Tag Archives: Derek Diorio

An Indigenous woman returns to her birth family in APTN’s Unsettled

There have been many, many television series using the fish out of water scenario as a key part of its storytelling. And APTN’s Unsettled does it in a very effective way.

Airing Fridays at 8 p.m. Eastern on APTN, Unsettled follows the journey of Rayna Keetch (Cheri Maracle). A victim of the Sixties Scoop—the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system—Rayna returns to her First Nation for a traditional homecoming ceremony when life throws her a curveball. Her husband, Darryl (Brandon Oakes), loses his business, car and their Toronto home. The result? A short visit turns into something more long-term for Rayna, Darryl and kids Stacia (Michaella Shannon) and Myles (Joshua Odjick).

Created, written and directed by Jennifer Podemski and Derek Diorio (Hard Rock Medical), Unsettled has been in the back of Podemski’s mind for years.

“I built this narrative around this family,” Podemski says. “Really using a lot of my own experiences and my desire to interweave and focus it with an authentic Indigenous lens.” Themes include child welfare, the aforementioned Sixties Scoop, residential schools, loss of identity and substance abuse and Podemski had a circle of advisors on-hand to make sure she got the facts correct.

A truly unique way of framing the story is through Henry (Albert Owl), Rayna’s father and the local radio DJ. Viewers listen to Henry speaking to his audience in Ojibwe, recalling the past while fuzzy, home movie-like visuals roll. It’s very well done.

“These stories are effective because they’re so rarely told,” Podemski says. “My goal was to weave these storylines, but not be an issue-driven show, be a character-driven show that weaves characters that are directly connected to these issues.”

Unsettled airs Fridays at 8 p.m. Eastern on APTN.

Images courtesy of APTN.


Hard Rock Medical: Co-creators Smith Corindia and Derek Diorio reflect on four seasons

Sadly, the last of Hard Rock Medical is just over a week away. Yes, January 30 marks the final new instalment for TVO’s half-hour medical drama. (Thankfully you can catch up on this season and the past three via TVO’s website and the past three via APTN’s website.)

There’s a lot we’re going to miss about the series. Co-creators Smith Corindia (right in the above picture with series star Danielle Bourgon) and Derek Diorio (left) have attracted a whos-who of Canadian talent to drop by the show, like Jennifer Podemski, Marc Bendavid, Ron Lea, Michelle Thrush and, this season, Corner Gas‘ Eric Peterson alongside regulars in Andrea Menard, Tamara Duarte, Angela Asher, Jamie Spilchuk, Stephane Paquette and Pat McKenna. With dramatic storylines and humour jammed into 22-minute episodes, and Hard Rock Medical has done something very special over the past four seasons.

We spoke to Corindia and Diorio about the show’s journey and where they go from here.

OK, before we get into some more story-specific questions, let’s deal with the obvious one: whose decision was it that this be the last season of Hard Rock Medical? Was that TVO’s decision? Yours?
Derek Diorio: TVO has never been in the drama game. Over time, when we went back and when we originally pitched this, we convinced them to come in and we convinced them to bring in APTN [as a broadcaster]. It was a novel idea. From Day 1 TVO said, ‘We are not in the drama game.’ And two seasons in they said, ‘We are not in the drama game.’ I said to them, ‘You can’t just be a little bit pregnant. We are the drama.’ And they carried on because it’s a good deal for everybody. It’s certainly been a good deal for us because we got to make a TV show and in a very different way, I understand, from the way it’s done in Canada. We’ve had very few levels of broadcaster input. The commitment was always to do four seasons, we got through that and we are extremely happy about it.

Smith Corindia: Yes, and they were committed to us as well in terms of what our desires were for the show and seeing it through to the fourth season. Derek and I figured out a groove and a formula. Our budget was nowhere near those of other shows.

Four seasons of a show in any country is a triumph.
DD: It was hard. If you go to our website, that’s the one thing that comes up is ‘My god you did four seasons.’ We had a very good run and there is nothing to be displeased about.

