Tag Archives: Frontier

Ron E. Scott returns to APTN with procedural drama Tribal

It’s no secret that I loved Blackstone. Created by Ron E. Scott (above right), the APTN drama series was an unflinching look at life—and death—on a Canadian First Nations reservation. Violent, dramatic and unflinching, it was very much like The Sopranos in tone while its stories were about what life is really like on reservations.

Now Scott is back with a new series. Debuting Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on APTN, Tribal is more procedural but no less dramatic. Jessica Matten (above left)—last seen on Frontier—plays Samantha Woodburn, a First Nations woman who is teamed with big-city cop Chuck “Buke” Bukansky, played by Brian Markinson (Unspeakable, Continuum), to solve crimes on and off the reservation.

We spoke to writer, creator, director and executive producer Ron E. Scott about Tribal‘s beginning and where it goes in Season 1. At press time, APTN had announced a second season of Tribal had been ordered.

How did Tribal come about? Was this something you were developing while Blackstone was going on, or did you take some time off from Blackstone and then start working on this?
Ron E. Scott: As a content creator, I’m always developing projects. I had three or four projects that I was working on, and Tribal was one of them. You just don’t know what’s going to go. We’re just so thankful that APTN saw a lot of value in the project and saw that it was going to be great for their audience, so they went ahead and greenlit the show.

Did anything change in the time between pitching APTN and them green-lighting it and then you heading into production? 
RS: They definitely had some ideas of what they wanted to deliver to their audience. And so there were discussions and there was some back and forth. We shaped it for a certain demographic, a certain time zone, time period, which is always something that of a content creator goes into, your conception of what you’re delivering to your audience.

What is the tone like? 
RS: Blackstone has its aggressive, confrontational, very kind of in your face. I think this is kind of a progression of North American native storytelling. This character has a lot of dimensions and it’s something that I don’t think we’ve seen before. In that way, I think it’s a progression. It’s not Blackstone and it’s not anything that’s really been out there. At the same time, it’s told with a Native American voice. Our lead is a Native American woman. I think the tricky part is we don’t know what to call Native People in America or Canada anymore. It’s Indigenous one week and it’s Aboriginal, First Nation.

So we’re running around, trying to figure this out, and I think that we deal with that a little bit in the show. It is a crime drama, so there’s a crime of the week, but it’s a character-driven crime drama. We’re driving characters forward and story and then we get into this really beautiful kind of arc and later in the season, where we’re starting to see a real crescendo of commentary from like I said, a Native American viewpoint.

Jessica Matten is your female lead. 
RS: Whenever we create a story world where there’s a mashup between Tribal Police and the city police, a lot of people don’t understand that the jurisdictions of any Canadian reserve is held with the Canadian government. Technically, in the traditional days, the RCMP, which is the federal government, would have control over the reserves.

And so what happened is there have been hints of corruption. It hasn’t been sustained. It’s just allegations. And so the federal government comes and goes. In this day and age, this is not looking good for us, so we’re going to take over the Tribal police, but we’re going to remove the chief who is corrupt. Let’s say he is an old boys’ club kind of thing. It’s a very interesting kind of dynamic that unfolds. It’s a story world that I don’t know how far away it would be from reality because, in this day and age, there’s still some reserves that are being third-partied by the federal government. A lot of people don’t know this, but it’s a very interesting dynamic that unfolds. Let’s put forward the most politically correct candidates and let’s go from there, but we’re still in control, which is a big part of what the government does everywhere.

Talk about working with Brian Markinson.
RS: He’s just so talented and he was very impressed with the role. He loves the writing and so he was all over it. And I can’t say enough about him and Jessica. They create this collision on screen, but there’s a chemistry that is really interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing what people think about their chemistry, too, how it develops throughout the first season.

Has it been a bit of a learning curve for you then when you’re talking about filming a more procedural show?
RS: I definitely learned a lot on Season 1, and it’s just like when you’re flexing different muscles. It’s not like you’re learning a new sport. It’s just finding opportunities to kind of get in there and have a voice.

At the same time, we’re still trying to be aware that we’re creating a dynamic of characters. And so that’s not lost whatsoever. So I’m very proud of how these two characters navigate the season and they don’t always see eye to eye. We get a perspective from the Native and a non-Native perspective on both sides. There are always two sides presented.

That kind of collision, I think, is intelligent television. And I think that’s what I always strive for.

Tribal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on APTN.

Images courtesy of Prairie Dog Film + Television.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Ron E. Scott’s Tribal goes to camera for APTN

From a media release:

APTN and Prairie Dog Film + Television’s new one-hour crime drama series, TRIBAL begins production today in Calgary.

TRIBAL follows a First Nation Tribal Police Force as they navigate a controversial new Chief amid allegations of corruption and takeover from the federal government. TRIBAL’s award-winning cast includes Jessica Matten (Frontier, Blackstone) and Brian Markinson (Mad Men, Unspeakable). The series will also feature the talented Michelle Thrush, Justin Rain, Garry Chalk, Adam MacDonald and Julian Black Antelope.

