Forwarded by Susan Bunting Originally transcribed and posted by Sarah ? Reproduced without permission. _Southern Exposure_, by Ellen Vanstone. Reproduced without permission. Five stories above street level, a scene to congeal the blood. A mental patient stands precariously on a narrow ledge. His name is Walter, and he's ready to jump. He shivers in the cold, his brown pyjamas and ratty cardigan flapping in the bitter wind of a Toronto winter. Below, the inevitable crowd gathers, eyes straining upwards. Suddenly, another figure emerges from the fifth-floor window -- a plainclothes cop in leather jacket and scuffed jeans. The cop's trying to coax Walter back inside, but Walter's not listening. He's mad as hell -- mad, certainly -- and has a date with a sidewalk. His knees bend. A low murmur runs through the spectators, a suspiration that is one part terror, one part exhilaration. Of course, these people couldn't care less about Walter -- or the cop for that matter. All they care about is verisimilitude. There's a set dresser who shovelled and salted the ledge. There's Wardrobe, which bought and aged Walter's clothes, via endless launderings and sandpaper. There are the stunt coordinators, who planned all the moves and triple-checked the safety cables and harnesses. There's the locations manager, who rented the ledge -- at Surrey Place Centre, across from Women's College Hospital -- and then arranged to "parking permit the shit" out of the area for thirty-odd trucks, vans and Winnebagos. There's Props -- carefully scoping its recently installed drainpipe, on which the life of the cop may depend. There's the whole Russian army of techies, marching brigades of directors, camera operators, electricians, gaffers, grips, makeup and continuity people. There's the obligatory ambulance driver and firefighter standing by, not to mention a couple of meaty Metro constables (hired to ensure that pedestrians aren't hurt by falling props) or stuntmen. Hurt? The pedestrians hardly stop to notice. They've seen it all before. For them, movie-making largely means traffic jams, detours, oversize trucks hogging precious parking space, thick black cables snaking ubiquitously across sets and self-absorbed crews loitering aimlessly, in the seemingly endless wait for "action." But just a minute, please. This isn't simply another episode of _Hammy_the_Hamster_. This is _Due_South_, the made-in-Toronto action-comedy about a Mountie, his deaf wolf and a Chicago cop that's become a surprise hit on CBS. In fact, it's the first Canadian series to penetrate the inner sanctum of American television -- prime time. And with an estimated twenty-five million viewers, it's CBS's top new show, second (to the half-hour sitcoms _Mad_About_You_ and _Friends_) in its Thursday night, eight p.m. slot, the most competitive hour on TV. Even Canadians, infamous for ignoring local heroes, have embraced it, conferring an unprecedented fourteen Gemini nominations -- and, on March 5, eight awards. In typical Canadian fashion, executive producer Paul Haggis isn't wowed by the kudos. "Judging our own success is like Icarus saying, `It's going well so far,'" he says. "I measure our success one script at a time. The rest I leave to the gods." Produced by Alliance Communications, _Due_South_ is also more evidence (were it needed) that Toronto has finally arrived as a major centre of television production. Indeed, in that pursuit, the city has eclipsed New York and now ranks second in North America, after Los Angeles. Locally, the industry employs some 30,000 people, working on up to forty-three shows at a time. Half a _billion_ dollars' worth of film and TV production was spent in Toronto last year. With budgets running at more than one million dollars per episode, _Due_South_ alone is injecting at least thirty million dollars into our ravaged economy. Which ain't bad for a show CBS originally expected to last only eight weeks. _Due_South_ is one of those brilliant ideas that only seem obvious in retrospect. The concept evolved out of discussions between Alliance supremo Robert Lantos and former CBS president Jeff Sagansky; both wanted a Crocodile Dundee-type story with a Canadian hero to sell to the Americans. For years, Lantos had watched (and sometimes produced) second-rate domestic imitations of American network shows that never cracked the U.S. prime-time market. What he wanted here was a series that would deliberately exploit Canadian myths and attitudes. The result virtually defines the fish-out-of-water buddy genre: a mild-mannered Mountie, posted to the Canadian consulate in Chicago, teams up with an abrasive American cop to solve crimes. After a decade of Bruce Willis-type heroes -- foul-mouthed, self-promoting vigilantes whose fight against crime is merely a byproduct of America's cult of individuality -- Constable Benton Fraser is quietly intelligent, selflessly collaborative and unfailingly polite. He never curses, never raises his voice, and he's a stickler for