Shaftesbury looks to the future with CLAIREvoyant

Co-created and starred in by Carmilla lead Natasha Negovanlis, the digital series aims to migrate fans of the vampire property onto her latest project.

For Shaftesbury, CLAIREvoyant isn’t simply a new web series starring Carmilla’s Natasha Negovanlis.

The project, released today (May 16), is part of a strategy to migrate subscribers of its KindaTV YouTube channel from one project to another. “What we’re hoping to do is move that Carmilla audience onto a new project [CLAIREvoyant], and having Natasha and Annie Briggs [star in and create the show] is one way you can do that,” Christina Jennings, chairman and CEO, Shaftesbury, told Playback Daily.

However, unlike Carmilla, which was a brand partnership between Shaftesbury and U By Kotex, the goal of CLAIREvoyant isn’t to integrate brands into the equation. “It wasn’t a brand play from the outset, it was a talent play,” adds Jennings.

The “play” to which Jennings refers is to showcase Negovanlis, who has become somewhat of an online sensation since Carmilla debuted in 2014, in a role outside of the one in which audiences are accustomed to seeing her.

Created by Negovanlis and Annie Briggs (The Carmilla Movie, Murdoch Mysteries), the 14 x 5-minute web series is a quirky story about two best friends, Claire and Ruby, who pretend to be psychics online to make fast rent money. However, things get weird when Claire turns out to have real abilities. Directed by Simone Stock (Earthling House Huntress), the project also stars Jsin Sasha (Designated Survivor), Sabryn Rock (Taken) and Theresa Tova (Meet the Family).

Negovanlis’ current fanbase is almost completely comprised of women aged 18 to 25, said Negovanlis, though the hope is that CLAIREvoyant will skew toward a slightly older demographic. She added that the intention is to continue to expand the audience by showing strong female role models, positive queer representation on screen, a diverse cast and realistic body types. As well, Clairevoyant marks the first time that Negovanlis has stepped into a coproducer role, which she said is something she would like to explore further going forward.

While the production was completed on a typically tight digital budget (Jennings said it was “in the six figures”), the production team got crafty to maximize their dollars. Filmed in November 2017, CLAIREvoyant was shot on the same set as Frankie Drake, once production wrapped on season one of the hour-long CBC drama. Being able to offer CLAIREvoyant this higher production value is an important step in the evolution of digital series, said Jennings. “A digital series cannot be the poor cousin to what we expect on television. It can’t be. It’s important to be able to put more money on the screen.”

And while it remains early days in the life of this property, Jennings said the long-term strategy will be to see if CLAIREvoyant finds an audience and then look at potentially taking it to other platforms – in a similar way that Shaftesbury has expanded Carmilla. “The scripted digital strategy is about incubating content and talent. So you’re able to take risks on people in the digital side and then, if it works, everything you do could move to another platform. Carmilla moved from digital series to feature and is now in development as a primetime series. Why couldn’t CLAIREvoyant do the same?” she said.

CLAIREvoyant is executive produced by Jennings, Scott Garvie and Jay Bennett and co-produced by Briggs, Negovanlis, and Jason Packer, who also co-wrote the teleplay with Briggs and Negovanlis.

The web series is developed and produced by Shaftesbury, with the participation of the IPF and Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit. It was also partially crowdfunded through Indiegogo. Shaftesbury Sales Company is the distributor of the series.