Just as a huge number of visual artists are fleeing the province thanks to the Wall government’s idiotic decision to axe the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC), a new national award comes along to remind us of the talent that, until to a few months ago, called Saskatchewan home. Sigh.
The first ever Canadian Screen Awards features nominations for three Saskatchewan-based TV productions: Hell on Hooves (Best Writing, Best Lifestyle Program or Series), Dust Up (Best Original Music for a Non Fiction Program or Series), and Wapos Bay: Long Goodbyes (Best Writing in a Children’s Program or Series).
BYE BYE BAY
Wapos Bay (APTN), a stop-motion animated program that ran for five seasons, was made entirely in the province with local talent (it took ten animators to get ten seconds of footage per day).The show was anchored by three kids growing up in a remote Cree community in northern Saskatchewan. Even though children made up the target audience, it had an unmistakable edge — often around balancing tradition with modern life — that made it appealing to adults. Among other feats, the show lured Mike Holmes, Jordin Tootoo and Lee Majors (The Million Dollar Man himself!) to guest star.
While it’s still possible to find reruns of Wapos Bay on APTN, the show ceased production in 2011, and Long Goodbyes became the series finale. Built as a stand-alone film, Long Goodbyes follows T-Bear, Talon and Raven as they either prepare to move to the big city, or try to prevent the relocation. As if the episode wasn’t poignant enough, it marked the final screen project for the late Gordon Tootoosis.
“Gordon passed away before we could record the Cree dialogue,” says writer/producer Melanie Jackson. “He thought Wapos Bay was one of the best things that could be done for the community, to further the creative side of aboriginal people and showcase that.”
These days, Melanie Jackson and showrunner Dennis Jackson — her husband and creative partner — are working on the second season of Guardians: Evolution, another stop-motion enterprise, this time set in a post-apocalyptic future. It’s very likely that with the elimination of the SFETC, they’ll have to move their operation outside the province.
“We’ll be able to produce more shows, but not here,” says Dennis. “In order to qualify for a tax credit, we’ll have to hire local people [somewhere else].”
“The tax credit was something we were able to access because we wanted to employ Saskatchewan artists,” adds Melanie. “We got our certificates in place for two seasons of Guardians: Evolution before the deadline, but it wasn’t enough. We lost 25 per cent of our crew before we went to camera — they left the industry or left the province. We had to secure financing through co-production with Nova Scotia. All the editing is being done there.” Jackson also says the new Creative Saskatchewan grant is far too low. “$60,000 isn’t even ten per cent of an animation budget.”
Even though the likelihood of revisiting Wapos Bay is remote, the Jacksons have kept the puppets and the sets. There are plenty of stories to tell, Dennis believes.
“We always looked at current events in the aboriginal world, and there’s no bigger one than the Idle No More movement. It would’ve been a good story for Kokhum Mary to undertake!”
If you ever thought of bull-riding as a fairly simple discipline, Hell on Hooves (RadX) will set you straight. The show follows a group of cowboys on tour as they compete to become the next Canadian champion. Hell on Hooves addresses not only the strategies and risks involved in beating the eight-second mark, but also training and life on the road.
Producer Dennis Hrapchak says that just like DeadliestCatch or Ice Road Truckers, much of the charm of Hell on Hooves comes from the individuals the show follows.
“They do the same thing every season, but it’s the way they go about it. The audience likes to watch how these people evolve in their careers. For example, we’ve followed Tyler Thompson for four seasons. He’s been a major player, and now is at the back end of his career. We do tweaks here and there, but there’s a surplus of content.”
Despite the popularity of the show, Hell on Hooves will be leaving the province thanks to the end of the employment tax credit.
“If I get another season of the program, it will be done from Alberta,” says Hrapchak, who also believes the Creative Saskatchewan grant is thoroughly insufficient.
The fifth season of Hell on Hooves will debut in the spring.
EAT MY DUST
Reality show Dust Up (History Television) definitely comes across as the ultimate prairies TV show. The stars are three crop-dusters based in Nipawin — related by blood, but separated by family tension and business practices. The cutthroat behaviour is peppered with pilots doing the dusting at 200 kilometers per hour, five feet above the ground. Composer and Saskatchewan native Jay Semko (Due South) was tasked with scoring the tension-heavy six-part series, and according to the Canadian Academy, he delivered.
“My job as a composer is to enhance the action on the screen, so we agreed on ground rules: When the guys are in the air, they rock; when they’re on the ground, we use organic instruments,” says Semko. “Of the three pilots, one guy was more like southern rock, while the other was more Black Keys or White Stripes. The older guy, he rocked too, but in a surf rock kind of way, like modern Ventures.”
Semko expects to be affected by the elimination of the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit, even if only indirectly.
“For Dust Up, it helped that I was located in Saskatchewan, at least to get the call in the first place. I have a lot of friends in the industry who have left or are making plans to move out. Being a musician for most of my adult life, I’m aware sometimes you have to go where things are.”
The Canadian Screen Awards is a creation of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. The result of a merger between the Gemini (television) and Genie (film) Awards, the CSAs will also reward the best of the year in digital media. Prizes will be handed through next week, but the main event will take place on March 3rd. CBC will broadcast the gala, with Martin Short as host.