rules: he doesn't carry a gun because, as a resident alien, it's not allowed. Instead, he uses his brains and backwoods tracking skills to catch criminals. His most powerful weapons are his ability to listen and analyze. In one episode, Fraser uses his sensitivity to deduce why a key witness to a bank robbery -- a young boy -- won't talk: the thief was the boy's own father. As the show's writers are constantly reminded, Fraser solves crimes not to express himself, but to heal relationships. Think UN peacekeeper in Cyprus rather than marine in Grenada. For Canadians, Fraser is powerful testimony to the essential goodness of the national identity, however elusive. And besides satirizing the crass, pistol-partial ways of our American cousins, he provides plenty of subtle in-jokes. Once, a pretty medical examiner -- one of several women on the show who lust after the oblivious Mountie -- tells Fraser that her name is "Pearson, Esther Pearson." Fraser pauses. "You wouldn't be related to . . . ? No, I guess not," he finally replies, in the deadpan delivery that Paul Gross has perfected for the character. For U.S. audiences, Fraser embodies the spirit and moral courage of another era, making him the most appealing hero to hit network prime time since Pa Cartwright, another Canadian embodiment of American virtue. Parents applaud the series for its nonviolent, family-value themes, and the U.S. watchdog group, Viewers for Quality Television, recommended _Due_South_ as one of the season's best new offerings. "It's a show I'm comfortable watching with my eight-year-old," says Lon Grahnke, TV critic for the _Chicago_Sun-Times_," without having to be embarrassed or bored by the content." According to Grahnke, American critics like _Due_South_ because "Fraser's such a refreshing, likable hero, with no trace of arrogance -- a good guy, but not sickening. The writing's not as good as it was in the two-hour pilot, but if it's renewed for another year -- as it deserves to be -- it'll get better." As for the script's occasional Canadian digs at American stereotypes, Grahnke says, "Americans don't feel mocked. Tweaked maybe, but so what?" Coincidentally -- or is it? -- _Due_South_ is also ideologically in sync, a one-hour metaphor for free trade. The low-key Canadian Mountie and the abrasive Chicago cop -- Detective Ray Vecchio, played by actor David Marciano -- help spin the axis, adopting a north-south, continentalist approach to crime-solving. The culture clash is chronic and by definition unresolvable, but they co-operate because their goal is the same. Off-screen, it's the same collaborative story -- produced and written by Canadians, starring Canadian values and humour, but with safe, clean Toronto the good masquerading as big, bad, broad-shouldered Chicago, hog butcher to the world. The subtext: despite our national idiosyncrasies, we're basically the same. And, of course, we could all use a kinder, gentler approach to this little urban crime problem we have. It's the all-important Wednesday afternoon production meeting. Gathered in the windowless boardroom of the former GE plant at Davenport and Landsdowne, fifteen separate department heads, writers and producers are hard at it -- making notes, whispering urgently into cell phones, worrying the details of the script, line by line. Frank Siracusa, the first assistant director, chairs the meeting with cold-blooded determination. He needs it. Between the bizarre requirements of this week's script, the noise from a large dog named Wilf, who is hurling himself playfully against the closed door, and the relentless antics of executive producer Paul Haggis, chaos beckons. Haggis, in fact, is n uncontrollable brat -- pacing, humming, deeking out for a quick smoke, suggesting, (just to be perverse) that they try to get the CN Tower into every shot. But even more than Paul Gross, the show's personable star, Haggis, forty-one, is the engine driving _Due_South's_ success. Recruited by CBS, he had written for _L.A._Law_ and had won two Emmy awards for his work on _thirtysomething_. A lanky six foot one, with long brown hair that fringes a bald dome, Haggis sports a pair of phosphorescent blue eyes above a dimpled, deranged grin. His taste in clothes runs to old jeans, hiking boots and casual cotton shirts, he kind of natural hoser, McKenzie brothers uniform he probably refined as an adolescent in his native London, Ontario. There, after an undisitinguished academic career (he dropped out of both art and film school), he divided his time between the family construction business and the local theatre scene. Three years later, encouraged by his father, Ted, Haggis left for L.A., eventually breaking in as a writer on _Facts_of_Life_ and _One_Day_at_a_Time_. Now, Ted is working for Paul -- as _Due_South's_ official dog handler, in charge of Diefenbaker, Fraser's emotionally manipulative, lip-reading sidekick. Two younger sisters are also on staff: co-executive producer Kathy Slevin, who, like