July 3, 2004 - - Finnegan's Squad panel at Toronto Trek 18
FINNEGAN'S SQUAD PANEL
@ TORONTO TREK #18 - JULY 03, 2004
MODERATOR: MALCOLM XERXES (MX)
PANELIST: GARY DAVIDSON (GD)
22 ATTENDEES* * * * * part one * * * * *
( MX arrives and joins GD at the panel after a few moments of casual conversation between GD and the attendees )
GD: I was a little worried that it was going to be a solo gig.
MX: No, no. I was just trying to get over the fumes from the autograph pen.
ATTENDEE: Are you ok?
MX: Oh, fine. Thank you.
MX: Gosh. Here we all are. The first official FINNEGAN'S SQUAD panel, here at TORONTO TREK 18. History in the making.
My name is MALCOLM XERXES. I have the priviledge of being cast as FINNEGAN in the show. This is Mr. GARY DAVIDSON. He is the Creator/Executive Producer of FINNEGAN'S SQUAD.
ATTENDEE: You're the main character?
MX: (Humbly trying to avoid confirming or denying) Uh, i... i'm one of the squad. In that sense main.
GD: The title character.
ATTENDEE: And you're not pink and that's so cool.
MX: Well, um, Gary was very, very enlightened in his casting, i feel. Um, he said, you know, i can't afford Patrick Stewart, i can't afford Avery Brooks. Why don't i get that other guy, he's english, and bald and black. that way my bases are covered.
GD: And the fact that he's local doesn't hurt.
GD: Uh, you know, because honestly one of the big benefits for anybody pursuing what might be a syndicated show - - we don't know yet because we're not that far along in the negotiations - - uh, obviously having somebody who qualifies for tax credits in both Canada and Great Britain [is] not a bad thing. And uh, it has actually got[ten] us some negotiating time, which is still unresolved at this point, with a company in [Great] Britain, so we're pursuing it from that point. And they're looking at it from the perspective that there are a lot of benefits.
MX: Aye. The company is one for whom i have worked before, so they know i can perform, that i will deliver...
(Pauses while Gary fidgets with MX's leather wrist straps and sees that the pattern on them is the Punisher)
MX: It's the Punisher, i can't help it.
GD: I know, I know.
MX: And so they're taking us a little bit more seriously than they would have if there were no previous working relationship. Uh, they have not yet committed one way or the other, but we like what we've been told so far. Because they haven't said "yes definitely" we can't give more information at this time. We hope however, that they will definitely say yes to it and that way we'll be able to approach "SPACE" from a position of greater confidence and strength.
GD: Yeah, and the way the Canadian system works, we don't really have a set studio where you can go in and if you can line up the actors then everything is in the one house. So a package in canada doesn't just include who you can sign on and whether you can convince the rest of the people with the money that they're worth investing in, but it also includes finding people who can bring production elements to the table. So there are some companies that specialize in getting the crews where they need to be on time and doing the actual shooting. There are other companies that special in doing the distribution and some that specialize in doing all the other business ends of it, and unfortunately in Canada, it's almost more of a house of cards because you've got to bring all these together and then proceed forward with the financing. And that's the area that we're finding the greatest resistence to.
GD: Because as anybody who has been following it in Canada recently knows, the industry has practically collapsed from within. I'm in the school that says "well, you know, big guys moving out of the way means space for little guys" and i think that it's actually going to be a very good time for the entrepeneurial Canadian filmmaker and television maker to get in there. Certainly we're finding that we're getting a lot more attention paid to us than we would've, say five years ago when salter street and Alliance/Atlantis were around because we've got a 20 year history of doing industrial films and training videos and stuff like that; we've been trying to branch into entertainment, but getting "the meeting" is a really tough thing.
Just recently i was reading something from Jay Switzer, who is the head of "CITY TV" saying that they're long term goal is that they're going to have to get into a lot more local production, because as the "video on demand" and internet providing continues to mature, what's going to happen is these American producers are no longer going to licensing stuff to Canadian broadcasters, they'll be able to send it directly to you.
So at that point there, the Canadian broadcasters - and some of them are getting it, and some of them will come around to it later – they're realizing: "we have to start thinking about content, because five – ten years from now we're going to be sitting there with tv channels with nothing to show but "Breakfast Television", followed by "Lunch Television" and then "Dinner Television" and then, basically "Toronto 1".
