North of 60 Interview: Jordy Randall

We've only ever gotten a brief glimpse of him onscreen (as a legislative assistant
in "Trial by Fire"), but Jordy Randall has been an integral part of "North of 60" for
years. Joining the show as an assistant to the producers, he is now a producer
himself, of both "North of 60" and the latest Alberta Filmworks series, "Tom Stone."

(There are minor spoilers for "Another Country" in the section by that name.)

What a producer does

PW: For the record, your official title is...?

JR: Producer.

PW: You used to be associate producer, right?

JR: I was associate producer for the last couple of movies, yep, and producer now. This one ["Another Country"] comes after "Tom Stone," which I produce, so it's kind of a natural progression.

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PW: Could you talk a bit about what a producer does? I think a lot of people wonder about that, and also I know it can vary from show to show.

JR: Sure, and from country to country. It's a wonderful job because you get to do all sides of things. But what people might not know is that we're there when you first create the idea. When you first sit down at the table on "North of 60," for example, and people sit around the table with a blank sheet of paper and we start with what our characters are going to do in this movie. We love our characters, and we know what they can do. It's like, okay, we have to make up a story that's going to work for a movie. So that's one part of things.

PW: You've been with the show since when?

JR: Season 5. 1996.

PW: So you have a good grasp of the characters by now.

JR: Yeah, and I've spent so much time watching the first seasons and living and breathing the series to really be able to do my job. All the fans of the show have watched every episode, so I need to have done that, too!

PW: So you and the other producers, Tom Cox and Doug MacLeod...

JR: We'll sit around with the writer--in this case Andrew [Wreggitt] and Peter [Lauterman]--and we'll come up with an idea. So that's one side of things--the creative track. Coming to an idea, and then a page, and then an outline, and then a script, and working through all that.

On the other side, we have the financing. So we'll work out the financing. How much is it going to cost to make this movie, how do we raise the money. So we'll raise the money and do that. Then there's the hiring of the crew, picking a director, hiring all the people we're going to need to make the show happen.

And then you take that through to the production. We man the production by being out here, making sure it all stays on track and gets us the movie we need. And then we go and we work with the editor to edit the final picture. Go work with the sound people to bring the sound and the music and the pictures together till we have the final production.

And then we're there through the publicizing of it, working with Fran [Humphreys] to launch publicity around the airdate. So you're taking it to the nth degree while making sure the distributor has everything they need to sell the project all around the world. So really any part of the production that's happening, we've been involved at some point.

PW: Is one of the three of you on set all the time there's filming?

JR: Usually. There won't be a producer on the set every minute. We hire the people that we know can do the job, because we have other things going on and you can't be here all the time. But there's one of us here every day at some point.

Financing "North of 60"

PW: Could you talk a little bit about the financing of "North of 60"? That isn't usually the world's most exciting subject, but it's been an important issue with Canadian shows in general and this show in particular. I know things work a little differently up here. You probably don't want to go through the whole gory story, but I believe that toward the end of the series, when Telefilm Canada was only funding five seasons of any given television series, their funding was going away, and I think the province of Alberta was pulling its incentives for film and TV production around the same time. So you folks really got caught in the crossfire, even though you would have loved to keep the series going, right?

JR: Yeah, I think in any other market, the series would have lasted ten years. Who knows? This is our tenth year. If people are still watching the movies, they would have watched the series. So, that was it--it came apart for financial reasons. The problem you have when you have a country that's only 30 million people is the ad revenues for airing the show don't generate enough money to actually do it. The great thing about our country is we're investing in our programming so Canadians can see Canadian programming, because our population doesn't pay for it.

PW: You have much more government funding of television than we do.

JR: In the States you don't need it, because if CBS licenses a movie, they can make ad revenues way more than they'd ever pay for the movie, so it covers the cost. Here, it's not that easy.

PW: The way you got the sixth season, I believe, was that you convinced Telefilm to call it part of the fifth season and pay for more episodes that way. So that's how you kept things going for another year of the series, correct?

JR: Yeah, it was a fifth season. It aired as a sixth season, but in production it was a long fifth season. It happened within one fiscal year.