Haggis, earned her stripes as awriter and producer in Los Angeles; and Joey Young, another dog trainer. After twelve years in California, says Slevin, "one of the big draws of coming back was the chance to work with my family." On this foundation of family values, loyalty and Candian decency, Haggis has trowelled his own manic charm and merciless production standards. Early on, people criticized him for pushing the crew too hard. "That's bullshit," says Haggis, with characteristic directness. "It's my job to make them proud of their work." It takes 245 people to produce _Due_South_, he says, "and if one of them lets me down, it shows on screen." It helped morale when CBS expanded its initial order to twenty-two shows. It helped even more when Haggis arranged for episodes to be screened during lunch breaks; no one was ever home early enough to watch it otherwise. You can hear a pin drop during these screenings. After he started showing them, says Haggis, "I didn't have to ask for that extra effort any more." But his ultimate secret weapon is personality, which somehow combines scathing wit with genuine warmth. People want to be around him. It is the first law of television that every script will have one major problem. This week, it's the ledge scenes -- basically, how to shoot them without killing the actors or going over budget with special effects. Nobody can figure out if they need to hire an outside company to create the effects or if they can add fake backgrounds with their own computers in postproduction. Nor do they know how high to build the studio ledge. "The ledge has to be at least twelve feet high," insists production designer Harold Thrasher. "That's too high for the talent," says first AD Frank Siracusa. "They'll need safety harnesses." "Then what's the point of building a ledge?" asks line producer Norman Denver, sensing a cost-saving opportunity. "Why not do it all on location?" "Why can't we make the ledge six feet high?" "Because we need the height to reproduce the camera angles," Thrasher reiterates. The group finally agrees to shoot the principals on a fake ledge, constructed in the studio. The edited sequence will later be intercut with long shots of the stunt doubles out on the real ledge at Surrey Place, where Fraser has to prevent both Walter and the episode's villain, Dr Martins, from jumping. For no apparent reason, Haggis now decides to act out the ledge stunts by leaping off his chair several times. Then, just to create additional mayhem, he climbs onto the back of another chair while bracing himself against the ceiling. He notices the ceiling tiles are loose and starts pushing them up to investigate. This conduct is so characteristic that no one pays any attention. Haggis is probably having a nic fit; he tried to quit smoking recently, but, as prop master Shelley Nieder explains, his behaviour became so intolerable that "we made him start again." Then he remembers something. "The network wants more dog stuff." Everyone sniggers. CBS loves Diefenbaker. So do viewers; the dog has his own fan club on the Internet. The production team is less enamoured; the Siberian husky who plays Dief was so stupid at first -- needing as many as twenty-four takes to sit on cue -- that the crew nicknamed him O.T., for overtime. A fifth-floor corridor at West Park Hospital, and Frank Siracusa has his hands full. In addition to the principal actors, the first AD is orchestrating two guest actors and a background of extras -- mental patients, orderlies and doctors. That's thirty or so actors, 100-odd crew, plus lights, cables, crates, ditty (equipment) bags, props and equipment carts. It resembles a military campaign, an exercise that combines surveillance, logistics, tactics and strategizing -- all of it performed by an elite commando unit that must endure weeks of fifteen-hour days and hours of crushing boredom, punctuated by the urgent call to duty -- about forty-five seconds of genuine combat per take. Siracusa is the field marshal, convener of all the elements, visible and otherwise. At thirty-five, a slight five foot eight with a mass of curly hair and deep brown eyes, he wears that preternaturally alert gaze that seems to mark every professional in the industry. During eight days of preproduction, he has organized the assault, breaking down the script into a shooting schedule according to availability of locations and guest actors from Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. Now it's his job to keep the troops in step for the campaign, covering fifty-eight scenes at half-a-dozen locations during the next eight shooting days. In Toronto, where good first ADs can earn up to $2,700 a week, Siracusa is one of the best. His first production job, after studying film at Humber College, paid $100 week; he fetched coffee for the person who made the coffee. Each scene involves a four-part drill: block, light, rehearse, shoot. Siracusa clears the hallway, so that director George Bloomfield can block the