Tag Archives: The Next Step

Astrid & Lilly’s Alix Markman: “I’ve always really been drawn to what I would term horror-adjacent”

I first met Alix Markman when we were both helping spread the word about the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. Since then, I’ve kept tabs on her career, which has included working as a story coordinator for the tween series The Next Step, script coordinator for the animated Go Away, Unicorn!, writer for the video game Gotham Knights and, most recently, executive story editor for Astrid & Lilly Save the World.

Airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on CTV Sci-Fi, Astrid & Lilly Save the World—about high school friends Astrid (Jana Morrison), Lilly (Samantha Aucoin), monsters and a portal to another dimension—is the perfect fit for Markman. With Wednesday’s new episode credited to her, we spoke to Alix about her career so far.

In your bio, you say there’s a fine line between horror and comedy and that’s exactly where you feel most at home. Did you grow up really liking humour and horror, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Alix Markman: Very much so, I’ve always really been drawn to what I would term horror-adjacent. So think The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline and very much Buffy. Those types of things that really draw on the horror canon and are in a lot of ways, a love letter to the horror canon, but not traditional horror in and of themselves.

And then getting older, I was very drawn to things like Guillermo del Toro works and stuff like that. Again, very dark. Dark themes with almost a lighter access point.

At what point did you say, ‘OK, I want to do this for a living.’ Was there a light bulb moment?
AM: Sort of. It sounds deeply cliché, but I always wanted to be a writer. I knew from the time I knew what a job was that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know what type of writer. When I was quite young, I thought I would write books, I might be a novelist. And again, still in that sort of realm, growing up, I really loved fantasy and stuff, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. I mean, I still love all these things.

And then when I was sort of a middle schooler, tween age, I got really into theatre and performing arts, so I thought I might be a playwright/performer. I kind of lost interest in performing, but never in the writing aspect. I was a theatre kid at the time when the movie musical was really making its comeback, Chicago and Dreamgirls and Rent and Hairspray.

I became very interested in what made a movie musical click. Why were some of these so successful, like Chicago? And why were some of these not quite as successful in their translation to the big screen? I went to the library, and it turns out there are no books about writing movie musicals—super rude—but there are tons of books about screenwriting. So I just picked up a bunch of screenwriting books and started reading about it. I really, really fell in love with the form. I just devoured these books and I started watching movies and doing breakdowns. I was like 14. I just completely fell in love with screenwriting as a craft. I thought I would primarily write films. And then, when I was about 15 or 16, my best friend sat me down. She told me, ‘OK, there’s this really weird show, but I absolutely love it. And I think if you give it a real shot, you’re going to love it too. We have to watch it. It’s called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.‘ She had the box set and we started watching it. That was my aha moment. I went, ‘Oh yeah. That, that is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.’

Astrid (Jana Morrison) and Lilly (Samantha Aucoin)

Writing a play or movie seems to be a solitary existence, as opposed to a TV show. Do you enjoy the collaborative aspect of writing TV?
AM: I love the collaborative aspect of it. Screenwriting, and writing for television in particular, has really circumvented that because you always have a team and if you are stuck on something, you can bring it to the room and say, ‘You know what? This scene worked on the board, but it’s just not working on the page. Let’s talk it out.’ And then in return, you get to be that person for other people. It’s really rewarding. And as much as we would all love to believe that we’re perfect writers, no, no, we’re not whatsoever. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

A really good room will take that into account. And maybe one person really excels at dialogue. No matter what they can put it in these characters’ voices, and maybe one person really excels at structure, no matter what kind of story you’re trying to tell, they know exactly where each of the beats need to fall. And then maybe one person is really good at mythology. But in the best writer’s room, it develops into this sort of synergy that is just really, really rewarding to be a part of. And it makes you a better writer to work with better writers. I feel like that is very important. I think a lot of young writers are sometimes intimidated by the idea of working with other people.

You could read every screenwriting book in the world, you could take every screenwriting class available to you and nothing can mimic the experience of being in the room and collaborating with those other people.

You’re on Astrid & Lilly as an executive story editor. What does that title entail?
AM: In Canadian live-action, story editor is essentially synonymous with ‘writer.’ You’re part of a team, the writers’ room, where you collaborate with the other writers on the project to pitch ideas, break stories, and solve problems in order to support and ultimately execute the showrunner’s creative vision on the page. You also read every draft of each script and offer feedback in collaboration with the rest of the writers’ room to make each episode the best it can possibly be.

The show has gotten rave reviews in outlets like Time, particularly about its casting and diversity in front of and behind the camera.
AM: It’s been surreal. I feel like this show was tailor-made for me in a lab somewhere. I remember reading the pilot prior to my meeting with [co-creators] Noelle [Stehman] and Betsy [Van Stone] and just thinking, ‘God, what do I have to do to get this job?’

