CBC and Sphere Media announced today that production is underway on How to Fail as a Popstar, a CBC Gem original series based on award-winning artist, author, and musician Vivek Shraya’s debut theatrical work of the same name, a one-person performance reflecting on the power of pop culture, dreams, disappointments, and self-determination. The series stars Shraya, Adrian Pavone (Star Trek: Discovery, Grand Army), and Chris D’Silva (Slumberland, The Handmaid’s Tale) as Vivek at various stages of life. Written by Shraya, the comedy series is directed by Vanessa Matsui (Midnight at the Paradise, Ghost BFF) with Shraya co-directing one episode, with filming to continue in Toronto for three weeks. The series will premiere on CBC Gem later in 2023.
How To Fail as a Popstar is a coming-of-age, eight-episode limited series about a queer brown boy with a huge voice doing everything he can to become a Popstar – as told by the queer trans femme that boy becomes, looking back on how and why that dream was never realized.
The cast includes Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves (Sort Of, Y: The Last Man, Star Trek: Discovery), Nadine Bhabha (Letterkenny, This Hour Has 22 Minutes,Terror Train), Arwen Humphreys (Murdoch Mysteries, Run the Burbs), Eric Johnson (Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, American Gods, Vikings), Vanessa Matsui (Ghost BFF, Letterkenny, Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments), and introducing Aayushma Sapkota in her first role.
Shraya is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, literature, visual art, theatre, and film. Her album Part-Time Woman was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, her music was featured on the acclaimed CBC and HBO Max show Sort Of, and her best-selling book I’m Afraid of Men was heralded by Vanity Fair as “cultural rocket fuel.” She is also the founder of the award-winning publishing imprint VS. Books, which supports emerging BIPOC writers.
The stage play How to Fail as a Popstar was written and created by Vivek Shraya and directed by Brendan Healy. The original production was commissioned and produced by Canadian Stage, Toronto, Ontario.
How to Fail as a Popstar is produced by Sphere Media with the financial participation of the TELUS Fund, the Bell Fund, and the Shaw Rocket Fund. In June 2020, the project was selected as one of the recipients of development support from the CBC Creative Relief Fund, a fund created by CBC to provide immediate support to Canadian creators at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Created by Vivek Shraya, executive producers are Bruno Dubé, Jennifer Kawaja, Elise Cousineau, Caroline Habib, Laura Perlmutter, Vivek Shraya, and Vanessa Matsui.
It’s Canadian Screen Awards week and we’re celebrating all week long in a very special way. We’ll feature exclusive interviews with the actors and creative folks who are nominated in the television and web series categories.
First up: Sharron Matthews, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Drama for Frankie Drake Mysteries, andVanessa Matsui, nominated for Best Lead Performance, Web Program or Series for Ghost BFF.
Sharron Matthews, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Drama for Frankie Drake Mysteries
How do you feel the Canadian TV industry is faring during these pandemic times? The beginning of the pandemic wasâ€¦strange, to say the leastâ€¦but after our first lockdown, I went straight into TWO writers rooms, so we just kept doing what we always do in the artsâ€¦creating through adverse times. Artists and arts administrators are used to calamity and since the TV and Film industry doesn’t perform in front of large groups of people, we collectively did some recon, and kept going, kept creating. Then I feel like the TV and Film industry really pulled together and figured out a safe, secure way to physically make TV in the face of great challenges. This is what I love about the arts, it always finds a way to survive and thrive. Shout out to the stage and live theatre makers, who have pivoted and found innovative ways to express themselves and have their work be seen.
How have you fared during these pandemic times? I’m grateful beyond measure that I had Frankie Drake Mysteries and the animated show Rebecca Liddiard (Mary Shaw on Frankie), Carmen Albano (Detention Adventure) and I created with Shaftesbury (Mary and Flo on the Go), to work on from almost the beginning of the pandemic. I spent most of the time up until we went to camera on both Frankie and Mary and Flo, writing and developing scripts for both shows, so I kept myself singularly focused on work â€¦ away from the uncertainty of the world around me. I have done my VERY best to stay positive. Some days have been better than others.
Do you think Canadian TV is stronger than ever when it comes to telling our stories? I believe that Canadian writers and creators have become braver in expressing our unique comedic and dramatic voices. With worldwide successes such as Kim’s Convenience, Schitt’s Creek, Workin’ Moms, and even Frankie Drake Mysteries (if I may) it feels like we have realized that we don’t have to morph our visions to fit the gaze of other countries. Stories told from a Canadian perspective with a distinctly Canadian sense of humour or pathos have become sought after, which is thrilling and has laid the groundwork for an exciting and fertile future.
Does an award nomination/win serve as validation for you or is it just a nice nod that you’re on the right track, career or choice-wise? Oh my gosh â€¦ I would be lying if I said being nominated by a group of your peer wasn’t validating. It is. It really is. I am thrilled.
