Portfolio goes prime time with Stolen Miracle for CTV

Making its foray into primetime programming, notable children’s producer Portfolio Entertainment has gone to camera on Stolen Miracle, the next CTV Signature Presentation Drama.

Based on the true story of the 1993 Christmas Eve kidnapping of a newborn baby from the maternity ward of a Southern Ontario hospital, the $4-million MOW is from Gemini Award-winning director Norma Bailey (The Sheldon Kennedy Story) and writers Peter Lauterman (The Aladdin Project) and Shelley Eriksen (Cold Squad).

Portfolio cofounders Joy Rosen and Lisa Olfman are executive producing the sixth installment of CTV’s Signature Series (Milgaard, The Sheldon Kennedy Story, Dr. Lucille, Blessed Stranger and Lucky Girl), shooting in and around Toronto Feb. 19 to March 15.

Leslie Hope (Judging Amy) stars as the film’s pivotal character, Sergeant Jane McKinley. Playing the roles of the aggrieved parents, Phil and Karen Lewis, are Hugh Thompson (Blessed Stranger) and Marnie McPhail (The Associates). Nola Augustson (Map of the World) plays baby-snatcher Margaret Wheeler and rounding out the cast are Dean McDermott (Power Play) and Gabriel Hogan (The Associates).

Portfolio International has the distribution rights for Canada and the u.s., with Fireworks International holding all other world rights. The program is tentatively scheduled to air on CTV in December.

This fall, Teletoon will debut Portfolio’s newest animated tween series, RoboRoach.

Produced by Julie Stall, the 18-part, half-hour series is based on a true story about scientists implanting cockroaches with computer chips. Each episode contains two 11-minute stories surrounding the hilarious adventures of two cockroach brothers – one that’s been implanted with a computer chip that gives him incredible powers and one that wants to exploit them.

The series was cocreated by creative producer/story editor J. Dan Smith. Andy Knight of Red Rover Studios is creative director. Portfolio International has North American distribution rights. Merlin Animated Productions has distribution for the rest of the world, with Germany’s RTV Family Entertainment sub-distributing.

This year marks Portfolio’s 10th anniversary.

Norstar faces public scrutiny, actor’s strike

NORSTAR Filmed Entertainment, recently under fire for the development of Invisible Darkness – the Stephen Williams book chronicling the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka story – has eight, perhaps less contentious, feature films at various stages of development.

Most imminently, Call Me Irresponsible is a feature comedy directed by Wilson Coneybeare (Kratts’ Creatures) going to camera in Toronto in the spring.

Produced by Norstar CEO Peter Simpson and written by his son Brock, the film tells the story of a Peter Pan character trying to be a father and a gay bachelor at the same time.

Developed with The Harold Greenberg Fund and prebought by TMN-The Movie Network and Super Channel, the film’s budget, says Simpson, is dependent on casting.

The lead has been offered to Jason Priestley, who was rumored to be starring in Invisible Darkness.

Norstar is in negotiation with Blackwatch Releasing for a distribution deal.

The company is also in development with director Nicolas Roeg on the feature Self Portrait, a $5-million coproduction with Norstar’s U.K. partner Rafford Films.

Written by Leslie Watts, the film, which has been in development for three years, is about a couple of elderly women reminiscing about the past.

The film will be shot in Toronto this summer and the script has gone out to Julie Christie, but so far cast has not been confirmed. Norstar is still looking for a distibutor.

The remaining projects, some of which Simpson confirms are "much bigger," are conditional on casting, and with a strike foreshadowed, there’s no telling which ones are going to go, and when.

For now, the film company is warding off mass criticism and lobby efforts against its decision to take on the Invisible Darkness adaptation. Simpson is keeping tight-lipped about the controversy, except to say that the film is still going forward, it is inspired by Dancing in the Dark and it will be shot on digital video with a low budget.

Itsy bitsy test markets programming online

New-York-based itsy bitsy Entertainment, whose film, television and Internet operations are headquartered in Toronto, has hit the Internet with four series that may eventually make it onto the TV airwaves.

Joan Lambur, president of On-Screen Entertainment – the company’s Toronto-based division – says the Internet provides the opportunity to test market and workshop the four shows for an eventual TV broadcast.

