Tag Archives: Paul Aitken

Murdoch Mysteries: Paul Aitken talks “Annabella Cinderella”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Annabella Cinderella.”

Well, that as quite the road trip for Constables John Brackenreid, George Crabtree and Detective Watts, wasn’t it? I always get a kick out of road trip episodes and this one was a lot of fun, even with an accused axe murderer at the centre of the story. With Inspector Brackenreid gone from our lives for now and Julia and William back on Toronto planning to write a police handbook containing the latest forensic sciences available, it was up to the trio to collar Annabella and investigate the truth behind her case.

We caught up with the episode’s writer, executive producer Paul Aitken, for details.

It’s been a great season so far.
Paul Aitken: Yeah, I think it’s been good. I’m curious to see how it all turns out. I know how the stories turn out, but I haven’t seen it in frame.

Oh really? Is that common?
PA: It’s common for me because once we get past a certain point in the story, I like to just see it in its whole.

We’ve seen a little dip into Watt’s past, and certainly a lot more into Brackenreid’s past. As somebody that’s been with the show from the very beginning, what’s it like to dip into these back stories and find out a little bit more about these characters as we’ve been going along this season?
PA: Oh I think it’s a really useful well to dip into because you can get story ideas out of the past that you can’t if you just are going forward. There’s something you can use that’s interesting, and you can build a story around it, and it also deepens the character. I think it’s fun for the audience because they get to see and come to understand the characters in a way that they wouldn’t have in the past, and it’s also just a really useful story tool.

The story getting a peek into Watts’s history was fantastic, emotional. Daniel Maslany did a wonderful job.
PA: I thought so too. I thought that worked really well. We didn’t know Watts very well, and I think he was a bit of a mystery, and I think this grounded him. It picked up on story elements we introduced in earlier episodes. But I think it’s true with any character, if you can pull something out of the past, it’s fun to watch and it’s fun to write.

Let’s get into tonight’s episode. I immediately thought of Lizzie Borden. Was that an inspiration at all? 
PA: No, actually, it wasn’t, not at all. We came to the idea of the axe because we wanted her to be dangerous. It’s more fun if your quarry is someone who could kill you. And it also made her dangerous. You want to buy that this character could be nice and flirting with John, but at the same point would drive an axe into his back if necessary. And I think the mother aspect of it, because Lizzie killed her parents, that was a plot that seemed to work best. So first came mother, then came the axe. And Lizzie Borden wasn’t just an afterthought. We did think of referencing it, but I’d already referenced Lizzie Borden in an earlier episode in Season 3. We’ve had several women wielding axes on the show, and we can’t reference Lizzie Borden every time. But yeah, there are a lot of parallels. She killed her mother, there was someone coming into the house at the time, someone running out of the house. I can’t remember exactly what happened with Lizzie Borden, but yes. Obviously, I can see why you would think that.

It’s been nice to see Charles Vandervaart get more screen time, and clearly, you were able to touch a little bit into the fame that goes behind supposed serial killers or just killers at large, this fascination that he had with her was pretty great.
PA: I thought so, too. We’ve been trying to make this an episode for a while. And I always pictured it as the person that they are escorting to justice, and then they escape. I always thought of that person as a man. It’s kind of like, what’s that movie with Jack Nicholson back in the early 70s? He was escorting a sailor to be incarcerated. [Editor’s Note: The Last Detail.] I always wanted to make an episode like that, and so that was how it started out and then we realized that it was actually a lot more interesting if the protagonist was a female that John Brackenreid had a crush, and we could play that flirty angle. So that’s how that came about.

I did want to ask about William and Julia. There are a lot of fans out there that always want to see the two of them front and centre every episode, and in this one, they certainly weren’t. They weren’t a major part of the story, although they did have their own fun kind of storyline. Is it nice to have them in the background and not be having them do the heavy lifting? 
PA: As regards to heavy lifting, I think it’s always good if you can give your main actors a bit of a break, because so much is demanded of them, just on a humanitarian crowd I think it’s a good idea. And in terms of the story, in terms of what the audience wants, yeah, they want to see the main guys, but it’s also kind of fun and challenging for an audience to not be able to see the main guys in the main role all the time, to see someone else step up. I think it’s kind of fun to be able to do that. And I know that the audience, I think, will sort of just go along with it. Murdoch will be back next episode, there’s no danger about it, and I think it’s unusual to have Murdoch not be involved in any way in the actual mystery except at the very beginning and the very end.

Will their storyline continue? The publishing storyline? Or is that kind of a one-off?
PA: We’ll see where it goes.

What can you say about Margaret and Thomas going forward as we get closer to the end of this season?
PA: I think, obviously that will be when the season goes along, but it’s a season long story. And I think it’s a really good story. I think it resolves, or doesn’t resolve, I think, where it goes, how it goes is actually really interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.