What will you wear during the Canadian Screen Awards? I will be watching all the nights with my bubble pal, Mike Bickerton (nominated for his showrunning work on Canada’s Drag Race) and I’m fairly sure we’ll be wearing caftans. Large, billowing caftans. So, basically? We will be dressed in something we bought off the internet.
What will you eat/drink/snack on during the Canadian Screen Awards? I’m a Hamilton girl forever, so I’m not too fancy. Chips and wine. I’m a simple gal.
Is there someone who served as a mentor when you were starting out in this industry that you’d give a special shout-out to in your acceptance speech if given the chance? If I had the chance to give an acceptance speech, the first person I would thank is the indomitable Christina Jennings, head of Shaftesbury and producer of Frankie Drake Mysteries. She’s been a supportive force in my life since the day I started on Frankie. Since then, she’s answered every question I have asked about writing and producing, encouraging me to not have limits when it comes to creating. She sets an example not just for female producers but for producers in general, about how to be tenacious and think big. She’s taught me to give pause, time and energy to ideas that spark the soul, because if they don’t work out â€¦ there is a good chance those ideas may lead to greater, more fulfillable ideas. Christina leaves no piece of energy or innovation wasted. THANK YOU, CHRISTINA!!!
Vanessa Matsui, nominated for Best Lead Performance, Web Program or Series for Ghost BFF
Congratulations on your Canadian Screen Award nomination! Thank you!!
How do you feel the Canadian web series industry is faring during these pandemic times? Shooting, in general, is challenging right now, so indie filmmaking is particularly challenging because so much of your budget is going to COVID precautions. Which I completely understand and appreciate. Also, I think we are going to see a surge of creations post-pandemic. Especially during that first wave, I’ve heard that so many writers and creators, myself included, finally had the time to write that thing that they’ve been wanting to write. So there may be some unintended POSITIVE consequences to shutting down the industry for a season.
How have you fared during these pandemic times? Ha! Well, it’s been a roller coaster, to say the least. I feel like each wave came with its own challenges. I’m a mom, so losing my ‘village’ has frankly been traumatic. And I’m a lucky one! I have a home and a partner and I was able to go back to work relatively quickly compared to so many. But in some ways, I’m incredibly grateful for these times. I’m a different person now and I look back on pre-pandemic Vanessa as almost a child. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m definitely a better, more me person now.
Do you think Canadian web series is stronger than ever when it comes to telling our stories? Yes! There are so many incredible web series right now that I’m such a big fan of. Band Ladies and Bit Playas come to mind immediately.
Does an award nomination/win serve as validation for you or is it just a nice nod that you’re on the right track, career or choice-wise? It’s a really nice nod. I’m so happy that Kaniehtiio [Horn], Jean [Yoon], and Angela [Asher] were also nominated. I think four actresses being nominated for one show is just fabulous.
What will you wear during the Canadian Screen Awards? Ha! Sweatpants. Sorry, not sorry.
What will you eat/drink/snack on during the Canadian Screen Awards? Pizza and wine!
Is there someone who served as a mentor when you were starting out in this industry that you’d give a special shout-out to in your acceptance speech if given the chance? An early supporter of Ghost BFF was Ana Serrano. I don’t think this show would have gotten as far as it did without her initial support. Also, my late acting teacher, Jacqueline McClintock, who always encouraged me to write and create my own work. She is in my heart whenever I step onto set.
When we last saw Ghost BFF‘s Amy (Vanessa Matsui), things weren’t going well. She and Mitchell (Dan Beirne) had broken up, and she’d been hauntedâ€”literallyâ€”by Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn), Amy’s best friend who had committed suicide.
Season 2 is a struggle too.
Available on Shaftesbury’sÂ KindaTV now, Ghost BFF reunites the two best friendsâ€”one living, one deadâ€”for more hijinks. Created and written by Matsui, she admits to being caught off-guard by a second season renewal.
“Never did I think a second season was going to happen,” she says with a laugh. “I had to write it really fast, much faster than I did with the first season. I learned that’s a real rookie move. You should have multiple seasons in mind in case that green light keeps going.” Like the debut season, Ghost BFF digs more deeply into Amyâ€™s struggles as she addresses unemployment, single life, unexpected challenges, and the continued grief of missing her friend.
Often, a web series doesn’t allow for a ton of character growth outside of the main player. Not so with Ghost BFF. Horn’s Tara evolves, in search ofÂ closure with her mother (Angela Asher), to help Amy heal and to gain a better understanding of her own narrative of what happened the day she died.
