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Interview: Want to break into TV? Try Bell Local

Bell Local is definitely not your usual community television. The service, available to those in the Toronto area who subscribe to Bell Fibe, allows fledgling and established filmmakers to spotlight the people and places in Canada’s largest city in a new and unique way.

Ian Daffern, a producer at Bell Local, is always looking for new talent to showcase, and views it as a great way for newbies to get into the TV business. That was certainly the case for the boys at Touring T.O. and their offbeat comedy series about two guys pulling tourists between strange Toronto landmarks.

We spoke to Daffern about three unique series offered on Bell Local, and got the details on how people with ideas can get their content on the air.

What is the mandate of Bell Local?
Ian Daffern: We’re looking to celebrate the places in the Greater Toronto Area that aren’t seen on television. We want to tell real stories and present original and new ways of doing that kind of television. We’re trying to present a contemporary way of celebrating the GTA. It’s hyper local but also using the latest forms of storytelling.

What do you look for in a pitch?
What really excites us is seeing some personal passion on the part of the creator. Maybe they would be doing this themselves if we weren’t connected with it. Like the Pique project; this guy was doing it himself anyway and out making it. When he connected with us, we were giving him a wider audience and wider reach. And we’re working with him to tell longer features on different artists. What we’re looking for is something that shows the different parts of the city outside of the core in a really interesting way. We’re not exactly like them, but I see what we’re doing as similar to BlogTO.

Slow T.O. is a perfect example of something different. A nice, leisurely ride across the Toronto harbour, looking at the city in a way you don’t get unless you’re on a boat or on one of the islands.
The idea for this was our service comes through the Bell Fibe box and I thought, ‘What if there was something that you could watch through this box that gave you a different experience?’ It didn’t have to be a linear experience. The idea of making ambient television was really appealing to me and it was a different way of experiencing the city using music.

As someone who has lived in this city for over 10 years, it gave me a whole new way to look at it. I’m always looking out at the islands, rather than back at the city.
I was on that boat shooting, and it was one of the more fascinating experiences I had in the entire year. We were out before dawn and seeing the way the colours moved across the sky and trying to figure out when best to capture the sun hitting the different mirrors on the buildings. Our director of photography, Ryan Emond, does hyperlapse photography which is like Slow T.O. but it’s all done in five minutes.

Another series I loved was The Urbane Explorer. Jeremy Woodcock exploring known locations in Toronto—like Pearson International Airport—from a new perspective; he just went out there and hung out and captured some great moments.
He had done this short called Finding Bessarion and we approached him to make it into a series. I like to try and find people who are already creating this kind of content and reach out and ask where else their idea could go. They told us that as they were working on Finding Bessarion they kept getting pitched other subway stations that they should check out. But the point of the series is to look at the city from a whole new way. You’re getting Jeremy’s comedy and his wry point of view.

The last show I want to talk about specifically is Chillin’ with Dylan. How did that show come about? What I liked most about it was the series explored his interests and everyone he spoke to treated him with respect.
We want to change the way people think, and work with filmmakers that want to look at things in a new way. The filmmaker for that is Kire Paputts and we worked with him on a film about Gerrard St. Then he came to us with an idea and that was Chillin’ with Dylan. Kire worked with Dylan on a short film where he was cast as a boy with special needs who goes on an adventure in the city. Then he had an idea for an interview series that was driven by Dylan’s point of view. All the episodes were based on things that Dylan wanted to find out about. It’s kung fu, it’s sex, it’s psychics.

This city has thousands of stories that all fit with what you want to do.
Yeah, and different ways of telling them from a new point of view. Look at what’s right outside your window.

The guys at Touring T.O. told me that Bell Local was the perfect foot in the door for them to get something on the air. Do you view yourselves as fostering new talent as well?
Definitely. We look at ourselves as an incubator for talent. We’re trying to find people who aren’t getting as much reach as they could or maybe they’re lacking the resources to do what they want to do. Having the Bell Local name behind it, I think, gives them a little bit of weight when it comes to booking a guest or something. That’s what I’m most excited about, working with new and established filmmakers. Any time one of our filmmakers moves on and does something else, we feel like we’ve done our job.

How many households are you in?
Anyone who gets Bell Fibe has access to us. I think we’re around half a million households.

Ian, how do I get a pitch to you if I have one?
We have an open call on our website and we ask everyone to send their pitches through the website. You click on the Propose a Program tab and it gives you all the information on what we’re looking for. We’re always looking for pitches.