As a precautionary measure in response to an individual on the Battle of the Blades production team testing positive for COVID-19, Insight Productions has temporarily halted all training and pre-production on the upcoming season to ensure the health and safety of the entire cast and crew. CBC fully supports this decision and, as a result, is postponing the October 15th live premiere of Battle of the Blades Season 6. CBC will provide additional scheduling updates as soon as possible.
A CBC original series, Battle of the Blades is produced by Insight Productions. The series is executive produced by Insight’s John Brunton, Lindsay Cox, Erin Brock, and Mark Lysakowski and is co-created and executive produced by Olympian and World & Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Famer Sandra Bezic.
Trickster is unlike anything I’ve seen on the CBC before. Thrilling, shocking, entertaining and informative, Michelle Latimer’s take on Eden Robinson’s novels is thrilling in its storytelling and expansive in its scope. I couldn’t wait to watch the first episode when the CBC media team sent me screeners and now I’m hungry for more.
Debuting Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC, Trickster tells the story of Jared (Joel Oulette), an Indigenous teen struggling to keep his dysfunctional family going. Jared has an after-school job at a fast-food restaurant and makes and sells ecstasy on the side to support his separated parents, hard-partying mom Maggie (Crystle Lightning), and dad Phil (Craig Lauzon), who has a painkiller addiction and a new girlfriend. But when Jared starts seeing things—talking ravens, doppelgängers and skin monsters—things really get weird. Is he losing his mind, or are the flashback scenes to his birth an indication of something else?
We spoke to Trickster‘s co-creator, director and executive producer Michele Latimer about how the show came to be.
Give me a little bit of the background into how you became involved in Trickster in the first place. Had you read the book and bought the rights?
Michelle Latimer: I actually picked up the book, just for my own personal reading pleasure, but I ended up reading it in the course of three days. The characters really stayed with me. I loved them, and I wasn’t looking to option anything, but I couldn’t stop thinking about, particularly Maggie and Jared, and I phoned my agent and asked if he could inquire about the rights, initially for a feature film. I was told that ‘No, this is only going to be entertained for series television.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, great. I could totally make this into a series, even better.’
Sienna Films had just been coming off doing four seasons of Cardinal. They have quite a track record, but also I loved Cardinal. We just put together a proposal. We went 50-50, Sienna and my company, and we put a proposal together for Eden Robinson. A large part of that proposal was how we were going to include the Indigenous community and Indigenous creatives in the process of making this.
What kind of learning curve was there to create six episodes, and create this world?
ML: The challenge is that Eden writes these sprawling, beautiful, nonlinear narratives with multiple characters. And it was honing that in, and giving that a bit of direction and focus, because and also, it’s a really ambitious book and that we do have a VFX budget. Eden always jokes, ‘Well, when I’m writing, I don’t have to think about a VFX budget,’ and when we’re writing we do. The other part of it that was really exciting was arcing these characters over six episodes, and really getting to dive into them. I still think like a feature. I’m thinking about the season similar to a three-act structure, and I’m thinking about the episodes in a three-act structure. I’m thinking about the episodes of themselves, within an episode, a three-act structure. So, it’s actually, in some ways, very similar to writing a feature, but the length, and breadth, and scope is much broader.
One of the lines said by a character is that Jared is ‘one of the good ones.’
ML: That specific line that you just mentioned, that’s actually out of my life. That’s happened to me on more than one occasion, mostly because I present fair, I’m mixed race. My mother’s Indigenous and my father’s not. And sometimes when I would disclose that to friends or people, that would be the answer. ‘Oh, well you’re not like one of those.’ It was so awful, and I grew up with that, more than once. I really wanted to put that in, and the show is filled with those small little nuggets of experience, that are inspired by real moments.
I definitely wanted to explore those stereotypes. I wanted to subvert those stereotypes. Eden already does it in her book, but I wanted to take it a step further and really call to task our audiences, to get them enjoying the ride, but also hit them a little bit with some of the stuff that’s more complex and harder to digest. And I think that’s the beauty of narrative fiction, is you’re in and you’re strapped into the roller coaster, and you’re ready for the ride. And then, ‘Oh wait. Shit. We hit a bump.’ But, you can’t get off.
Can you tell me about Jared’s journey in this first season of the show?
ML: Jared is really fighting a couple of things. He is the provider for both of his parents, and in some way, parenting the adults in his life, while he’s treading water. And then he’s having these visions, which suggests this legacy of something magical and unknowing, that he really doesn’t have any connection to, kind of overtaking him. So, his journey is one of not really acceptance, because I don’t think he gets quite there, but more one of understanding where he is, and who he is and where he comes from, which I feel is a metaphor for Indigenous people, especially if you’ve been disconnected from your culture. There’s sort of a life process of learning, who am I and what does it mean to be Indigenous? And where do I come from?
And then, there’s an interesting sort of metaphor for assimilation, because Jared really doesn’t want to be magical. He just wants to fit in and have a normal life, and yet the more he tries to fit in, and fly under the radar and assimilate, the less he can. It’s just undeniable until he turns and acknowledges what he is. And then it’s like, ‘OK, now I’m going to step into the path of, how do I take that power and use it?’ And I don’t know if he quite gets there in the first season, but it is a journey towards understanding that. And so, it’s a coming of age story that has magical elements, but it’s also a metaphor for a de-colonial story, and really a condemnation of assimilation and colonial practices.
Trickster has a wonderful look to it, tonally, with the colour palette. What were you trying to achieve through that?
ML: It was very conscientious. I worked with our director of photography, Steve Cosens, whose work I love. I’m really inspired, particularly for colour, by Wong Kar-Wai. I think his use of colour is really excellent as a filmmaker. I grew up watching late-night horror movies. I grew up in Thunder Bay. We didn’t have multiple channels like we do now. I stayed up and watched Hitchcock, and The Twilight Zone and The Shining, and I grew up on all that old horror and old David Cronenberg body horror stuff. And I wanted to homage that. I just, I feel like those movies are what created the spark to want to make films, in me. And so, that’s what I was trying to do with this, except kind of give it an Indigenous spin.
Trickster airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Michelle Latimer image courtesy of Hayden Wolf. Series images courtesy of CBC.
The Sounds serves as a reunion between Rachelle Lefevre and Shaftesbury. The Canadian production company—perhaps most well-known for Murdoch Mysteries, Frankie Drake Mysteries and Hudson & Rex—last worked with Lefevre on the 2008 miniseries The Summit. After back-and-forth on several projects that didn’t happen, The Sounds came along.
Debuting Monday at 8 p.m. on CBC, Lefevre stars as Maggie, a Canadian woman who flies to New Zealand to meet up with her husband, Tom (Matt Whelan), who is about to close an important business deal. After a romantic night spent on a sailboat in a quiet cove, Tom paddles off in a kayak … and disappears.
Penned by Sarah-Kate Lynch and directed by Peter Stebbings, the eight episodes explore secrets, lies and the extent people will go to get what they want.
We spoke to Rachelle Lefevre and Peter Stebbings ahead of The Sounds debut.
Rachelle, how did you get involved in The Sounds?
Rachelle Lefevre: I had worked for Shaftsbury many years ago in a miniseries called The Summit, and we had a great time. We’d been looking for something to do together for a number of years and there were a couple of almost, but the timing was never quite right or the project didn’t get off the ground. So I’d been in contact with them and then they sent me this. I read it and I thought it was really interesting, and I was into it from the get-go. I had a couple of reservations about the schedule and how we were going to pull this off.
And so, they sent me to dinner with Peter. They said, ‘Why don’t you go with Peter because we’re doing something really unusual. We’re having the same director for all eight episodes, more like a film than a TV series.’ He also has a daughter who’s my son’s age. So both of us with kids at home were like, ‘Oh, we’ll have an early dinner. My kids wake up early. OK, great.’ We went to dinner at 6, and we didn’t leave the restaurant till 11.
And over the course of that dinner, two things happened. One, I saw how involved Peter was in helping see the storyline through. So I felt confident that it was going to come together in a way that I would have liked. And No. 2, I immediately felt like this is someone I have to work with, and I can go and do anything with this guy. There was a bond right from the get-go. He was the last step in my signing on.
Peter, how did you end up directing all these episodes?
Peter Stebbings: I did another miniseries called The Disappearance. And I think that based on the success, at least the commercial success of that, I made a name for myself as someone who might be able to do this type of thing. Then, Christina Jennings came to me and floated the question out there. ‘Maybe you want to do all eight?’ And I was like, ‘Maybe I do.’
I think the advantage of doing a miniseries or doing all the episodes, is you get to put your stamp on something. There’s something about living on that razor’s edge that I like. This project in particular had challenges that were unique, and partly a very aggressive shooting schedule. I had some question marks about character motivation and this sort of thing; things that the actors helped me out with. But yeah, I was honoured to be asked that.
I love shows like The Sounds, where there’s a backstory with the person, and they aren’t who they thought it was going to be. Do you?
RL: I do. I do. And I hope people who like our show and read maybe a more than one interview about it, will forgive me that I keep bringing up Broadchurch. I remember finding Broadchurch and just being like, ‘Oh god, that would be so great to do one day, one of these long-form mysteries, where you spend multiple episodes trying to figure out who everybody is and what’s the plot.’
It must’ve excited you to see that Maggie wasn’t happy to just sit back, that she was actually going to take matters into her own hands to a certain extent.
