Son of a Critch part of bustling East Coast production scene

Producers behind the Newfoundland and Labrador-shot CBC series and the pubcaster's Nova Scotia-filmed Diggstown say crew levels are tight amid increased production volume.

Development of the new CBC series Son of a Critch was swift once it was greenlit, say co-creators, writers and executive producers Mark Critch and Tim McAuliffe. But finding a crew to shoot it in Newfoundland and Labrador last summer wasn’t as easy.

Son of a Critch, which premiered on Jan. 4, is a co-production between Schitt’s Creek producer Andrew Barnsley’s Toronto-based Project 10 Productions and Newfoundland-based Take the Shot Productions in association with CBC and Lionsgate Television. The family comedy was among several big projects shooting the region at the time, resulting in big projections for the current fiscal year.

Critch, whose memoir about growing up in the province inspired the show, tells Playback Daily it was a challenge finding crews who weren’t already working on other productions, including Citytv’s Hudson & Rex, Disney’s upcoming live-action film Peter Pan & Wendy and the upcoming Syfy/Crave series Astrid & Lilly Save the World.

“For a small place, it really does hit above its weight for TV and film production,” says the star of CBC’s Halifax-shot sketch series This Hour Has 22 Minutes, who plays his father in Son of a Critch. “A lot of people who were working on our show on the crew, it was maybe their first or second time working in the industry, so a lot of new people coming in, which was great to see.”

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation’s (NLFDC) annual report for fiscal year 2020-21, it was “a strong year for production activity” despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with $52 million in film and television activity in the province. That’s compared to $32 million in 2019-20.

The report says the fiscal year running April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 saw some milestones for the local industry credited to “local logistics and co-operation.” Fall 2020 was the first time two major TV series were shot in the province at the same time: Hudson & Rex, Shaftesbury and Pope Productions, in association with Citytv and Beta Film GmbH; and SurrealEstate, Blue Ice Pictures in association with Bell Media and Syfy. Last summer/early fall also saw several productions shot, including the feature film Sweetland (Sara Fost Pictures) from producer Allison White and director-writer Christian Sparkes.

“I think that we’re on track to double the industry in a 12-month period, (depending on) how that lands over fiscal years,” says Dorian Rowe, NLFDC’s executive director and film commissioner, about projections for the current fiscal year.

Rowe credits provincial government investments and a thriving sector across Canada. The provincial budget for 2021 included a total of $10 million available for the NLFDC Equity Investment Fund and film industry tax credit for local film and television productions, compared to $4 million in equity the previous year.

Rowe says the Disney film experience was unusual given the region typically doesn’t get many pure service productions like it. The NLFDC worked with the U.S. media giant to bring in their teams and figure out whether they had to quarantine due to the pandemic, which ultimately they didn’t have to.

“The Disney thing was really interesting, because it was like the art of the possible for us in terms of: ‘Here’s a studio coming in and it’s a location-driven thing,’” says Rowe. “I hope, among studios and those kinds of people who are looking for new locations, that that got some buzz, and hopefully when the film comes out, it’ll only increase.”

Critch says his new series took off when he and McAuliffe (The Office) got Barnsley onboard and pitched it to CBC at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival in 2019.

The series is also executive produced by Barnsley, Ben Murray and Allan Hawco, whose Take the Shot is behind SurrealEstate as well as previous N.L.-filmed series Frontier and Republic of Doyle. Renuka Jeyapalan, who directed the first four episodes, and Anita Kapila serve as co-executive producers.

Lionsgate signed on to handle U.S. and international distribution rights early on after already having a relationship with Barnsley, says McAuliffe, who is now working with Lionsgate on a separate project.

COVID-19 “was very light in Newfoundland” come film time, so it was an “ideal place to shoot,” says McAuliffe.

Another Atlantic province is also seeing bustling crews: Nova Scotia.

According to Screen Nova Scotia’s expected numbers for the current fiscal, the aggregate provincial production expenditure for 2021-22 is $180,797,898, compared to $91,609,355 for fiscal 2020-21 and $78,164,330 for 2019-20.

Floyd Kane, creator and showrunner of CBC’s Nova Scotia-shot legal drama Diggstown (Circle Blue Entertainment, Freddie Films, Waterstar Entertainment), says the recently ended third season shot there last May at the same time as CBC’s Moonshine, NBC’s The Sinner and the upcoming Epix Studios/MGM International Television Productions series From.

The Diggstown set decoration department went straight from that set to Moonshine, while some Diggstown carpenters promptly went from that show to From, he says.

“In a place like Nova Scotia, if you have five shows happening at once, unless people are bringing their own crews in, you’re just rubbing up against the edges of capacity,” he says.

Kane has been involved in Nova Scotia’s production scene since the early 2000s and says it’s always had a robust production services industry with U.S. projects filming there.

When the Nova Scotia government ended its film industry tax credit in 2015 and changed it to the Nova Scotia Film & Television Production Incentive Fund, “the bottom fell out of a lot of production, because American (studios) don’t like uncertainty,” says Kane. Younger crew workers just getting their start in the industry started leaving, resulting in few crews at the time, says Kane.

“There was a period of time where the production services industry was threatening to dry up,” says Kane. “But then once everybody understood how the rebate worked and what the rebate actually is — in terms of the amount of money that you’re getting back, you’re in the same ballpark — I think that’s when the business started to come back.”

The bounce-back was aided by a boost in the incentive fund, which started with a $10 million budget when it launched in 2015, but increased to $48.6 million for the fiscal 2021 year.

Kane says crew shortages are felt across the board, as production — particularly service production — remains robust in various provinces, also including Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

“What I’m hearing is that they’re actually bringing people from Nova Scotia to Ontario,” he says.

“I think in terms of the production itself, we’re going to see that growth continue in Nova Scotia in the same way we’re seeing it continuing in Ontario and Vancouver, because the (international) streamers are in this feeding frenzy for content right now. And until that settles out — until we get to the bottom of the streaming wars where basically the three or four services that are going to survive — the crews and the producers who are working are going to end up becoming the beneficiaries of this current time that we’re in.”

Photo courtesy of CBC