Attendee: How wonderful that would be.
GD: So, and it's good to hear because "CITY" has just ponied up a huge committment to... i believe it is called "The Collector"?
MX: Yes, yes.
GD: Huge committment. [I've heard] eighty eight episodes they're committed to on this. This is a massive committment but this is because they're coming around. They realize now, they've really got to get behind the production of it, they've got to make sure that they're the ones holding the 'content' because the next revolution is going to be who has the shows, not who can show them. You can't program on the Bachelor forever, i guess.
MX: Praise be.
(GD rises, moving off to the side)
GD: Let me just angle that one camera. I apologize for the fact that i'm a typical Canadian producer in that i absolutely refuse to pay for something that i can do myself.
MX: (singing) Gerry Todd.
GD: Uh, so at some point we're hoping to take whatever comes out of this as far as highlights are concerned and put them on our website and allow anybody to see them and broadcast them because we've had a lot of interest from people outside of the Toronto market as well. So, to that end. Having said what we've said, does anybody have questions before we go onto the next thing?
Attendee: This is perhaps awfully specific but I was reading some of the teasers off the website.
GD: Oh, I like you.
Attendee: Well, thank you. And I was really curious. How come the experimental jet in the Pilot episode is French?
GD: Well, you know. I'm caught between liking to pick on the French, being an Anglo-Canadian and wanting to make sure that there is fair tribute to the French as a Federalist. So uh...
Attendee: You mean, but he's not French Canadian, he's French. Like from France. Which is not the same thing.
GD: (pausing) No, you're right.
(GD taps fingers on the table, stumped. Audience laughs at his loss for words. Various attendees all speak at once.)
GD: You know, i never really thought about it that way. I guess, it was just part of it to get the International flavour into it? Is the original reason.
Attendee: Could you make it Canadian?
GD: I could, but so early into the series do we really want to scare off the Americans with that sort of thing.
Attendee: But they hate the French right now, that's actually. I was wondering...
GD: Exactly. And were you to see the whole episode there's fair reason to.
Attendee: So, it's better he's not Canadian.
GD: Yeah. And I am - and Malcolm will attest to this - extremely subversive, trust me, there will be [Canadian] stuff sliding all over the place in the series. well there already is, (to Malcolm) I think you've read everything except everything except the last episode now haven't you?
MX: Yeah. (referring to Gary) actually the quality of his writing, he's a very erudite fellow as well as very, very funny.
GD: (muttering under breath) Oh sure, no pressure.
MX: The quality of his writing is such that the themes that he's exploring, all of my favourite authors have touched on it in some way, but he's going somewhere that i've never seen broadcast science fiction or any novels or short stories i've read, go before. It's completely original. If I wasn't involved with the show at this level I would be saying, "Please let me sweep your floor", "Please let me brew coffee, I want to be involved in this." I've never been this excited about any show before that I've been working on.
Attendee: Is it too late to ask those questions?
MX: What was that?
Attendee: I said, "Is it too late those questions?"
MX: It's never too late to ask, you can ask. Here he is.
GD: Yeah. Uh, not knowing what kind of limitations that we're going to have with hiring I really don't know. My familiarity with full-scale production unions is rather limited, so i'm really hoping that one of the people that we get this puzzle put together on, they bring their knowledge of that with them.
I don't mind doing the creative bit and certainly, like I've said on our website, the one thing we've had the ability to do is invest in the development of the stories. And we just thought, listen, until we get the meetings and until we get the deal, let's just keep pumping this out because we're enjoying it anyway and we can afford to do this. And it turns out that this has got us pitch time with people like Paul Gross.
Because apparently the hardest thing with a series is supplying the stories and the fact that we've already got the first season, I mean, the final episode of the first season is missing one and half acts, commercial break acts, I mean. And there's discussion in the group not to write those because maybe the people we get involved with are going to want something to happen right at the end, and we'd like to accommodate that.
Attendee: You mean, like a cliffhanger for another season?
GD: Maybe. Yeah, I'd prefer... to be honest with you; myself, my own sensibility is more along the lines of "24". I like the intensity of "24". I like the fact that the season ends with some resolution to it. I've argued on the internet and at a production gathering that this is really the direction of television that we have to go. This is the thing that "Survivor" has in common with the "Sopranos". In that they're short series, 13 weeks, you start watching it, you see all 13, you don't have it interupted for nine weeks at a time. And when you get to the end of it, there's pay off, there's resolution and the story comes to the conclusion.
