Director David Winning and "friend" on the set of Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil.
Medieval Britain, the far-flung Pegasus galaxy, an isolated island inhabited by shipwrecked castaways and sentient dinosaurs - these are just a handful of settings for the numerous feature films, TV series, miniseries, and made-for-TV movies directed by David Winning.
Among the many TV series that the award-winning director has worked on is the Canadian supernatural comedy Todd & the Book of Pure Evil. It stars Alex House as Todd Smith, a small-town high school student who, along with his friends, spends some of his spare time fighting to save the world. Their nemesis is a mysterious book of “pure evil” that can turn your wishes into reality - just be careful what you wish for.
This past week Todd received eight Gemini Award nominations for its first season. Winning directed two episodes last year, and in the first of which, “Rock N’ Roll Zombies Know Best,” Todd’s attempt to make his unrequited love Jenny (Maggie Castle) jealous backfires with disastrous results.
“I had a great time on ‘Zombies,’” recalls Winning. “It was my first episode of the series and it’s always a bit tense making sure you’re in sync with the producers’ tone for the show. You want to define the comedy as well as horror in such a way that’s also in tune with what your bosses had intended. Series creator/executive producer Craig David Wallace could not have been more welcoming. This is a group of unassuming (essentially) first time television producers who nursed this show to its birth over seven years and they had such a great attitude going into season one.
“’Zombies’ was also great largely due to the amazing performances from Toby Hughes [Sebastian] and Kristen Harris [Raven], who had an absolute blast creating the scary zombie rock stars. Both of them went through about three hours of prosthetic make-up work, had contact lenses as well as rotted teeth added, and yet still managed to let a funny and brilliant performance emerge. The advantage with this type of role is that the actors can audition for other parts on Todd because no one would recognize them as themselves.”
While flesh-eating zombies may not have been conducive to the safety and well-being of Todd and his friends, their presence in the halls of Crowley High, and how Winning presented them to audiences, netted the director a prestigious Leo Award.
“To be honest, that was an amazing surprise,” he says. “It was a night when the sweetheart series Sanctuary and the departing old soldier Smallville had racked up many nominations and several wins that week as well as that evening, so hearing my name was really a pleasant shock.
“In many ways Todd has felt like the new kid on the block, and I greatly appreciated being embraced by the Leos that evening. This is my third nomination and my second win. The first award was for the ABC series Dinotopia, which was filmed in Budapest, Hungary, while Todd is shot in Winnipeg, so we’re gradually inching closer to [my] home. It’s a really nice hefty award, too, which is a bonus, and it takes a prized position in a cabinet in my mom’s dining room in Calgary.”
At the same time Winning was filming “Zombies,” he was doubly busy behind the camera working on his other first season Todd episode, “Cockfight.”
“This series is shot in two-episode blocks, or two episodes filmed simultaneously over seven or eight days,” explains the director. “So you get a bit schizophrenic jumping back and forth between storylines within a shooting day, but obviously it’s a very efficient way to film a TV series. Each episode is pretty gag heavy and special effects [SFX] laden, so an easier, more straightforward process for the principal filming only helps the logistics.
“I’ve always tried to lay out the shooting schedule to protect the climax scene from each episode and give it a day unto itself for filming. This allows more shooting time for an end sequence, which is typically more complicated than other scenes. What it means, though, is that your shooting days can appear uneven - a heavy ten pages of script to be shot one day, then a seemingly lighter three to five pages on another day - but this would include the elaborate ending sequences. It’s a matter of weighing out how complicated each scene will be to film and how much time you’ll have to accomplish it.
“In this block we isolated the ending ‘Zombies’ hallway sequence and the Cockmonster showdown for one entire day of filming each. This gave us time to properly shoot the scenes, hopefully making for more entertaining episodes. Doug Morrow, who works on the series as a SFX make-up artist, is the unsung hero of ‘Cockfight’ as he puppetted the monster for the final fight sequence. It was about as far away as you can get from Muppets,” jokes the director, “but an interesting experience. Here’s a bit of Todd trivia for fans: the French accented voice of the Cockmonster is actually Alex House arguing with himself.
“This is an episode that everyone laughs at, maybe nervously, but really it’s a great comment on male/female relationships and the emphasis that’s often put in the wrong places. It also features a monster that certainly gets people talking.”
Season two of Todd & the Book of Pure Evil is currently being shot in Winnipeg, and production recently wrapped on two stories that Winning directed. “The first one is called ‘Jungle Fever,’” he reveals. “In it, a student named Gina who is fixated on the lack of environmental concerns being met at the high school gets her hands on the book. In no time at all the entire school - and we presume the world - is transformed into a primordial rainforest jungle. Needless to say, the high school becomes a much more dangerous playground than usual.
“’iPerv,’ my second episode, is about the school’s most infamous ‘peeper’ who uses the book to become invisible, chase girls, and wreak havoc on the students. Both these stories will eventually air on The SPACE Channel in Canada and on FEARnet in the U.S.
“Many thanks to Craig David Wallace as well as the great creative cast and crew of Todd for giving me a shot. I had a lot of fun.”