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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Odyssey odyssey, part 1

Thanks to Liza and Squall142 for their kind comments in yesterday's post. I recognize that this blog is not one that really stimulates community participation, but I do appreciate contributions when they arrive.

Fans of The Odyssey have expressed curiosity about how the show came to be, and I have meant to say more about that. Maybe I'll start now.

Warren Easton and I had been friends from childhood, as far back as grade 3 in North Vancouver. Along with other friends we had an interest in creative and dramatic things such as writing and acting. After leaving high school 1977 we lost the nurturing environment for following these things, but were still interested in these creative pursuits, even if it wasn't clear how to follow these now.

After some time spent (mainly separately) working, traveling, and dropping out of higher education, we agreed in spring 1982 to write a script together--a made-for-TV movie.

Well, we never quite finished that, but over the next few years, while varying between unemployment and working at various jobs, we kept chipping away at script projects. At the same time, I was a stringer for a small Montreal-based magazine called Cinema Canada, writing articles and then columns about happenings in the film and TV industry in Vancouver. This got me meeting people in the industry (and getting them willing to talk to me!). One of the people I met was Michael Chechik, a local producer whose company, Omni-Films, was involved in making the feature film Walls, a true-life prison story starring Winston Rekert, who went on to star in the TV series Neon Rider.

When my father, Al Vitols, who was a current-affairs producer for CBC-TV in Vancouver, told me that the long-running, locally produced TV series The Beachcombers was going to come to an end before long, and that the CBC may well be looking for something to replace it, Warren and I put our heads together and came up with what we thought was a similar adventure-comedy idea, but more urban in tone and therefore (we assumed) also cheaper to produce, maybe. It was a show about bicycle couriers, which we called Flash Dispatch. (At that time, 1983-84, bicycle couriers were everywhere in Vancouver; the fax machine had not yet arrived, still less the Internet.)

After studying a couple of half-hour CBC scripts that my father furnished us, Warren and I set to work writing a pilot script for our half-hour would-be TV series. (Like many proto-TV writers, we looked at the scripts and thought, "Cripes, we can do better than that.") Warren and I had both recently ended periods of poverty and unemployment by getting jobs, he as a messenger at a securities firm downtown; I soft-landed as a clerk at the Insurance Corporation of B.C.--a cushy unionized job. He worked days and I worked evenings, so we got together at midnight each night in his little apartment over a bagel shop at 16th and Oak in Vancouver. With a typewriter set up on something like an upended box (he had no furniture), I typed while he paced or lounged, and the traffic zoomed noisily past just below.

This was in the winter of 1984. After a few grueling weeks of working like this, we had a pilot script for our show. Entitled "The Old Switcheroo", the episode had one of our young couriers involved in mistakenly picking up a pack filled with the proceeds of a bank robbery, with farcical results. It was a comedy with fast-moving, outdoor, West Coast action: we thought it was good, and we started trying to get it read--first of all by sending it to the CBC.

Nothing. No response. Not yes, not no--nothing. Gradually we realized that we'd probably have to start showing it to other people, producers. At the same time, we tried to come up with other ideas, while also keeping body and soul together by holding down regular jobs.

I forget now exactly how it happened, but at some point, late in 1985, I sent some material to Michael Chechik at Omni-Films--Flash Dispatch and a story treatment for a TV movie that Warren and I had worked up about ice dancing, called Dancing on Ice. Well, one evening, I think in early December 1985, I got a call at home from Michael, saying he really liked the Flash Dispatch script and wanted to see about getting it produced.

Yahoo! I thought. I'm in show business!

We agreed to meet at La Bodega, a tapas bar downtown, to talk about it. How exciting! We were going to be produced!

There were plenty of twists and turns yet to come. But that will be for future installments...


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