PW: How have you been getting the money for the movies?

JR: Well, because Telefilm's rules on the number of years to fund a series are no longer applicable when you do a movie, it's not the same thing.

PW: Ah, so you can reapply for each movie?

JR: Yep. So now all of our movies have had Telefilm money. To their credit, Telefilm has been extremely supportive of the show. They had their own rules, and I think they would have liked not to cancel the show, but it was their own rules. Now they've actually changed the rules. So if "North of 60" were to go [on the air] now, it wouldn't be capped at five years.

PW: So now if they feel that a series deserves to continue, they'll keep helping with the funding?

JR: If people are watching it, if the ratings are there, if it's a successful show, then it can go on.

PW: But Telefilm is only one component of your funding, isn't it?

JR: Yeah. You need all your components. But Telefilm is the only one that had a restriction on the number of years. So that's now out the window. It's up to the broadcaster. If the broadcaster is having the ratings, they can go on as long as they want. So yes, "North of 60" just sort of happened at a pitfall where Telefilm and Alberta did it, and that was the end.

PW: Very unfortunate.

JR: Yeah, it was very unfortunate. But we've had four movies, and the Alberta government is now back in the game, so they've also participated.

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PW: Oh, they're funding again?

JR: That's what's allowed us to do these movies. They have an incentive program again. It went away for a couple of years and came back in a very different format, but it still has the net result of contributing to our budgets.

PW: Has that been true of all the movies?

JR: It applied to all of the movies except the first one. The first one, we had to figure out a way to do it without Alberta, and then from then on we've had Alberta. So they've been integral in making sure that the "North of 60" movies have been able to continue.

PW: Okay, s you get money from Telefilm and Alberta. And then CBC pays you a fee?

JR: Yep, CBC will pay their license fee, the Canadian Television Fund has a license fee top-up, Telefilm kicks in some money, the Alberta government, then there's a federal tax credit and a distribution advance for foreign sales.

PW: That's pretty complicated! Can you briefly explain the difference between Telefilm Canada and the Canadian Television Fund?

JR: Basically, the Canadian Television Fund is an umbrella [organization] for supporting Canadian production. One arm of it is Telefilm, which is equity investment, and the other arm of it is a license fee program, which basically adds to your license fee. So the amount of money you're being paid by the broadcaster is subsidized by the license fee program.

PW: Whose licensing are we talking about?

JR: Well, the CBC will give us a license for x amount of dollars; that's revenue. Then the Canadian Television Fund license fee program in a roundabout way contributes money in the same form as the license. The Telefilm money is equity; Telefilm owns a percentage of the back end because they've committed money as equity.

PW: Ah, okay, so they actually get a percentage of the revenues generated by the movie.

JR: Yep, it's revenue.

PW: So you're getting various types of government funding.

JR: Yeah.

PW: Is there any private funding?

JR: The private money is the advance we're paid on distribution sales.

PW: By Alliance Atlantis?

JR: By Alliance, 'cuz then they'll go out and sell the program around the world.

PW: Have the movies been sold into other countries?

JR: Oh god, yeah. The older the movies, the more countries they've sold in, because they've had more time to sell. "In the Blue Ground" is in all kinds of countries--Spain, Germany, the entire range of things.

PW: Well, thanks for taking time to explain about the financing, because it's confusing even to Canadians--and even more so to those of us in the States who aren't familiar with how things work up here. People are constantly wondering why the series went off the air, and I wanted to provide some accurate information about that.

"Another Country"

PW: Well, let's move to the present. Do you want to fill everyone in on "Another Country"?

JR: This is a great show. It's the first time we've really pushed the boundaries in a large degree to go into the city, to go out of Lynx River and be in a big city. We've seen it in various episodes, but this is really getting into it. The audience arrives in Lynx River to see the town considering another resource deal. Teevee again is in the middle of it.

PW: What else is new! [laughs]

JR: [laughing] Yeah, I know that won't be a surprise to anybody! The town is considering an offer and Teevee is in the middle of it, but things are going very well. He's asked to present his point of view at a conference in Calgary.

PW: So it's almost a done deal?

