Canada Has a FUND for Web Series!?! Canadian TV/Web Writer Barbara Haynes interviews Mark DeAngelis, Co-Creator of Bill & Sons Towing, One of the Select Series to Get Funding from Canada’s IPF

L to R: Tony Lombardo, Jon Smith, Dave Brennan and Eric Toth

When you call a tow truck, things are usually at a low point. If we’re going full
cliche, it’s usually pouring rain, your heel just broke and you’re crazy-late for an
important meeting. But Bill & Sons Towing is a call you’ll happily make. In fact, you’ll stay on the line for the full 10 episodes of this hilarious – and sometimes surprisingly poignant – web series about a floundering tow truck company run by four bickering brothers. I interviewed co-creator Mark DeAngelis about the project, and here’s what he had to say…

You’ve primarily been a TV writer. What led you to create your first web series?

Like a lot of people who work in TV, I came to the sobering realization that
getting an original sitcom idea onto television is an extremely difficult process.
First you have to go into development. If you’re lucky, you get to shoot a pilot.
If you’re really lucky, you get a season order. If you’re beyond lucky, network
executives haven’t fucked with your idea too much and you’re proud of the final
product.

While I continue to wait for that perfect storm to rain down on me, my producing
partner (Charles Ketchabaw) told me about The Independent Production Fund
and how they were accepting applications to fund a handful of original web
series. I had a few ideas I was developing as a traditional half-hour sitcom that I
thought might lend themselves to being a web series. We put our heads together,
fleshed out the idea, submitted the application, and we were lucky enough to be
selected. I guess the big picture goal in creating a web series was to showcase
my skills as a creator/writer/producer.

Yes, The IPF is a fantastic fund. Executive Director Andra Sheffer has been a
huge champion of Canadian film, TV, and now web series, and the IPF is both
instrumental and innovative in terms of online production in Canada.  So! What changes (other than length) did you make when writing webisodes (vs.

TV episodes)?

I’d say the biggest difference is a much thinner B-story, and the absence of a C-
story. That aside, I approached the entire series with a half-hour sitcom format in
mind.

How did you structure the acts or beats?

Since all our episodes are approximately 6-9 minutes in length, we didn’t have
much in the way of traditional act breaks. In the TV world, 6-9 minutes basically
takes you from the top of the episode to your first commercial break. As a result,
we focused more on structuring the beats of each episode. I took a real shine
to using Dan Harmon’s method to structure the beats; he calls it his ‘story circle’
and it plots 8 different points on a circle. I still don’t think I’ve mastered it, but it’s
a pretty genius way to look at story (whether you’re writing a half hour sitcom or a
two minute sketch).

Did you have a writing room? If so, was it you and your co-creator, or both of
you plus the actors?

We had a small writing room. It consisted of Charles (co-creator), Eric Toth
(member of The Imponderables), and myself. My brother Andrew De Angelis,
who’s a fantastic writer, wasn’t in the room but he acted as Executive Story
Editor throughout. I’d kick over first and second draft scripts to him, and get his
thoughts, which were really helpful.

Still from Episode 2: Angry Customer

There’s a really nice arc to the series – is that something you plotted out
beforehand?

I spent a lot of time plotting out the arc of the series. It was definitely the biggest
challenge; how to create a fluid arc to a 10-part series, with episodes that are
only 6-9 minutes in duration. I started by putting a big board on the wall of the
writing room where I’d plot out the various story threads we were weaving into
the series (ie, Eric’s ex-fiancé, Tony’s mysterious mom, Jon wanting to tell his
Dad that Eric got fired from his previous job, Dave planning Bill’s surprise party,
etc). It felt a bit overwhelming at times. In fact, there were several times when I
explicitly said, ‘fuck it; let’s just do this as a purely episodic series’. But I really
wanted to prove that you could tell a deeper story on the web and make it work.
You tend to see a lot of episodic series on the web (and I completely understand
why), but I thought it’d be more interesting if we could tell a story that would
resemble traditional half-hour television.

What was the process in getting the show funded? Were your funders
exclusively Canadian, or do you have any international investors?

