Making TV with an indie film prowess

Ari Lantos, Serendipity Point's VP production, discusses the strategy behind the company's first TV series, Four in the Morning. (Lantos pictured.)

Ari Lantos - Toronto Film Producer. Son of Robert Lantos

When Serendipity Point VP production Ari Lantos was working on the financing strategy for the company’s first project from its recently launched TV division, he decided to use his experience making indie films to create a high-production-quality, low-cost show.

The budget for the recently greenlit comedy Four in the Morning, which is slated to bow on the CBC later this year, is under $300,000 an episode, Lantos said. That is about a third of a price for other network comedies like Schitt’s Creek or Mr. D and part of a broader strategy to entice buyers, Lantos said.

“It is a sort of risky but novel approach to television…to see if we can apply everything I know and we know as a company about micro-budget indie filmmaking to a TV series, and try to deliver something that looks and sounds and feels just as good and high quality as the stuff that is being done for $1 million an episode,” Lantos told Playback Daily.

It was a deal the CBC couldn’t resist – a highly respected film producer, known showrunner (Rogue writer/producer Ira Parker) matched with an up-and-coming director (Diamond Tongues helmer Pavan Moondi) at a price point well under average. The pubcaster picked up eight, half-hour episodes of the series with production set to start in mid-April.

The crew on the series are non-union, and it is being block-shot in its entirety with one director (Moondi), rather than following a more traditional TV production schedule, which “allows you to limit and reduce the number of unit moves you end up making, that are redundant in a lot of cases,” Lantos said.

Working with one director also saves money, Lantos said. When working with multiple directors, additional crew and assistant directors must be brought in every time a new director comes in to lead a different episode of a series. And Parker will also write all eight episodes to ensure continuity of Four in the Morning‘s quirky and strong voice.

“We found a guy in Ira Parker who really bring a really unique and original voice to the table, hence why we had him write all the episodes, as opposed to doing it in a more conventional way in a room and splitting up the scripts,” Lantos said.

Financing for the series came from the CBC license fees, provincial and federal tax credits and investment from Serendipity Point, Lantos said. Starring in Four in the Morning are Lola Tash, Michelle Mylett, Daniel Maslany (brother of Tatiana Maslany) and Mazin Elsadig. Executive producers on the series are Lantos, Mark Musselman, Jeff Sagansky and Matt Geller.

Clarification: The original story referenced the show as being “non-union” but the full explanation was mistakenly omitted. In fact, the series’ writer, director and talent are union.