In TRIBAL, the department of Federal Justice attempts to save political face under the mask of inclusion and collaboration as they take control of the Tribal Police Force. Interim Tribal Chief Samantha Woodburn (Matten) attempts to overcome political red tape, and must also prove herself amongst the old-white-boys club of the Metro Police. Thrust into an unfamiliar world, she navigates politics and procedure as she clashes with her new partner, Chuck “Buke” Bukansky (Markinson), a seasoned but broken-down Metro Police detective. This season examines First Nation crime stories based on real-world cases, including mistaken identity, pipeline controversy, healing lodge justice, social services, tobacco and missing Indigenous Peoples.

TRIBAL Showrunner and Director Ron E. Scott is a prolific producer and innovator, who has contributed to over 190 episodes of TV that have broadcasted globally on Netflix, including the ground-breaking one-hour dramatic series Blackstone, now streaming on APTN and CBC.

Filming locations include Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation in Alberta, Canada. TRIBAL is produced by Ron E. Scott, Janet Hamley, Adam Frost and Nancy Laing from Prairie Dog Film + Television. The series will broadcast in Canada on APTN.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Shawn Doyle speaks of Unspeakable and some regrets playing Canada’s first prime minister

Unspeakable was, as the title suggests, once just that. The CBC miniseries delves into the tainted blood scandal in Canada that took place during the 1980s as the AIDS crisis was unfolding. A time when there was a misunderstanding in the disease, how it was spread and how some Canadians, as a result, were infected with Hepatitis C. It was something not talked about. Not anymore.

As I already covered in this previous story, writer Robert C. Cooper acquired Hepatitis C because of tainted blood. He turned his personal experience into the basis for Unspeakable, which tells the story from the perspective of two families caught in a tragedy that gripped Canada, as well as the doctors, nurses, corporations and bureaucracy responsible.

Shawn Doyle stars in Unspeakable as Ben Landry, a journalist. By the end of Episode 1, Ben and his wife, Alice (Camille Sullivan), learn of their son’s Hepatitis C diagnosis and realize it could have been prevented. That sends Ben on an investigative path to find out who is responsible. We spoke to Doyle about his most recent project and reached back into the past to talk about his portrayal of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

Give me the background, Shawn. How did you end up finding out about Robert’s project in the first place, and what attracted you to it?
Shawn Doyle: Robert approached me about doing it, and he sent me the first few scripts, and then a couple outlines. I didn’t know a lot about the scandal other than the fact that my mother stood the risk of actually becoming infected because she had a number of transfusions in the early 80s. I read the script, and Robert had told me to look at the character, Ben, that I played. I actually originally was more attracted to the other character, Will, in so far as he was more volitional, you know?

I suppose on an unconscious level, there was a resistance within me about playing a character that ultimately is so paralyzed, feeling so impotent at the top of the series. Robert and I talked about it, and he kind of clarified why he thought I was appropriate for Ben. Ultimately, the result of that conversation and reading those scripts, I was just honoured to play the role because it felt like he was really entrusting me with kind of an awesome responsibility.

This project was personal for Robert. What about for you? You mentioned your mother.
SD: For me, it was really about dealing with the humanity of his relationships, the minute-to-minute experience of trying to reconcile himself with his wife and his son, and also trying to seek some direction in his life. In some ways, my job as the actor was to fill those very human moments and allow the larger story to take shape as Robert dictated through the writing.

In the first episode, it’s established that we’re starting to find out information. There’s a virus that’s in the States and is creeping its way into Canada. There’s fear, but there’s also frustration, that people don’t seem to be taking this seriously. They think that it isn’t a big deal. That really resonated with me.
SD: Yeah, I think everybody is in the dark, and there was nobody to turn to. That’s kind of the clear message that comes through, and certainly, it doesn’t take much of an extrapolation to figure out current-day examples of the same thing. We trust all these governing bodies to guide us in the proper direction, be it health or environment or safety. Constantly, we come face to face with evidence that nobody really knows, and often, people don’t care.

Sometimes we get a little bit blasé and smug in this country. When it comes to something like this project, Walkerton with the water and people dying, or Maple Leaf Foods, people getting sick, contaminated foods … We really can’t afford to be smug in this country because stuff has happened here, and people have died in this country, too.
SD: I would second your statement there. And I would go so far as to say that we often thumb our noses at the States and feel that we have some sort of superiority when it comes to taking care of our own and not being affected by the same level of corruption. But the truth is, like you just said, with Walkerton, with this, with the fact that private blood companies are still on the rise in this country, are still trying to be not regulated. I mean, this stuff happens, and it will continue to happen unless there are watchdogs out there looking after everybody.

In something like Unspeakable a historical precedent is set. It’s based on real events. As an actor, is it any different taking on something that’s historically accurate, or something like Bellevue, where it’s fiction? Does that matter to you when it comes to a project? Is one more difficult than the other?
SD: I think that the subject matter dictates how difficult a project is. For example, I played John A. Macdonald, and that required very specific preparation in terms of dialect and movement and look. In some ways, that kind of work frees your emotional life because it supports all the other kind of work you do from the moment-to-moment acting work. In some ways, I treated this more like fiction than trying to portray a real-life person because, in fact, I was an amalgam of other people. It was less about trying to pin down a specific person, a specific character that existed, and more about just trying to find it in the moment with my fellow actors.

