TV comedy has local roots

Never before as a fictional television series been written, produced and shot in Prince George. Until now.

Geoff & The Ninja cuts a new slice of history for this city, thanks to creators Jon Chuby and Jeremy Abbott. They first pitched the series in 2014 via the CBC ComedyCoup Competition, in which they made the Final 15 but did not eventually win.

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However, the competition's layered approach forced the creators to hone their proposal carefully and by the time it was over, Geoff & The Ninja was solidly based on an implementation plan. Chuby and Abbott knew it had the substance to make it to fruition.

"The first season was done: written and ready to rock," said Chuby. "We decided to film some parts of it whether we had funding or not."

The preparation paid off. The Storyhive Program through Optik TV / Telus stepped in to advise them, and ultimately the network agreed to air the first six hypothetical episodes, if they followed through and filmed them.

"We filmed basically every day for a month and a half," Chuby said. He and his wife emptied their house of furniture to accommodate the process. He and Abbott played the eponymous Geoff and the ninja, respectively, plus shared the directing duties, the writing duties, and a lot of the preproduction arrangement work.

"We were wearing way too many hats," Chuby said. They had a whole team of friends doing the same.

"Some people took big blocks of time off work, and some had to keep working so we filmed around all our schedules. Scheduling a film-shoot needs a whole full-time position by itself. Just making sure all the things you need for that shoot are there is a huge effort. People watch a film and they think it looks like so much fun, and it is, but they don't see all the work that goes into it."

What Abbott and Chuby had going for them, they soon discovered, was Prince George itself. Their friends were quick to commit to helping the project, but what they weren't expecting was the groundswell of support from the general public. When they needed to film at a burger joint, Carl's Junior volunteered their location. The Twisted Cork loaned them their premises for a restaurant setting. When they needed to build a pizza box castle, the pizza places of the city donated their cardboard. When they needed a crash pad for a stunt fall, that was also supplied just for fun and the spirit of cooperation. They were very low-budget, but found that inspired a high-engagement response.

Perhaps it helped that Chuby and Abbott have a track record of accomplishing their filmmaking goals. Going so deep in the ComedyCoup Competition took a lot of work. Along with another frequent collaborator, Dan Stark, Chuby shot the short-film Behind The Reds which cracked the Top 15 in the 48 Film Project by the Directors' Guild of America. He also acted in the live stage production of Evil Dead: The Musical.

Because who needs to sleep?, Chuby and Abbott were also involved in the shooting of a short-film called Clown Alley which needed a lot of community extras and many public supporters as well. The filming of the most ambitious scene happened in Moore's Meadow, there was a school bus involved, and it happened to land right in the middle of the nationwide violent clown crisis that locally required a couple of days of school lockdowns.

"It was just bad timing, bad luck, so we had to be really careful and let the police know what we were doing and give them all the information we could, just to be transparent and not make their lives any harder," Chuby said.

Now that project, too, is getting traction. It is in the editing process but had to wait until the Geoff & The Ninja work was finished. Chuby said that project should be available for screens by spring.

And just when Chuby and Abbott might be getting set for a quick nap, yet another film project burst in on them. A horror project came their way in the form of a Wattpad (social media platform for writers) short-film competition focused on the stories of Canadian author/actor Josh Saltzman.

"We sent in a pitch video for one of his stories, we really wanted to be the ones to shoot it, and we made it in, we were one of the six finalists, so we will make our video and Wattpad will combine them into an anthology film," said Chuby.

All this filming has deprived them of sleep, but it has engorged the local film industry with experience, skills, contacts and, best of all, future goals. Chuby and Abbott attracted the help of a cinematographer from the Arrow television series to help them on Geoff & The Ninja. Also lending a hand was a visual effects specialist from the Marvel television franchise. Even Prince George City Hall has become familiar with their work, because some of the filmmaking effort needs the consent of the municipality.

"Everyone has been so great to us. I can't tell you how people love to help and how grateful we are," Chuby said. "The film industry, more than any other art form, is collaborative and multidisciplinary. It takes a team to make a movie, large or small, and I think directors get too much credit. Everyone who's involved in a film project leaves something of themselves on the finished product, and as a director you have to be open to that. We are very appreciative for the help of Prince George to get our filmmaking company (Picaroon Pictures) up and running, and we are seeing a little film movement now showing signs of life in this area. We aren't the only ones, and the work is high quality. There is an industry developing. Even though we don't have the military order of the film industry like a Vancouver or a Toronto, a few people in this town really know what they are doing, now, and a lot of people have at least a little experience. That's growing all the time, and building that capacity is so important for the city's filmmaking future."

What these projects do is prove to more creative people that it isn't necessary for Hollywood producers to parachute in for a few days or a few weeks. Prince George can write its own stories and roll its own film.

Geoff & The Ninja follows the hilarious angst and rarified antics of a pair of roommates, one of whom happens to be a ninja and the other a reluctant accomplice.

Chuby and Abbott are nearly finished the shooting for the six episodes due to Optik TV this spring. The editing process awaits, another of those exhaustive unseen processes of the art form. When it's done, the series will break ground like Bruce Lee kicking through boards, as the first all-P.G. fiction series in city history.

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