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Murdoch Mysteries: Costume designer Joanna Syrokomla discusses the show’s stunning clothes

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the “My Big Fat Mimico Wedding” episode of Murdoch Mysteries.

Joanna Syrokomla has one of the best jobs in television and film. Yes, being a costume designer is a lot of work, but the opportunity to spend someone else’s money to research, create, make and/or rent the clothes worn by characters sounds incredible.

Syrokomla—who has been the costume designer on such series as The L.A. Complex, Bitten, Backstage and Chateau Laurier (for which she recently won an International Academy of Web Television Award)—joined the Murdoch Mysteries crew for Season 12 and has, in my mind, made an immediate impact. That was never more evident in the stunning clothes worn by Ruth Newsome, Henry Higgins and their guests during Monday’s nuptials. How did Syrokomla design Ruth’s dress? What’s different about Julia’s look? And what items in his wardrobe does Yannick Bisson refuse to change? Read on to find out!

What does the title of costume designer mean, specifically when we’re talking about Murdoch Mysteries?
Joanna Syrokomla: I’m ultimately responsible for every article of clothing that goes on-camera. Obviously, we do the research required for Murdoch. I watched previous seasons of Murdoch—I was already a fan—and the wonderful thing about that is you can see what really works on the characters. I could watch what was really great on Hélène Joy, what made her glow and was successful on her. I’ve tried to update Julia’s look. She’s starting to lean towards 1910 even though it’s 1906 to give it a freshness to the look of Murdoch and to her and to, frankly, accent some of the stock because there are only so many costumes in Canada to rent to all of those day players.

I have a crew that ranges between eight and 15 people, depending on the day. I have a workshop where we build and sew costumes. We make things from scratch for our leads. And if there are any specialty stunts … we’ve been making Ruth Newsome a bunch of stuff because she is amazing. Siobhan Murphy can pull off anything. She can pull off big sleeves, she can pull off a train, she can pull off crazy colours and I’ve really made quite an effort to realize her character more visually. I feel like I’ve been trying to do that with a few of the characters. We know Murdoch is not realistic. So, for me, it’s about making things that the audience is really going to love.

It’s interesting to hear to say that you do keep the fans in mind when you’re designing something.
JS: We also use more modern things. I’ve been buying things are Zara and Forever 21. Violet and Ogden are wearing things that we’ve bought from Forever 21 and just recut and adapted them. At the end of the day, there is a fan base that wants to see pretty clothes. And as long as they don’t distract from the action, we want to bring some colour, texture and warmth. Again, it’s not high realism. High realism at that time was all very brown, cream and tan and hot wool. That’s what I love about Murdoch Mysteries over some other period series. There is a fun element to Murdoch Mysteries. We say, ‘Is it period, or is it Murdoch period?’

What was the inspiration behind Ruth’s gorgeous wedding dress?
JS: Ruth, obviously, is over the top. The style of her dress is a little modern for the period. It’s leaning more towards a 1908-1910 silhouette. The character takes up a lot of space visually and I love that about her. And Siobhan is a stunning creature. The dress started off as a dress we found in a Montreal costume house. We redid the sleeves and changed the train. We ended up changing it so much I’m not even sure you would recognize the original dress. It’s now in two pieces and the costume house loved it so much they said, ‘Don’t change it,’ because sometimes we have to change things back. There was so much action going on we had to make sure she didn’t have a really long train. At first, I wanted her to have this really ridiculous, long train and veil but there so much action that you can’t have that stuff be in the way.

You mentioned Montreal. So, you’re going all over the country for rentals and inspiration?
JS: Absolutely. Toronto does have some really exceptional costume rental houses but we were sent to Montreal for about a week because Montreal has an excellent period stock. I think they might just do more period movies in Montreal. We spent a couple of days in costume houses there and bought a bunch of fabric there. But things to get rented from Vancouver and we do [use items from] Los Angeles a little bit. We’ve also been going to the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival, hitting places that Murdoch hadn’t really hit before just for some new stock.

Let’s talk about what the men were wearing during the wedding. What can you tell me about their tuxes?
JS: It’s officially called morning wear. They wouldn’t be tuxedoes. They would be morning coats for an afternoon wedding. It was a lot of fun to put everyone in morning wear. It’s always wonderful when the guys come in in their sneakers and shorts and just the way they stand when they start putting on all this formal gear is beautiful. We even had some pieces sent in from Winnipeg, which has the oldest costume house in Canada. It was the original Malabar costumes and then branched to Toronto and Montreal. We had some pieces from there because we have gunshot wounds in the episode. There is a whole jacket switch that has to happen between Henry and George. In reality, the two of them are not the same size, so we had to find jackets that we were allowed to put gunshot wounds in.

One thing I’m not sure if you noticed and I’m curious if you did. The pyjamas. In the story, everyone goes to the wedding, and everyone has to stay overnight. No one had intended to stay overnight so everyone is wearing pyjamas. And we’re not sure if they were Roger’s pyjamas or Rupert’s pyjamas. It was a way we could put Hélène in those beautiful, silky, pyjamas and Crabtree in the yellow paisley pyjamas and, of course, Murdoch wore some serious ones. That was something that came up. We were in a meeting and I asked what everyone was wearing. I don’t know who it was, it might even have been me, who said, ‘What if it was Rupert’s pyjamas?’

