In this post-Covid era, Canadian financing is falling short for kids' and teens' TV shows. There’s a slow shift away from TV series such as the The Next Step, where a typical budget is roughly $375,000 plus per episode, to more modest independent producers providing children’s content for streaming online.
One company catching the wave of this recent shift is Potluck Productions, a newly minted Edmonton-based company releasing its second season of Small Things Big Alberta, an educational-travel news series for children. It is being released on YouTube Feb. 3.
Potluck Productions was initially founded by former St. Albert actor/writer/director Matthew Alden and his wife Alice Kelly in 2021. Working to build a full-service production company, the duo brought in Kayla Wright (producer/production coordinator), and Dale Alexis (actor/puppeteer/film technician).
“Dale left his reserve (Alexis First Nation) and has done acting in Toronto. He’s even done some training under a Fraggle Rock puppeteer,” said Alden.
Revealing the same zany sense of humour he possessed as lead actor and writer for the comedy series Caution May Contain Nuts and Tiny Plastic Men, Alden recounted the story of how the company name was chosen.
“We named it after our little pug. It’s even on the logo. But as the company grew, it became a description of how everyone brings different skills to the table. We’re a potluck of people,” Alden said. He added that Potluck does it all — music videos, live streaming events, online content, commercials, drone films and commercials.
His vision for Small Things Big Alberta included travelling to different locations in Alberta where Kelly, as the bubbly host, would interview different guests. Complementing Kelly’s hosting duties are two animal puppets, Maskwa the Bear and Gerald the Moose.
The first step was applying to Telus Storyhive for a production start-up grant of $5,000.
“But we spent $9,000 buying a camera, drone, puppets and computer for editing. That year we lost money.”
For the first season, Telus commissioned three 20 to 25-minute episodes which were increased to eight during the second season.
“They’ve supported us because a lot of people don’t do content for kids. We’re one of the few and they like our work.”
A sampler of Season 2 features visits to Jurassic Forest, Hawrelak Park, Alexis First Nation and the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek. Gerald, who is a bit of braggart, and Maskwa, the more sensitive puppet naturally tag along. Each episode finishes with Alice making a craft that can be created at home. Instructions for craft-making are available online at www.bigalberta.com.
Season 3 of Small Things Big Alberta, which is due for release in the summer, is now in production and there’s a good chance the kookie cabal may expand their universe and pay a visit to Hollywood.
“The goal is to get known in 80 per cent of the local area and grow from there. The idea is to have a bigger show so we can go all over Alberta. We’d even like to go Canadian.”