Tassie Cameron’s prolific strategy

Seven shows in 18 months, international acclaim for her killer ideas and a budding prodco - what can't Playback's Person of the Year do?

tassie cameron picBy Fiona Morrow 

Tassie Cameron is on a roll. In the scant 18 months that Cameron Pictures has been operating, it has produced a series for Global in Canada and Lifetime in the U.S. (Mary Kills People, produced with eOne), and a forthcoming half-hour primetime comedy series for CBC (Little Dog). That’s not to mention Cameron’s executive producer credit for Global’s summer hit Private Eyes, her consulting work on CBC’s Pure and her showrunner duties on Ten Days in the Valley.

It’s a roster any independent production company would be proud of. That goes double for a business determined to operate out of Canada, nurturing homegrown talent while working across the wider North American market – the niche that Cameron spotted and, with her sister, former drama production exec at CBC, Amy Cameron, decided to fill.

For Mary Kills People, recently renewed for a second season, that Canada-centred, North America-targeted approach means staffing the show with Canuck creators and talent, but partnering with both a Canadian and a U.S. broadcaster. (It was the killer creative team – including the likes of director Holly Dale and Cameron herself, as well as great packaging, that prompted U.S. specialty Lifetime to board the production in the first place.)

Independence is key: “We are small and nimble and committed to putting the creative material first,” Cameron says. “If a project came to us that wasn’t right for a Canadian broadcaster, but we saw a home in the U.S. or the U.K., we would definitely pursue it. We have great relationships in those countries, and I think they would take our calls.”

That’s not surprising. Cameron has worked steadily since an early stint as a junior executive at HBO in the late ’90s, honing her writing chops on shows such as The Eleventh Hour and Degrassi: The Next Generation, and her producer bonefides on Flashpoint and six seasons of Rookie Blue (which she also co-created).

While she never intended to make the move into the business side of television, she gradually realized it made sense to open up her own shop, not least because her consulting work on project development was taking up more and more time and energy, she says.

Cameron figured there was a better way to focus and add value for her support. Sister Amy signed up as a partner, and with Ten Days in the Valley already greenlit and sold directly to Skydance and ABC in the U.S., they hit the ground running.

It doesn’t hurt that Cameron is the type of creator that television executives dream of: an expert showrunner trusted to bring series in on time and on budget, who also has bankable ideas, can write and is a team leader everyone wants to be around.

“Very few people have the talent, experience and leadership qualities that Tassie has for running a show from beginning to end,” says the president of eOne TV in Canada, Jocelyn Hamilton.

It’s early days, and Cameron Pictures is currently a staff of three, but the team agrees on what matters most: “The writing always comes first,” Cameron insists. “Finding a great idea or amazing independent producer or a fantastic creator that we want to work with will probably always be our first priority.”

Fruitful partnerships, she believes, will grow organically from that baseline.

More than a stated decision to develop the industry in Canada, is a desire to structure Cameron Pictures in a way that is transparent and more equitable through a profit sharing structure that, while still to be fully worked out and realized, is a serious goal, Cameron says. “If we can establish and maintain that, then the best creators will come work with us, and we’ll be successful,” she says.

Though the reality of network television remains ratings based despite endlessly fragmenting viewing habits, Cameron is not only undaunted, she fully embraces the challenges and opportunities the more complex market brings (since this interview, Ten Days garnered lukewarm ratings and has since been moved to Saturday evenings from its prime Sunday spot).

“Being strategic is key – around what works best for traditional broadcast or cable or streaming, and not push the wrong show to the wrong platform. And then there’s digital. How do you create digital content, and what does that look like?”

In the meantime, Cameron Pictures has a one-hour drama in development with a west coast writer, as well as an hour-long romantic comedy series.

“I love disruption,” she says. “I’m not scared of it, and the fact our industry is being disrupted is all part and parcel of why there is so much great television right now. There is more space for different voices and different ways of telling stories. I believe really unusual ways to tell stories will start popping to the surface, and that really is exciting.”

This story initially appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Playback magazine

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Cameron Pictures produced Ten Days in the Valley, and named Amy Cameron as a former head of drama for CBC. Playback regrets the errors.