“I have a hard time not finding layers in the characters that I portray,” Horn says. “It’s not fun to play someone who is one-note. This is a comedy about suicide and I didn’t want the humour to come at the expense of such an intense, serious subject.” Eight PSAs accompany the new episodes, offering advice onÂ mindfulness, depression, anxiety, boundaries and self-care. With COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc with our livesâ€”and many Canadians staying indoorsâ€”mental health continues to be important and talking about it even more so.
“In Season 1, Amy would use band-aid solutions to deal with her mental health,” Matsui says. “In Season 2, she isn’t wearing band-aids. She is being forced to deal with her real self, which is I think what a lot of people have had to do in this very isolating time.”
“Normalizing talking about mental health is really important,” Horn says. “I used to joke about having a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other. But that was my coping mechanism. I was very lost for a long time. But the pandemic has forced me to face myself. And, with things like Ghost BFF, I’ve started to talk about my mental health.”
Creator, producer, and starÂ Vanessa MatsuiÂ alongside producers Katie Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott ofÂ Babe Nation FilmsÂ today announcedÂ Ghost BFFÂ will return toÂ Shaftesburyâ€™s KindaTVÂ for its second season on July 7.Â Ghost BFF,Â which stars Matsui (The Handmaidâ€™s Tale,Â Shadowhunters,Â The Smurfs 2) andÂ Kaniehtiio HornÂ (Barskins, Letterkenny) in the lead roles, launched in 2018 and received two Canadian Screen Award nominations in 2019 for Best Web Series, Fiction and Best Lead Performance in a Digital Program or Series (Matsui). Award-winning actorsÂ Angela AsherÂ (Bad Blood),Â Jean YoonÂ (Kimâ€™s Convenience) andÂ Dani KindÂ (Workin’ Moms),Â along withÂ Steve LundÂ (Schittâ€™s Creek,Â Bitten),Â Yani GellmanÂ (The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Pretty Little Liars),Â andÂ Thomas ColfordÂ (Backstreet) join season one regularsÂ Jane MoffatÂ (Backstage),Â Dan BeirneÂ (Workinâ€™ Moms,Â Murdoch Mysteries) andÂ Rick RobertsÂ (Fortunate Son,Â This Life), as part of this seasonâ€™s stellar cast.
Filmed in Toronto, the fully female-led dark comedyÂ Ghost BFFÂ continues its exploration of mental health as it follows two best friends, Amy (Matsui) and Tara (Horn), one alive, one dead, across planes of existence, as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following Taraâ€™s suicide. Season Two delves deeper into Amyâ€™s struggles as she addresses unemployment, singledom, unexpected challenges, and the grief of missing her friend. Tara returns once again as a ghost to find closure with her mother (Asher), to help Amy heal, and to gain a better understanding of her own narrative of what happened the day she died.
As part of theÂ Ghost BFFÂ experience, eight mental health PSAs have been created by the production team to accompany the eight seriesâ€™ episodes and will be launched in parallel as a supportive element to discuss mindfulness, depression, anxiety, boundaries, and self-care.
Created and written by Vanessa Matsui, the series is produced by Katie Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott of Babe Nation Films, and is directed by Lindsay MacKay (Wet Bum,Â Running with Violet). Matsui, who is a recent fellow of the Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab Program where Season Two was developed, also acts as Executive Producer and directs episode #6. Produced with the assistance of the Ontario creates, Bell Fund, Telus, Canada Media Fund. Shaftesbury holds worldwide distribution rights, excluding the U.S.
Back by popular demand, Babe Nation Films and actress/writer/producer Vanessa Matsui are proud to reveal that the second season of the praised digital comedy series, GHOST BFF, has been greenlit and will begin filming in Toronto this summer.
Ghost BFFÂ follows two best friends, one alive, one dead, across space, time and the suburbs as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following a suicide.
The series will continue to challenge the stigma regarding mental health conversation, by building on the foundation set in season one. The second season of Ghost BFF promises to bring even more light, laughter, and openness to rather taboo topics like depression and suicide.
The series, created, directed, and written by Canadian Screen Award-nominated actress, Vanessa Matsui (The Handmaids Tale, Shadowhunters, The Smurfs 2)Â and produced and co-written by Babe Nationâ€™s Katie Nolan, will be available for stream on Elizabeth Banks co-founded platform, WhoHaha and Whohaha channels.
â€œCreating the first season of GHOST BFF was an absolute dream come true,â€ share Matsui and Nolan. â€œWe were overwhelmed with the amount of the love and acceptance we received from our audiences after watching the first season, that we knew we needed to create more. We are beyond excited to bring back these beloved characters for a second season, and will continue to encourage these important conversations surrounding mental health awarenessâ€.
The series has been nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards. One for 2019 Best Web Program or Series, Fiction; and one for 2019 Best Lead Performance, Web Program or Series for actress/writer/co-creator Vanessa Matsui.