I was instantly enthralled with the first season of Save Me. Created, written and directed by Fab Filippo, the dark comedy follows Toronto EMT Goldie (Filippo) and his assorted partners (Amy Matysio and Suresh John are two), as they arrive on the scene of 911 calls.
The twist in the storytelling is Goldie et al. are the through line connecting those making an emergency call rather than being the mains. That’s not to say we don’t get some back story into Goldie and his fellow EMTs lives, but they’re not the focus.
The second chunk of new episodes have landed on CBC Gem—produced by Lisa Baylin—and they’re as strong as the first. The Canadian Screen Award-nominated program is in fine fettle, boasting not only great scenarios for EMTs Goldie, Dogf***er (John), Kevlar (Matysio) and Bizemmingway (John Bourgeois), but a plethora of guest performances by Schitt’s Creek‘s Emily Hampshire, Frankie Drake Mysteries‘ Rebecca Liddiard, Bad Blood‘s Lisa Berry, Kim’s Convenience‘s Andrew Phung, Hudson & Rex‘s Kevin Hanchard, Scott Thompson and Nicholas Campbell.
In the first instalment, it’s all hands on deck as the EMTs—including rookie Hubcap (Heartland‘s Kataem O’Connor)—are called to the scene of multiple ecstasy overdoses suffered by aging couples looking for some fun. Watching Thompson, Hanchard and Fiona Highet tripping out is something to behold. But where there is comedy, tragedy follows, and how each of the paramedics deals with it is also what makes Save Me so engaging. In just a few short minutes in each episode, the web series is able to jump from laughter to tears, while exploring the PTSD first responders experience.
In Episode 2, two men choose to trim some hedges using a lawnmower. It has the predictable, bloody, result, but also reveals a shift in the tale I didn’t see coming. You never know what’s going on in the lives of the folks calling 911; Save Me goes there with spectacular results.
It’s been two years since TV, Eh? began our inaugural spotlight on web series seeking Independent Production Fund support, and the state of those series in Canada is booming. Projects like Save Me, Clairevoyant, How to Buy a Baby and Narcoleap are just a few of the many that received IPF support in the past and have gone on to full-blown web and television series.
Established in 1991 to provide financial support for dramatic television series, the IPF was expanded in 2010 to include financing drama series for the web. That mandate has been extended indefinitely. The result? Dozens of trailers for potential projects have been posted on YouTube. Check them out here.
With a deadline of March 31 approaching, creators are looking for support via views and comments about their potential projects before the IPF makes their decision. In 2018, the IPF approved funding for 17 scripted series (11 in English and six in French) including The Amazing Gayl Pyle, The Communist’s Daughter, Detention Adventure and Short Term Sentence. Here are a few projects that caught our eye, as well as the links to some honourable mentions. Watch, click, comment and help them all gain funding!
The Series:The Wait
The Creator: Matthew MacFadzean
The Idea: July (Keeya King) discovers she is a ghost left haunting a home after her family moves out. July is able to communicate with Melinda (Jessica Clement), the young woman who moves into the house. July realizes a figure named Dark John is on the hunt to collect her lost soul.
The Inspiration: “I had an image of a girl ghost looking at another girl and saying, ‘I see you,'” MacFadzean recalls. “I thought, ‘There’s something in that.’ There is something about the relationship between a ghost and a living person that maybe hasn’t been done to the extent that it could be.” A fan of what the horror genre is turning out now thanks to films like Get Out and the Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, MacFadzean wanted to explore what is a tale of possession and, ultimately, consent.
The first season will explore the relationship between these two women; MacFadzean was explaining the premise to writer and producer Mika Collins, who suggested that in addition to being about a haunting The Wait is also an LGBT story. If the project is greenlit, July and Melinda’s tale will be told responsibly.
The Plan: Ten 10-minute web episodes to start, focusing on July and Melinda’s relationship. MacFadzean says that he has plenty of stories to tell and characters to introduce if The Wait becomes an hour-long drama.
The Series:It’s OK to Be Awesome
The Creators: Rebecca Tremblay and Anne Lebans
The Idea: A gaggle of brightly-coloured puppets named Tez, Skye and Pinkerton teach kids aged 6-9 about mental wellness and empowerment.
The Inspiration:Lebans, a life coach, found that self-worth was missing from the female entrepreneurs she was working with. Tremblay, a teacher and puppeteer, used her creations to build self-esteem with adults and children. The two teamed up in 2016 and provided an after-school program in New Brunswick; everything they taught in it has been put into It’s OK to Be Awesome.
“Whether you’re an adult or a child, self-worth and confidence can really stop you from succeeding and they’re not part of the school curriculum,” Lebans says. “I realized, ‘Holy moly, we need to teach this to people so that the world can look different, feel different and have a happy, healthy life.’” The duo, along with producer Jessica Jennings of Hemmings House Pictures, received financial support from the Telus Fund—it supports projects with a health focus—to film a pilot episode, and It’s OK to Be Awesome is endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The Plan: A web series to begin with, but the team hopes a broadcaster follows.
