A day on the set of CBC’s Republic of Doyle
The Muse (Memorial University)
ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — When you first pay a visit to Logy Bay Studios where CBC's Republic of Doyle is filmed, you might think you’ve come to the wrong place.
Near St. John, N.L.’s International Airport sits an unassuming building that hides a virtual beehive of activity. Here, a talented cast and crew works year-round to put together the popular program about Jake Doyle, a rough-around-the-edges, but charming, private investigator based in St. John’s.
In early December, I was invited to tour the set of Republic of Doyle and spent several hours working as a background performer in a scene from the current season. Over the course of the day, I met many of the people who work on the show, who happily explained how the program is produced.
It does not take long to appreciate the impressive impact the show has had on the provincial television industry.
Creator, executive producer, and lead actor Allan Hawco took a few minutes away from a writing session for the show, which was renewed for a third season on Feb. 11, to speak with me.
“There is no way to measure the positive impact that Republic of Doyle has had on the local industry. We’ve upgraded a lot of people, elevating them to key positions they wouldn’t have otherwise had without the show,” he said.
I was introduced to some of these professionals when I arrived on set. We went through the standard procedure of filling out waiver forms and deciding what I would wear in the scene. Assistants made sure that we were comfortable and explained where to find refreshments.
As I got to know the four other background actors, they spoke glowingly of the production. Robert Evans has a career in the offshore oil industry, but takes time when he can to work as an extra on Republic of Doyle.
“I’m just getting pure enjoyment out of this,” he said. “The show had been getting a great response. It seems like the first really successful show to come to the province, and I wanted to get involved with that.”
Like me, many of the people working as extras that day had no professional experience in television prior to being cast. Kathryn Sears owns a window business in St. John’s and praised the production’s broad approach to casting.
“It’s a great way to bring these different people from all walks of life onto a television production. I’m a business owner, and I’ve never been exposed to anything like this before.”
Hawco agrees, saying the influx of fresh talent to the show invigorates the production.
“It’s amazing. There can sometimes be a lot of bitterness on television sets. These [less experienced] people bring a good energy to the show, and it’s great being around that.”
Soon, the call came to report to the set. A crew member led each of us past some of the recognizable scenery from the first season, including the office where Jake Doyle solves cases with his father Malachy Doyle, played by Irish actor Sean McGinley.
We were assigned to a scene in a campaign office that will feature in an upcoming story arc on the show. A crew member helped us manoeuvre around the intimidating pieces of equipment to a make-up area, and we were given our direction for the scene. Suddenly, the room came alive with set designers, camera operators and a crowd of lighting and sound technicians.
In the middle of the maelstrom was Hawco, who in his role as “showrunner” oversaw every decision made behind the scenes. Before the cameras rolled, he could be seen conversing with the directors about the framing of a shot, considering the lighting and even advising designers on where to hang the election posters in our campaign office set.
“Creatively, everything goes through me; that includes everything from script approvals, music cues and casting decisions,” Hawco said. “That being said, I have a fantastic group of people around me, a great group of writers and editors, and I have my producer partners supporting me.”
Despite the visible success of the show, Hawco does describe a few of the challenges he has faced since the program’s launch in January 2010. Along with uncontrollable events like the outbreak of swine flu and the roof blowing off the studio in a windstorm, much of the first season was a creative learning curve.
“We were flying by the seat of our pants in a lot of ways, but it was a fantastic ride. In season two, we had the same objectives, but a different plan of action. We’ve learned so much.”
Back in the studio, we witnessed Hawco’s words in action, especially the methodical nature of filming a major television show. Even our simple background tasks, like swinging hammers and answering telephones, were precisely choreographed.
Throughout the shoot, members of the production team patiently explained to us how the show is pieced together.
First, quick rehearsals of the scene are run. Based on these, adjustments are made to the position of the camera or the actions of a background character. The director will then film multiple takes of the scene from one angle, stopping every so often to make a note to an actor or crew member. This process is repeated for each shot until the director is satisfied the captured footage will tell the story in the script.
One element that stands out in this process is the sheer number of people involved, a sight that provides faces for the hundreds of names that appear on the show’s credit reel.
Hawco is quick to point out that the industry was not underdeveloped before Republic of Doyle came to town.
“We have a very healthy and functioning community here, but it’s difficult without a continuing series to keep people working, and to keep everybody [in the province]. So obviously when we do have a series, we can give people jobs from year to year.”
Hawco acknowledges that a production like this can almost be too big for its own good, in that the people working on it don’t have much time to work on other projects. He hopes that, if the show continues, eventually they can attract more professionals to the province and reduce the strain on the current crew, to allow them to branch out.
As the scene wrapped, the filming did not slow down. Just as our group of extras finished, a group of actors dressed as police officers filed in. Scenes shot at this studio are supplemented by location shooting in and around St. John’s. Hawco revealed that, with the announcement of season three, the production is turning its attention to Memorial University.
“Yep,” Hawco paused mysteriously. “But I’m not telling you. But we’ll definitely be using the university as a setting at least once for season three.”
Currently, Hawco and the writers are working with a three-to-five-year plan, with room to expand if the audience asks for more. For now, he and the Republic of Doyle team are still grateful for each episode they get to shoot and try to improve with every story.
“Every time we sit down to write an episode, we’re always overly ambitious. We always think, ‘We’ve got to make the greatest television episode of all time.’ That’s our plan: To take it one day at a time, to make the best show we possibly can.”