In that first meeting with Betsy and Noelle, they told me how important it was for them to have diversity, both in the cast and the crew and the creative. So to hear that from the beginning, I just knew I had to be a part of this. The Time magazine article in particular really blew me away. And of course, to see the comparisons to Buffy, which is such a monumental show for me as an artist and as a person, it’s truly been incredible.

Astrid & Lilly Save the World airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CTV Sci-Fi Channel.

Featured image from Alix Markman. Astrid & Lilly image courtesy of Bell Media.


Spring into March with My Perfect Landing, from the creator of The Next Step

From a media release:

Friendship, laughter and some amazing gymnastics are coming to Family Channel this March in the new series My Perfect Landing, premiering as a one-hour television event on Sunday, March 1 at 11:30 a.m. ET/PT. From the creator of the award-winning series The Next Step, Frank van Keeken, the family friendly drama stars real-life competitive gymnast Morgan Wigle as Jenny Cortez, a talented young gymnast who moves to a new city when her family gets the opportunity to run their own gymnastics club. Fans who can’t wait to vault right in can check out the My Perfect Landing YouTube Channel as exclusive video content, including cast video diaries, gymnastics tips and more, will be released beginning Friday, February 21!

The My Perfect Landing premiere kicks off Family’s amazing Free Preview for the full month of March, which includes an incredible line-up of series premieres, like Boss Baby: Back in Business and Holly Hobbie season 2; fan-favourites, like American Ninja Warrior Jr. and Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese; and must-see movies, like The Peanuts Movie and The Fault in Our Stars – all of which and more are sure to make screen time, family time this March!

Filmed last summer in Toronto and Miami, My Perfect Landing centres around aspiring young gymnast, Jenny Cortez, and her family, as they move from Miami to Toronto to open their own gymnastics club. Despite the fresh start, Jenny’s mom won’t allow her to compete at a high-level out of fear she’ll injure herself. With a little encouragement from her new best friends, and some secret training with her Grandpa – a former competitive gymnast himself – Jenny decides to follow her dreams and live up to the legacy of her mother and grandfather.

In the series premiere, debuting on Family Sunday, March 1 at 11:30 a.m. ET/PT, Jenny’s mom loses her job and moves her two kids to Toronto to start a gymnastics club with her father. Jenny is happy to discover her new school has a gymnastics team. Jenny goes behind her mother’s back and tries out for the team, but the captain of the team feels threatened by Jenny’s talent and blackmails her into quitting. Following the one-hour premiere special, new episodes of My Perfect Landing will continue to air Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET/PT beginning March 15.

My Perfect Landing also stars Tom Hulshof as Jenny’s brother, Joon Cortez; Helena Marie as Jenny’s mother, Whitney Cortez; Shawn Alex Thompson as Jenny’s Grandfather, Gus McIlroy; Jordan Clark (The Next Step), Francesca van Keeken (The Next Step), and newcomers Ajanae Stephenson, Natasha Zaborski, Holly Belbeck, Abby Stretch, Keira Still, Luca Assad, Osias Reid, Leonidas Castrounis, Parker Lauzon and Hailey Vynychenko. My Perfect Landing is produced by Beachwood Canyon Productions in association with Family Channel and is executive produced by Frank van Keeken, Yolanda Yott and van Keeken’s Beachwood Canyon Production team. Andrew Barnsley (Schitt’s Creek, JANN) and Ben Murray (JANN, Working the Engels) also serve as executive producers. International distribution is handled by WildBrain Ltd.

In addition to My Perfect Landing, Family’s March schedule is jam-packed with can’t-miss programming for the entire family, including: the series premiere of Boss Baby: Back in Business on Monday, March 2 at 5 p.m. ET/PT; the return of reality competition series American Ninja Warrior Junior on Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m. ET/PT; the season 2 premiere of the popular tween drama Holly Hobbie on Sunday, March 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET/PT; new episodes of Sadie Sparks weekdays at 4:15 p.m. ET/PT; episodes of Boy Girl Dog Cat Mouse Cheese continuing weekdays at 4:30 p.m. ET/PT; and popular movie titles like The Peanuts Movie, Kung Fu Panda, Charlotte’s Web, Over the Hedge, Open Season, Despicable Me and Shrek.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Boat Rocker Studios announces seventh season of global smash The Next Step

From a media release:

Boat Rocker Studios’ phenomenally successful tween drama, The Next Step, is set to dance back onto the screen for its seventh season in 2020. The 26 x 30’ season will include its first holiday special which runs over two episodes.  The series is due to have its global premiere on CBBC, the show’s leading broadcast partner, with the holiday special airing in 2019, followed by the new series in 2020. Further international broadcast partners will be announced soon.

A huge international hit The Next Step has been sold to more than 120 marketsworldwide. The new season brings the series total to 206 episodes, a milestone achievement and first of its kind for a Boat Rocker Studios’ homegrown production.