The Creator: David Pelech
The Idea: In this mockumentary, cameras follow a group of characters competing in the Northern Alberta Duck Decoy Carving Competition.
The Inspiration: The idea is close to Pelech’s heart: his father and uncle both participate in duck carving woodworking.
“The way that they are so into it, and their passion for something that is so fringe and so unique, I thought that world was ripe,” Pelech says. “And it’s not a parody or mocking. I think it can be quite beautiful art, but sometimes they do take themselves a bit too seriously. They do enter competitions, so it is nice to have that driving a show. I’m trying to draw the heart out of it as well.”
The Plan: If it receives IPF funding, Decoys will take the form of six 15-minute episodes on CBC Gem.
“Episode 1 is at the competition and at the end, we’ve heard the finalists,” Pelech explains. “Then we go back in time and start meeting the characters on the road to the competition, six months out, four months out, and then in the final episode, we find out who wins. Who is the best carver in Lloydminster.”
A coming-of-age tale about a teenaged boy who partners with an Indigenous woman. Together they evade government forces on a journey to bring civil rights to androids.
A former event planner-turned assassin seeks revenge on the health-care system who murdered her mother and frames it on the only person she’s ever loved.
Miikshi the Meek Sheep
A shy sheep scientist and her loudmouth journalist best friend (a chicken) solves a subway train mystery. The entire world of the show is handmade using puppets and model miniatures.
La Professoressa A multilingual coming-of-age comedy about a failing jazz singer who adds new richness to her life, and voice, through teaching Italian to a variety of students in Toronto.
Late Night in the Studio
Archivist and host Moe delves into the catacombs of the CBC archives to dig up wacky (and totally fake) treasures.
Bobby and Bogey
This project follows Bobby, a kid in Grade 4 that needs a lot of help with … well, everything. He finds that guidance one day when he discovers a crusty old booger living in his nose that doesn’t want to be picked. The booger, named Bogey, agrees to mentor him as barter for staying in his comfy little nose apartment.
Trouble and Strife
A dramatic comedy about loneliness and need and intimacy, and how it’s easier to be a hero to other people’s lives than it is to be a hero in your own.
Denise, Sarah and Toni discover adulthood is not at all what they imagined as children. Now they must hold on to each other before they each fall apart.
Kit & Kat
An unapologetic, thirtysomething slacker and her precocious 11-year-old stepdaughter navigate the conservative world of Vancouver’s upper class.
A lot has happened since I last spoke to Leah Cameron and Natalie Novak.
The pair is the brains behind The Communist’s Daughter, a web series set in 1980s Canada that spotlights Dunyasha McDougald, the daughter of two Communists who struggles with fitting in at high school and supporting her family’s beliefs. Last March, they applied for Independent Production Fund support. Last April, they were one of 30 projects awarded funding to help get The Communist’s Daughter off the ground. In July, the series took the title at the CBC Comedy Originals Pitch Competition at Just for Laughs.
Now the duo, along with executive producer Lauren Corber, has one more goal before cameras roll: public support. A Kickstarter campaign kicked off a few days ago, and it’s chockfull of the humour and ingenuity that accompanied their IPF pitch campaign last year. And, as Cameron believes, those looking for IPF funding should take note of.
“Think of social media,” Cameron, the project’s writer, creator and director, says during a recent phone call. “If you can, try to find a voice or something that can be tangential to the project itself, but it’s sort of like an extension of it, so that you’re not just re-posting behind the scenes photos, but you’re doing something new and interesting for people.” Take advantage of social media’s strengths, she says, whether it’s images and video on Instagram or longer form posts on Facebook and making the word count work to your advantage on Twitter.
“I think that the seedling of that idea in and of itself, too, is also how timely the project is, to begin with, but that timeliness doesn’t live on its own,” producer Novak says. “It’s the mining of the Internet that we did to bring relevance to something that already felt relevant.” Cameron and Novak took full advantage of the current political climate during the past year, using #TrumpRussia in their posts alongside Cold War references and specific language (“Comrades,” “Everythink,” “Sayink”) to promote The Communist’s Daughter. The duo has likened their Kickstarter campaign to a PBS pledge drive, and have reached back to the 80s to make accompanying videos—where Cameron, Novak and Jim Butkovitch are decked out in that decade’s finery—look like they were filmed on VHS tapes.
The writing is done on all eight episodes, penned last November by Cameron, Waneta Storms, Peter D. Murphy, Kaveh Mohebbi, Clara Altimas, Jim Gorrie and Spencer Thompson. Now it’s up to fans, friends and family to make that final push and make The Communist’s Daughter a reality.
