NSI Totally Television phase 2 teams on their learning experience during COVID

Eva Thomas, Darren Anthony, Eva Colmers and Gordie Lucius

Back in July 2020, the creators of TV series concepts Dwayne Has Issues and Lupita advanced to phase two of the NSI Totally Television training program, presented by the National Screen Institute in association with Bell Media.

During phase 2, Eva Thomas and Darren Anthony (pictured top) and Eva Colmers and Gordie Lucius (pictured bottom) continued to polish their TV projects with the support of industry mentors.

In addition, a three-day intensive boot camp was delivered online to provide teams with customized guidance and mentorship as they prepared to attend an online edition of Content London in December.

Before they flew the NSI nest at the tail-end of 2020, we asked them to tell us about their experiences.

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Eva Colmers | Producer, Lupita

Phase 1 of NSI Totally Television provided Gordie Lucius and me with great insights into presenting and pitching our series and we made good initial contacts. Our series about a charming, spunky Filipino care worker found its way into many people’s hearts and, naively, we thought we are pretty close …

Phase 2 was eye-opening! We saw more broadcaster and market perspectives. And information, talks or case studies seemed to have been selected to address the specific needs of our series and team.

During one-on-one meetings, honest and more precise conversations had room to develop. Building ongoing relationships with media executives is indeed hugely important and I realized how they genuinely hope to hear good pitches and want you to do well.

As the successful delivery of a series is the ultimate goal, it became a priority for me as the producer to team up with a production partner with series experience that believes in our series as much as we do.

I had high hopes for meeting ‘important’ decision makers during Content London. However, going virtual this year, the conference also decided to cut the fantastic pitch opportunities. But – if I learned one thing during this crazy COVID year – there are always different, new ways to do things.

The dedicated, super-responsive NSI staff of Joy Loewen, Liz Janzen and Julie Di Cresce were amazing in creating their own unique ways to help us connect with potential production partners.

Perhaps COVID contributed to a more personalized NSI experience for us. Actually, Gordie and I found meetings and pitches via Zoom less intimidating than sitting across a table in the boardroom. Or perhaps, executives had a bit more time to listen and enjoy our conversation.

This year, an added benefit was the script break-down and budget exercise by an experienced producer – a hugely valuable and sobering financial reality-check.

During all this, writer Gordie and I grew as a team and I only grew in my respect for his creativity, unique humour and voice. We’re not quite there yet, Gordie …. but getting closer.

Undoubtedly, we couldn’t have made it this far without NSI’s guidance, support, wisdom and belief in our Lupita series and our team. So grateful and proud to now be an NSI alumna of this hands-on, powerful training program. Thank you! – Salamat! – Dankeschön!

Gordie Lucius | Writer, Lupita

Gordie Lucius

I have never experienced anything like the NSI Totally Television program before. Sure I have attended a weekend booty boot camp to sculpt my butt once or twice, but nothing has kicked my ass harder than what I learned coming out of both phases of this boot camp.

I think the deeper and deeper we went with this project and NSI Totally Television the more real the project became. With every meeting, tip, case study or budget exercise I could see a clearer picture of how to bring our script to reality.

In the beginning we had a script and a dream to make it, and in the end I believe we have the know-how to make this dream really come true.

Excuse my sap in that last paragraph, I am aware I am a sappy sapperson BUT it’s true! Going through the second phase of NSI Totally Television really gave us the tools to push to the next level.

The meetings were more intimate, even more focused from the first phase, and really helped solidify the steps we need to take to move forward.

In regards to this second phase I think it helped us most in figuring out who we talk to next, how we get funding for this show, how we build a levelled approach to get broadcasters interested, and how to approach production companies.

Every little thing ties back to, how do we make this show a legitimate reality? Starting back in October 2020, we took a little budgeting workshop with the lovely producer Rhonda Baker which made me realize two things: (1) television budgets are full of little nooks and crannies you would really, absolutely never think of; and (2) I never want to be a line producer in my goddamned life. So I would like to give a shout out to all the line producers out there and thank you for the stand up job y’all are doing out there.

Also I forgot to mention, this all happened in a freaking pandemic.

As surreal as it is, back in March 2020 just before everything went down, we all met for phase 1 training in Toronto and, as the months passed, I wondered how they would achieve a similar experience online. Well, spoiler alert, they absolutely did.

At first I thought that doing all this over Zoom was going to be a complete slog and I wouldn’t retain as much as I would in person. But I was wrong. I came out every day just as excited about what I had learned about and from meeting all these awesome folks in the industry.

I thank Julie and Liz for truly setting up a great slate of diverse talks and workshops, as well as for keeping the floor open which made the meetings seem more intimate. Though some things would have been awesome in person, I think NSI really pulled off a great experience for phase 2.

