How to make a TV show in the age of Netflix — and keep writers in Vancouver
Vancouver and Irish film production companies team up to make The Gulliver Curse, a series they hope will appeal to an international audience
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If it gets produced, The Gulliver Curse could employ 500 people, 100 of them in Vancouver in post-production and visual effects work.
But first, Vancouver television production company Omnifilm and writer Simon Barry must craft a pilot script that will hook broadcasters and investors. And those players won’t buy into the show unless they’re convinced that the action and adventure fantasy story based on Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift in 1726, will appeal to an international audience.
“Now that people can watch whenever they want and on whatever platform, the content we have to develop and produce has to pop,” said Brian Hamilton, principal and executive producer of Omnifilm. “It has to immediately grab one’s curiosity because there are so many choices.”
Vancouver’s film sector is booming, and the region is playing host to dozens of American productions that have been conceived of and written in Los Angeles. But Hamilton and Barry say their project is an example of the kind of internationally-focused production that could bring more sustainability to Vancouver’s local industry.
“The goal is to make opportunities for more writers here so they don’t have to leave and go to Toronto or L.A.,” Barry said.
“Being able to have an industry that is self-sufficient in Vancouver would be a wonderful thing for a lot of people.”
The Gulliver Curse got its start as a pilot script and series overview written by Steven de Souza, a television and film writer whose credits include the 1988 movie Die Hard. Omnifilm bought the idea and brought Barry on board to rewrite the script. Omnifilm has partnered with an Irish film and TV production company, Subotica, which would film the series in Ireland. The post-production work would get done in Vancouver.
The script development work is being partly funded with money from Creative BC a provincial entity that supports the film, animation, music and publishing sectors. The project is the first international co-production funded by the agency, and based on the success of the show, Creative BC says it may set up a fund devoted solely to such partnerships.
Writers are the heart and soul of a television series; the job of the head writer, called a showrunner, is more like the job of writer, director and producer combined. That person is responsible for shepherding the creative vision of the show and is supported by a team of writers who work on individual episodes.
While many Vancouver writers leave to work in other centres of TV and film production, Barry said he’s a rarity: he’s a Vancouverite who moved back to B.C. in 2005 after working in Los Angeles for many years. He created the Canadian sci-fi series Continuum and was the showrunner for the Syfy series Van Helsing. He hired between four and six local writers for both of those shows.
“There is a constant brain drain of people who are ambitious and talented towards other centres of film and television production,” Hamilton said.
“One of my ongoing priorities is to maintain and build the talent pool of writers here in Vancouver. It’s a huge priority for the entire producing community to provide and offer more projects and opportunities.”