I predict CLAIREvoyant will be a hit. No, I don’t need tarot cards or mind-reading to come to that conclusion. The key to the web series’ success—the first 10 episodes are available now on KindaTV—is in the story and relatability of the lead characters created by Annie Briggs and Natasha Negovanlis.
There is an instant likeability to Claire (Negovanlis) who, on her 25th birthday is handed an eviction notice. Now she and roommate/best friend Ruby (Briggs), have to collect back rent—fast—in order to keep their place. Their idea? Pose as online fortune tellers to cash in quickly. Easier said than done, especially when Claire discovers she may actually be, well, clairvoyant.
I spoke to Negovanlis and Briggs about CLAIREvoyant‘s genesis, writing and producing their own projects and representing the LGBTQ community.
Before we get into the story and characters, congratulations on the production values. CLAIREvoyant looks amazing. Natasha Negovanlis: Thank you. We were very lucky to have Shaftesbury attached to this and I think it really added to the high production value.
Natasha, you and Annie came up with this idea while you bonded over your mutual obsession with fortune telling. What fascinated you about fortune tellers?
NN: It’s a number of things. Both Annie and I are interested in certain aspects of spirituality and divination. It was an interest I’ve had since I was a little girl. We grew up in the 90s when witches were very popular. [Laughs.] I think why supernatural-themed shows really resonate with a lot of LGBTQ folk like myself is this feeling of being the other. A feeling of being an outsider. I’ve always felt like that so I think that’s why I gravitated towards topics that were a little less mainstream. And, also, the way Annie and I were both raised; we both have family members who are a little bit spiritual or into these things as well.
But the seedling to CLAIREvoyant was that I was getting my nails done in this salon and I saw this woman and overheard her talking. She had read my tarot cards before and it was one of those $10 neon sign walk-in situations. I went mainly for the entertainment value but I was so fascinated with it. I started eavesdropping on her conversation. One day when Annie and I were hanging out and talking about that, I said, ‘Are they able to sustain themselves doing that?’ ‘Do they really have a gift or do they believe they have a gift?’ I was so interested in who they were as human beings outside of that work and we started talking about it, spitballing it and coming up with these really silly characters. The next day we texted each other and said, ‘I think we’re on to something.’
You have a built-in fan base thanks to Carmilla. How do you keep them in mind when creating something new?
Annie Briggs: The online community has been very vocal, in a very positive way, about what speaks to them and in terms of what makes them feel heard and what’s hurtful. For sure, we wanted to maintain that audience and honour them. But then, it’s also our responsibility as creators to maintain the integrity of these characters, their own traits and plotlines.
NN: It’s very much a balancing act as well. As a creator, you have a responsibility, I think to change the narrative. As two very progressive female creators, we certainly feel that. Something that was very important to us was having a female director in Simone Stock, for example. There were those aspects to it as well. And then, of course, the Carmilla audience is largely an LGBTQ audience and being a queer role model is very important to me personally, so we did write Claire as a queer character who is vastly different from Carmilla. We wanted to create a show that would expand our audience as well.
You’ve already spoken about queer characters. There are a few TV shows out there, like Wynonna Earp, that features queer characters but the web series seems to be the place to go for queer characters. Why do you think that is?
NN: I think that when you don’t have the extra layer of a network or broadcaster, you have a little bit more freedom to tell the stories you want to tell and I think digital allows people to tell stories that don’t fit into a neat box. More and more we’re seeing networks take on stories like Wynonna Earp, but the people who are in power for a long time have fit into one particular group for a long time. I think that’s starting to change, and as a digital creator, you can tell the stories you want to tell.
AB: And with digital, we’re seeing more risk-taking because of all of the things Natasha just spoke about. It’s a great incubation and testing ground. On a lower budget, you can tell a story, see where it lands, who it resonates with and if it has legs to extend beyond if that’s the trajectory of the project.
Natasha, this is your first writing and producing credit, correct?
NN: This is the first time I’ve been able to work as a writer and producer. I had always written poetry and short stories and used to write sketch comedy, but I had never been able to work on a set as a writer. It was a really wonderful experience for me and I was fortunate because I was working with Annie, who is so talented and has written before. She wrote Luvvie, which is an amazing short film, and we had another writer on board too. It was really nice to bounce ideas off one another. Our skillset really compliments one another.
If social media presence is a bona fide measure of success, Chateau Laurier is simply killing it. The web series has just crossed the three million views line on Facebook—in just two months—and shows no sign of slowing down. Couple that with 65,000 followers on Facebook … clearly, creator-producer-director James Stewart and co-writer-producers Emily Weedon and Kent Staines know what they’re doing.