JR: It's almost a done deal. Most of the other areas around Lynx River have already signed off on it.

PW: And I think it's a water deal this time, not gas or oil?

JR: Yeah, it's a hydro deal, figuring out a way to provide California with more power from the north.

PW: Oh, sorry. [laughs] Are we the bad guys?

JR: Wellll....not so much. There's a lot going on. But you'll see some of the Lynx River people taking a shot at California in this movie.

PW: Hey, I'm from northern California. As far as we're concerned, if we could get rid of southern California, we'd have plenty of water and we wouldn't need yours!

JR: I think you're probably right!

PW: Anyway, California regional politics aside...Teevee goes to Calgary to work on this hydro deal...

JR: Yeah, riding high, being the guy who has a different opinion but is the chief, has kind of come into his own. But he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's arrested on suspected drunk driving, which is not true. He's put in jail for that. He's bailed out, but because of where he was at the time, there was a woman who was in the same area, she's found murdered, and he's the number one suspect. It's wrong place, wrong time, but now he's in the justice system with real evidence against him.

This is really the story of Michelle coming to Calgary to figure out who really did it, because she knows he couldn't have. Teevee eventually breaks out of the justice system during a transfer and makes his way back to Lynx River, where the whole story comes to a head. So it's a wonderful mystery, it's action, and we're with our people--Teevee and Michelle--in Calgary. And we still spend time in Lynx River and see the town's reaction to him being sort of national news for being down there and then being arrested.

PW: Most of it takes place in Calgary?

JR: I would say two-thirds maybe in Calgary, and one-third in Lynx River.

PW: We saw what happened the last time Michelle was in Calgary, when she was looking for Hannah. She really was out of her element. Of course, it was a very strained time for her, but is there any of that element again this time of Michelle trying to get her footing in the city?

JR: It's interesting, there's less. It's been many years since that happened, and I think Michelle is more worldly now. And she's coming down where her family's not involved, although it's someone very close to her, Teevee. I think she comes across as a more worldly, savvy person. You'll notice her wardrobe is a little bit more trendy. She really doesn't have a hard time adjusting to the big city.

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PW: So the title "Another Country" doesn't refer to Michelle being in a strange world this time?

JR: It has the same implication, but for Teevee. We're not playing up that he's never seen a big city before, because we know he has. But "another country" for him is him being lost in the white justice system. It's the justice system. He's been put there and it looks like there's no way out.

I think the strength you've seen in Michelle in Lynx River will be evident in Calgary. I think it's funny that we actually shot her on the bench where she talked to Hannah's ghost that time in one scene. I don't know if the audience will pick it up, but we are in the same park, near Eau Claire Market in the Prince's Island Park. So when you see the stuff in the movie with her finding Nelson--a Calgary street person who's one of the only eyewitnesses to the crime--she tracks him down in Prince's Island Park. So it's a little "North of 60" trivia bit that she goes back to the same park. But it's not played as that. She doesn't notice it. It's not a story point. Just a production note!

PW: Sometimes you bring back out-of-town characters from previous stories. Aside from the Lynx River residents, will we see anyone we know in this film?

JR: No, I don't think you will. But I think there will be actors that people may recognize from other shows. Hugh Thompson, you'll recognize him from "Black Harbour."

PW: Really? He's in this movie? That's great!

JR: Yes. Hugh Thompson plays Connelly, the cop that Michelle is helped out by. There's also Ron White, a man who's also done some "Black Harbour."

PW: And co-starred in "The Arrow."

JR: Yeah. So there's some great actors. John Ralston's another guy. He starred in a series called "The City" on CTV. So there's a powerful cast of characters in Calgary, but not anybody that we have seen in the series yet. Then you come back to town [Lynx River] and Chief Neil Raymond is in town, played by Lawrence Bayne, who the audience will remember from "Dream Storm." And Daniel Deela's back, played by Lorne Cardinal. And then all of the cast and characters here are back.

PW: I saw Timothy Webber earlier with Simon Baker.

JR: Yeah, and you'll see Lubo later, and Tina Louise Bomberry's back as Rosie. I think people will notice that she hasn't been in the last couple.

The only thing people might criticize this movie for is we don't spend enough time with the rest of our town. I think what we're going to do with Movie 5 is we will answer that criticism, if it [the criticism] ever comes. Movie 5 will be in the town. The whole movie will be in the town. There'll be Peter, there'll be Michelle, there'll be Sarah, there'll be the whole thing. But when you're doing the movies, you can't do every movie in the town, and this one ["Another Country"] is really going to push the boundaries in other ways.

PW: Why can't you do every movie in the town?

JR: Well, you're never limited in Lynx River. There's always stories. But I think we would have been sacrificing a great story by not doing this story in Calgary. If you think about it, the series being so many years about Teevee Tenia, this is really him in his own at the top of his game and being tested by a whole other world. So the audience will get to see so much more of Teevee and Michelle--at the expense of some other things, but I think it'll hold their attention.

PW: You thought it was worth it this time to follow him outside of Lynx River.

JR: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you see the movie, you will feel grounded in Lynx River the whole time. You'll be in Calgary, but knowing what's going on back in Lynx River. You go back and forth. So you'll feel like it's a dual-track story where it all comes to its apex in Lynx River.

PW: Are there any side stories going on besides Teevee's troubles with the law?

JR: Not really. It's pretty focused. It's a pretty focused story.

PW: Unfortunately, you can't bring back everybody when you do a movie, right? In the movie format, there's only two hours, and you have to sort of punch things up a bit and not do so much of the character background scenes we're used to from the series.

JR: Yeah, that's true. The one difference and the hard thing about the movies is you have one story that has to hold together. It's not an episode that allows the same level of detail of all the different people. We'll see as many faces as we can. It's unfortunate that Tom and Tracey weren't available for this one. Tracey's in university and Tom has the busiest schedule of anyone. But we're working ahead on our schedule to make sure we have them available for Movie 5.

PW: So you think there will be a fifth movie?

JR: The odds are very good. We've been answering that question with "I don't know" for eight of the last ten years! Probably nine of ten years. But we're working on the fifth movie right now. We've had our story meeting already.

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PW: I guess it's a matter of submitting the right forms during the grant application period and hoping for the best?

JR: Yeah, I would say this time [April] next year we'll know for sure that Movie 5 is going ahead. I think the chances are very good. I'm not really worried about it.

PW: But you wouldn't be filming in the spring again.

JR: No, next time we'll be doing this later in the year, probably summer.

The last thing I have to say about this movie ["Another Country"] is that the fans are going to love it. People who've been watching "North of 60" since the beginning are going to love it. They're going to see the kid they saw grow up in Teevee end up in the big time, end up in the city, end up in trouble, and end up vindicated. And that's going to be great. And for people who've never seen the show, it's a great thriller.

PW: How are things going with the movies overall? I think the ratings last time were about three-quarters of a million, and the previous one was about a million. How's CBC feeling about them?

JR: They're feeling fine. 750,000 is still a huge number for them. At that particular time, for some reason, they had premiered the first episode of the Canadian history show ["Canada: A People's History"] as well as "Da Vinci's Inquest," and then "North of 60" the next night, and the ratings for those two nights were down. "North of 60" was the top show of all those three. The Canadian history project and "Da Vinci's Inquest" are really CBC's flagship shows, so "North of 60" beat both of them.

PW: Why were those nights down, do you know? Maybe CTV was premiering their fall shows?

JR: I don't know what was airing against them. I don't know what happened. It was unfortunate, everything was down. I think they were concerned in general, but "North of 60" as a percentage of those shows was still leading the way. So that's great, and 750's not a bad thing, and I'm confident we'll be back up. The audience is still there. There's no question about that.

"Tom Stone"

PW: Can we talk about "Tom Stone" for a few minutes?

JR: Yeah, absolutely.

PW: For those "North of 60" fans in the U.S. who don't get CBC and can't see "Tom Stone," would you like to give us a short synopsis of the show and then tell us how it's going?

JR: Sure. Quick synopsis is Marina di Luzio is a hot commercial crime specialist in Toronto. She's fighting a case she can't win--it's a very political case involving government members. Not that it's fixed, but it's a case she can't win as a police officer in a government system.

