Yellowknife curling comedy Curlfriends, if all goes according to plan, will finish filming a full pilot episode by the end of the month.
After that, production trio Keith Robertson, Amy Lechelt and Bridget Rusk are hoping a full season of the series could follow.
In November, Curlfriends took home top prize at the Yellowknife International Film Festival (YKIFF)’s pitch competition. The team won $5,000 to kick start production, $5,000 in WAMP bucks – an amount redeemable for equipment rental from Western Arctic Moving Pictures (WAMP) – plus a bonus $250 for claiming the audience choice award.
While their windfall is a start, Robertson, the show’s director and co-writer, said they have amassed additional funding from businesses around town to fill gaps in the production budget.
Robertson, a full-time freelance filmmaker, said the pilot is the biggest budget and biggest cast he’s worked with to date.
Cast and crew will comprise a familiar lot of Yellowknife media professionals, with Pablo Saravanja and Jay Bulckaert of Artless Collective shooting the pilot; filmmaker Jen Walden as assistant director; Ptarmigan Ptheatrics contributing a number of cast members; Terry Woolf, of Lone Woolf Film and Television Production Services mentoring the sound producer; and some yet-to-be-found high school student production assistants.
Robertson calls the production “all hands on deck.”
Since the trailer’s November award, CurlFriends has garnered national attention from Canadians coast to coast to coast. Robertson said he’s heard from curling clubs from Calgary to Halifax asking how they can watch full episodes.
While the sports team TV show archetype is one that is tried and true, Rusk and Robertson note few are set in a curling rink. On top of the cast and crew, the production trio hired a curling consultant to ensure the show stays true to the sport.
“We want it to work if you don’t know anything about curling, but also for the curling community to champion it,” Robertson said. “There are moments that are for Northerners and also for curlers.”
Rusk, the show’s co-writer and who appears as main character Washington, said she thinks the attention has to do with “capturing that small town Canadian culture,” and points to popular series like Schitt’s Creek and Letterkenny as models of success. Plus “adding elements like curling, I think, maybe catches people off guard and captures their attention in a new way,” she said.
Cast and crew will spend five days filming at the end of March. After that, Robertson said he has set June as a personal deadline for editing. Once the episode takes shape, he said the team plans to pitch the pilot to different networks, including CBC Gem. Though for now, “we’re totally focused on making the pilot as good as we can,” Robertson said, explaining the materials necessary for pitching will come later.
The concept, a mockumentary style comedy, centres around three main characters:
Karen, the type-A team captain who is fiercely passionate about curling and her responsibilities as leader, even if others don’t take the game quite as seriously.
Ruth, a quirky number two who is keen to be involved and follow Karen’s lead.
Washington, new to the squad, puts less emphasis on sports culture than her curlmates.
Rusk explains that Curlfriends was born of her real life curl team with Lechelt. From idea to production, “it’s been a whirlwind,” she said.
“It’s something we’ve devoted so much time to, but also didn’t fully seem real,” Rusk said.
Last week, the cast was brought together for a full table read to give voices to the characters.
When exactly the public might get to screen the completed episode isn’t set in stone, though the team created the @curlfriendsnwt Instagram to share updates.
Robertson suggested the Yellowknife film festival as a possibility. Having an audience, he said, “that’s the magical moment of it. The jokes aren’t funny to me anymore, it will be nice to actually hear people laughing.”