What did you think of this episode? Are you excited to see where Julia and William’s writing careers go? Let me know in the comments below.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Murdoch Mysteries carries on with an axe murderer

I think this season of Murdoch Mysteries has been just great. I know a few don’t agree with me and that’s OK. Some folks only want the “core four” to feature in every case and have everything wrapped up in a neat bow by the time the hour is up.

Me? I’m loving the deeper dives we’re getting into who Ruth, Watts, Higgins and Brackenreid in Season 12. With so many years under its belt, I truly feel like Murdoch Mysteries has become a well-rounded show boasting a wealth of riches when it comes to cast, crew and stories.

But back to the present, and Episode 11. Here’s what the CBC has released as an official storyline for “Annabella Cinderella,” written by Paul Aitken and directed by Sherren Lee.

Crabtree and John are transporting a convicted axe murderer to prison when she escapes to exact revenge on those who testified against her.

And here are more tidbits from me after watching a screener.

George and John team up
John Brackenreid has been vaulted onto centre stage now that his father has left Toronto. That’s good news for fans of he and actor Charles Vandervaart (for even more Charles, catch him Saturdays on Family Channel on Holly Hobbie). Personally, I love it when George and John are paired up. Not only is there usually a bit of comedy but I also view their dynamic as what William and George’s was back in the early days of Station No. 4.

Rachel Van Duzer guest stars
Rachel Van Duzer plays the woman at the centre of this episode. I’ll have to confirm this with the episode’s writer, but I feel like “Annabella Cinderella” is loosely based on Lizzie Borden‘s story. As for Van Duzer, she’s wonderful in this role, giving dimension to a villainous character. Her scenes with Vandervaart, in particular, will tug at your heart.

A television critic makes his Murdoch Mysteries return
Bill Brioux, a friend and veteran television critic (check out his website for Canadian and U.S. coverage), first appeared in a non-speaking role in Season 5’s “Murdoch of the Klondike.” His triumphant return is marked this Monday as “Ticketman” at the Pickering train station. I expect a Canadian Screen Award nomination soon.

William and Julia are in demand
The pair doesn’t get a lot of screen time on Monday, but they make up for it in a deliciously entertaining storyline involving police manuals and publishing.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Production begins on new original drama, Rex – coming to Citytv in 2019

From a media release:

Shaftesbury, Pope Productions, and Citytv announced today that production has begun on new drama series REX (wt). Centred on the partnership between a police detective and his hardworking dog, REX is a procedural drama with a twist. Starring John Reardon (Van Helsing, Continuum), Mayko Nguyen (Killjoys, Fahrenheit 451), and Enrico Colantoni (Bad Blood, Flashpoint), the eight-episode, 60-minute series is based on the long-running, international hit series Rex, a Cop’s Best Friend. Executive produced by Christina JenningsScott Garvie, and Paul Pope, the series has begun shooting in St. John’s, Newfoundlandand will continue through December 2018.

Set in St. John’s, NewfoundlandREX is an action-packed police procedural drama focused on the partnership between a dedicated detective and his extraordinary former K9 dog. Rex and Charlie are a detective team that combine their individual skills to solve the most puzzling crimes. This is the first English-language adaptation of the highly successful European format that has aired in 125 countries around the world for 18 seasons.

Starring John Reardon as Detective Charlie Hudson, Rex’s partner; Mayko Nguyen as chief of forensics Sarah TruongEnrico Colantoni as Superintendent Joseph De Luca; and Diesel (a Canadian Kennel Club Grand Champion) as Rex.

Shaftesbury and Pope Productions Ltd. produces REX in association with Citytv, a division of Rogers Media, and Beta Film GmbH. Beta Film GmbH holds worldwide distribution rights. Produced with the participation of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and the Rogers Documentary and Cable Network Fund.

REX is executive produced by Christina JenningsScott GarviePaul PopeKen Cuperus, and Avrum Jacobson, followed by Laura Harbin as Supervising Producer, Julie Lacey as Producer, and Lisa Porter as Associate Producer. Friedemann Goez and Oliver Bachert are Executive Producers from Beta Film GmbH. Episodes are written by Showrunners Ken Cuperus, Paul AitkenJohn CallaghanJessie GabeAvrum JacobsonSimon McNabb, and Celeste Parr. Episodes are directed by Felipe RodriguezAlison Reid, and John Vatcher.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Author Maureen Jennings discusses “Game of Kings” and her latest Murdoch novel

Spoiler alert! Do not read this until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Game of Kings.”

It’s always a pleasure to speak to author Maureen Jennings. After all, she created the character of William Murdoch that we’ve enjoyed first in her novels and then on television. Monday’s newest episode, “Game of Kings,” contained several noteworthy moments and storylines, among them a history of Poland, the intricacies of chess and how everyone in Station House No. 4 knows Julia is pregnant.

I spoke to Jennings about writing Monday’s instalment and what fans can expect from her latest Murdoch novel, Let Darkness Bury the Dead.

This was a fascinating episode that contained a lot of Polish history, including the hussars—the winged calvary—and the coronation sword, Szczerbiec. Where did the inspiration for this episode come about?
Maureen Jennings: I was invited to Poland as part of a writer’s festival, so I learned a little bit of the language. Then I came across the story of the husaria, the winged horsemen, and the ceremonial sword. I thought it all was a great possibility for an episode. Then I came upon the real story of a chess tournament that had happened in the United States—I think it was in 1904—and thought it was a great combination, especially these days, to have an international chess tournament and have all of this other nationalism going on with the Polish husaria. At the time, Poland was occupied by Russia and it was a difficult time. Through this tournament, some of these ancient conflicts would show themselves.

It’s amazing that, as reflected in this episode, the coronation sword really was brought to Canada for safe-keeping, though that was during the Second World War.
All of that came afterwards, so I thought it was great. I fiddled a little bit but it was not at all implausible that there would be this sword here. It was a great connection.

How did you go about fleshing out the chess storyline, regarding Crabtree, Higgins, Watts and Nina?
Initially, I pitched a blindfold chess tournament that I got very attached to. Again, this was all based on true events. One man played, I think, 22 boards at once. He had his back to the boards and had to keep all of those games in his mind which I think is phenomenal. But when we talked about it, Peter thought it would be a bit difficult to do it that way and that the more traditional tournament that ended up in the show would be a bit easier to film. Chess is a funny game because it’s very quiet and formalized conflict and I really enjoyed trying to depict that.

The history of chess goes back far in Canadian history. At least as far back as 1872 with The Chess Federation of Canada.
I’m always finding out interesting information like that. I like chess and I did a lot of study on it for this episode. I was so impressed with these chess geniuses.

There was that wonderful moment when it was revealed that Nina and Karina were the truly skilled chess players and the men were just making the moves as instructed.
Yes. Again, women were not playing as much but there was a women’s league and they were fantastic as well.

How does it work with regard to which episode you’ll write in a season?
I’ll present four or five stories that I’m interested in, we’ll talk about it and they’ll say, ‘Why don’t you work on this one?’ They’re all stories that I’m interested in which I’m lucky to have. No one just tosses me a story and says, ‘Write a script.’

What has been the most challenging transition when you go from writing a novel to writing a television script?
I had to constantly be aware of my words. In the beginning, Paul Aitken was always telling me I was writing too many words. I had to really keep it in mind that this was a visual medium and to cut that down. That wasn’t so hard. What was challenging and fun to learn more of the mechanics of a TV show. It’s not just the script as such. In the first episode I wrote, for example, that there was a big thunderstorm. That’s not a big deal for me—I just write ‘big thunderstorm’—but in fact on a set, rain and snow are very difficult to do. Nobody wants to do rain because you ruin the cameras, never mind the cast. It’s things like that that I had to think through.

It was revealed, in very funny fashion, that Julia is pregnant and everyone knows. How do you feel about her being pregnant?
I like that thread. It’s been going on for a while and set up quite well.

Finally, let’s discuss your latest novel Let Darkness Bury the Dead. This is your first Murdoch novel in years. What’s it about?
I advanced the story to 1917 and it turned out to be a fabulously interesting time period. I often say that sometimes writing a novel changes your life and I think that’s the case with this. It was so amazing to study that time period. Because it’s 1917, Murdoch is 56 so I had to think about that. Is he physically different? What has happened to him in that amount of time? That was a bit easier than I thought, but it’s a bit like reconnecting with an old friend. I liked going back to Toronto because it had changed but not dramatically so. I’ve currently just done another jump to 1936 and that is very, very different because it’s post-War and things were very different in Toronto after World War I.

Get the latest news on Maureen Jennings from her website. What did you think of “Game of Kings”? Let me know in the comments below!

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

 

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Murdoch Mysteries: Graham Clegg and Paul Aitken break down “The Great White Moose”

The Day of the Jackal, For Your Eyes Only and Predator are the three movies Graham Clegg drew on while co-writing Monday’s newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries. I’m always fascinated to hear what inspired a particular story, so it was fun to hear Clegg recount how he and co-executive producer Paul Aitken broke the story for “The Great White Moose” and then fleshed it out.

Monday’s newest instalment was a rollicking adventure involving fan favourites Allen Clegg (Matthew Bennett) and Terrence Meyers (Peter Keleghan) trade barbs—and bullets and crossbow bolts—in a tale involving President Teddy Roosevelt (Marty Moreau).

The duo discuss the inspiration for the episode, which cartoon characters Clegg and Meyers resemble and what makes Aitken jump off his couch.