scene with the actors -- who stands where, who moves when. Bloomfield is a veteran (_Street_Legal_, _E.N.G._, an Emmy for _SCTV_), respected for his deft handling of actors and his experience in television, which means he knows how to cheat a shot to save time and money. When he's finished blocking, Bloomfield releases the actors and confers with director of photography Malcolm Cross on how to light and shoot the scene. Unlike the overlit style of most American series, Cross' signature look is shadowy, a much-appreciated timesaving technique. The crew loves him because he's decisive, unflappable and knows all the shortcuts. He also owns some pretty cool job references, having started out in Britain on _The_Thunderbirds_ and later working on the first _Alien_ movie. Consensus achieved, the crew starts setting up equipment; the actors scatter, although Siracusa's three lieutenants, posted at strategic locations, closely monitor their movements. Trainee AD Michelle Taddei is in charge of Paul Gross, reporting constantly via her walkie-talkie "We're in the elevator, we're getting off the elevator.") Her mandate is to get Gross back on set at precisely the right moment so no one is kept waiting -- without making a nuisance of herself. At least Gross is sympathetic. "Your job," he tells her, "is worse than having to lick out the toilets in the Winnebagos." Handsome in an old-fashioned matinee idol way, Gross has one of those boyish grins that curl up at the corners, revealing not only pearlescent beauty, but a certain _knowingness_. He has the star's always camera-ready aura of raw fantasy potential. The radiant morality of his Constable Benton Fraser is a beacon of inspiration for whatever thoroughly decent men remain in the world. At the same time, he's the kind of man -- once you've broken through that defensive yet vulnerable shell -- who'd instinctively comprehend what a woman might need in the way of comfort, laughter, income security, sex . . . . "Playing Fraser is like visiting a therapist," says Gross. "He exposes all the flaws in my character and encourages me to correct them, which is actually kind of irritating." Being Canadian -- an army brat born in Calgary and raised in Canadian outposts from Washington to Lahr -- Gross, thirty-five, is also exceedingly well-mannered. And well-rounded: as an award-winning writer, he's been playwright-in-residence at Stratford and the National Arts Centre and had two works staged at the Toronto Free Theatre. As an award-winning actor, he's performed on stage (_Romeo_and_Juliet_), television, (the PBS miniseries _Tales_of_the_City_) and film (_Aspen_Extreme_). He's also thoroughly domesticated, married to actor Martha Burns and the father of their two young children. Now, with the lighting pronounced perfect, Gross and the other actors rehearse the scene. Sound levels are checked. The gnomes of hair, makeup and wardrobe consult dozens of carefully annotated Polaroids to make sure the actors look identical to the stunt doubles who play them on the ledge at Surrey Place. Finally, more than an hour later, Siracusa calls for silence. Nobody talks, nobody moves, and God help anyone who makes eye contact with an actor or breaks his concentration. The tension is almost palpable -- a tension born from fear of wasting precious time while the high-priced director and actors are on duty. But there's extra pressure on _Due_South's_ set because of its insane shooting schedule. Most productions allow a one-week hiatus every six to eight weeks and at least a four-week buffer zone between an episode's final day of shooting and its air date. _Due_South_ has been shooting nonstop for twenty-two weeks and, at one point of near-cardiac arrest, the final cut was flown to CBS in New York only twenty-four hours before its broadcast. The pace would be unmaintainable but for the talent behind the cameras. "The crew has really good chemistry," says Siracusa. "You're married to these people, so it all comes down to attitude. If you're the best person around at your job, but you're an asshole, we don't want you." Still, crisis happens. One of the extras apparently ate some dubious chili for lunch the day before and defecated in his pyjamas; he's been sent home because of the smell. Siracusa must ensure that Continuity isn't affected by his absence. Inside the truck, wardrobe mistress Sara Schilt is being very polite to a bit player who wants to discuss how the colour of his underwear fits in with his character. "This robe -- I think he should wear something funkier," says the actor, earnestly. "But I'm not sure about blue because the long johns are blue, and they work really well because this guy's depressed, you know?" The extra finally departs. "A lot of our job," says Schilt, "is soothing people who just need some attention." Costume designer Suzette Daigle has her own minor problem: the ever-jocular Haggis has decided that she's a little down. "C'mon, Suzette," he says. "Let me cheer you up. I heard