More of my interview with Sheri Elwood, creator/showrunner of CALL ME FITZ...
CS: Why shoot in Nova Scotia?
SE: They simply had the best tax incentive. I know it's a big taboo to say that. But it was a cost benefit analysis. We looked at Vancouver, Calgary, Hamilton, Halifax. Nova Scotia had the best incentives.
I mean, I own property there, and I pay taxes there. I shot my movie there, and I know the crews, so it made sense.
Of course, they give to you, and then they taketh away. Nova Scotia just yanked some of the incentives we've been relying on. It's unfortunate, you spend all this money trying to set up local infrastructure, to train a pool of technicians, and then you don't maintain that.
CS: The famous Canadian habit of punishing success.
SE: Right, if you're successful, you get less money. But we had lunch with our local Minister of Culture last season trying to impress on him and his people how much money we’ve brought into the community, so hopefully we'll get some of that back.
CS: It seems to be set in North America. Did you have pressure from broadcasters to make it more American?
SE: It's sort of an anywheresville ugly suburb. In my head when I wrote the pilot, it a suburb of Atlantic City, so if anything there was pressure from the Canadian side to make it nonspecific, for the sake of the funding.
CS: On CALL ME FITZ, your characters are compelling and fresh and sometimes outlandish. But they’re not what you’d call likable. (In fact, Jason Priestley's Dick Fitz is a right asshole, always looking out for number one, and proud of it. And Ernie Grunwald's Larry, who announces that he's Fitz's “conscience” and is out to save him, is self-righteous and incompetent.) What attracts you to writing characters you wouldn’t want to be your friends?
SE: I think at the end of the day it's calling it like I see it. These are people I know, and then I'm amping the volume up to 11. My brother's a used car salesman--
CS: So this is your family?
SE: I'm taking shades of what’s there and looking at it through a funhouse mirror.
CS: I notice that cable seems to be the home of unlikable characters. Do you think that's because there's encouragement to have characters and situations that can only be on cable? Or does every writer secretly long to write characters who are awful people, and only cable writers get to do it? Or are people actually like that?
SE: I think that everyone has a f***ed up family. So characters like these are infinitely relatable.
CALL ME FITZ was my writing sample for years. Everyone was interested in the writing, but we could never put him on network. They'd ask, “Could you get rid of the conscience?” “Could you get rid of the more unsavory elements of this guy’s psyche we don’t want to deal with?”
I think it's too general a statement to say that cable is allowing writers to be a little more truthful. Everyone’s flawed, and we're putting those flaws under a microscope. Cable allowed us to show flawed characters who say and do bad things – the things many of us would like to do and say, but are afraid to. Network is generally about selling ad time, and large corporations don’t want their products associated with degenerates.
CS: I notice that in episode 3, after two episodes which present Fitz in a completely uncompromising way, we meet Fitz's mother and we start to understand why he is the way he is, and sympathize with him a little. Another writer might have shown that sooner, and yet another writer might have never shown that. What went into the decision to hold that back until episode 3?
SE: It’s just how it played out - there wasn’t a science behind that decision. I would say that was the moment where we may have understood Fitz a little more, but it’s certainly not about redemption. Afterwards, he continues his downward spiral. Things just get worse. He does not learn his lesson. He does not become nice. And he doesn’t feel he’s done anything wrong.
CS: Larry’s clearly meant to be mysterious. On the one hand he appears almost miraculously during Fitz's accident. He knows things only Fitz could know. And he calls himself Fitz’s conscience.
On the other hand, he's no guardian angel. He makes mistakes, he gets involved in Fitz’s scams, and he tells lies. (Or I think he does.) Is “What is Larry really” a question you’re going to keep playing with throughout the series, or are you going to reveal an answer at some point?
SE: He’s horrible – he’s just as screwed up or more as Fitz is. I always intended that character to be mysterious. Is he Fitz's conscience, or is he just some psycho. It's about the shades of grey between good and bad -- is there really such a difference? That's who Larry is to Fitz.
That relationship is something I've arced out for the whole series. It goes all the way to the end. Once we know the whole story – the origin of Larry – for me, the show is over.
CS: So in an ideal world, how many seasons are there?
SE: It's a five season arc. At the same time I'm grateful that I've got this far. Season One I designed just to be a sort of a 6 1/2 hour art film box set. I'm thrilled we get to do a second season.
CS: Thanks so much!
CALL ME FITZ airs September 19 on The Movie Network and Movie Central. Check it out!