by Elias Campbell
Three Februarys ago, I found myself packing my tattered suitcase on a blustery Tuesday morning for my trip to Prime Time, a television conference I was attending as part of an internship program at a production company. At the time, I was living in a house in the Annex with a bunch of wiry, weed-addled teenagers and trying to move past a recent breakup. I've always strived to maintain a sense of perspective about my privilege - how much I have to be grateful for - but that hadn't been working for me. I felt a ton of pressure at my job, missed my ex-girlfriend, and really didn't like where I was living. And instead of actively trying to change my circumstances, I shut myself away in my slanted third floor room and watched Mad Men for the second time around as the teenagers below me smoked bowls, ate overpriced sushi, and argued over who got to play the next game of Super Smash Brothers.
On this Tuesday morning though, my life felt different. Or like it was about to be. I wasn't at work, I wasn't looking at my ex-girlfriend's Facebook page, and I wasn't re-watching Mad Men. I had a train to catch. I was leaving the city. I had somewhere to be. I had no idea what to expect at this conference, but looking out at the icy vista as our VIA train traveled north, I suddenly felt a lightness. A distinct sense of possibility.
I got in late and quickly called it a night in my hotel room. The next morning, after a heavy, dreamless sleep, I headed over to the conference center and geared up for a day of industry talks and social events. I normally hate this kind of thing but I was excited - and grateful - for what felt like a respite from my recently dreary routine. I got into the designated meeting room and quickly clocked a sea of fellow interns, gently mingling, tentatively pouring coffee for themselves, and awkwardly adjusting their lanyards. The first speaker was about to begin so I grabbed the only available seat I could find, in the front row.
Throughout the morning, I took notes as various industry professionals opined about the current state and future of the Canadian media landscape. I felt engaged. I was part of something, and was acquiring a slew of fascinating new terms: OTT, VOD, SVOD, VPN. Each of these abbreviations stood for something and maybe I could too.
During a coffee break, introductions were made in the front row. This is when I first met Winter Tekenos-Levy, the ice queen and future star of Just Cuddle. Ice queen is actually an unfair description: she's a sweetheart. Although her recent shock of white hair certainly fits. After speaking to Winter for a few minutes, I discovered that we had virtually the same job at different companies and that we both had four siblings of the opposite sex. Beyond these somewhat bland, if unusual, similarities, I instantly felt like I knew her. And I liked her, in large part because she was real - she wasn't trying to impress anyone or put forth a glossier version of herself. She was funny, open, had a good smile and a great laugh. I had no idea where she lived or if we would ever see each other again, but it felt like an accomplishment to meet somebody I felt so comfortable around. I hoped we could become friends.
The coffee break ended and the next speaker came to the front of the room. She educated us on digital media and the various tools her company uses to finance and distribute web series. About twenty minutes into her session, she asked the room if anyone wanted to try pitching a series that fit the interactive format she had mentioned. Like a bolt of lightning, up went the hand of the amazing Michael Kimber - a stranger to me at the time. He raced to the podium, quickly caught his breath and began his pitch:
"So, here we are at this conference, all coming together in Ottawa, talking about the stuff we love: television and movies, how to make it, how to make a living off of it... but what if we were here for a totally different reason." I was intrigued, and fixed my attention on this animated, delightful human being. He continued: "What if we were here not to discuss the Canadian media landscape, but instead to celebrate serial killers. A 'serial killer conference' where we come together to bask in the glory of the men who have murdered for pleasure. We'd watch recreations of murders, listen to panels that get to the heart of the heroics of these trailblazers, pore over news clippings and other memorabilia. We might even get an autograph from a targeted victim who miraculously survived her attack but still faces the looming threat of the killer getting out of prison and hunting her down to finish the job." Genius, I thought. The other interns and I were all laughing hysterically. Michael's earnest tone as he delivered this insane pitch was truly something to behold. The speaker wasn't quite on the same page though. She politely suggested that maybe someone could get killed at the conference and you could release clues for the audience so that they could try and solve the mystery as the series unfolded. This, she explained, would be more in keeping with the model she was discussing. Michael responded, "Sure, fuck my idea..." and the room erupted in a powerful, uncontainable laughter. This guy was incredibly original, smart, weird, and unabashedly himself. He clearly had a unique mind and, as I soon discovered, a deep kindness, integrity, and passion as well. He was exactly the kind of person I wanted in a creative partner and in a friend.
Michael, Winter and I hung out over the course of the conference. I met other fun and fascinating people, but those two had a spark that shifted things for me. I soon broke out of the funk I was in, joined a writer's group with them, started developing more ideas, opened up socially... On some level I think just really needed connection. With the right people of course. These friendships eventually became creative partnerships as well and spawned a web television series that we are all very proud of. It's a series that showcases characters inspired by real people, exploring loneliness, depression, and the incredible power of human contact in those times we need it most.