Spotlight on NSI Alumni Dennis & Melanie Jackson

By Liz Hover, NSI

2011 marks the National Screen Institute’s 25th birthday. We’ve been training writers, directors and producers how to be storytellers since 1986.

In our latest alumni spotlight we’re proud to feature husband and wife team Dennis and Melanie Jackson.

Between them they’ve been students in four of our training programs. Not only are they the clever folks behind the award-winning TV series Wapos Bay (developed through NSI Totally Television) but they also find time to give back as associate faculty members of NSI’s New Voices program. Together they run Dark Thunder Productions Inc.

Spotlight on Dennis and Melanie Jackson

Dennis says: “NSI training gave me a confidence in the pitching process by teaching me the dos and don’ts when approaching a potential broadcaster. They’ve structured this by streamlining your project to its essence so that you know exactly what the broadcaster needs to know about you and your show.

Dennis is a graduate of NSI Totally Television (2002-03), the Aboriginal Cultural Trade Initiative (2004) and Featuring Aboriginal Stories Program (2009).

He began his career in elementary school watching 16mm prints of animation on aboriginal creation tales. Dennis remembers sitting at the back of the class as the teacher explained animation with the individual frames. Dennis has since received Gemini nominations for both his writing and directing of Wapos Bay. This animated series has received four Gemini awards of excellence.

Melanie Jackson says: “NSI training gave me confidence in the co-production process by teaching me the dos and don’ts when approaching a potential partner.  [The program] allowed me to participate in learning the process and what’s available in the international industry.”

Melanie is a graduate of NSI Storytellers (2005) and Featuring Aboriginal Stories Program (2009).

Melanie is a producer with over 14 years proven experience in development and programming of many hours of original drama and documentaries across several channels.

She has led creative professionals and built effective teams responsible for the delivery of quality programs. She brings a fresh perspective to the type of film, TV and digital media productions that can be successful in the marketplace and what skills are needed to create them.

Her ability to work with the leaders in our industry will help develop the most innovative, relevant and uniquely positioned in providing quality indigenous storytelling, high production values with excellence in stop-motion animation personnel and facilities.

Their successful TV series Wapos Bay is wrapping up with a movie called Long Goodbyes which will premiere in the fall on APTN with a limited advance theatrical release.

Read the official article here!

From the Crew to the Producers of Wapos Bay: Thank you!

Dennis Jackson, Melanie Jackson, Anand Ramayya

Watch this exclusive video from the official wrap party! Some of the crew share memorable moments and thank the producers of the Gemini-award winning Wapos Bay!

Want more Wapos Bay fans? You can purchase DVDs on the National Film Board of Canada website and watch for our interactive eBooks and ‘kart-style’ racer video game both coming out this fall!

Don’t forget to check in about the exciting NEW series, Guardians, from the producers of Wapos Bay!

Wapos Racerz! at the Studio

When I was first exposed to Wapos Bay, I was genuinely amazed; here was a world-class stop-motion animation program that was made in Canada – in Saskatchewan, no less – and it had completely slipped under my radar. Now, I consider myself pretty ‘media savvy’ (especially when it comes to genre programming, and even more so with animation), so if I was surprised by this revelation, the odds implied that a lot of other folks were similarly in the dark. This was a situation that needed to be remedied.

Enter ‘digital media’…or ‘transmedia’, as the hip kids like to call it. When the series creators and producers had mentioned that they were working on upgrading the web presence for the show early last year, I threw my proverbial hat in the ring. Their original plan was to create a basic video hub that featured short clips from the series…and not much else. My goal was to take advantage of current web technology – specifically Flash animation – to create a slice of the Wapos Bay experience online. People from around the world could come to the site, and immediately be immersed in the sights, sounds, and hand-made CHARACTER of the show. It would be packed with custom animations, easter eggs, and access to behind-the-scenes material that showcased the incredible craft of the creative team. 9 months later, Waposbay.com was born – mission accomplished!

So now – with the award-winning series coming to a close with a feature film – we wanted reach an even larger audience to celebrate its conclusion. And with the explosion in casual gaming online, the next phase seemed obvious: give new visitors and established fans a chance to meet the characters and explore the town in a stop-motion racing game. We hope you enjoy a sneak peek at what we have in store for later this Fall – Wapos Racerz is coming to a screen near you!!!

Courtesy Brooke Burgess, Transmedia Producer

Wapos Bay Studio Open House

We’re having another Open House so you can come check out behind-the-scenes of the four-time Gemini award-winning animation studio in Saskatoon!

What: Wapos Bay Studios – Open House
When: Friday, April 15th from 1pm to 6pm
Where: Wapos Bay Studios
Why: So you can get a tour of the studio and meet all different types of crew members, from animators to the creator!

School groups and individuals welcome!

The creators of Wapos Bay will officially announce their new TV series Guardians which will be produced in Saskatchewan. Come get the inside scoop on Wapos Bay The Movie that will premiere this coming fall, and the video game in development with Toronto-based Phantom Compass who has been involved with game projects for CBC, YTV and Teletoon.

Please RSVP to Shelly Bowes at 306-955-0036 or email shebow2000@hotmail.com to save your spot and get more information.

Find the studio via the map below!

The Week Before Production – Lighting & Camera Department

Courtesy of Craig Olson, Gaffer (from January 2011)

It’s a week before production on the Wapos Bay Movie and the Lighting/Camera Crew is called in to bring in all the gear (Cameras, Lenses, Lighting & Grip Gear) that our department needs to start the year.  It’s sad to see an award winning Canadian television show come to an end, but I’m excited that we get to do one last Movie to close the show out.  Not too many productions get the chance to say goodbye the right way, knowing that the show is over and having a chance to do what they always wanted to.

Our Crew has worked hard over the last week to get all of our bays ready to shoot for next Monday when the animators come in and shooting starts!  The studio has been modified to fit 10 bays this year which means that we need to have 10 different shots ready to go at all times (ideally). We use almost all of our gear in setting up those 10 bays as our department “stash” area is now almost empty.  Everything is “Tickitty-Boo” according to Peter.  I have learned that the phrase “Tickitty-Boo” is a good phrase meaning that life is good and we’re all happy.

It is the job of our crew to help convey the vision of the Director through camera angles, lenses and light.  We set up the camera and control light to the exact millimeter of where it should be to enhance the visual look of the shot.  Once the DP (Director of Photography) is happy with how the shot looks, the Director approves the shot and will communicate character direction to the Animator.  With the help of the Animation Supervisor (Cam Lizotte), the Director will make sure that the Animator has all the information needed to complete the shot.