The speech Ben gives in Episode 1 is stirring. You’re under makeup and you can feel the age in your voice. You can just feel the weight of what’s gone on in Ben’s life coming through in his voice as he stands in front of that group of people. It was pretty amazing.
SD: Oh, thanks for saying that. That was one of the most terrifying days in my career, I would say, to get up in front of 300 background people and be in age makeup and trying to play someone in their 70s who’s gone through this experience. That all happened very early in the shooting, too, so it wasn’t as if I had the momentum or the weight of having done a number of scenes. It was really very close to the top shooting, and so it really relied on imagination and trust and just trying to jump off the cliff. Also, when you’re in that kind of makeup, it’s really important that you try not to act your age, act that age because it’ll just weigh too much. Yeah. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t know if I want to see it, to be honest with you.

It’s so funny that you say that that was nerve-racking for you to be up in front of a group of people in makeup and saying that speech. That’s so funny. Out of all the work that you’ve done over the years, I find that interesting.
SD: Well, first of all, I hate speaking in public. I have a huge fear of it, as a lot of actors do unless they’re hiding behind a character. But secondly, there’s just so many traps to fall into when you’re playing … First of all, when you have a prosthetic on your face, and second, you’re playing such a different age. But more than anything, for me, it was the eagerness to try to capture the weight of history, the years that had gone by as he has struggled to keep a family together and not always won. I wanted to find ways to live that inside and not have to feel as if I had to act that, if that makes any sense, to present it. I didn’t want to present it. As much preparation as a five-page speech does in that context, it also requires time to just allow your heart and your mind to travel through what that must be like. Because again, we hadn’t done enough of the series yet for me to have physically experienced it, so it was all imagination. So, that’s what was terrifying about it.

Because you brought up John A. Macdonald. John A.: Birth of a Country was recently available on Encore +, so it’s readily available for people for free via YouTube. How does it feel to have that available online now for a new generation of viewers to see?
SD: I have very mixed feelings about it. I think it’s actually a very good film. I’m very proud of the work that we did, and I’m proud of the work I did. But post-playing John A. Macdonald, I discovered that I am First Nations. I have my First Nations status and I also now have a life partner who is an Indigenous artist, Métis, Cree and Saulteaux. My worldview of that particular part of our world has just expanded so dramatically, and I understand that there’s a glorification that happened in our production that I can no longer get behind.

Now, the idea was to do four films through his four major tenures as a prime minister. I think if we would have had that journey, we could see the frailty of the man or his flaws. We didn’t get a chance to do it in the one film, and unfortunately, we lionize him a little bit in a way that I regret based on what I’ve since learned about his behaviour towards First Nations people. Because when we did that movie back in 2009, I did my due diligence, and I read biographies and everything. There weren’t any anti-Macdonald biographies easily and readily accessible, so we didn’t dwell on that in the films, obviously. I didn’t really uncover that in my own research, and that’s something that I just have to carry with me.

So whenever things have come up with his anniversary a couple years ago, I have decided to kind of publicly talk about that, certain situations, because I think it’s important.

Unspeakable airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Comments and queries for the week of December 7

I’ve been desperately trying to watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Frontier online since you mentioned they were available. I’ve been really enjoying the series so far and I expect Season 3 will be just as great. One of my favourite characters is Jessica Matten’s Sokanon. She is such an unpredictable character and I never know where she will go in any scene. I hope Sokanon makes it to the end of Frontier! —John


I agree that the showrunners should stick to the original format of [Murdoch Mysteries], in terms of showing the main four and covering their backstory. William, Julia, Brack and George are the only characters that I like to see have the main focus of each show. I actually wrote a letter to Peter Mitchell telling him that the show has too many characters since S9; Nina, Louise, Marilyn Clark, Ruth, Watts and even put more focus on Henry, John and Margaret. I told PM that I hoped Louise would get murdered, because that be the most interesting story with her in it. I also said that I didn’t like that H, J and M were getting more screen time. The point that I was trying to make with you was that, if this season is doing something a bit “fresh,” by having episodes that give more of a backstory to the main four, then I’m OK with that. Watts is an OK character but yeah, I could’ve done without an ALL Watts episode. Basically, I don’t think the writers will be doing these kinds of episodes in S13 (fingers crossed). —Crystal

I think it’s selfish of viewers to expect the same product in every episode of any show. Creative people feel boxed in when they can’t follow their instincts. I like the profile stories of Watts and Brackenreid for the depth and enrichment of the characters, for the stretching of the writers’ imaginations, for the challenge to the actors. Doing the same thing with minor variations and over is BORING. For them and for me. One reason I’m such a fan of MM is their all-over-the-place unpredictability. Obviously this fluidity works for most of us since MM is on its 12th season with only a few changes to cast. They’re happy, let them do their thing. —Sadie

Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg. david@tv-eh.com or via Twitter @tv_eh.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail