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Out in the Cold

Writer/director Emily Diana Ruth tells DQ about her digital drama Cold, which is being screened as part of the Drama Series Days at the European Film Market.

A 16-year-old girl is at the centre of a tragic family mystery in Cold, a digital drama being screened at this year’s European Film Market in Berlin.

Emily Diana Ruth

The 10×12’ thriller stars Annalise Basso (pictured top) as Isla Wallis, who discovers her real father is in prison for killing the mother she never knew. Furious at this revelation, she runs away to the mining town where she was born, only to learn of a series of horrific murders that may be linked to her mother’s death.

With the help of her friend Isla, she begins to uncover the truth behind these brutal crimes. But when she is left for dead in the sub-zero wilderness, she faces a battle to survive long enough to expose a dark secret that will shatter an entire town.

The cast also includes Todd Lowe, Jim True-Frost and Marcus Johns.

Produced by New Form Digital and distributed globally by Keshet International, the series made its debut in the US on Verizon’s Go90 platform in October 2016. Keshet is screening it this week as part of the European Film Market’s Drama Series Days 2017.

Here, creator Emily Diana Ruth tells DQ about the origins of the series, how Go90 picked it up and why the its setting was key to the story’s success.

How would you describe Cold and what’s the main story?
Cold is the story of Isla, an adopted teenager who seeks out a face-to-face meeting with her birth father when she discovers that he is still alive – and in prison serving a life sentence for the murder of her mother. When she makes it to the small northern town where she was meant to grow up, she begins to question the validity of that verdict and starts unravelling a mystery that remained buried for the last decade.

What were the origins of the project?
I was given the opportunity a couple of years ago to pitch a project for New Form Digital’s second Incubator series. It was supposed to be an idea that could exist as a standalone short film but the storyline could be extrapolated for a series as well. I’ve always loved mysteries and wanted to get a chance to try that but also to create something that worked as a coming-of-age story. We made the short on a modest budget in my hometown with a bunch of my friends and family. It was a great chance to explore character and a tone before making the series.

Cold centres on a 16-year-old girl who discovers the shocking truth about her parents

When did Verizon’s go90 become involved and how did the demands of the platform change the show’s development?
I found out Verizon had given the show a series order a couple of months after it was made live on YouTube. I was thrilled but naturally a bit terrified of what was to come, knowing that all projects like this have many obstacles and not knowing what exactly they would be, having not worked on a project of this size and budget before. Making this into a series that would be rolling out week by week was the biggest challenge about this platform – it was necessary to make every episode end on somewhat of a cliffhanger to keep people coming back the next week.

How did you juggle writing, producing and directing duties?
Luckily the only job I had to do entirely on my own was the directing – I had several writers I worked with, and although I have a producer credit, I also worked with three producers who had their own team so I never had to wear too many hats.

The Wire’s Jim True-Fost is among Cold’s supporting cast

Where was the show filmed and how did you use locations to tell the story?
We filmed the show in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. I knew the location would be key in providing context for what kind of place these characters lived in and how it formed their identity. I wanted to be as true to rural Ontario life as possible, so it was important for me to shoot there. We also shot all of our reserve scenes on an actual reserve in the greater Sudbury area. This was a location that I was hell-bent on showing as authentically as possible, so we were pleased they allowed us to use their land. We also used a lot of shots of the wide sprawling woods and frozen lakes in the area to give a sense of how middle-of-nowhere this town was.

Who are the key members of the cast and how did you collaborate with them to bring their characters to life?
I got to work with an exceptional cast and I am so thankful for that. Our lead, Annalise Basso, was talented and professional beyond her years and really came through to help bring her character to life, despite very fast-moving days. Getting to work with seasoned actors like Jim True-Frost and Todd Lowe was also so exciting and I learned so much from them. I admit I was intimidated to be directing them but they were both lovely and treated me so respectfully.
Marcus Johns and Kawannahere Devery Jacobs rounded out the rest of the key cast. Marcus was somewhat new to acting on this scale but was really fun to work with and nailed his performance. I was thrilled that I was able to work with Devery, since she was always who I pictured as her character, Tina. She’s such a badass character and getting to see Tina and Isla’s friendship blossom on screen was my favourite.
Because we were filming so remotely and could only bring actors up for a limited time, our rehearsals were very brief and mostly consisted of talking though the material and the characters, and seeing what things in our personal lives we could draw upon for certain scenes. I always like to be very collaborative with my cast and invite them to bring their own versions of the character into the mix.

The show debuted on Verizon’s Go90 platform late last year

What were the biggest challenges during production and how did you overcome them?
Easily the biggest challenge was lack of time, which is often the case on these kinds of projects. We had a set number of shoot days despite an ever-more complex script. This meant our days were very packed and we had to constantly move very fast. We overcame this, or tried to, by simplifying our setups, being as economical as possible with our shot list and keeping everyone in good spirits. My assistant director Jeremy Doiron helped immeasurably with this – despite having the hardest job, he was always in a positive mood and helped me and my director of photography to lead our teams to get things done well and in time.

What are you working on next? Could Cold have a sequel or perhaps transition into a longer-running series elsewhere?
I would love to get a chance for a sequel or to make Cold into a TV show or even a film. I think most directors are never totally satisfied with their work and will usually jump at a chance to give it another swing. I love the Cold world and know I could do so much more with it. Right now I’m working on lining up my next digital project as well as writing the screenplay of what I hope will be my first feature.

