Omnifilm Entertainment has secured the rights to the #1 Canadian and international bestseller, THE BIRTH HOUSE (Penguin Random House Canada)—authored by Ami McKay and inspired by the real-life Scots Bay midwife heroine, Esther Rebecca Steele. Creative team Sherry White (Maudie, Little Dog, Ten Days in the Valley, Frontier) and Kerri MacDonald(Frontier, Little Dog, Republic of Doyle) are on board to develop the television series adaptation.
An arresting portrait of the struggles that women have faced for control of their own bodies, THE BIRTH HOUSE is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter in five generations of Rares. As apprentice to the outspoken Acadian midwife Miss Babineau, Dora learns to assist the women of a rural Nova Scotia community through infertility, difficult labours, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and unfulfilling sex lives. During the turbulent World War I era, uncertainty and upheaval accompany the arrival of a brash new medical doctor and his promises of progress and fast, painless childbirth. In a clash between tradition and science, Dora finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom of the old ways that have been entrusted to her. Filled with compelling historic events and surprising detail—childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion; unconventional relief efforts during the Spanish Flu epidemic in Boston; shared activism between the women’s suffrage movements in Canada, the US and the UK—THE BIRTH HOUSE is an unforgettable tale of women banding together to defend their traditions and create change in a world dominated by the politics of men.
Ami McKay is the author of three internationally bestselling novels—THE BIRTH HOUSE, The Virgin Cure and The Witches of New York, as well as the recent yuletide novella, Half Spent Was the Night. She began her writing career as a freelance journalist, writing and producing radio documentaries for programs such as CBC Radio’s Maritime Magazine, This Morning, OutFront, and The Sunday Edition, as well as NPR’s Soundprint in the United States.
This project is being pitched to potential buyers in the coming weeks.
Just in time for the chilly days of winter, Season 3 of Frontier blows into town on Discovery.
Returning Friday at 10 p.m. ET with two back-to-back episodes, the Canadian original once again crashes through the brush with its tales of adventure, heroics and bloodshed among feuding fur traders and trading companies. What can fans look forward to when Frontier checks in later this week? The Hudson’s Bay Company is cracking heads and Declan Harp (Jason Momoa) is on a mission to rescue Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle) from Lord Benton’s (Alun Armstrong) clutches. Meanwhile, Sokanon (Jessica Matten) plots to free Indigenous women from being bought and sold around James Bay.
For more insight into Frontier, we turned to writer and co-executive producer Kerri MacDonald for more details and behind-the-scenes scoop!
So talk a little bit about working with co-creators Rob and Peter Blackie. What’s it like working with those two?
Kerri MacDonald: Oh, my God, it’s the most fun ever. It truly, truly is. I love working with those guys. They operate … it’s funny to work with people who are very close as siblings, right? They have a very specific relationship. They do have a very specific brotherly relationship, which makes for an enormous amount of laughter and humour in [the writing] room for sure.
As a creative unit, I love working with them because they do have really very much a shared vision for the show, and when you talk to one, you’re talking to the other in that way. It’s really comfortable and it’s really great because like I said, they know what they want for the show, and it’s my job then to support it, and then to laugh at all of their hilarious jokes in the room.
Does working on Frontier include some research that you had to do, some deep dives into the history of Canada to formulate these characters?
KMD: Yeah, the boys did a lot of research out of the gate about the time and the trade, and the players involved. I think the show was never intended to be something that was built on the accuracy of some sort of historical engine. It was always meant to be an action/adventure series with the trade as the backdrop. So that in and of itself was interesting because we were building a world. We were building a world in a way that we hadn’t before for sure with the other shows that we’ve done. That was really, really interesting.
As far as the way people talk in our world can slide into feeling very contemporary. There was a conscious choice early on not to be super formal with the dialogue. That was sort of helpful in some ways because you’re not tied to certain types of speaking.
Now, of course, certain characters in the show, like Lord Benton, or we have a new character that we are introducing this season by the name of Lord Fisher, played by Jay Simpson. These guys, of course, are aristocratic, well-born, and well-learned men, so of course, they speak differently. They speak more formally. Then, of course, you have our Scottish guys, who use all kinds of great colloquialisms and stuff.
