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Winnipeg teen producing local TV series with all-volunteer cast

Thomas McLeod as James (facing away), Arthur McKinnon as Hugh.

JOSHUA HOOD PRODUCTIONS

Thomas McLeod as James (facing away), Arthur McKinnon as Hugh.

For most 16-year-olds, the notion of creating, writing and producing a television series seems highly unlikely, at best.

For Winnipegger Joshua Hood, however, bringing a TV project to life was more of an inevitability.

"I've always wanted to do something like this; I've been working at it for years," says Hood, the creative force behind the locally produced Shaw TV series Millworth, which takes a comedic/dramatic look at life inside Winnipeg's worst (fictional) high school. "Ever since I was four, when I first picked up a camera -- and I basically haven't put one down."

Millworth is a six-episode series that premièred Nov. 30 and is currently airing twice weekly (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m.) on Shaw TV. Inspired by Hood's interest in -- and concern about -- the public education system, the series features an all-volunteer cast of nearly 30 actors who play the students, teachers and administrators at Millworth, the fictional school.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/12/2015 (653 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For most 16-year-olds, the notion of creating, writing and producing a television series seems highly unlikely, at best.

For Winnipegger Joshua Hood, however, bringing a TV project to life was more of an inevitability.

Teela Tomassetti as Mrs. McDonkey and Daniel Gilmor as Mr. Morgan.

JOSHUA HOOD PRODUCTIONS

Teela Tomassetti as Mrs. McDonkey and Daniel Gilmor as Mr. Morgan.

Joshua Hood says he developed an interest in TV production as a child, when his parents let him use the family video camera.

DANIELLE DA SILVA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Joshua Hood says he developed an interest in TV production as a child, when his parents let him use the family video camera. Purchase Photo Print

"I've always wanted to do something like this; I've been working at it for years," says Hood, the creative force behind the locally produced Shaw TV series Millworth, which takes a comedic/dramatic look at life inside Winnipeg's worst (fictional) high school. "Ever since I was four, when I first picked up a camera — and I basically haven't put one down."

Millworth is a six-episode series that premièred Nov. 30 and is currently airing twice weekly (Tuesdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m.) on Shaw TV. Inspired by Hood's interest in — and concern about — the public education system, the series features an all-volunteer cast of nearly 30 actors who play the students, teachers and administrators at Millworth, the fictional school.

"I think every kid complains a little bit about going to school," says Hood, a student at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate who will turn 17 on New Year's Eve. "But I think there's definitely some work that needs to be done on the public education system — I was in it for nine years, and I've also heard lots of stories from my friends about their time in the public school system. I guess I was inspired by all of that, and this is my way of communicating that message to people."

Hood, who has been volunteering in a number of technical and behind-the-scenes roles at Shaw TV for about 16 months, says he started developing and writing the stories that would become Millworth about a year ago. He pitched the series idea to executives at Shaw TV, and received a very positive response.

"I actually have a friend who's an educational assistant in the public education system, and we sat down and developed the storylines for the show based on some things we think need improving," he explains. "We made them a bit more dramatic so we could make a story out them, and after we wrote the script we gave it to Shaw, and a script editor there looked it over and gave story suggestions on how to make it better.

"So really, it was three people who came up with the story and tried to figure out a way to tell it in an engaging way."

From a qualitative perspective, it's probably fair to say that Millworth has the look and feel of a TV series produced on a four-figure budget with an all-volunteer cast and crew. It isn't likely to be confused with Degrassi or Glee anytime soon, but one can't help but be impressed by the ambition and effort that obviously went into making it.

"I know it's not perfect, and I know there are some things I could definitely improve on the next time, but overall, I'm very happy with it," says Hood, who adds that reaction to Millworth, both at Shaw TV and on social-media platforms, has been very positive so far.

"I walked into Shaw (last Thursday) night, and my executive producer told me that people can't stop talking about the show."

Millworth's considerable cast is led by Cindy Myskiw as Mrs. Grimsley, the newly arrived principal who's intent on improving the troubled school's reputation and academic results. The biggest obstacle she faces is a staff of teachers, led by downcast and dishevelled Mr. Grant (Terry Wolf), who seem worn out by the increasing stress and diminishing resources of the job.

The show's central student population includes Hugh (Arthur MacKinnon), a bright kid from a troubled home, his pal James (Thomas McLeod), a soft-spoken outsider facing his first real chance at teenage romance, and Cassie (Sophie Smith), a new import who finds herself caught between the two boys.

The series was shot on a very compressed one-month schedule at Balmoral Hall last August; according to Hood, working with volunteers who often had other obligations to juggle made it necessary to adjust and adapt on a daily basis.

"We had a few moments that were stressful," he recalls. "When our director left halfway through production of the first three episodes, that was a bit unexpected. But we got through it; I took over (directing) for a little while. We had a few roles that were cast the very last minute, but when you're working with volunteers, it's hard to get them to commit fully when you're not paying them.

"A lot of times, I would get an email the day before saying, 'I can't make it at this time,' or 'Can we finish two hours early?' It was really a matter of managing the people and their time conflicts. That was the biggest challenge."

The Tuxedo resident says his interest in TV production was only indirectly inspired by his parents, who have been very supportive as he dedicated more than 200 hours to bringing Millworth to the small screen.

"My dad's a real-estate agent and my mom works in medicine, so I guess this is sort of a self-developed interest," he says. "It was kind of inspired by them having a video camera and letting me use it.... I think it comes from when I would watch TV as a kid and I would always try to figure out how they did it, and then I would try to do it with the family video camera. So it was definitely a self-sparked interest."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Read more by Brad Oswald.

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