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.