For me, I find tapping into my voice as a Newfoundlander is one of my strongest points in terms of voicing. Newfoundland is an incredibly unique place, and therefore my voice, my experience, my family, the place I grew up, all of that sort of informs how I write. It’s a really fun show to write. The characters are all so different, and all so rich, and all have such different voices that I embrace that challenge of that sometimes.
Not only are the characters rich, but the wardrobe and the sets are just incredible. It’s one thing to write those scripts, but I would imagine as the actors and actresses get into their clothing and get into those sets, man, it just really helps them get into their characters.
KMD: Oh, yeah, 100 per cent. Our costumes are magnificent and they’re hand-sewn, and they have weights, and function, and all of those things that would help anybody sort of step into another time. Absolutely. We have an incredible crew of people, and the people who make those decisions, Michael Ground and Gord Barnes, just like really spectacular work.
How many were there in the writers’ room, aside from yourself and the Blackies in Season 3?
KMD: It was me and the Blackies and Sherry White and Chris Roberts and Russ Cochran and Michelle Latimer.
After you spent time in the room, you’re batting around ideas, you’ve worked out the beats for the episode and that type of thing, and then you go off by yourself to write an episode, are you the type where you can go to a coffee shop and write or do you need a room that’s quiet to write?
KMD: For me personally, I am a real creature of habit. I find when I’m writing a script, there’s sort of levels to it. There’s the stuff that if I’m feeling challenged on that day I’ll write the easy stuff, or if I’m really digging into it, I can write the difficult stuff. I find that not everywhere is easy to write sometimes, but my favourite place to write is literally on my couch in my basement in front of my television. Like everything I write, I say to my friends all the time, it’s quite funny, that anything I’ve ever written has basically been in a four-foot square space in my basement.
Is the TV on or is it off?
KMD: Oh no, it’s on. I always have the TV on. I’m an only child. I was raised partially by television, so it’s not unusual for television to be always on in my house, even if I’m not.
One of the characters that I’ve been fascinated with is Cobbs Pond, played by Greg Bryk. I spoke to him last year, and he just loved talking about playing this twisted character, this crazy character, and just being able to unleash the inner madman in him.
KMD: Pond is one definitely of our most interesting characters on the show. He’s in some ways … he’s boundary-less in a lot of ways, so for that, he’s a really fun character to write, because he’s really unpredictable and kind of all bets are off with him.
Something that sort of happened this season is that some of the storylines have broken away from this main thrust of Harp, so that’s allowed us to open up the world and cross over the characters in interesting sort of new dynamics, so this season you’ll see Pond in a bit of a different position, and you’ll see him from a slightly different angle, but that doesn’t mean you should settle into him being anything different than you know.
Is there a character that you particularly find that you’re able to find their voice for quickly? Is it Pond? Is it Harp? Is it another character that you really like to write for?
KMD: One of my favourite characters to write for is Malcolm Brown [played by Michael Patric]. Malcolm always says what’s on his mind, and he’s never really hiding anything, he’s kind of blustery and old, and it’s kind of fun that way because there are certain characters that have certain levels of restraint in this show, and sort of societal boundaries, but Malcolm doesn’t really, and he’s fun to write that way. He’s a bit of an id.
Writing for the female characters on the show is a treat. History wasn’t kind to women during that period, and being able to bring to life these ladies who are such survivors, who maintain their agency at any cost while remaining at the mercy of the men around them, is an exquisitely fun job. And when you’re lucky enough to have the extraordinary talent of the actresses we have on our show, it’s thrilling to see these badass ladies kicking Frontier ass all over the place. They are so inspiring.
What can you say about working with Jason Momoa?
KMD: Jason’s great. I haven’t had a lot of close interaction with him really. It’s just sort of a here and there, but I had the chance last season to kind of work with him a little bit more, and he’s a terrific collaborator and really genuinely excited about that character, so when you write for him, all you wanna know is whether or not he really likes it.
He knows what he wants. Nobody knows Declan Harp really more than Jason Momoa, and he brings him to life in a way that I certainly couldn’t, to be honest. He and Pete work really, really closely on his character, and I sort of defer to whatever the guys want, because they know that character, they know how to tell that story really, really well.
I just really, really liked working with Jason. It was a really awesome treat.
Frontier airs Fridays at 10 and 11 p.m. ET on Discovery.