Airing weekdays between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., each series is comprised of 10-minute interactive webisodes produced by Canadian talent.

The Granny Review, starring grandmothers Iris Stringer and Ruth Rosen, is a review of books, films and videos targeted to young children and their caregivers.

Mom Chat features a group of four mothers who discuss myriad issues facing caregivers today, from teething to juggling parenting and career responsibilities.

The Big Backyard, the only scripted program, is a musical variety show starring a lively cheerleader who, along with Bongo Bob, the Merry Fairy and Percy the Parrot, leads children through a series of songs, exercises and readings.

Finally, Jeffrey Doodles is an interactive show in which children have the opportunity to weigh in with their suggestions, via e-mail, to help the sketch artist create a final, children-driven masterpiece.

itsy bitsy opened shop in Toronto in 1997 with the production of Teletubbies.

Much of the company’s programming airs on Treehouse TV.

McDonald spearheads reflexive webumentary

Warm Machine, a company set up by War Child Canada and hard-core filmmaker Bruce McDonald, is in production on War2Music, an Internet-based documentary that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a television documentary.

To be aired on MuchMusic in the spring and simulcast online (at www.war2music.com), the reality-based webumentary features Canadian recording artists Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace), the Rascalz and David Usher (Moist) who, along with the crew, will interact with audiences via remotely published rich media field diaries. The technology has been developed by SharpMedia.

A documentary within a documentary, the project, produced with support from the Bell Broadcast & New Media Fund, also enables young people around the world to discuss issues of war-affected children.

OMDC greenlights Al Waxman Calling Cards

The Ontario Media Development Corporation has greenlit one documentary project and one dramatic short to go into production within the next three months, in Toronto, through its newly named Al Waxman Calling Card programs.

You Might Be the Youngest is the first dramatic short selected to go into production in 2001. Produced by Corey Marr, directed by Joshua Wilder and written by Joseph Kay, the film tells the story of a brother and sister who reconcile their relationship mid-life, after the death of their parents.

It is the 29th project greenlit by the Calling Card program since its inception in October 1997. The 13th-round Calling Card jury was composed of: Laura Michalchyshyn, senior VP of programming for Showcase; Jennifer Jonas, producer, New Real Films; and Julian Grant, producer C3 Inc.

Life’s a Twitch has been selected by the documentary Calling Card program. Produced by Tina Hahn and written/directed by Cindy Bisaillon, the film is a portrait of Duncan Mckinley, a leading Tourette’s syndrome activist.

In 2000/01, the doc program gave three teams of emerging Ontario filmmakers the opportunity to produce a half-hour calling card doc for TV. Each will be aired on industry partner TVOntario, on its flagship doc strand, The View From Here.

The second-round doc Calling Card jury was composed of: Rudy Buttignol, TVO’s creative head of documentaries and drama, and independent producers Marike Emery and Ali Kazimi.

Remembrance is a Calling Card short, recently wrapped after shooting in Toronto, Uxbridge and Whitby.

Produced by Paula Fleck (Passengers), the short, 35mm film tells the story of a haunted man approached one night by a mysterious woman who invites him for a drink, a dance and an opportunity to train at Camp X as an allied intelligence agent.

The film was directed by actor Stephanie Morgenstern (Maelstrom), who cowrote the script with actor/writer Mark Ellis. The pair also play the two leading roles.

The short is a prologue to a feature film version, which the team is currently developing.

Script readings re-emerge

Scenemakers, a group of filmmakers that meets weekly to read new scripts and provide feedback to writers, kicks off its third season with its first public reading of Drink Me Up.

The feature comedy that follows a smooth-talking adman as he pursues the affections of a down-to-earth vegetarian is written and directed by Daniel O’Connor.

The weekly program, founded by Michael Raske, starts up again in April and writers are invited to bring scripts for submission for future readings. Actors interested in reading are also invited to submit resumes and headshots.

The program, which is free of charge, meets every Wednesday between April and August at the Cameron House in Toronto. *

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WIFT-T Crystal Awards 2014

WIFT-T Crystal Awards 2014 - Volunteers at the 2014 WIFT-T Crystal Awards. Credit: Kowthar Omar