RL: Yeah, definitely. I thought a lot about it, not to make it too dark, although some of our show is pretty dark, I thought a lot about grief and what that looks like. And one of the things that I am least comfortable with in life, as I think a lot of us are, is that feeling of helplessness. Part of what I find really challenging about grief is the finality. It’s the finite element of it. There aren’t a lot of things in life where once the door closes, there really aren’t any other options.
It was interesting to have a character who moved around in that. There were times when she really does seem like she’s given up, and she really just wants to say goodbye to a body. And there are other times where she can’t sit still and she’s like, ‘No, he’s out there and I’m going to find him, and what can I do?’ Fighting against that helplessness and constantly playing with when she feels like she can just give in and resign and there’s nothing to be done, and when she won’t stop fighting.
What was it like filming in New Zealand?
RL: The bumper sticker version is that I’ve said to people, ‘If New Zealand isn’t on your list, put it on the list. And if it’s on the list, move it to the top of the list.’ It’s an extraordinary place.
One of the things that I found that really impacted me while we were filming, is that at the beginning of the series because it is a character. Our landscape is very much a character. In the beginning, it’s so beautiful and it’s expansive and it’s vast. And it’s gorgeous and welcoming, and you just want to go and get lost in it in a way that feels really inviting. And then after Tom goes missing and the more the pieces of their past catching up with them and Maggie making all these discoveries and people aren’t who they say they are, the more it starts to unravel, the more all of those same qualities, vastness, the openness of it all, the idea that you could get lost in it, it goes from being inviting to being ominous.
Peter, what were some of those things that as a director, you had to worry about? Is sunlight coming off the water one of them? What are the types of challenges you had to face?
PS: Well, the first thing that comes to mind when you think about water is you think about the overrun from budget on Waterworld, right? The biggest thing I learned about shooting on the water is—this is going to sound corny—you literally have to go with the flow. We did not have the luxury of resetting up certain shots; that setting up a shot to go again, that’s 45 minutes out of your day.
‘Yes, the shot is unfolding in such a way that you didn’t quite imagine in your mind’s eye. But nobody knows that except for you, Peter.’ The audience won’t know that. There’s still a working shot here, so let’s just go with the flow. There was a lot of that. The weather in New Zealand is crazy. There was one day when I think I changed Rachelle three, four times because it was raining for as far as the eye could see. Five minutes later, we were in bright sunshine. Five minutes after that, there was a storm brewing. And it was gray skies again for as far as the eye could see. It was just nuts.
And poor Rachelle, I kept putting her through the wardrobe changes. ‘We’re not doing that scene. We’re going to do this scene. No, we’re not doing that scene. We’re going to do that scene.’ That was one of the things I learned about shooting in New Zealand in general, is just how quickly the weather conditions can change. But in particular, when we were on the water, how quickly things get changed as well.
How much of a learning curve was it for you, and maybe for the crew, to work together?
PS: The crew in some ways, had a can-do spirit. I mean, look, it’s not like this was bare-bones, but there was resourcefulness there in terms of equipment that we used, in terms of the time we had. It felt like we were doing this with a certain sense of light infantry. If the apparatus was any bigger, if our crew was any bigger, if our circus was any bigger, we wouldn’t have been as nimble as we were.
Was filming on the water a challenge for you Rachelle?
RL: I had two challenges. One, I don’t do well with the cold, so I suck it up. I’m from Montreal. But that was a challenge because there was a lot of swimming. There was swimming, and being in the water in freezing, freezing, freezing cold conditions, where they have medics on set holding stopwatches for how long you can be in the water.
And then the other challenge was I get terribly seasick. So there were a lot of scenes on the boat. Maybe a little tidbit for the audience—a little bit of trivia for them—is there are a lot of scenes on the boat if you’re watching a scene on the boat, I’m probably drugged up. I’m probably slightly high on Dramamine or they would have this stuff in New Zealand called Sea Legs, which works, by the way. Sea Legs worked so well I feel like I want to do commercials for them. But yeah, just a tiny bit high on the anti-nausea meds.
Peter, I have to ask this for all the Murdoch Mysteries fans out there. Are you too busy to appear as James Pendrick?
PS: Two things. One, those jerks found me in New Zealand. I put myself on a green screen last year in the middle of shooting 72 days of The Sounds. I turned in a Murdoch Mysteries performance from New Zealand, I’ll have you know. The performance was against the green screen, but I was actually there. And I was cursing Murdoch Mysteries up and down that day for taking me on my one day off in 72 days to do this.
I’ve also just completed a turn as James Pendrick a couple of weeks ago. There is at least one more turn coming. Murdoch Mysteries is the gift that keeps on coming. It is a wonderful, warm and fuzzy place to be. We have a lot of fun on that show, and I always marvel at the invention of the writers to come up with yet another crazy storyline for James Pendrick.
The Sounds airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.