I’ve been consistently impressed with the talent you get on the show, from Pat McKenna and Andrea Menard to guest stars like Eric Peterson. How have you been able to score this calibre of talent for four seasons?
SC: It’s almost like we had this theatre troupe mentality in terms of the actors’ commitment. And, of course, they were pleased with how we were developing their characters and the direction the series was going. I think word just got out. And, when people actually saw our show they basically wanted to be a part of it. I don’t think we had to do any real arm twisting to convince anybody.

DD: We had Ron Lea in the first season. I had never met Ron Lea. He showed up and we were having a conversation and I asked him why he chose to do it. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘When I saw the sides come across … I don’t see that kind of stuff at all.’ That’s what a lot of actors have said. They don’t get a chance to do the kinds of things we’re doing. On our set, actors get a chance to bring their own stuff to the party and they enjoy the process. And, we do our episodes in half the time that other shows do. They come in, they work and they like the environment. And, everybody got the same amount of money, which is not a lot. I wish we had the budget to pay them more because I think they’re underpaid for the most part.

Let’s get into some character story arcs. Farida’s [played by Rachelle Casseus] Season 4 story looks very interesting. She’s treating a young girl who is caught in the custody battle between her parents.
SC: We set Farida up in the first three seasons. And this season we set her up where we’re going to learn more about what she’s struggling with and the death of Erica. That’s going to trigger her past and it’s going to be a little bit of a slow unravelling of her past and what’s she’s dealing with, the grief and the moral issues that she is grappling with. And the character of Healy, who has had his own demons in the past is, appropriately, the one who puts things into perspective for her. Of course, she also got the situation with the family and the child [to deal with].

One of my favourite characters has been Charlie, played by Stephane Paquette. What can you say about what he goes through as we close out Season 4?
DD:  Most of the stuff that happens to Charlie is stuff that has happened in my life in general except I’m not going to med school. Steph Paquette is a friend of mine and I’ve been working with him for 10 years or longer, mostly on French shows. We actually mine Steph’s life a lot. He’s a musician and he tours and he’s got so much baggage … the crazy stuff that happens to Charlie is the crazy stuff that happens to him. Steph was in Dubai once and was walking around and was told to be careful where he went. He decided to go into a shopping mall, but it was a women-only mall and he wasn’t supposed to be in there. Two seconds later he’s on the ground surrounded by guards. That’s Steph Paquette’s life. So, it wasn’t hard to ask, ‘What’s happened to you this week?’ And, as writers, you can go in that crazy direction with him because stuff always happens.

SC: The first two years, we found there was more humour within the Charlie character and within the show. We found with Seasons 3 and 4, it became more mature and less humorous. I think that’s because of the stories but there are still classic Charlie scenarios that lend itself to humour. And he’s the guy we had to find humour with. We’ve always been a drama, but we’re a half-hour drama and that’s where it gets tricky because no one is really doing that except on Netflix or HBO.

So, does everyone graduate from Hard Rock U at the end of this season?
DD: That will be up to the viewer to decide, whether people graduate or not. Let’s say the bulk of them will. It’s not tied up with a nice bow but I would say the viewers will walk away satisfied.

Smith, in an email to us you hinted at Hard Rock Docs. Were you joking or will there be a spinoff? What’s next?
SC: We feel we’ve created a show that is very inclusive and diverse that has been well-reviewed with franchise possibilities. We would love to continue the journey and would be open to any broadcaster having us come in to pitch and be part of our next idea… we’re just sayin’…

Hard Rock Medical airs Tuesdays with back-to-back episodes at 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET on TVO. Episodes are available for streaming at tvo.org the day after each new broadcast.

Images courtesy of TVO.



TVO’s Hard Rock Medical embraces North Bay in Season 3

Derek Diorio uses the word “talent” a lot when talking about North Bay, Ont. The city, almost four hours up Highway 11 from Toronto, was the new home for Season 3 of TVO’s Hard Rock Medical.

Returning on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m. ET on the network, Diorio not only sings the praises of the city and its environs but the folks who live and work there too. After two seasons of filming in Sudbury, Ont., the medical drama decamped for a couple of reasons, one of which was a partnership with Canadore College.

