Cast and Crew
Clock ticking on 11th Hour launch
By Sean Davidson
Mention a good movie about reporters to the makers of The Eleventh
Hour and the room just about explodes with excited chatter. All
the President's Men, His Girl Friday, Broadcast News,
The Insider. They've seen and studied them all.
"Fantastic phone calls!" says director David Wellington of the 1976 Watergate
saga. "Some of the best phone calls ever in movies. I loved the whole
procedural aspect of President's Men, all the simple things. And
the best phone filters in the history of movies. Perfect sound on them."
"I love His Girl Friday," co-creators Semi Chellas and Ilana Frank
nearly squeal in perfect synch when someone brings up the 1940 Cary Grant
picture. "That's one of my favorite movies ever," Chellas adds.
All that enthusiasm and research is, it seems, being put to good use on
the set of the new Alliance Atlantis dramatic series, which debuts on
CTV Nov. 26 at 10 p.m. The Eleventh Hour, Canada's only new English-language
drama this season, follows the exploits of investigative reporters at
a venerable TV news magazine of the same name, not unlike 60 Minutes
or W5. John Neville (The X-Files), Sonja Smits (Traders),
Tanya Reid (Da Vinci's Inquest) and Peter MacNeill (Psi Factor)
are front and centre as the senior newshounds, part of a well-rounded
cast that includes Waneta Storm, Shawn Doyle and Jeff Seymour. Each hour-long
episode follows the often circuitous path of an investigation — from lead,
through research and interviews, into dead-ends and behind-the-scene battles,
to the eventual broadcast and possible blow-back.
Frank (The Life Before This, Salt Water Moose) and Chellas
(The Life Before This, Dead Aviators) pitched the idea in
2000, shortly after seeing The Insider. "It was funny because neither
Ilana nor I had worked in TV at all," says Chellas, "so we had to sort
of ask questions about how it works. It seems like a really large world
Both are sitting on a couch in a dimly lit production office, deep inside
the military-base-turned-studio in north Toronto where season one has
been shooting since August. Wellington is making short work of his lunch
at the desk, on which an infuser is burning some kind of scented oil.
"Every morning reading the papers and listening to the radio going up
to work is, like, 8,000 more story ideas," says Chellas. "But it's not
a show about breaking news, it's a show about investigative journalism,
which can take a long time." "The intricacies of that procedure are what
really interests us," adds Frank. "The [news] stories are sort of secondary.
It's about how difficult it is to get any story."
Wellington (Dead Aviators, Queer as Folk) is directing seven
of the first 13 episodes and, armed with a creative producer credit, gets
to establish the look and feel of the series - using "elegant, carefully
composed shots, more in the tradition of big-screen feature films," he
says. Each ep is budgeted at $1 million, backed by Telefilm Canada, the
CTF and the Independent Production Fund. He and DOP Steve Cosens (Flower
& Garnet) are shooting on 16mm, using low-speed stock, long lenses
and a few other tricks to get a 35mm look.
The Eleventh Hour, the show within the show, is headquartered
high in a downtown Toronto skyscraper — a stylish all-ergonomic, all-neutral
workspace precisely strewn with dog-eared newspapers, magazines and stacks
of VHS and NTSC tapes. A dozen desks are clustered in a bullpen area,
which is surrounded by several executive suites and a wall of video monitors.
Great effort from the set decorators has clearly gone into all the accumulated
faux clutter. These are the desks of people who live at their desks.
(It is, however, still too neat to pass for a real newsroom. There were
no half-eaten, week-old cheeseburgers in sight, nor any Nerf sports equipment.)
On this particular afternoon, cast and crew are working through a scene
in episode five. The show has just been scooped and crestfallen reporters
are watching their story air on a competing program when MacNeill's character,
Warren Donohue, appears and summons one of them with a snap of his fingers.
"There's a dude here to see you," says the aging newsman, jabbing his
thumb at the lobby. The young'uns snicker as he huffs out of sight. Dude?
It all looks very promising, but there are more than the usual number
of swords hanging over this show. This is the same studio that housed
The Associates, the short-lived lawyer series from AAC that CTV
sent to the gallows after just two seasons. And earlier this year, not
long after the show was greenlit, AAC announced it was moving away from
TV production, sidestepping in July from Standard & Poor's Movies and
Entertainment subindex to that of Broadcasting and Cable TV.
AAC will turn out just roughly 74 hours of TV drama this season: 13 one-hours
each of Cold Squad and Eleventh Hour, plus a possible 48
one-hours of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami.
The Eleventh Hour will also debut at the end of a year during which pundits
have repeatedly declared Canadian dramatic TV to be as dead as Louis Riel
— thanks largely to the elimination of the CRTC's drama incentives for
broadcasters and, more importantly in this case, the drying up of key
Anne Marie La Traverse, AAC senior vice-president, television series and
movies, agrees the world market is tough but insists she's not worried.
"We're making it first and foremost for Canadians," she says. "It's very,
very identifiably Canadian."
As for changes in AAC's focus, La Traverse says those won't affect The
Eleventh Hour. "Alliance Atlantis is staying away from industrial
shows," she says, "as in Earth: Final Conflict or Beastmaster,
shows that were made for the syndication market in the U.S....We're going
to make big-event, American-type shows and we're going to make them for
the Canadian market."
The key to staying on the air, and proving the doomsayers wrong, she says,
is staying in the same timeslot. CTV has scheduled Eleventh Hour
at 10 p.m. Tuesdays, opposite NYPD Blue and Judging Amy.
She's optimistic it will stay there. "The most important thing we need
is commitment from our broadcaster and a really steady timeslot without
preemptions, without being moved around," she says. "That's a huge part
of the success of any show, that the audience can find it."
October 14, 2002
original source: http://www.sean-davidson.com/articles/clock_ticking.html