How far in advance are you brought in to discuss clothing?
JS: It’s during the first draft period. I had a little more time for the wedding episode. It was actually one of the first episodes we shot so we had a little bit more time. But it’s basically two weeks.

You’ve already spoken about Julia’s look changing. What about William’s? I don’t imagine his clothing has been altered too much style-wise.
JS: Everybody is very, very happy with his look over the years. And Yannick himself doesn’t want to change it. He wears the same shoes and the same cufflinks from the very first movie and refuses to change them. He wears the same shoes, we just get the refurbished every year. I got him some new cufflinks and he said, ‘No, no, I’ve been wearing the same cufflinks.’ We just made more of the same. He does have some looks this year which are new, but nothing drastic. I even tried to get him a new hat. They don’t make that one anymore. I got it from a vintage seller on eBay in his size and everything. He picked it up and said, ‘Yeah, it’s good as a backup hat.’

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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NBCUniversal International Networks acquires CBC series Coroner

From a media release:

NBCUniversal International Networks (NBCUIN) today announced the acquisition of Coroner – a new, procedural drama from Cineflix Rights to air around the world. A CBC original series created by Morwyn Brebner (Rookie Blue, Saving Hope) and produced by Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios, the eight one-hour episodes will premiere in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Africa, Latin America, Brazil and Australia from late 2019.

Inspired by the bestselling series of books of M.R. Hall, Coroner is a female-driven series following Jenny Cooper – played by Serinda Swan (Inhumans, Ballers) – a newly appointed coroner investigating suspicious deaths in Toronto. Jenny is a brave and determined yet vulnerable coroner driven by an intense desire for the truth. A former ER doctor and a recently widowed mother of a teenage son, her husband’s death has unlocked a primal connection to death, tied to a secret in her past that is only now coming to the surface. With storylines based on real-life cases, Jenny is a coroner of our time, an advocate for the dead even when it’s inconvenient for the living, and defender of those who are powerless or in peril.

Coroner also stars Roger Cross (Dark Matter, The X-Files) as Donovan “Mac” McAvoy, a police detective who partners with Jenny; Eric Bruneau (Blue Moon) as Liam, Jenny’s new neighbour; and Ehren Kassam (DeGrassi: Next Class) as Ross, Jenny’s 17-year-old son. Also joining the cast are Tamara Podemski (Rabbit Fall) as Alison Trent, Jenny’s eccentric colleague; Alli Chung (Dark Matter, The Expanse) as Taylor Kim, a smart, junior homicide detective; Lovell Adams-Gray (Second Jen) as Dr. Dwayne Allen, an idealistic young pathologist; and Saad Siddiqui (Incorporated, Taken) as Dr. Neil Sharma, Jenny’s insightful psychiatrist.

Coroner is produced by Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios. Morwyn Brebner is creator, executive producer and showrunner; Adrienne Mitchell (Durham County, Bellevue) is lead director and executive producer for Back Alley Films; Jonas Prupas is executive producer for Muse Entertainment; with Peter Emerson and Brett Burlock executive producers for Cineflix Studios.

Coroner is distributed worldwide by Cineflix Rights and is currently in production in Toronto, Canada.

The CBC will premiere Coroner in Canada on the CBC in winter 2019.

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Preview: Tara Spencer-Nairn guest-stars on Frankie Drake Mysteries

I love watching Tara Spencer-Nairn act. I first came across her work in a little show called Corner Gas. I think most know her from playing Officer Karen Pelly on Corner Gas in the live action TV show, movie and animated series, but she’s turned in some incredible dramatic roles. Two recent standouts for me was an episode of Saving Hope and a mini-arc on Killjoys. (And if you’re not already following her on Instagram, you really should.)

All this is my way of saying if she’s on-screen a series is better for it. So I was thrilled to see her name in the credits for Monday’s episode of Frankie Drake Mysteries. She portrays Ida Pike, a woman who asks Frankie and Trudy to find her missing husband.

Here’s what the CBC has revealed as the storyline for “Radio Daze,” written by Cal Coons and directed by Ruba Nadda.

Mary (Rebecca Liddiard) is acting in a radio drama, but when she realizes the play is a cover for a heist, she must find a way to warn Frankie (Lauren Lee Smith).

And I’ve got more details after watching the instalment in advance.

Mary Shaw, Morality Officer
I’d almost forgotten Mary had that title, but I was reminded during her stint on the radio, where she reminds listeners to, among other things, not venture into the woods alone. And certainly not without sensible footwear. There’s also a nod to Lillian Gish that had me scrambling to my Google machine to learn more about the actress, writer and director.

A salute to Orson Welles
The nod to Lillian Gish isn’t the only reference to real history in Coons’ script. The radio show has a distinct The War of the Worlds vibe about it that makes this storyline even more enjoyable.