As with previous seasons, these new nine instalments follow the adventures of medical students enrolled in the fictional Hard Rock U, loosely based on Lakehead University and Laurentian University’s Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Sunday’s debut and the second episode boast some intriguing storylines: Gary (Mark Coles Smith) and Charlie (Stéphane Paquette) are embedded with an EMS team, Eva (Andrea Menard) and Melanie (Melissa Jane Shaw) are placed on a First Nations reserve, and Dr. Healy (Patrick McKenna) begs to return to work. We spoke to Hard Rock Medical co-creator Diorio about the move to North Bay and what fans to expect from Season 3.

Season 3 was filmed in North Bay, Ont., after being in Sudbury for two seasons. Why the change?
Derek Diorio: There is always a bit of a gap in production of about 18 months. And in the interim, Sudbury really got hot. The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation has put funding into a lot of productions and just as we were about to go into production, they also financed Cardinal. That was a big, huge, production and they sucked up a lot of the local resources and shooting days. If they were shooting for 50 days we were shooting for 30.

In previous seasons, I had built a relationship with Canadore College and the students in two of the programs there, Television and Digital Cinema. It was such a great experience working with the kids in the program. Conversations took place and I was asked if I would move production to North Bay. It was an ideal fit. I cannot say enough good things about the people running the program at Canadore. There are really good programs in Toronto at Ryerson and here in Ottawa with the Algonquin program, but there is something special going on in North Bay. The people who are there really care about what they’re doing and there is money because of the NOHFC and an industry. We had so much talent there, and it raised the game of the show.

I love the fact that, through this partnership with Canadore, the students are not only getting paid to do the work but are getting a hands-on education working on a television series.
What I keep stressing is that Canadore is unique. You can attend their programs and you can graduate with a television or film credit. I don’t think there are any other programs in North America that come close. It’s a small college, but it has a really good program.

We’re a small production and our budget is extremely low. There are lots of great actors in Toronto that I don’t really have access to because I can’t bring a day player in from there because it costs me $3,000. We designed the show, very heavily this year, around actors that were available to us in the North Bay area. I think we put 45 actors from North Bay in continuing roles. And the music that we use in the show are from acts in the area; our music is composed by a guy from North Bay. I think the area has improved the show.

A storyline that struck me in Episode 1 was Eva and Melanie out on Nipissing First Nation and a patient with cancer. It’s a very timely storyline.
There are two things we try to do with the show. Every year we loosely follow the curriculum of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. It’s great because it gives us structure. We also look at what the school does and come up with our own premise or torn from the headlines stories. The whole First Nations storyline began torn from the headlines and we drifted off into a completely different storyline. We’re writing for the environments that are easily accessible to us, so 80 per cent was shot in and around Canadore and the edge of Nipissing First Nation is about five minutes from the campus. We were driven a lot by location and made it Eva’s reservation. And then you just start exploring what can happen on a reserve. The idea of bringing Melanie into the storyline was very much a fish out of water. Part of our theme for Eva this year is that it’s tough to go home. She has the ambitions to do it, but it turns out to be a lot harder than she thought it would be.

Gary and Charlie are embedded with the EMS. I was surprised to see Charlie break down following the scene of a car accident.
Charlie is the least likely to succeed and he’s our comic foil as well. We want to show his scope and the reality of students who have three or four kids and decide to go back to school. The pressure is unbelievable and one of the things that comes up is marriages are really tested by medical school. Most people who enter medical school are doing it coming out of university and are footloose and fancy-free and very few are connected. But what happens with Charlie is actually pretty funny too.

So, it’s just you and co-creator Smith Corindia doing all of the writing?
That’s it. We don’t have a choice, dude. But there is a huge advantage to that. We pound out a story arc for a character or two characters and go through all of the episodes. And then it’s lather, rinse and repeat for the rest of the characters. And then you assemble them all into the episodes and you find that one episode has 40 scenes in it and other has 15 and you adjust. You adjust the outlines and then you go to script and it’s actually quite a fast process.

Hard Rock Medical airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on TVO. All of the episodes will be available on TVO.org beginning on Jan. 9.

Hard Rock Medical airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on APTN beginning on Feb. 8.

Images courtesy of TVO.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail