On set: Cold Squad

In an interrogation room scene for new Vancouver crime series Cold Squad, two detectives are questioning a suspected pedophile about his involvement in the rape and murder of a young boy.

Director Stacey Curtis manages the adrenaline-pumped mise en scene – shot inside Burnaby’s GG Studios – by blocking and lighting the shots to heighten the tension and sense of claustrophobia created by the dark slate blue walls of the set and the crush of technical people standing by, waiting to break for lunch.

dop Richard Leiterman shadows the director’s movements with his own viewfinder to ensure her blocking plan will work with the two-camera setup.

Meanwhile, suspect Karl (actor Daryl Shuttleworth), Cold Squad principal Detective Nick Gallagher (Paul Boretski) and regular player Detective Iradell (Eli Gabay) are rehearsing dialogue that delves into the bleak waters of men who prey on children.

Through the story narrative, viewers discover that this new homicide investigation has eerie links to a closed file downstairs in the Cold Squad file room, the dank repository of unsolved crime folders and forgotten injustice.

There – where featured characters Detective Tony Logozzo (Michael Hogan) and Detective Ali McCormick (Julie Stewart) solve old crimes with new technology and investigative techniques – a 15-year-old case in which a boy was killed with the same, distinctive mo is reopened.

This episode, called ‘Christopher Williams,’ epitomizes the past-meets-present rhythms of the Cold Squad series, which works to build a gritty crime drama in Vancouver on a budget that is a fraction of its u.s. competition such as Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue and the now-defunct, but influential, E.Z. Streets. (The first season’s budget is about $10 million.)

Co-executive producer Matt MacLeod – who retired as an undercover operative with the rcmp after 29 years on the first day of principal photography July 2 – hedges a little when asked if Cold Squad is Millennium with a smaller budget. ‘It’s more like a cross between Prime Suspect and The X-Files,’ he says. ‘The show is about the emotional journey that the cops go through and the set of costs that come with being involved in these cases. I want to get behind the badge and show [viewers] what it’s like.’

The fifth of 11 episodes in year one, this Cold Squad segment has everyone on the set feeling like the series is finally on its feet. Without the benefit of a pilot, refinements have had to be made on the fly. But now, characters are beginning to gel, the scenes are becoming more complex in both the writing and the production, and expectation is beginning to build.

And with its distinction of being the first primetime national series to be produced by Vancouver, Cold Squad has the burden of the first born.

Canada’s film establishment will be watching to see whether exec producers Julia Keatley and MacLeod of Vancouver’s Keatley MacLeod Productions and Anne Marie La Traverse of Toronto-based Atlantis Films have the character to pull off a series west of the Rockies. Locals will be wondering whether the industry experience earned on countless u.s.-funded series and television movies will translate into a West Coast hybrid that sells both at home and abroad.

But right now, most of the crew of 60 are happy to be working on a Canadian show.

Production designer Andy Deskin is responsible for the textured look of the sets: the grungy downstairs Cold Squad offices with stacks of crime files, the dark blue homicide offices and the main floor that are more typical crime drama sets, and the forensics room with its orange walls and stainless steel sheen.

A production veteran who started his career as a props master before he began designing, Deskin says he enjoys the control he has on the series through the creation of mood and physical space.

He researched Vancouver police departments, but found them uninteresting.

‘If given the choice, I’ll always go with what is dramatic,’ he says. ‘This is not a documentary.’

There are about a dozen Cold Squad sets ready to go all the time at GG Studios. There are many louvered windows and pebbled glass and opportunities to use innovative lighting to view the detectives and perpetrators.

While Cold Squad is not experimental in its design, Deskin took a risk with the dark blue walls to invoke the serious and, often, sinister tones of the storylines. But he promises the look will have the depth of a feature film now that video technology is able to translate the images crisply to tape.

Among the regular crew is a new director who is testimony to the importance of this kind of homemade production. Anthony Atkins, a veteran first ad in Vancouver for u.s. shows, is the set foreman for all the Cold Squad episodes except for the occasions in which he gets to direct, a personal first.

‘When you work on an indigenous show where people are getting breaks, your enthusiasm goes to 110%,’ he says. Atkins maintains that to be successful as a Canadian director, a career must span both east and west. But with the onset of regular primetime drama in Vancouver, careers can begin on the West Coast.

As for the directorial stylings of the show, Atkins says the challenge is to do more with less without falling into formula. ‘The key to the show is making the past relevant to the present,’ he says.

Series star Michael Hogan, who transplanted his family of actors from Toronto to Vancouver two years ago, plays Det. Logozzo.

‘I don’t know how cops do it,’ he says in his trailer between scenes in the gruesome storyline. ‘This is a heavy episode. I’m supposed to be a jaded cop anyway, but I don’t know how they don’t get fed up looking at this stuff all the time.’

On his reading table are local, true-life crime books such as Sex, Vice and Morality, Mind Hunter and Shots Fired that contribute to his research for the part of a burned-out, thrice-married cop who, while trying to remain sober, gets ‘demoted’ to the Cold Squad.

Hogan says having MacLeod, a one-time officer, as a producer (and writer of the pedophilia episode) gives the actors an experience cache to draw upon during filming.

Says MacLeod: ‘The main difference between my life on the force and life on the set is that in making television no one is getting hurt. My experiences are from real people. Now it’s make-believe.’

Cold Squad is the beneficiary of Baton Broadcasting’s promises to the crtc in its successful bid to create Vancouver Television, which goes live Sept. 22. The series premiers in January, but no regular day or time has been set.