The show was funded entirely by the Independent Production Fund, a Canadian
fund that’s been financing webseries for the past few years now. The application
process is quite long and extensive. While I’m sure the process continues to
evolve, the year we submitted, we were required to submit two full scripts, a mini-
bible, additional episode blurbs, and a budget top sheet. And that was just for
the initial round. Based on that initial package, they shortlist approximately 30
projects. If you’re fortunate enough to be short-listed, you’re required to submit
additional, even more detailed information. From that, they select approx 15
projects for funding. I believe the entire process stretched out over a span of 4 or
5 months.


Compared to how long Canadian TV series can be in development, that actually
sounds great! I love the show, despite it being very “guy centered,” but I think
we relate to strong characters, regardless of gender. What steps, if any, did you
take to appeal to female viewers?

Even though our show is indeed very guy centered, I didn’t want to write a show
that would appeal only to men.

Part of the strategy was to ground the entire premise in a very relatable situation, which is ‘family’. At its heart, Bill & Sons Towing is a family comedy. So whether you’re a viewer who is male, female, young, or old, everybody can relate to the inherent dynamics we’ve experienced in our own families. And while our characters do some pretty outrageous “guy things” (like shoot a bikini calendar), I tried to ground their actions/behavior out of very relatable, universal emotions (jealousy, insecurity, greed, etc).

In addition to that, we also introduced many strong female characters throughout
the ten episodes. For instance, Eric’s ex-fiancé Cynthia appears in a few
episodes, as does Eric’s mom, Jon’s mom, and Dave’s mom. I liked the notion
of having various women coming through the door throughout the series, to sort
of ‘intrude on the Boys Club’ and change the dynamic from time-to-time.

I liked that all four sons had different moms! What’s the web series landscape
like in Canada? Are there any other online shows you’d recommend?

There are a lot of really great web series going on in Canada. One reason I
think they’re being embraced here, and maybe this is just me talking out my ass,
is that they offer Canadian content creators a more level playing field with our
American cousins. There are very few Canadian television shows that are able
to compete with the big production budgets we see on US television.

Fairly or unfairly, Canadian viewers often judge Canadian TV shows for “not being as
good as American TV shows”, or god forbid, “looking Canadian”. For the record,
I think we make a lot of great TV shows (and a lot of really shitty ones too). But
when someone watches a web series, they come to it with different expectations
than they do with TV. I don’t know that ‘lowered expectations’ is the right word,
but they’re certainly more forgiving. Suddenly, it’s not about whether a web series
is American or Canadian, it’s about whether or not it’s funny. And for a country
with a massive inferiority complex, I can’t tell you how important this is.

As for other Canadian web series I’d recommend, there’s a bunch, but I’ll keep
it short… on the comedy side, one series that really influenced me in terms of
telling a longer narrative story on the web is ‘The Bitter End’. Two more great
comedies I’ve recently watched are ‘inSAYSHAble’ and ‘Guidance’. On the
drama side, one of the biggest and most successful web series to come out of
Canada is ‘Out With Dad’. And for a younger audience, there’s a great interactive
detective series called ‘Ruby Skye P.I.’

What’s next? Would you like a second season online? Have you pitched it to
networks as a potential TV series? Or do you feel that would limit it in terms of
comedy and content?

Truthfully, I don’t know what’s next. The series has been incredibly well received,
and response has been great. We want to be sure that if we continue with the
series, we do it right. Doing a second season online is certainly an option, and
we’ve also started discussions with regards to developing it as a TV series. I

certainly think the show has all the elements to make it a successful TV show,
but who knows? If I’d figured out the TV business, I probably wouldn’t have made
a web series, and that would’ve been a shame. I can honestly say it’s been one
of the most enjoyable creative experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ll continue to work
in this field for a long time… whether that perfect “TV deal” storm rains down on
my head or not.

BARBARA HAYNES is an award-winning writer and producer who’s worked on tween and primetime sitcoms, writes for Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse, an online series that imagines everybody’s favorite doll as a reality star, and has a blog with her husband called I Do Already, a fun, he said/she said look at love, sex and marriage. 

4 thoughts on “Canada Has a FUND for Web Series!?! Canadian TV/Web Writer Barbara Haynes interviews Mark DeAngelis, Co-Creator of Bill & Sons Towing, One of the Select Series to Get Funding from Canada’s IPF

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