Wednesday, July 26, 2006

From Brighton to big time

Former ENSS student is the youngest creator/executive producer/director of a drama in CBC history
by Adam Huras The Independent
Now a long way from the halls of East Northumberland Secondary School, he is the youngest creator/ executive producer/director of a drama in CBC history.
James Wilkes, the former Brightonian and ENSS grad, is now 32 years old and riding the success of his 22 episode prime-time series entitled “11 Cameras”.
“I came from the commercial world and I first did really well as an advertising creative and then creative director,” said Mr. Wilkes. “I then became a commercial director but I wanted to tell longer stories so I took an insane pay cut to go and start to make longer things.”
That was two years ago, and while some called him crazy at the time, it has definitely worked out for the best.
Mr. Wilkes and co-creator, business partner and bestfriend Jeff Spriet pitched the idea for “11 Cameras,” aiming for a spot on CBC’s daytime line-up. The 11 minute demo was received well, but was given a prime time slot instead of its day time intended audience and a go ahead for the pilot to begin filming in March.
The series follows the lives of six groups of people, told entirely from the point of view of webcams. The sitcom is described on its website as “a voyeuristic look at human relationships…told through the language of webcams and computer desktops.” The show touches on themes of love, sex, loneliness, fear, money woes, longing, adultery and jealousy as well.
“The show was inspired by the relationship my wife has with her family via webcam in Korea; and Jeff’s wife’s love of listening to other people’s conversations,” said Mr. Wilkes jokingly. “The show is a classic soap, but we use the language of web cameras.”
The two share the title of creators and executive producers while Mr. Wilkes has directed four as well as the re-shoots for all 22 episodes.
The two have worked as a creative team since the mid ’90’s when they met each other while working at Taxi Advertising and Design. Picked up after Ontario College of Art and Design school by Paul Lavoie, co-founder of Taxi and the man responsible for the creation of Viagra and Telus television ads, Mr. Wilkes learned the ropes.
Mr. Wilkes then left to work on various projects around the world but wound up coming back and pairing up with Mr. Spriet to accomplish bigger projects.
Wanting more than 30 seconds to tell their stories, they created a company called ‘Chokolat’.
In their brief three year history, they have created reality shows that have been optioned by Warner Brothers, Court TV and New Line, created and wrote an animated comedy property for Teletoon, and completed a feature documentary called “Auto Destruct: One Man’s Obsession with William Shatner.” Their ‘big break’ into the business was the direction of a documentary series called “Full Ride” for ESPN.
“Now we have a whole bunch of stuff coming down the line in Canada which is exciting and amazing, but our first big hit was for ESPN,” said Mr. Wilkes. “I think the main reason it was hard to break out in Canada was because there is not as much money here and it’s sort of a risk-averse culture at all the networks. When it comes down to it, Global and CTV are happy to run American stuff but they have to run Canadian stuff so for those they go to people with longstanding relationships.”
While most would think that the production of a 22 episode prime-time show on CBC would be enough on their plate, the two also have two documentaries, a cartoon, two reality shows based on music, a teen drama and a horror and crime drama in the works.
Currently living in downtown Toronto, Mr. Wilkes says it’s not really “living,” with his busy travel schedule. This year alone he has shot two and a half months outside of Canada and a month and a half outside of the United States, on location in Mexico and Europe. Mr. Wilkes also has a new reality show on the go which he will be shooting in Japan in the fall.
Shot in Toronto in what was an old Canadian Tire store, the project featured 60 cast members and 35 sets. The show cost close to $2 million to shoot.
“It literally looked like a gateway to hell when we started out, but then after they built all the sets it looked amazing,” said Mr. Wilkes. “The show takes place anywhere from Iraq to India to all these other places where people are having relationships all over the world.”
ENSS graduates Dan Turcotte and Adam Warner also do the music for the show as well as all the music for Mr. Wilkes other shows and commercials. The three are proud of their local roots and the school they came from.
“We had a good foundation of really great families at home and we had really really good teachers that stood out and made a difference,” said Mr. Wilkes. “For me Jeff Girdlestone and Gerald Banting, those guys indulged our unique view on life.”
Mr. Wilkes still comes to Brighton to visit his parents and was recently home for his brother’s marriage.
The series has been airing since June 28, Wednesday and Thursday on CBC at 7:30 p.m. with a repeat airing at 11:30 p.m. Two new episodes air every week.
“The show is doing really well and has received great reviews,” said Mr. Wilkes. “Our audience is going up about 20 per cent per episode which we’re happy to see.”


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