What the trio has created in just three episodes of content—Season 1 of Chateau Laurier can be seen on the show’s Facebook page—is a sumptuous, gorgeous tale of a couple on the cusp of their arranged marriage taking place against the backdrop of Ottawa’s historic Chateau Laurier. Hattie Bracebridge (Kate Ross) is accompanied by her aunt (Fiona Reid) to the storied establishment where they meet Mr. Mutchmor (the late Bruce Gray, in his final role) and prepare for Hattie’s impending nuptials. But with one errant glance and a few steps away from the lobby, Hattie goes on an adventure that leads to a major twist.
We spoke to creator-producer-director James Stewart about Chateau Laurier, why it’s become a smash hit online, the challenges of filming in a hotel and what’s next for the project.
Why do you think Chateau Laurier has resonated so much not only in Canada and the U.S. but around the world?
James Stewart: I wish I knew the secret sauce. I think there are a number of story reasons and a number of technical reasons. I think the story reasons are people love period dramas. That whole fanbase, with Downton Abbey ending, there is a real hunger for it. I think, specifically in Canada, there is a real hunger for it. As John Doyle pointed out, because of NHL hockey there is no Murdoch Mysteries and no Frankie Drake Mysteries and we landed right in the middle of that. For a technical reason, we decided to launch it as a web series in three-minute episodes and I think that makes it highly shareable and highly viewable. And, once viewers watch it, they’re hooked and take another until they’re done in nine minutes. They say that brevity is the soul of wit. I think brevity is the soul of the Internet.
Facebook is highly shareable and that demographic, women, older women and girls, they are all on Facebook. My mom is on Facebook, my aunt is on Facebook.
How much of a learning curve has it been, for you as a creator, making something in short-form for Facebook?
It absolutely is a learning curve and it changes every year. I did a short film called Foxed and it did the film festival circuit in what I would call a traditional way of distributing something. Then I said, ‘What else is there?’ I put it on iTunes. Then, I was out of outlets for it to create revenue of any kind and I put it on Facebook. It got five million views. It was nuts. Why is that? Because people share, share, share on Facebook. It’s very easy to hit that button.
When we came to Chateau Laurier, I think I was able to really harness all of my social media followers. The Foxed Facebook page has 30,000 followers and I have about 80,000 Twitter followers. We were originally going to launch Chateau Laurier in the fall. We were going to throw a party and have a launch event. I wanted to do it at TIFF Bell Lightbox and they were busy and then Bruce Gray passed away. There was a celebration of his life and then about a month later I said, ‘OK, let’s launch it.’ At that point, we already had 30,000 followers on Facebook.
Give me the background on Chateau Laurier. You grew up in Ottawa in awe of this building. How long has this series been in the works?
I’ve always wanted to do a series on Chateau Laurier and kind of peel back the layers on Ottawa the good. It has a very dangerous history. In the 1800s it was a very dangerous logging town and then it became the capital and all this power and prestige was dumped into this kind of frontier town. Then they opened the Chateau Laurier right in the middle of it and the Titanic went down in the same month. The owner of the hotel went down on the Titanic. The furniture for the opening of the hotel was on the Titanic and they had to delay the opening. It was supposed to open in April and they opened in June in a very subdued way. They didn’t throw a big party. I’ve always known that, liked that, and if I’m in town and don’t stay with family I’ll stay there.
And then, a few years ago after Foxed, I thought, ‘I want to do this show. We have a bit of momentum.’ So we got some BravoFACT money to do a short, a sort of proof of concept for a primetime drama series. We did that and then decided to launch it as a web series because that has it’s own cache and is a genre now. We had very little money. It looks very expensive because we shot it at [the Fairmont] Royal York.
It looks stunning. Not only is it impressive to look at but you really pack a lot of story into just under 10 minutes.
Thanks. Arthur Cooper shot it and we really just phoned around and asked who was available and wanted to do it. Everybody was a pro, including the cast. Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray and Kate Ross and Luke Humphrey … we had a connection with them all and they loved it. We shot overnight in the lobby of the Royal York. I wanted to film it in Ottawa, but logistically we just didn’t have the money.
Did you have a traditional writer’s room with yourself, Emily and Kent?
No, we didn’t. Essentially, Kent and Emily wrote the screenplay that became the web series. It was more of a writer’s booth. The love story was based on an idea that Emily came up with.
I saw a picture of you, on social media, at the CBC. Are you actively pitching Chateau Laurier as a series?
We are. We are talking to everyone. Plan A is we are going to broadcasters to say we have a hit on our hands. We have an unabashedly Canadian story, we have a great cast, we have established our characters and they have three million fans. And we’re going to do Season 2 of the web series where we introduce two more of our lead characters in the Mutchmor family and have some great drama. And if we get a primetime series the web series will serve as a prequel.
Season 1 of Chateau Laurier can be seen on the show’s Facebook page.