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Victoria’s reign extended by ITV

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

In one of the least surprising renewal stories of the year, UK broadcaster ITV has commissioned a second series of ratings hit Victoria from Mammoth Screen. Scripted by Daisy Goodwin, the show has had an excellent first season – even managing to hold off strong competition from the BBC’s returning hit Poldark.

Series one launched in late August and is currently averaging around 7.7 million viewers, which makes it ITV’s top-performing drama of the year so far. ITV director of television, Kevin Lygo said: “Mammoth Screen and Daisy Goodwin have brought the characters so vividly to life in this series and we’re thrilled with the reception for Victoria. We’re pleased to be able to confirm Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes will return to continue the story on ITV.” Just as significantly, Goodwin will again be writing and executive producing the series.

Season one starts with the young Victoria’s coronation and explores how she becomes increasingly sure-footed in the fields of politics and diplomacy. It also looks at her close relationship with Lord Melbourne and burgeoning romance with Prince Albert, her eventual husband. As with series one, the new season will be a coproduction with PBS Masterpiece.

Goodwin added: “Even though she reigned in the 19th century, Victoria is a heroine for our times. In the next series she faces the very modern dilemma of how to juggle children with her husband and her job. As Victoria will discover, it’s hard to be a wife, a mother and ruler of the most powerful nation on earth.”

Tom Selleck in Magnum PI
Tom Selleck in Magnum PI

Mammoth Screen’s Damien Timmer, another executive producer on the show, said: “Following the audience response to Victoria, we are delighted that Jenna Coleman will be returning to her throne for a second series. The next few years of Victoria’s reign are packed full of extraordinary real-life events, with constitutional crises, scandals at court and personal challenges aplenty for the Queen and Prince Albert. God Save the Queen!”

Meanwhile, in the US, the trend towards TV drama series revivals seems to be picking up pace. After CBS launched MacGyver this week with a decent 10.9 million audience, there are now reports that ABC is lining up a spin-off series based on the 1980s classic Magnum PI, which starred Tom Selleck. Echoing another recent trend in US TV, the plan is for the show to have a female lead – with Magnum’s daughter moving to Hawaii to take over the business.

The reboot business is in full swing now with The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, 24 and Prison Break all having been revived, or coming up. The new Magnum will be written by John Rogers, whose TNT series Leverage ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2012. Rogers also created TNT’s hit scripted series The Librarians.

Still in the US, there’s good news for fans of Atlanta, the new comedy from Donald Glover that airs on FX. The network has just announced a second season. It has also revealed that it is returning Better Things, another comedy that has been performing well. “It’s really gratifying to launch two new comedies that have received overwhelming critical acclaim right out of the gate and that are emblematic of FX’s award-winning brand,” said Nick Grad and Eric Schrier, heads of original programming for FX Networks and FX Productions. “It is clear to us Atlanta and Better Things have struck a nerve with viewers.”

Donald Glover's Atlanta will return to FX
Donald Glover’s Atlanta will return to FX

Atlanta follows two young, black cousins as they try to make it rich out of rap. International buyers will get to see what the fuss is about when Fox brings the show to the Mipcom market in Cannes next month as part of its slate. Better Things is co-created by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. Adlon plays Sam, a woman trying to raise her three daughters, while also attempting to hold down a career in Hollywood. Still with Fox’s international ambition, the distribution arm of Fox Networks Group is also heading to Mipcom with Ron Howard’s forthcoming space epic Mars. The six-part series, about a fictitious mission to colonise the red planet in 2033, will receive its world premiere in Cannes ahead of its debut on National Geographic later this year.

Also in the US, The CW is developing a new supernatural series called Stick Man with Cameron Prosandeh (Helix) and Tim Kring (Heroes). Stick Man is about an amateur documentarian who returns to her hometown to chronicle the events of her brother’s murder and the ensuing trial. While there, she discovers evidence linking her brother’s death to supernatural events.

Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland
Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland

There was also more evidence this week of Netflix’s considerable clout in the international rights market following news that it has secured international streaming rights (excluding North America) to ABC drama Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland. The deal was done with rights holder Entertainment One (eOne). Last month, Netflix also secured the rights to CBS’s highly anticipated new iteration of Star Trek, which is coming some time in 2017.

In one of the week’s more intriguing commissions, Verizon has greenlit a political comedy for its streaming service Go90. Executive produced by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the 6×30′ show is called Embeds. It explores five reporters covering the US presidential election and has been created by Scott Conroy and Peter Hamby. Go90also also recently commissioned a live-action series inspired by the Battlefield video game franchise.

Back in the UK, Scottish producer Synchronicity Films is developing a crime thriller based on Graeme Macrae Burnet novel His Bloody Project. The book, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, explores the sanity of a teenager convicted of a brutal triple murder in 1869 in a remote Scottish crofting community. Early discussions are underway with a major UK broadcaster, with screenwriters currently being considered.”

Claire Mundell, creative director at Synchronicity, said: “We are delighted to have discovered this wonderful novel on our own doorstep. It’s also great to work with an indie publisher [Saraband Imprint Contraband] that believes in backing undiscovered talent as much as we do.”

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