PW: She's an RCMP officer, right?

JR: She's an RCMP officer. So members of the RCMP who believe that this sort of work should be successful--catching people who don't normally get caught, the big companies and crooked government officials--they've sent her to Calgary to look like a punishment for not winning that case. So she comes to Calgary with basically a top secret project where she'll work within the commercial crime department in Calgary with her own portfolio of things to do. They suggest that Tom Stone can help her out because he can basically go places where the RCMP can't go. He works for them in a deniable capacity.

PW: You said that Marina gets sent to Calgary in what looks like punishment, but it actually isn't?

JR: The people who want her to succeed at what she's doing have sent her to Calgary to make it look like a punishment. But what they've really done is sent her to a place out of Canada's center where she has a little more freedom and is now working sort of under the radar to do some really good work in the commercial crime area.

PW: Okay, so please go on with what you were saying about Tom Stone.

JR: She pulls him out of prison. He's been framed. He was a city cop who'd been framed for something and ends up in jail. He was framed, but he wasn't 100 percent innocent, either. He's that kind of guy. He's a bit of a rogue, and he's playful. He has a sense of justice, but not necessarily the law.

Basically the decision is either to stay in prison or come work for her, so he comes to work for her. He's paid in cash. He's a deniable resource for her. He can break locks, he can do things that she can't do, because if she wanted to do those things, she'd have to get a search warrant and fill out the forms and all the red tape. When the RCMP are so many steps behind because of their bureaucracy, Tom Stone cuts right through that.

So it's basically a series about these two, who love each other and hate each other because they both are good at what they do but hate the way the other does it. It's the ongoing conflict of them working together in the crazy world of Calgary.

PW: And he's the one who knows Calgary.

JR: He's a Calgarian. She's come from Toronto and does not want to be in Calgary. He's a Calgarian and makes fun of the Toronto girl. So you have this wonderful sort of east/west thing playing out in Calgary, with the towers, the racetracks, the whole thing.

PW: How's it been going?

JR: It's going great. We finished production at the end of January. It started airing at the end of February. The response has been wonderful. Anybody who's seen it just loves it. I think we've delivered a series that is going to be more entertaining. It's dramatic, but it's light drama. It's more in the tone of "The Rockford Files" or "Magnum, P.I.," but in the year 2000. So it's quirky, it's funny, but it's also very serious. They're catching bad guys and they're doing the work they have to do to get there.

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PW: I saw some articles about the show on web sites of Canadian newspapers just before it premiered, and I thought one of them said that CBC had already ordered a second season. Did I read that right?

JR: Yeah, the wonderful thing is we were renewed before the show had had a chance to air. It's partly the funding cycles in Canada. We needed to make sure we were set up financially, so they needed to make a decision so we'd be eligible for all of our financing. But they loved the show, they thought it was fantastic, and they made a great commitment to the show by renewing it before it had aired. So the finale of the show is April 15th, and we'll start up again in the fall.

PW: Is that really the end of the first season, or is the first season spilling into the fall? Not many episodes have aired yet.

JR: No, there weren't. We shot 13. What we'll do is, the first nine are forming season one. So it's a shorter run. Then we'll take the other episodes that we've already shot and put them into season two, and season two will be a 17-episode season on the air.

PW: So there will be 26 total in the first two seasons. They're just being broken up unevenly.

JR: That's right.

PW: I can see why CBC would have to stop airing new episodes soon, because, of course, there's nothing else on CBC after April except hockey! I've seen their primetime schedule in the spring: hockey, "The National," hockey, "The National"...

JR: That's Canada for you during playoff times!

PW: Anyway, they've been pleased with the public response?

JR: Yeah, they've been thrilled. I mean, the first season of any show is the hardest season, people getting introduced to the characters and stuff. And for us, seeing what worked and what didn't. So now we're going to back to the drawing board and are going to tweak the show to make it even better in season two. But they've been thrilled with its response in the first year.

PW: How do you determine what's working and what isn't?

JR: We do a lot of work on that. We do our own review of it. We watch the shows again. We talk to people. We actually do focus groups. We did a focus group in Newfoundland. We're doing a focus group in Toronto on Monday night. It's a research thing where people who don't have a vested interest come in and watch the show. So we get to hear what real viewers are saying about the show. And we'll take all of that input, we'll take the broadcaster's input, and we'll work out how we'll change [the show] and what we're going to do in season two.

PW: Fast question--are we going to see more of Ben Bass? His character just took a job in Calgary to be near Marina. Is he going to leave again?

JR: He probably will. That's Marina's Toronto boyfriend. He quit his job and took a job in Calgary. He's still living with her, and we'll pick that up in season two. We haven't decided yet. He may move back to Toronto. We're not sure. I think it was in episode three where he took a job in Calgary, and then maybe in episode 10 where he quits his job.

PW: Okay, thanks, Jordy. I have a lot of friends who are "Forever Knight" fans, so I wanted to let them know what was happening with him.

JR: He definitely will have a run of eight episodes or so.

PW: And he may come back?

JR: He may come back. We think Marina may start to date some people in Calgary. He's not a recurring character; he's in a guest role.

Jack Welsh and Stuart Margolin

PW: I couldn't help but notice that the same person directed the first episode of "Tom Stone" who had directed the first episode of "North of 60" lo these many years ago. Did you bring Stuart Margolin back as a good luck talisman? [laughs]

JR: Stuart is just a fantastic creative presence. He's a great actor and a great director. We decided that we wanted Stuart Margolin to play the role of Jack, and we wanted him to have a significant role on "Tom Stone." He brings so much to a show.

PW: Say a little bit about Jack Welsh.

JR: Oh, Jack is a wonderful rascal character. He's a guy who's made millions and lost millions many times over. He's now taken up residence in a great old petroleum club kind of high-end bar where he hangs out and waits for the next play. He has his finger on the pulse of the oil business and the underworld.

As far as Stuart goes, he just brings so much to the show. His character of Jack is someone we can really count on, and as a director he's fantastic as well. When we started to think about our first season, we wanted him to be in all those areas. We decided we wanted him to direct the pilot episode, the first two hours, as well as I think he did episode nine, the finale of season one. And he did episode 10, the premiere of season two. He's just the kind of guy we want to have a significant role on the show. We've gotten a lot of creative juice from him by having him so involved in the show.

PW: Did you originally come up with a scamp character and think, "Oh, Stuart Margolin would be great for this role," or was it, "We want Stuart involved. Let's write a character for him"?

JR: We wanted to have this Jack Welsh character, who was very much like the guy who ran the BRE-X scam. We knew that that was a character we had to have in the show. And we wanted to have Stuart Margolin. So it was one after the other with the character and the actor, but in very short steps.

PW: It became immediately obvious that he was perfect for the role.

JR: Yeah, it was a natural thing. We wanted to have Jack Welsh and we wanted to have Stuart Margolin.

PW: He's an American, but is he now living in Canada? He's been involved with a lot of productions up here, both on screen and behind the camera. Does he live up here, or just travel a lot?

JR: He was living in B.C., but he's now moved to Mississippi.

PW: I've seen a couple of episodes of the show, and Jack is quite a character all right!

JR: Yeah, he's great. And he'll become more and more involved as the show goes on.

PW: That's great for the audience, but a lot of traveling for him.

JR: He directed four episodes last year, and I think he'll direct three or four this year, so between acting and directing, he'll spend almost six months in Calgary.

PW: I was going to ask what else you're working on these days, but I would imagine between "Tom Stone" and "North of 60" movies, you don't have much spare time!

JR: Yeah, "nothing" is the answer! It's a lot, because "Tom Stone" is so consuming. You really live it all year long. There's pre-production and production and post-production. We'll have done story sessions on season two and then go back and do post-production on season one, so that's already overlapping. And then there's "North of 60" in the middle, and "North of 60" Movie 5 story sessions, and then production. That life is enough for me. I need to sleep!

PW: Well, congratulations on already having a commitment for a second season of "Tom Stone" already, and best of luck on "North of 60" Movie 5!

JR: Thank you.

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Text and photos (c) 2002 Patricia F. Winter

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