“Sometimes it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
Saskatchewan Roughrider GM Al Ford spoke those words to me in 1999, when I shot a documentary about the Riders’ 3-15 season for TSN. At the time we didn’t know it would be such a dysfunctional season, but it did serve as a significant milestone in my filmmaking thing-a-majjg. I got to work with the esteemed Rod Pedersen for the second time in my career, and my documentary ultimately played to 750,000 Canadian people creatures – the most for any one-off documentary that ever aired on the network at the time.
Feels like a million years ago. Even so, those words rang soundly for me over and over again, these past six days.
I had this great big bold idea – shoot a drama during the CFL Combine with professional actors, that features cameos by actual CFL personalities.
And I did it.
I actually did what has never been done before – and there were many moments where it was a short curly away from not happening at all.
This article is the story of, the making of, the episode of, a web series about, everyone’s struggle to be normal, when nobody’s actually normal. Six fictional twenty-somethings living in Toronto – one being a scout with the Toronto Argonauts.
You can find the first episode at http://www.anotheronecomes.com
So there I am, seven days ago, contemplating the production of a scripted drama during the most important weekend of the whole entire CFL offseason. If teams make a mistake evaluating a player at this event, it can haunt ‘em for a decade – and I would be a potential distraction.
How exactly does one go about asking for something that’s never been done before? There was no precedent. There was no procedure to follow.
I was so intimidated by making such a request, that I was about ready to throw in the towel before I even started. My previous email and phone call to the league office wasn’t returned. The logistics required to pull off such a production in such a compressed period of time would be foreboding.
I concluded that it would just be easier if I gave up on the whole thing. For my own peace of mind however, I decided to fire one last email request to the CFL Head Office before getting on with my life.
Contentment. It was done. On to other things.
Twenty minutes later, the phone rang. It was Jamie Dykstra, Director of Communications and Broadcast with the CFL. He said he wouldn’t guarantee me access to any CFL personalities, but I would have the green light.
I had a green light!
I also had a script. All I needed was a cast. And a crew. And a plan. And cameos from CFL people.
In a perfect world I would get Saskatchewan Head Coach Corey Chamblin, Toronto Argonaut GM Jim Barker, and CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon.
I worked a connection I had with the Roughriders for permission to get to Corey Chamblin. It would mean the world to me, to have a Roughrider in my quaint little film – me being from Regina and all.
There was also this thing where the Roughrider brand had very recently achieved official cult status – along with ‘Red Bull’, ‘Apple’ and a half dozen other brands. Strategically, busininessically, it would do a lot for the viability of my web series to associate with such cult status.
I opted to NOT go through the proper channels with the Roughriders because I knew they had every good reason to turn me down. We’re a loooooooong ways away from the telethon days, where the team’s very survival was in doubt. There are people in place now to manage the esteemed ‘Saskatchewan Roughrider’ brand. I had nothing compelling to offer.
Not yet anyway.
So I went through the back channels and I was shot down. I might have even burned a bridge in the process.
The ‘proper’ channels with the Argos however, were the only channels I had with the team. I’ve written several articles for the Argonauts, and I am a fan of everyone in their communications department. I think they’re all fan of me as well.
Even so, they felt extremely uncomfortable forwarding my request to Jim Barker. My idea was so out of left field, such a potential distraction, on such an important event, they just couldn’t make that conversation happen. I probably would have felt the same way if I was in their shoes.
So there I was, two days before the Combine, with two professional actors booked and no cameos confirmed, because no one was even willing to ask.
And then an email from the CFL head office. Their football people didn’t want me shooting a drama at the Combine, for obvious reasons.
I couldn’t blame them.
I couldn’t blame them, but I had a story burning inside me that needed to see the light of day – but moving forward might involve burning more bridges.
I picked up the phone and spoke with Jamie Dykstra “What if I shoot somewhere in the hotel where the Combine is taking place, but NOT in the room where it’s being held, and you guys simply agree to NOT kick me out?”
On Saturday morning I found myself sitting with my cast at the Park Hyatt Hotel, ready to roll. John Huffnagel said he’d make a cameo if I could find him. Kent Austin also said he’d do it if he had time. Mark Cohon said he wasn’t available, but wished me luck with the shoot.
There was still a lot of uncertainty around the production. My cast would have to be on their toes in order to accommodate the sudden appearance of a cameo. Fortunately both of them, Duncan Fisher (recently of Regina) and Anna Douglas (recently of LA), were well prepared, enthusiastic, and amazingly talented.
Cameos continued to be a problem throughout the day however. Neither John Huffnagel nor Kent Austin were available when I needed them. Wally Buono declined my invitation to participate because he didn’t think he’d be funny. Danny Mac, and Jim Popp said they’d do it after the session was over, but the timing wouldn’t work out for me.
But guess who was available?
Jim Barker. That’s who.
I felt a lot of pride as he read through the script and remarked, “This is just like every conversation every football person has ever had with his wife or girlfriend.”
He was enthusiastic, and generous with his time.
Rick Campbell, Head Coach of the Ottawa RedBlacks, also gave his time to our project. He did three takes with us, and I am grateful for his participation.
Our final cameo came from Patrick Donovan, Assistant Head Football Coach & Defensive Coordinator with Concordia University. Pat was incredibly accommodating, and didn’t want to leave until he was sure we had everything we needed.
I am so grateful for everyone’s support throughout this production. Even those who weren’t able to participate wished me well and respected that I was trying to do something that’s never been done before.
The episode will be ready in a week’s time. Let’s hope there will be more just like it.