Reality TV has that, "The Sopranos" has it, "Sex and the City" had it. All the shows that are really getting Hollywood's attention are having this, and yet in all the discussions i've had, not one of the producers has ever realized that this is the commonality between these shows. And i've always felt that we've had so many years of cliffhangers that I think audiences are getting a little bit bored of them.
I do think that you need to indicate some promises to where the show can go but I'd rather have you on the edge of your seat at the final commercial break and get some resolution before the end of the series, end of the season anyway.
And the way that we've approached FINNEGAN'S SQUAD is very odd because when we had our first writer's meeting the story we wrote is now our third season opener. And then we said, well that's good but we need to set this up so then started working on a series story line and we got half way through the second season and then we realized, well no, we really need to go earlier than that and then we wrote the first season. So we're almost two seasons ahead of the game here and we've only shot the prologue episode.
But I like that because, again, the cheap IKEA-Scottish producer in me says...
MX: Some of my best friends are Scots!
Attendee: IKEA'S Scottish?
GD: Oh yeah. Sweddish common sense plus Scottish frugality... Oh, I just, love it. What we're looking at now when we start filming the first season is that if we need five actors in one set in episode three, and them in the same set in episode six and then in episode ten that we can shoot them all at once.
Attendee: That's a very british way of doing things.
GD: Yeah. And I like that. And that's other reason we're really pushing hard to get all the scripts, at least to first draft, because there are always changes that come, we're pushing hard to get all the scripts for the first season ready before we sit down and sign anything with anybody because we want them to know what they're getting into.
MX: And that we know what we're getting into. Which is more important.
GD: Yeah. That to.
MX: Because it's been my experience that television producers, especially at the broadcast level, they don't really like to take chances if left to their own volition, they... if you encourage them to take chances and let them know that they can save money and make money by taking the chances then they will. And Gary is bloody brilliant. The fiscal plan that he's come up with as far as the actual designs of the sets, the shooting schedules, everything about it. I, literally, the first five pages of the script, i'm seeing, you know, there are dollar signs up in the corner and I was used to seeing, you know, five digits. And he's, in some cases, has managed to get it down to four, three, you know. But just with things like having a character, well gosh, what's a... that character "Pepper" for instance.
MX: There's a character who has an arc throughout the episodes that... it's so subtle that you would think a great deal of money is going to be spent on it, but in reality it's being done very, very, very cheaply. But this character's arc is one that has one of the biggest pay-offs for the audience in the series, I think. It's going to be great.
GD: The other thing that was very important to me is that every single character, regardless of the amount of screen time they have, is going to be worth the effort that the actor puts in playing the part, so that, you know, we're hoping that we can come to something, that we can bring something to the actors and say "here, this is a bit of a challenge, but it's going to reward for you. And if it doesn't reward when we broadcast it, it's going to reward when we release it on DVD." Because that's the other thing that we've done, is that we've over-written by about five to ten pages, each episode. We said to the people, when I was writing and to the other people that were writing, we said, "Don't think about the time limit so much." It's frightening how often they automatically... they just have this inate understanding of the commercial break act and it comes to a resolution between ten and fourteen pages, which is wonderul. But we just said, "Don't worry about it." And I think, the highest honour (to Malcolm) that I think I've heard come from you towards it so far was something that you posted on one of the boards where you said "Any of the minor characters you would be happy to play."
MX: Oh good God, yes. I meant that a hundred and thirty nine percent.
MX: Very often I'll play a minor role in an on-going series and you know, they really make you jump through hoops for, literally a one line part, here in this country. And, you know, sometimes it's a wonderful thing, you get to work with people that you admire and that whom you would like to emulate to some degree in your own career, but other times you're dealing with somebody who is a coke addict, who doesn't know their lines and is just a rude person in every way. And they come in and they're not prepared and you're very, very, very prepared. (Referring to Gary) This bloke, he puts in as much effort as I do, as an actor, and as everybody else does. More. He's been living with the thing for so long that he... He answers all the questions that you could possibly have as a viewer and as an employee involved with the prouction. It's a great honour to be treated with some degree of respect. I think it will come through in the final product. The audience will not feel insulted, talked down to, patronized or condescended to. It's going to be wonderful.
(to a raised hand in the audience) Hello.