The Next Step follows the lives of a group of dancers at The Next Step Dance Studio as they compete to be the best in their field. It’s not just about winning, though. During the course of the series, each of our characters will discover that the true victory is learning to put their individual differences aside to find a way to work together as a team. This season finds A-Troupe preparing for Nationals with an uncertain future as the Studio is bought by someone new. Will this new owner continue the legacy of The Next Step? Or will their plans take A-Troupe on a new path? Could there be something more than Nationals?

Cast from The Next Step are touring this autumn with the brand-new 90-minute live show The Next Step Live – Absolute Dance, with 24 dates in major cities around the UK, Ireland and Australia.

The Next Step was created by Frank van Keeken (Lost and Found Music Studios, Wingin’ It) and is executive produced by Ivan Schneeberg and David Fortier (Being Erica,Lost and Found Music Studios); Bob Higgins (My Babysitter’s A Vampire,); and Shaleen Sangha (The Next Step, Chuck’s Choice, Make it Pop). Rachael Schaefer (The Next Step, Wingin’ It) and Karen McClellan (The Other Kingdom, Being Erica) serve as showrunners and executive producers of the show. The Next Step is produced by Boat Rocker Studios, with the participation of the Shaw Rocket Fund and the Canada Media Fund (CMF), and distributed globally by Boat Rocker Studios and BBC Studios.Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

TV Eh B Cs podcast 83 — What’s “Nou” with Karen McClellan

Karen McClellan is an executive producer and co-showrunner of The Next Step, Family Channel’s No. 1-rated series and an international hit which has garnered multiple BAFTA awards and Canadian Screen Award nominations.

Karen’s other credits cover an array of drama and comedy, including the award-winning series Cracked, Being Erica and Robson Arms. She has developed one-hour and half-hour shows for all the major Canadian broadcasters. Karen has been nominated for several Writers Guild of Canada awards for her work and won the award for her web series, Spiral. She is an alumna of The American Film Institute.

Listen or download below, or subscribe via iTunes or any other podcast catcher with the TV, eh? podcast feed.

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Spooky web series Spiral connects college pals to past lives and murder

College is the place people tend to begin friendships that last a lifetime. But what if those friends you made turned out to be buddies from a past life? That’s the gist of Spiral, a new seven-part web series debuting Sept. 6.

Kailey Spear, Cody Kearsley, Corteon Moore, Louriza Tronco, Angela Palmer, Brennan Clost, Alexandra Beaton and Enuka Okuma topline the project about college students who realize they’ve been connected over multiple lifetimes … and the murder of a classmate threatens them all. For co-creator and executive producer Andrew Williamson, who has worked in reality television with projects like Gastown Gamble and Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH, Spiral has been a long time coming.

Spiral is an idea that I’ve had for a really long time,” Williamson says over the phone from Vancouver. “This idea that friends could be joined by something that had happened in the past. It’s always been something that I’ve been interested in.” He adds that writing isn’t his strong suit, so he contacted Karen McClellan—currently co-showrunner at The Next Step—to flesh out the idea. After securing development money from Creative BC, the pair set up a writing room in Toronto with McClellan, Daegan Fryklind, Ian Carpenter and Felicia Brooker with Jocelyn Cornforth as story consultant and story editor. Then Telus stepped into the picture with web series funding and filming began in and around Victoria, B.C.

“They’re the only people commissioning original digital content in this way,” Williamson says. “This project was inherently meant to be for a digital audience.” Spiral is aimed at the 13-21 demographic, the same group Williamson says Facebook is targeting with their online videos. He hopes the unconventional storyline Spiral offers allows for a deeper connection with the online audience and encourages discussion about whether or not past lives are a reality, if dreams can be portents and if someone you’ve met for the very first time and connect with means you’ve known them before.

The first episode of seven introduces Emma (Beaton), Clark (Clost), Alex (Palmer), Sophie (Spear), Grace (Tronco), Davis (Moore) and Josh (Kearsley), students at Victoria’s King’s College who build friendships and make quick connections. By episode end, one of them is dead, and the dreams the group members have been experiencing are explored to unlock the mystery.

“One night over a few bottles of wine, they discover they have all had this dream in common from different points of view and the suggestion is it could be a past life they’ve all shared,” McClellan says from Toronto. “What they discover is that they’ve shared many lives together and that they’re a soul cluster: souls who have travelled through time.” Each eight-minute episode brings the viewer deeper into the mystery; McClellan tackled writing a web project the same way she does a traditional television series, breaking it down into acts and posing a cliffhanger at the end of each act.

“It’s looking for that hook,” she says. “What’s going to drive your viewer to click to the next episode? And by the end of the 70 minutes, you feel satisfied … but you also want more. TV is still my first love, and always will be, but being able to tell a serialized story through a web series and test the concept is very exciting and the closest we have in Canada to shooting a pilot.”

Spiral‘s seven-episode first season will be available online beginning Wednesday, Sept. 6.

Images courtesy of Off Island Media.