Canadian reality series by Canadians for Canadians

Take Survivor, whittle down the grand prize to $60,000 shared among six team members, replace the tarped shelters with houseboats, take out the cheesy host, move the exotic locale to Northern Ontario, expand the coverage to 13 half-hours, and there you’ll find Drifters: The Water Wars, Outdoor Life Network’s first Canadian reality adventure/game show.

Produced by Taste Television’s Les Tomlin and Tom Stephens, and directed by company principal Tim Martin, the series is described as the ultimate buried treasure hunt, which pits two teams of six Canadians in a battle against each other to find $60,000 ($10,000 each).

Situated along Ontario’s famous Trent-Severn Waterway, the course is set up to test each team’s fitness, strategic planning and teamwork abilities. Each team lives aboard a houseboat, stepping ashore only to compete in the show’s 13 challenges, including mountain bike relays, rock climbing and blindfolded obstacle courses. Each challenge will provide the winning team with map pieces that will help lead them to the coveted treasure.

Series producers conducted a nationwide contestant search, which led them to choose 18 semi-finalists, who were further narrowed down in ‘technical evaluation camp,’ held in Lindsay, ON in mid-June.

‘They were put through four days of grueling physical and psychological testing…like 20K bike runs in 100-degree heat,’ says Tomlin. After the four days, the 12 chosen ones were split up and transferred to their respective houseboats.

The series will premier as a one-hour on OLN Sept. 16, to be followed by 13 weekly half-hours.

Meantime, Taste is heading into its fifth season of production on Taste for Life, its flagship cooking show, carried in 12 countries, including Prime TV in Canada.

New series down the pipe include Tan Line, 13 half-hours on beach culture in Canada. ‘It’s a bit of a travelogue that covers the best Canadian beaches,’ says Tomlin. ‘It’s fast-paced, edgy and sexy.’

Also produced for OLN, the series is traveling across the country with hosts Chris Jackson (Beyond Borders) and Tamara Taggart (Vancouver Television’s Breakfast Show) to cover one beach in each province, including Ontario’s own Wasaga Beach.

Vallery Hyduk (Taste of Life) is producing and directing the series, which will begin airing on OLN before winter 2002.

OLN is handling distribution for both Drifters and Tan Line.

Switching gears, the Toronto house is working in conjunction with Xtra!, which calls itself Canada’s foremost gay and lesbian monthly tab, to produce Dump, an edgy travel series that tours across North America exploring gay culture. In each city the series visits, it will enlist a resident gay icon to take the viewer on a tour of the city’s gay community.

The 26-part series will launch on Pride Vision in January 2002, going into production later this month in such cities as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, San Francisco and New York.

While Xtra! is not in the business of television production, working with the magazine, says Tomlin, ‘gives us access to a huge resource of gay media and research.’

Taste is handling sales and is in discussion with a couple of gay and lesbian channels in the U.S.

Taste, which has been doing factual programming since its launch in 1996, finds itself now in the centre of a specialty channel universe thirsty for the kind of programming it’s been producing over the past six years.

The company recently resold the first 69 episodes of Taste of Life to Pride.

First Al Waxman Calling Card goes to camera

Principal photography has wrapped on the first Al Waxman Calling Card short film, You Might Be the Youngest.

Produced by Corey Marr of Shotgun Films, directed by Joshua Wilder and written by Joseph Kay, the 17-minute, 35mm film is described as a highly stylized, stream-of-consciousness journey through the mind of a man on his way to his father’s funeral.

The film, which was shot in and around Toronto July 3-7, will be screened theatrically in the fall, play the film festival circuit and have its Canadian television premiere on Showcase within a year of delivery.

‘We will use this opportunity to introduce Shotgun Films to the industry at large, both domestically and abroad,’ says Marr. ‘Our Calling Card film will be a springboard into the world of long-form drama.’

The Calling Card program is an initiative of the Ontario Media Development Corporation in partnership with Showcase, which has one-year exclusive Canadian TV rights to the shorts, and Kodak Canada, which provides the filmmakers with film stock. The CFTPA, William F. White and Deluxe Laboratories are also sponsors.

The program grants recipients $40,000 to make their films, ‘but experienced people are willing to come on board for very little money,’ says Marr. ‘The built-in cachet for the program is amazing.’

The film stars Jonas Chernick (Inertia) and Valerie Buhagiar (Highway 61). Canadian fashion leader Robin Kay is handling costume design and Danny Greaves (lead singer for The Watchmen) is contributing original music to the film.

Last year, five Calling Card films premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and three were nominated for Genies.