a rumour a year ago that someone liked you." "My mother." "No, your mother never liked you. It was a little retarded boy in Grade 1." Inside his van, transportation head Jerry Skavinsky stares at a to-do list of thirty-six items (order more diesel fuel for the fleet; send a driver to find Ping-Pong balls for one of the actors; send someone else to rescue Siracusa's pregnant wife, who just discovered her car smashed up in a supermarket parking lot). _Due_South_, Skavinsky says, is "a sleep-deprivation experiment gone hideously wrong." One van over, fleet captain Russ Martin is writing accident reports for the show-s ninety-plus vehicles. As far as he can tell, production assistants drive to work solely for the purpose of bashing into each other in the parking lot. The pool of thirteen drivers, incidentally, boasts nine university graduates, four with postgraduate degrees. Paul Gross' driver was a social worker for ten years; David Marciano's has a degree from film school; Martin himself is a former Bay Street stock trader. The lure is less lucre than lifestyle, a pathological aversion to corporate nine-to-five. Meanwhile, back at Surrey Place, the stunt team is about to shoot the show's climax. In the script, bad guy Dr Martins -- played by stunt double Wayne Downer -- falls headfirst off the ledge; at the last second, Fraser crashes through the window behind him and grabs his ankles. Downer is securely attached to a safety cable. But when the director shouts "action," the stuntman doesn't get his hands up fast enough. His skull bounces off the bricks -- twice. At first, nobody quite realizes there's been an accident. Then the set goes very quiet. Amazingly, Downer is okay: lots of blood, but only three stitches. The stunt co-ordinator later describes it as "basically a case of pilot error." The studio build is phenomenal. In ten days, the construction team has recreated the Surrey Place facade, windows and ledge in stunning detail, right down to the last yellow brick, arches, mullions and verdigrised copper. The ledge is situated twelve feet up on a twenty-six foot wall; you have to touch it to believe it's really wood, paint, vacuform plastic and tungsten lighting. One window is made of Pentest and candy glass (once made of sugar and water, now a hydrocarbon resin). The cardboard-like Pentest is lighter and safer than balsa. Stunt co-ordinator Ken Quinn, among the best in the business, must decide whether the window-crash is too dangerous for Gross to perform. But he doubts whether a double will be needed. "Paul is very athletic," Quinn says. "And he listens. He can do most of his own fights now, and a lot more." Quinn, thirty-four, wanted to be a stuntman ever since he stole a book on the subject from his school library. He was in Grade 5. Today, he earns up to $200,000 a year choreographing and performing in car chases and crashes, gun and fistfights, as well as the matter at hand: a little suicide-prevention operation on a slippery ledge, fifty feet above concrete. Gross and Quinn have just returned from a boys-only weekend blowout in Atlantic City, where they spent thirteen consecutive and unfruitful hours at the craps table. Overcome with fatigue, Gross apparently behaved in a manner not normally associated with Constable Benton Fraser: he lost control, throwing the dice a little too hard and a little too high. "They didn't even bounce," Quinn recalls. "Just went straight over the table and hit a guy on the other side. They were practically embedded in his forehead." Finally, after the interminable wait, Siracusa calls for quiet, Bloomfield calls for action, and Malcolm Cross starts rolling film. As Dr Martins topples forward off the twelve-foot ledge, everyone waits breathlessly for Gross to burst through the window. Like a knife through butter. Constable Fraser sails into the shot, mug in full view, managing to grab Dr Martins' ankles through a blinding veil of shattered candy glass. Out of sight and out of frame, Martins falls gently onto an eight-inch-thick mattress just beneath the ledge. "Beautiful," says Bloomfield. "Beautiful." It's a print. By day's end the episode is in the can, ready for Haggis' team of editors and musicians to whip through the postproduction gauntlet -- and make it sing. Afterward, Gross opens a bottle of Mumm's and asks for everyone's attention. "I've worked with a lot of crews," he says, raising a toast, "and you guys are by far the best." To celebrate the start of their first break in twenty-two weeks, everyone is invited to attend the "very important art department meeting" in the props truck, complete with music and refreshments. While the grips start dismantling equipment, the rest of the crew drifts away. A week later, a rough cut of the episode is shipped to CBS. The controversial ledge scenes, which feature three separate locations, four actors, five stunt doubles and a blizzard of special effects, account for three minutes. Paul Gross looks terrific in every second of them.