Locals in running for Canadian Screen Awards
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
It’s a revamping year for the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.
Re-engineered by CEO Helga Stephenson, the academy has amalgamated cinema’s Genie Awards with television’s Gemini Awards in an attempt to rejuvenate interest in Canadian film and television.
The changes were a year in the making and the nominees for the newly-minted Canadian Screen Awards were announced on Jan. 15. The winners will be announced at a two-hour inaugural gala hosted by the prince of comedy, Martin Short, on a live broadcast Sunday, March 3 on CBC.
Replacing the Gemini and Genie is a new, as yet unnamed statuette. The golden figure, standing 32.5 centimetres (12.7 inches) high and weighing 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds), is similar to a wing-like figure, enveloped by a semi-circular large screen and a small screen on each side.
Leading the nomination count on the television front is Flashpoint with 11. On its tail is Less Than Kind with 10 and Michael with eight.
At the local level, two Edmonton TV nominees with strong St. Albert ties are the dramatic series Blackstone, a Prairie Dog Film and Television creation and comedy series Caution: May Contain Nuts, produced by Mosaic Entertainment. Blackstone is up for three awards while Caution: May Contain Nuts is up for two.
Prairie Dog-ged – Persistence pays off for local production company
Ron E. Scott, founder and executive producer of Prairie Dog Film and Television, is of two minds since his drama series Blackstone was nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards.
“From across Canada we are receiving congratulations for our success, and of course, we’re proud to be considered in the first place. Everyone is upbeat about it. It’s incredibly difficult for a western company to be included,” says Scott, a former St. Albert resident.
In the little show that could, Steven Cree Molison received a best actor nomination, Georgina Lightning earned a nomination for best supporting actress and Rhonda Fiesekci was given a thumbs-up for casting.
But deciding whether Scott will attend the splashy gala is still up in the air. The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network greenlit a third season of Blackstone and the company will be busy in production for the next six episodes, to be filmed at the village of Namao.
Blackstone first aired in 2010, putting First Nations reservations under a microscope with its unvarnished look at corruption and entrenched power and politics. Underneath the gritty storylines are universal human themes.
“Blackstone resonates with different people for different reasons,” the Métis director explains. “We strive to be authentic and be the best in our desire to be truthful in our storyline. Although it’s a fictional show, a lot of truth is spoken in it. There’s no other show like it in Canada and it’s opened up discussions of things not discussed. It’s opened up a story world that’s never been done.”
Although Molison and Lightning’s characters were developed for the second season, the actors have taken risks and successfully brought a new level of intensity and craftsmanship to the show.
“Both Steve and Georgina have life experience. That propels them to understand the material in Blackstone and helps them execute it,” Scott said.
Scott kick-started his career path as an actor, but quickly realized the craft required a great deal of work and passion.
“I was frankly too immature. I wouldn’t put in the work. I realized it wasn’t about looks or body type.”
Shifting his creative energies, the would-be director enrolled in the Vancouver Film School.
“On the other side of a camera you have more immediate control over your destiny. In film there’s also more latitude to be creative,” he said.
In 1993 after film school, Scott created the entity known as Prairie Dog Productions. Still living in Vancouver, he took advantage of a booming film industry and created music videos, small productions and short films.
“Back then you did a lot of music videos. It was a way to be creative and cut your teeth. You could borrow equipment and use guys from your film class,” he said.
By the late ’90s Scott opted for fresh pastures. Despite Alberta’s cooler film climate and limited market, he returned to Edmonton where most of his family lived, setting his sights on the small screen.
“I saw how difficult making films was. TV was a different animal. I never pictured myself doing long form narrative productions, but I’ve been in the right place at the right time.”
He developed two successful lifestyle television series, Cowboy Country and My Green House, before taking a meatier foray into Mixed Blessings, a three-season comedy drama about an aboriginal woman who marries a Ukrainian man.
“It was my own life experiences that helped guide me into drama,” he says, glossing over difficult childhood experiences.
Through the decades, Prairie Dog has developed enough industry cred that the 2010-2011 Multi-Media Development Fund summary report states the Blackstone Cycle received a $587,425 grant. In addition Prairie Dog also received a $12,236 grant for training and mentorship.
The Multi-Media Development Fund, a production incentive group, offers support to cultural industries within the province.
Scott said he’s very grateful to Multi-Media Development for their financial support.
“Just like any business, there’s an ebb and a flow and Alberta is in an upswing,” he said. “The current government is very supportive and invested in seeing the development of creative content. This year is going to be big. There’s lots of stuff cooking.”
Mosaic looks to make its mark with new partnership
There’s a gentle smell of fresh coffee and varnish floating through the newly-renovated Mercer Building, where the hub of Mosaic Entertainment is located.
Traditional brick walls, warm polished plank wood floors and the original support timbers contrast and complement beautifully with sleek futuristic computers and miles of cable.
Mosaic is part of Startup Edmonton, a vibrant workspace and modern accelerator, an entire building devoted to a hotbed of creativity for young businesses in the arts, film and digital design.
Simply strolling through the funky, yet efficient quarters relays a subliminal message that Mosaic is on the vanguard of film.
An even greater concrete sign of this accomplishment is the firm’s nomination for two Canadian Screen Awards for their comedy series Caution: May Contain Nuts. Francis Damberger is lauded for a directing award, and the writing team headed by St. Albert hometown boy Matt Alden, is nominated for provocative, multi-cultural comedy sketches.
“Everyone is very happy. It’s always good to get recognition and the series really hit its stride in season three,” says executive producer Camille Beaudoin.
The École Secondaire St. Marguerite d’Youville graduate founded the company in 2006 with her life partner Eric Rebalkin.
“You don’t get into this business if you don’t feel committed,” Beaudoin says. “Now we’re a team and we feel unstoppable.”
The team now includes Jesse Lipscombe, another St. Albert hometown boy who was just named partner and executive producer.
Lipscombe, a multi-faceted actor, athlete, entrepreneur and businessman with an extraordinary network of contacts, was brought into the fold to cultivate new funding partnerships for the company.
“I’ll be creating an investment model bridging private and public financing,” says Lipscombe.
He is one of those rare artists who’s completely comfortable filling out grant applications and researching tax incentive programs.
One of the big hiccups Mosaic has faced since its inception is funding. As Beaudoin explains, “We knew we needed to grow, but we may not have had the funds for what we wanted to do. But we knew if we hired somebody, it might help us grow.”
With the warp-speed growth of technology and its applications, Mosaic has no intention of becoming dinosaur. Its ultimate goal is to change the landscape by delivering multi-platform entertainment available for television, the big screen, the Internet and social media.
“We want to develop a Mosaic brand and we want to get the word out about our company. We want to solidify a Mosaic stamp much like when you see a Tarantino movie,” notes Lipscombe.
At the moment, Mosaic has about 20 projects on the go, some still in development stages. Looking at the bottom line, they range from a low-budget price tag of $150,000 to under $5 million.
Initially the production company was created to provide employment in Alberta’s film desert, says Beaudoin.
“There were not a lot jobs going on. We had to take matters into our own hands or move and we didn’t want to move.”
Partnering with Jake Chapman and Chester Sit, Beaudoin and Rebalkin formed a loose version of Mosaic. But within a couple of years, creative differences split the quartet.
The company’s first big project was a commission from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, resulting in Caution: May Contain Nuts. With minimal budget but a pumped up core of Edmonton comedians, Mosaic rented space at the Mercer.
In 2008, there were rumours the chipped brick building was slated for demolition. Standing desolate and empty with decades of grime or cracked plywood layered on the windows, it was a good location for film companies. The open-spaced floors were easily turned into an accommodating warren of miniature sets.
Randomly stacked boxes piled next to lights and racks of costumes filled the dusty building. Senior writer Matt Alden’s office was a saggy old couch pushed into a corner. When the company shot during the winter months, cold permeated the walls and cast and crew could see their breath in certain parts of the building.
Today, with expanded staff and new trophies lining the shelves every year, Mosaic is well on its way to developing a signature look.
For Lipscombe, it boils down to a simple formula.
“It’s all about bringing high quality entertainment to the city, finding jobs for people and creating emotion – emotions that can make you laugh and cry with the characters.”