Patrick Whitley: the making of a producer

Today Patrick Whitley lords over two successful production companies and a couple of studios, which is all a far cry from cutting his teeth at CFTO, CTV's Toronto affiliate, as a unit manager for six years starting in 1970.

Today Patrick Whitley lords over two successful production companies and a couple of studios, which is all a far cry from cutting his teeth at CFTO, CTV’s Toronto affiliate, as a unit manager for six years starting in 1970.

‘In those days, there were a lot of American productions that would come up to do televised shows, like Hallmark Hall of Fame and huge variety specials,’ Whitley recalls. ‘It was an incredible place to learn production. I got to work on everything from variety to drama to the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.’

Eventually, Whitley yearned to break out on his own, but not before taking a year off and living the 1970s dream of going mobile. He purchased a motor home and traveled across North America.

‘Most people took a year off after high school or university – I chose to take it off six years into my career,’ he recalls, laughing. ‘I had a ball, then came back and started as a freelancer.’

One of his most notable gigs was as a supervising producer for five years on the fabled SCTV comedy series, starting in 1979.

‘If you can be very proud of six or seven productions in your career, you’re very fortunate.’ says Whitley. ‘And that is certainly right up there.’

Another one of his personal favorites is the 1990 U.K./U.S. feature Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, written and directed by Tom Stoppard and starring Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Richard Dreyfuss, which he coproduced. Producers Emanuel Azenberg and Michael Brandman, a New Yorker whom Whitley knew from his CFTO days, had spoken to Whitley about shooting Rosencrantz in Toronto, with Sean Connery starring. But the actor dropped out and the production dissolved.

One year later, the producers called with the news that the film would be mounted in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (just prior to the Serbia Croatia War), and offered for Whitley to come on board, which he accepted. ‘I thank Michael Brandman to this day that he asked me to be part of that,’ Whitley says.

Between SCTV and the formation of Dufferin Gate Productions, Whitley produced or coproduced eight MOWs and two TV series. He looks upon himself as more of a logistics producer than a creative one.

‘I think [my strengths lie in] running a business and being able to recognize talent – in front of the camera, but mainly behind the camera,’ he says. ‘I’m very fortunate. I’ve managed to attract some very good, young people to work here.’