Each year, Playback puts out a call for the industry to recommend its best and brightest up-and-coming talent for our 10 to Watch list. And the search keeps getting tougher, as the professionals who make up the screen entertainment industry keep getting better. The selection represented here were carefully chosen with input from a variety of industry sources and organizations. This year’s 10 to Watch were revealed in Playback‘s Fall issue; the stories featured here are longer versions of the Q&As that appear in the print publication.
MARK DE ANGELIS, WEB SERIES/TV WRITER
The buzz: Bill and Sons Towing, the Imponderables sketch troupe-starring comedy web series that he co-created and produced, has generated a lot of social- and mainstream-media buzz, suggesting de Angelis and biz partner Charles Ketchabaw of Toronto-based Ready, Set, Panic may be figuring out the elusive online-screen model. His other credits include work on Dan for Mayor and The Ron James Show.
Tell me a bit about the timeline from when you started in your career to where you’re at now with Bill and Sons Towing.
[Acting was something I always wanted to do], and after I finished university, I sort of dove right into acting, and was doing that for a good many years in Toronto, commercials, TV and live theatre. I started getting a bit of the writing bug when I started doing sketch comedy, and really enjoyed it. And as the acting work is few and far between, I started to get involved working in television production, and I thought maybe that’d be a great way to kick down the door.
My first big official TV gig was working for the CBC on Jonathan Crosses Canada. And then my first big break, in terms of work fully employed in a writing room full-time was on The Ron James Show. During that run, I was also fortunate enough to work on season two of Dan for Mayor, which was fantastic, and I was lucky enough to work with three showrunners for the price of one – Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White.
While I was working those paid gigs, I was constantly writing and developing my own stuff, and Bill and Sons Towing would be the latest incarnation of that. I had been developing an idea for a TV series that was set in a towing garage, and hadn’t really pitched it anywhere yet. And my business partner Charles [Ketchabaw] told me about the Independent Production Fund deadline coming up. We had worked with [sketch troupe] The Imponderables for years on various projects, and we always wanted to do something bigger, so we sat down to really hash out an idea around The Imponderables themselves. I pitched to Charles this idea of the tow truck company, and we just sort of ran with it and put in that submission to the IPF.
Bill and Sons Towing got a lot of mainstream coverage – what do you think contributed to this?
I don’t know if we just hit the perfect storm of no news happening at that exact moment [laughter]…We attracted a lot of high profile Canadian actors who traditionally work in TV; I don’t know if that helped. We just got a writeup in Playboy Magazine‘s online portal. People are still discovering the series which is great; every couple of days we get an email from somebody who’s just watched it for the first time. The really cool part about the web [is] once it’s up there, it stays there, whereas with TV, you’ve got your 13 weeks to attract your eyeballs and it’s at specific day and time, and you really gotta hammer that home to get your audience and to get people to watch.
Speaking of grabbing those Canadian acting heavyweights, like Nicholas Campbell, Sonja Smits and Jane Eastwood, how did you get them on board?
[Approaching talent like those actors], having had the advantage of working in traditional TV, I presented the package so that it looked like it was a TV series. They got a series bible, they got scripts, we had a shooting schedule. It just looked from top to bottom like a very professional shoot. Because that idea of a web series, it still has a bit of that negative connotation of like, “This is going to be so low budget, will these guys know what they’re doing?” So I was very adamant that we have all those bases covered, so that we kept the questions really just on the content. By the time the talent was looking at the completed scripts, they’d already gone through a second and third draft. [And] we deliberately decided to shoot in February, when it’s a slow time, and we were able to attract a lot of great crew…that work in film and TV all the time.
You also had some extras to go along with the main Bill and Sons web series, like the podcasts and the Complaint Line, which let the viewers interact with the series. How did all of those fit into the overall plan for the series?
We tried to make those feel like a natural extension of the Bill and Sons Towing property. I feel like a lot of times, TV now is getting into the web and they’re talking about multi-platform, but it often feels tacked on and not really fitting in with the main narrative that’s going on. It’s a great little area to just play and do some interesting stuff.
Where do web series fit right now in the content creation landscape?
I think web series are starting to become what the short film was 15 year ago…everyone was making short films to showcase their respective talent, and I think more and more people are being attracted by the idea of a web series. Some people are developing it specifically for the web, and staying there, which is amazing. And some people are looking at it as a place to put a series up that has legs for TV, and creating it like a backdoor pilot so they can go to networks and say, “This is the vision,” and find out if they’re interested in developing it further.
What are the advantages of putting content out on the web?
[As compared to a TV pilot], for a fraction of the price, you can get an entire web series up and you can really use it as a great development tool to see what’s working, what’s not working; what stories were the audience most attracted to, which episodes worked better than others and why.
What are you working on and what’s up next?
We just wrapped the last episode of Bill and Sons, and right now we’re talking with people who may be interested in exploring this further either as a second season or the possibility of perhaps developing it for TV. [Also], I am developing a couple of ideas for TV right now, for a traditional half-hour comedy, and I’m also looking at developing another comedy for the web. In a perfect world, I would love to continue working on the web but also working towards creating an original half-hour for TV.