Speaking of different experiences, Content London On Demand surely was different. With an amazing array of panels and talks, it was an endless buffet of industry information and knowledge. But with the inability to meet in person and make those connections, create those memories and long-lasting, hilariously-usually-embarrassing first impressions, we found it difficult to connect. However, NSI made sure our projects were heard. NSI has our backs no matter what and it has been amazing to work so close with them this past year.

They will help you at every step and will truly take their time to find out the best way to make your story come to life. Though Content London, due to our vastly different world, was definitely not what it was in the past, I take solace and am full of appreciation of how NSI takes care of their alumni. They really do go above and beyond and with that I thank NSI for this amazing ride we’ve been on for the past year. It is far from over, but I know I can reach out anytime and I will be heard, and there is something very special about that.

Darren Anthony | Writer, Dwayne Has Issues

Darren Anthony

It’s a bit tough to completely describe phase 2 of the NSI Totally Television boot camp because there were so many valuable parts. The most useful part was the frank discussion about US/Canada co-production models and how we can take advantage of this model to get our shows to the global market. Another meaningful area was having the showrunners talk about their own experiences working with broadcasters.

Our budget exercise with producer Rhonda Baker was exceptional. She reviewed our pilot then created a budget for the pilot. Of course, an experience like that will impact our pilot considerably and we are very thankful.

I can’t think of another opportunity where we would get first-hand knowledge and a clear understanding of what it takes to create a budget for a half-hour series.

One of our goals was to be selected as one of the final teams to attend Content London. We worked tirelessly to achieve that goal. When we finally received word that we would be moving to the final phase and selected to attend Content London, we were thrilled!

Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans … we were disappointed that we could not physically attend the conference but we are lucky enough to have participated virtually. The virtual sessions we did attend have been helpful to give us a better understanding of the global marketplace.

The training we received throughout NSI Totally Television was nothing short of excellent. It supported us in multiple ways, the most significant being the support we received through developing our TV series, mentorship, and direct industry and broadcaster contacts.

I would also like to add that we really appreciate NSI bringing in different mentors and industry movers and shakers of colour. It made an impact and truly inspired me. It’s always helpful to see people like yourself in the industry doing what you want to do at a high level.

I have three words that describe my overall thoughts on the NSI Totally Television program:

1. Exceptional – the lessons I’ve learned from the NSI Totally Television program have been career-altering.

2. Intense – the workload and demands have challenged me to be a better and more well-rounded creative and producer.

3. Transformative – I came into the program with a sense of who I was as a creative but I leave with a clear sense of who I am and what I’m capable of doing as a creative and producer. I just completed the program and I’m already working in the film and television industry, and I continue to evolve as a storyteller. Before starting the program I did not even have a potential broadcaster, now I have a development deal with a major broadcaster!

Eva Thomas | Producer, Dwayne Has Issues

Eva Thomas

It was just over a year ago when Darren and I applied for the NSI Totally Television program. Darren had written a great pilot for Dwayne Has Issues and I worked with him on the script for several months before we applied. We were fortunate enough to be accepted to the program and fast-forward to one year later and now we have a development deal.

The turbo-speed trajectory of this project was made possible by our participation in NSI Totally Television and the good people who support the program.

Over this past year, we were introduced to industry players who shared their knowledge. It was a beautiful example of the experienced people in the industry giving back to the next generation of creatives. Their stories of development allowed us to see that our path was possible. It was remarkable how honest the speakers were about their projects and we got to learn from their examples.

In phase 2, we also had an in-depth budget session with experienced producer Rhonda Baker who walked us through a budget exercise so we could see all the elements of the budget. This was a fantastic session because it really got us to consider all the pieces required to make the pilot.

And then there was Content London.

We were really looking forward to crossing the pond to participate in the TV market in London.  Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we participated in the online version this year. However, we were still exposed to information sessions that expanded our understanding of the global marketplace and it came at just the right time for us when we were having conversations about partnerships and financing.

Despite COVID-19 moving NSI Totally Television to an online forum, we still moved the project forward. We still met with industry movers and shakers. We took meticulous notes from the experienced producers in the room which gave us the confidence to pitch. And we pitched once and we were successful! That is the power of the program, it gave us the tools we needed to thrive.

This program has shaped us as writers, producers and business people. I felt really supported in the program and the info sessions really expanded my knowledge of the industry and what it takes to launch a TV series.

Participating in this program also allowed Darren and I to develop a stronger working relationship and forced us to have important conversations about the vision for the project.

Thank you NSI for your support and thank you to every speaker who came to share their knowledge: your time and generosity has nourished the project and us in so many ways.

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NSI Totally Television is made possible by Presenting Sponsor Bell Media; Program Partner Telefilm Canada; and Supporting Sponsors Super Channel, Corus Entertainment and CBC Gem; Provincial Sponsor Creative BC through the Daryl Duke and William Vince Scholarship Fund. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

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