Neshama looks back on one year of production post-shutdown

The Toronto prodco has completed 24 films since restarting in July 2020, including Avi Federgreen's feature directorial debut with the thriller Lethal Love.

christmaseverafter_12It has been one year since Arnie Zipursky’s Toronto banner Neshama Entertainment turned the cameras back on following the months-long pandemic production shutdown – and they haven’t stopped rolling since.

The company, best known for its mix of made-for-TV thrillers and holiday romance films, has completed production on 24 films since July 2020, including Lifetime film Christmas Ever After (pictured above), starring Tony winner Ali Stroker, and Netflix’s Lethal Love (pictured, bottom right), starring Canadian actor Torri Higginson.

Zipursky, co-founder and executive producer, tells Playback Daily the prodco is still taking production one day at a time as the shutdown recovery continues and on-set safety measures remain, but is currently in a “good place.”

Neshama was less than 24 hours away from going to camera on two films – one in Montreal and one in Hamilton, ON – when the decision came to shut down production in mid-March last year, says Zipursky. Returning to production approximately four months later under the strict safety protocols was “overwhelming” at first. “Production is inherently a social business,” he says. “It was so contrary to what live action production is.”

Its production success story was possible thanks to its L.A.-based partner and distributor MarVista, led by CEO Fernando Szew, who helped co-found Neshama in 2018. Suzanne Berger, VP, production for Neshama, says safety measures accounted for approximately 20% of the budget when production restarted in July 2020, with MarVista able to provide support to make up the additional costs.

That extra expense has slowly decreased over time as they’ve found methods of cost-cutting, such as reducing the number of shooting days. They were also strategic about the types of films to go to camera at first, shooting projects with fewer cast members.

Testing was an initial complication, according to Berger, with prodcos having to negotiate between the U.S. and Canadian unions on the volume of testing on cast and crew. They also ran into unexpected complications with the safety measures. In one instance, an outdoor shoot was interrupted because the cold caused crew members’ face shields to freeze over and blur their vision.

The prodco also contended with various provincial rules around COVID restrictions. While shooting a romantic holiday film in Quebec, the prodco came up against a ban on kissing in scenes. Their workaround was to get the actors to kiss on opposite ends of a plexiglass and have a VFX team edit out the plastic in post-production. “No matter what, if you’re making a Christmas movie, it’s got to have a kiss at the end,” says Berger. “Bless their hearts, [the actors] leaned in and gave a big smooch to a big piece of sterilized plastic.”

lethal-love-01Turning around holiday films such as Christmas Ever After and The Christmas Setup before the end of 2020 was crucial when production returned, as the demand for feel-good content became more prominent than ever for buyers. Now the company has hit its stride and is able to focus on building up its slate and identifying new talents to work with.

Among their new directors is Avi Federgreen, best known in the domestic industry for his work as a producer and distributor with Federgreen Entertainment and Indiecan Entertainment. He made his feature directorial debut with the thriller Lethal Love, which premiered on Netflix in the U.S., U.K. and Australia on July 9 and will premiere later this year in Canada. The picture is also Neshama’s first project with Canadian writer Heather Taylor.

“It’s great working with a director who also wears the producer hat,” says Marly Reed, VP of development at Neshama. “Avi inherently knew what was and wasn’t possible based on our budget and worked hard to come up with creative solutions as needed.”

Other emerging talents to earn their first theatrical feature-length film directorial debut with Neshama projects include Samantha Wan, Alpha Nicky Mulowa, J.J. Gilanders and Christopher Redmond, as well as giving Shelagh Carter her first TV directing credit, according to Zipursky. “Neshama is working hard to develop emerging talents and looking for new writers and directors from coast to coast,” he adds.

While the company’s current pre-production slate is focused on films, Zipursky says their development slate includes television productions. The company is also looking at increased opportunities with global streaming services as the demand for original content has only grown the last few years.