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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Keep calm and carry on

By Jamie Brown 08-01-2021

The CEO of Frantic Films discusses lessons from 2020 that will influence his company’s strategy over the coming year.

As we bid farewell to a tumultuous and frustrating 2020, there’s no doubt in my mind that people are in need of a laugh – now more than ever.

But finding new sources of comic relief has been no mean feat over the past nine months. Across North America, some of our favourite sitcoms, mockumentaries, sketch shows and stand-up tours have all struggled in the face of Covid-19 and been delayed or cancelled, including two of our series.

On the other hand, it’s also been inspiring to see the ‘can-do’ approach that’s been adopted across the film and TV industry. Covid-19 is a serious matter, but so is unemployment, bankruptcy and the many other issues that come from a complete lockdown of the economy.

Of course, a complete shutdown never did happen, as essential services continued to operate, and overall, quite safely. In Canada, the list of what was essential was sometimes quite logical (e.g. grocery stores) and sometimes a bit of a head scratcher (e.g. liquor stores. Although on second thoughts that has been pretty essential in my house over the past nine months!).

I appreciate that making television is not ‘essential’ in the strictest sense, but I believe the correct approach has been taken in deciding to move ahead where we can do so safely. Extensive efforts have been made to consider every aspect of how to create a safe work environment on set, and considering the significant volume of production going on around the world – including in Covid hot spots – it’s been working. Yes, even with these safety protocols, there will be cases of Covid on productions. But we can never remove all risk from everything we do and I believe the balanced approach has been the right one.

Production on Baroness von Sketch Show finished just before the pandemic

At Frantic, we have been fortunate over the last few months to safely shoot the latest season of Backyard Builds, started the seventh season of the Rose d’Or 2020-nominated Still Standing and have overcome numerous challenges to produce the delayed Winnipeg Comedy Festival 2020. There are significant added challenges shooting during Covid, but we did it thanks, in large part, to the resilience, determination and creativity of the people working on those productions. Adversity can lead to innovation, and we’ve found new ways to do things despite the restrictions Covid creates.

For example, our award-winning sketch comedy series Baroness von Sketch Show finished shooting shortly before the pandemic hit. Like many, we were able to continue with post-production by having our editors work remotely and everything worked beautifully. But in a wonderful moment of inspiration, we also realised we had a rich treasure trove of content, because we had written and shot far more sketches than we could include in each past season. When we looked into it, we discovered we had over 150 sketches sitting on the shelf! More than enough to generate an additional five full episodes of the series.

Not every adaptation to continue production has been a complete success. Comedians and late-night talkshow hosts filming in their basements without an audience was a noble effort but for my part not very successful. I’m a fan of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher and I was relieved when they found a way to return to filming in front of a (much reduced) live audience.

I’m sure there are extensive, expensive and cumbersome safety protocols involved but they found a way to do it. I would add that the ‘they’ finding solutions to the problems we face includes the networks who have to OK everything. We’ve been very fortunate to have the support of our broadcast partners in finding ways to move ahead safely, saving jobs and helping Frantic continue to operate.

During these difficult times, I’ve had many occasions to think about the saying ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ That was a wartime motto that people followed when there were bombs falling from the sky. During this pandemic, we may not have had wartime levels of destruction but it has been the biggest challenge in my lifetime. It’s been nice to see that, in so many ways, our industry has been able to live up to this.

today's correspondent

Jamie Brown CEO & Executive Producer Frantic Films

Jamie Brown has seen Frantic Films become one of Canada’s leading film and television producers across multiple genres including lifestyle, factual, reality, sports, comedy and drama. After beginning his career as an entertainment lawyer, he moved into producing and received the Lions Gate Innovative Producer Award. He was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 and received the IH Asper Broadcast Entrepreneur of the Future Award.

Over its 20 years in business, Frantic has won more than 150 awards for its work. Its projects are seen in over 130 countries on channels such as Food Network, HGTV, CBC, CTV, Discovery, History, IFC and CNBC. Its recent productions include comedies Still Standing, unscripted series Backyard Builds, one-off documentary Indictment – The Shelly Chartier Story, feature film Into Invisible Light and web series Writers Block. Jamie has created or co-created over a dozen series and has produced hundreds of hours of content. A complete list of his work is available at