Graham, you were a writer on Murdoch Mysteries a few seasons ago. What have you been up to?
Graham Clegg: I worked on a show called The Pinkertons and that was a great load of fun. We had enough money for one-and-a-half horses and one gun. I think we did quite a good job and it, unfortunately, lasted one season. Then I went off and started working on some of my own projects and they continue. One of them is a feature film and one of them is, hopefully, an upcoming series that will be shot in England.

Marty Moreau as Teddy Roosevelt

How did you end up co-writing this episode?
GC: Peter Mitchell and Paul very kindly came back and asked me if I’d be interested in working with them again and doing another Murdoch script. Of course, I jumped at it and said, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ [Laughs.] They came up with the premise of the episode and then Paul and I were set loose to crack the story. As we have done five or six times on Murdoch scripts, it’s a process and we hit some of those moments. [Laughs.] Paul will play the guitar and think about things. He has this great whiteboard in his upper office and past that is his balcony. We would do the writer’s thing, pacing back and forth, going ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what if?’ Paul also has a huge screen downstairs and we were able to project where we were going with the story, whether it be ideas or story beats.

I remember when we were breaking ‘The Great White Moose,’ we were trying to figure out what the personal connection would be between Clegg and Roosevelt. I’m a research junkie and I’d found that he was at Harvard and in the navy. Paul and I came up with the idea of, ‘Of course! This is fantastic. Clegg and Roosevelt knew each other at Harvard and they almost came to blows—some of the dialogue was cut—what it meant for the United States to extend their power. I remember Paul jumping off the couch and then jumping up and down saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’ We found the emotional link between the history of Clegg and Roosevelt and that was a fun moment.

I remember talking to Paul, saying ‘You have to watch The Day of the Jackal!’ because we have a foregone conclusion. We know Roosevelt is not going to be assassinated. That’s not the emotional thread to the story. What we don’t know is, throughout the thriller, who could die? What we have, really, on the plate is [Meyers] and we also know that Clegg could die.

Sam and Ralph a.k.a. Meyers and Clegg

Paul, how often do you jump off the couch when a story is broken? Does it happen a lot?
Paul Aitken: Yes. I think I do but I’m not fully aware of it. I do get excited. When you’re breaking story you’re looking to solve problems.

GC: If he gets up off the couch, you know you’ve got something.

PA: If someone suggests something that opens a path to solving a problem I do get excited. That’s part of the fun in the whole business of writing.

Paul, how did it end up that Graham and yourself were teamed for this episode?
PA: This was an episode that we thought Graham would be good for. I think it was because it was the action-adventure part of it that we thought he was well-suited for. He also knows the characters. Clegg was named after him, for God’s sake!

GC: This has to be said! Seasons ago, when I was on staff, we were coming up with an American spy character. We came up with different character traits. He’s wily, he’s covert. What do we call him? Paul said, ‘Clegg!’ [Laughs.] What was a joke in the story room then made it to script and I said, ‘Please guys, don’t.’ And they said, ‘Nope, it’s Clegg.’

The Bolograph. Image courtesy of Craig Grant

There were a couple of things that I fought for and Paul said, ‘Whatever.’ I’m so thankful and massive kudos to director Leslie Hope. She just nailed it. One thing I fought for and it was kept in was the final shot of the legendary great white moose alive on its own. I said, ‘We’ve got to have that’ and Paul said, ‘OK.’ In terms of Clegg using a crossbow, I didn’t want any muzzle flare coming from anything, so it’s creepy. And that partially came from my love of the film For Your Eyes Only, the James Bond film, where Melina uses it in the first act. The other thing is, and Paul helped me out greatly with this, is the bolometer [Editor’s note: The script refers to it as a bolograph.]. Paul and I were talking and trying to figure out how to get some Murdochian technology in. I sent Paul a link to Predator, the 1987 film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I said, ‘I want Predator technology when you see heat registry.’ Paul came back and said, ‘Well there is something,’ and it could see up to 400 yards through the darkness. It couldn’t see heat registry but it could sense something. That’s the way the bolometer came in and it was so fun to work with. Craig and the visual effects people in post-production nailed it.

Paul, the relationship between Clegg and Meyers is an interesting one.
PA: I always thought the relationship was a working relationship, kind of like the sheepdog and the coyote, Frank and Ralph. One of them is charged with saving the sheep and the other is interested in killing the sheep. They respect each other and, deep down, some fondness for each other. But they exist to take each other down and we’ve done several incarnations where they try to do that quite directly. It’s a fun relationship and it’s fun to write for because of these inherent complexities. At the same time, we don’t take either character too seriously. As a writer, I am very fond of both of them.

Murdoch Mysteries returns with new episodes on Monday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m. on CBC.

 

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