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.