From bikini massacres to nuclear explosions

Horror films are far from the rage in Canada, but actor and Acheron International Motion Pictures principal Joseph Clark along with distrib Cinema Esperanca’s Andre Bennett are willing to wage their stakes on the genre with Bikini Party Massacre.

Shooting July 5-23 in Renfrew, ON and Montreal, the sex-infused horror film, described as a combination of Evil Dead, Friday the 13th and American Psycho, is about six young models who go on a camping trip, where one by one they are stalked and murdered by a mysterious and malevolent character (played by Clark). When it’s discovered the murderer is one of them, the victims come back to haunt him, inciting him to kill himself.

‘The film is frightening at the same time that it humorously mocks the traditional horror genre,’ says Clark, who is producing, directing and starring in the movie.

Peter Merhen (the Viking from the Wunderbar commercials) and Rockford Varco (Kids in the Hall) costar.

Graham Alexander of Time Line Productions is coproducing and serves as the film’s DOP.

Budgeted at $500,000, the production has been financed privately.

Esperanca is distributing worldwide, with Acheron handling the film’s video and DVD release.

Meantime, Acheron is in preprod on a larger-scale sci-fi film with Gemini Award-winning director Tom O’Neill (Celine Dion: Colour My World). Titled NUB-1173, the $1-million feature tells the story of a soldier (played by Clark) who wakes in an underground bunker after a nuclear war to discover he is alone, until something from deep within the earth finds its way into the bunker.

Cast has yet to be determined, but Clark says he’s looking to attach an ‘American face.’

‘Bikini Party is the film we are making to make the money and establish the contacts we need to make NUB,’ he says.

The film will shoot in Ottawa in October.

Clark formed Acheron after he parted ways with his partners at TimeLine Entertainment (ironically, no relation to Time Line Productions), where he was producing mostly educational-based series like Harsh Reality, a miniseries of hard-hitting, socially relevant films.

As an actor, he says, ‘it’s easier to create an opportunity in the form of a short film or television program than to land a career part as a Canadian-based actor.’

A tip to Canadian actors: When all else fails, produce!

Danforth delivers dead roses

Banking on first-time writer/director Jessica Lysyj, a former secretary at Twentieth Century Fox, Danforth Studios, producer of Starhunter, has started production in Toronto on its latest digital feature, Drop Dead Roses.

Starring Brian O’Halloran (Dogma), Eddie McGee (CBS’ Big Brother winner) and theatre star Chris Diamantopoulo (Mirvish Productions’ The Full Monty), the film follows the exploits of two guys who operate a thriving business delivering dead roses. Clients use their flower shop to deliver bad news like dumping a girlfriend or firing an employee, setting the stage for comedic drama to ensue.

Carolynne Bell (Deeply) and Tracey Ogonoski are producing the $250,000 film, shooting June 24-July16.

Danforth principals Leonard Bellam, Philip Jackson and Daniel D’Or are exec producing, handling worldwide distribution and mentoring the first-time filmmaker through the process.

Meantime, the second season of Starhunter has been picked up by Citytv for all English broadcast rights in Canada. Production on the 22-part, one-hour series, budgeted at $26 million, will begin in November, likely in Mississauga, ON, where Danforth is currently negotiating the purchase of a new studio.

Other projects on the go include the action-adventure series Dragon Fire, a The Fugitive-like story, set in Shanghai, about a man who after regaining his lost memory discovers he’s entangled in a web of international espionage.

To be shot in Shanghai and Toronto early next year, the series is budgeted at roughly $1.5 million an episode.

Financing for the series comes from a combination of distribution guarantees and corporate equity investments, as with most of Danforth’s projects, says D’Or. Likewise, there is no broadcaster attached.

Michael Campus (Hiroshima) is the series’ showrunner.

The company is also in development on two Canada/U.K. coproductions.

The Barbara Cartland Series (working title), coproduced with David Wickes of London, Eng.-based The Wickes Company, is a 22-part, one-hour series that adapts five of the famous and recently deceased British author’s books.

Wickes and Campus are writing the series, budgeted at $1.4 million an episode and shooting entirely in the U.K. before year-end.

D’Or describes the stories as adventure/romantic period pieces.

Danforth is also working with Grosvenor Park Productions to coproduce The Scarlet Crown, a $10-million feature written by James Whittaker and to be directed by D’Or.

The film tells the true story of Father Kolbe, a priest imprisoned in a WWII concentration camp, and his relationship to the commanding German colonel who he challenges and defies.

Casting is currently underway and D’Or says some big American and British names are likely to be attached. *