CreekBitten), Yani Gellman (The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Pretty Little Liars), and Thomas Colford (Backstreet) join season one regulars Jane Moffat (Backstage), Dan Beirne (Workin’ MomsMurdoch Mysteries) and Rick Roberts (Fortunate SonThis Life), as part of this season’s stellar cast.

Filmed in Toronto, the fully female-led dark comedy Ghost BFF continues its exploration of mental health as it follows two best friends, Amy (Matsui) and Tara (Horn), one alive, one dead, across planes of existence, as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following Tara’s suicide. Season Two delves deeper into Amy’s struggles as she addresses unemployment, singledom, unexpected challenges, and the grief of missing her friend. Tara returns once again as a ghost to find closure with her mother (Asher), to help Amy heal, and to gain a better understanding of her own narrative of what happened the day she died.

As part of the Ghost BFF experience, eight mental health PSAs have been created by the production team to accompany the eight series’ episodes and will be launched in parallel as a supportive element to discuss mindfulness, depression, anxiety, boundaries, and self-care.

Created and written by Vanessa Matsui, the series is produced by Katie Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott of Babe Nation Films, and is directed by Lindsay MacKay (Wet BumRunning with Violet). Matsui, who is a recent fellow of the Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab Program where Season Two was developed, also acts as Executive Producer and directs episode #6. Produced with the assistance of the Ontario creates, Bell Fund, Telus, Canada Media Fund. Shaftesbury holds worldwide distribution rights, excluding the U.S.

Season One is currently available on KindaTV.

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Dramatic actors take a comic turn in Hospital Show

I’d been excited to see the web series Hospital Show ever since the project received support from the Independent Production Fund in June of last year. The chance to see dramatic actors like Sara Canning, Adrian Holmes and Jordan Connor in comedic roles got me jazzed.

Now, the wait is over. Hospital Show, created, written, directed, produced and starring Adam Greydon Reid, debuts today on YouTube with the first two episodes—subsequent instalments roll out one per week—on the platform. Charlie (Canning) is a med school dropout turned actor who plays one in a medical drama called Critical Condition. Alongside Charlie are the big-hearted Rich (Holmes), Instagram lover Vince (Connor) and alcoholic Will (Reid).

We spoke to Adam Greydon Reid ahead of Hospital Show‘s debut.

How did the idea for Hospital Show come about in the first place?
Adam Greydon Reid: I’ve been an actor since I was a kid. I started off on, You Can’t Do That On Television. I’ve always wanted to explore the world of actors because I’d been an actor all my life and I actually see it as very non-glamorous. It never felt real to me. I wanted to create a comedy that just felt like a workplace comedy, except these people, who all feel like people you went to high school with. Totally normal human beings who all have problems and foibles and weaknesses, happen to wear white coats for a living and pretend to be doctors.

The next step was, ‘OK, well what kind of set do I want it to be on?’ When you look for a premise, you often try to look for something that’s ironic. I just liked the idea of setting it on a hospital show because here we have these broken, diluted, addicted if lovable people who are pretending to be healers when they need the healing.

How long have you had this idea kicking around?
AGR: Oh, a long time. Over five, at least five or six years, maybe more. I think as a result the characters feel very rich. The world feels very rich. I always thought if I looked at it as sort of the archetype of The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy is Charlie. Charlie is sort stuck in this world that she kind of belongs in, but doesn’t really belong in. She should be a real doctor instead of pretending to be one. The rest of the characters kind of fill out from there. Rich is The Cowardly Lion. And I would be The Scarecrow.

Carol-Ann is really enjoying her amorous activities at the moment. She’s a widow, a mother of two and so I see her kind of like The Tin Man. Looking to find heart, find love again, find something to fill a void that’s inside her. And then, of course, Oz being the all-seeing eye, the showrunner that’s not really there but can see everything. Kind of like the God figure.

Now that you’ve given me this whole Wizard of Oz angle, I totally see it now. Is it supposed to be there for people to pick up? 
AGR: No one will see it. No, no one would see it or figure out. It’s just for me. Just for me and people like you who I can tell, but honestly, they’ll feel it. When you’re dealing with archetypes, it’s completely transmitted on an unconscious level.

Sara Canning, Jordan Connor and Adrian Holmes all star in Hospital Show. How did you land them?
AGR: We all kind of know of each other and sometimes we’ve gotten to work with each other. I actually did not know Sara at all. I think we’d met maybe once, but I knew of her, of course, and I immediately imagined her as Charlie. There aren’t a lot of people that have the right energy to play someone that you believe is that smart. She’s so sharp. And I believe that she could be a doctor.

I knew Adrian from before. I’ve known him from other stuff. I just ended up being at the airport with him. We shared a cab home one day and I said, ‘Hey, you ever thought about doing comedy?’ He said, ‘Yeah, man. I’d love to, I’d love to do comedy.’ That’s the thing about the cast. Sarah, Jordan, Adrian and even Kristin [Lehman]. These are people who have basically made their careers doing dramatic fare. I think the chance of doing a comedy was really appealing to them because they just don’t get the chance to do it.

What kind of a writer are you? Are you the type that needs to have a quiet room to write?
AGR: Well, for this process, I tapped my actors for ideas. I had a general overall kind of thing going already and it had many rough drafts of it, but there were things that I wanted to spice up and I wanted to add to it. So, probably on the fifth draft, I started that once I had my cast together. I was like, ‘So, tell me about some of your experiences.’ And some of Kristin’s experiences are already in the show, they’re just exaggerated. And with Sara, who actually did Remedy. She says, ‘Well, probably one of the weirdest things in that was we had to practice. We really had to do suturing and we had to practice on bananas.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s going in. That is for sure going in.’

Hospital Show is available on YouTube now.

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