More guests
Tara Spencer-Nairn isn’t the only familiar face in 1920s Toronto. Look for recent Wynonna Earp visitor Justin Kelly—who portrays broadcasting great Foster Hewitt—and Kevin Jubinville. Grace Lynn Kung and Romaine Waite check into their recurring roles as Wendy and Bill. Speaking of Bill, he’s started acting strangely and Trudy is worried he’s keeping secrets from her.

Frankie Drake Mysteries airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Featured image courtesy of CBC.

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Anne with an E: Lucas Jade Zumann describes Gilbert’s Season 2 journey

While Anne Shirley has been experiencing life in Avonlea and all that entails—school, friendship, chores and two sneaky grifters—Gilbert Blythe has been on an adventure of his own in Season 2 of Anne with an E.

Leaving Prince Edward Island following the death of his father, Gilbert has been shovelling coal into a ship’s boiler alongside Bash in the Caribbean. The two have established a strong friendship, and there has been great personal growth for Gilbert already. It’s not clear exactly when Gilbert will return to Avonlea—it depends on how fast Anne’s letter reaches him—and Lucas Jade Zumann won’t tell me.

I spoke to Zumann earlier this year about how he was cast in the role, what’s in store for Gilbert this year and his plan to study … astrophysics and quantum theory.

Gilbert’s got a lot going on from what I’ve seen so far in Season 2.
Lucas Jade Zumann: Yeah. Absolutely, I think he’s getting a much more worldly perspective during Season 2. Even more so than I think the character had in the book. [Showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett] is really writing in between the pages on this one and really adding a lot to his character’s backstory. I think it’s really important and it lends a lot to his natural worldly character that he has in the book. And I think that this journey of his kind of, it lends an explanation to Gilbert’s perspective.

How did you end up with the role in the first place? 
LJZ: It wasn’t actually very traditional. When I got the offer for the audition, I was on tour for the publicity for 20th Century Women, a film that I did. And the director of 20th Century Women worked with the producer of Anne with an E. She liked the film. She saw the film early and she liked my work and she requested that I read for the role. So I came in, the first thing I did was actually a chemistry read with Amybeth McNulty. And then after that point, it was maybe a couple of weeks before my agent called me and let me know that I had gotten the role of Gilbert Blythe.

To be skipping that step because executive producer Miranda de Pencier had seen you and thought that you’d be a good fit … were you a little bit extra nervous going into this?
LJZ: Oh, absolutely, especially considering the rank of these people that were sitting at the table in front of me. I mean, Moira Walley-Beckett is a phenomenal writer and director and I have been inspired by her work for many years beforehand. Just sitting in a room with these people is intimidating. Even the waiting room. I was, yeah, I was very nervous to say the least. I’m just really lucky that we kind of clicked in a certain way.

Gilbert lost his father in Season 1. That was a very dark and serious storyline that you had to take on.
LJZ: Yeah. Absolutely. I think losing his father was a huge deal for Gilbert’s growth and it pushed him to grow up really fast and have to start supporting himself and discovering his own place in the world. I think being in school just … and then having to support yourself, just in a little life change like that, I can only imagine how hard that must be for a person. And the kind of toll that that has on their personality. I think that lends a lot to his mentality and his maturity.

Where’s Gilbert’s head at in Season 2?
LJZ: I think he’s just so excited to be exploring parts of the world. I think he’s so accustomed to the way of life in Avonlea, where it’s snow almost all year and just farm work every single day. And I think that just being on a boat and even just shovelling coal, like, that was, that’s part of the exploration for him. I definitely can see that in my own life, too. I mean, I personally like working in a restaurant in my free time, just simply because it’s a more mindful type of workspace, in a restaurant. And I appreciate that there so many different roles that people can play in this world. I think Gilbert is taking the time in to explore that.

What can you say about his relationship with Sebastian?
LJZ: Sebastian really is kind of his leader to the world outside of Avonlea. I think when Gilbert leaves Avonlea, all he knows is, well, I mean, he’s been surrounded by white people and this culture, this European Canadian culture that he’s had his whole life. Seeing Trinidad and seeing what it’s like on a steamship, all the other trials that he goes through, I think that being with Sebastian and seeing that these are trials that people like him would go through on a daily basis just to survive.

That grants him perspective. Coming from a classroom full of people worried about what they’re going to wear the next day, to people worried about how they’re going to eat the next day. That was something that’s really important for him to understand. There’s a whole other world outside of Avonlea.

Is there something that you’re working on now that you can talk about? Are you back working in a restaurant? 
LJZ: Well, I just took a break from the restaurant because I am starting my senior year in high school. Which I did not necessarily think I was going to go back and do because I did take my GED. I tested out of high school, but I don’t have enough credits to apply for a college and make it look cool. I don’t have all the college credits that I would need.

I do eventually want to go back and I really am interested in studying astrophysics and quantum theory. That would definitely require some mathematics or history, you know. Coming back to school with that kind of new drive for learning, specifically with the astrophysics, understanding that calculus and math is like the language of how we humans quantify and understand things about our universe, it could be beyond our perception, I’m so fascinated by that. I really want to explore everything that we can about the universe that we live in.

Anne with an E airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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