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Jann at home: Why Jann Arden insisted new comedy series be based on and in her hometown

Delhi News-Record 2018-10-11 18:30:02

Jann Arden admits she was not particularly optimistic when she laid out two unnegotiable conditions for her new comedy series, Jann.

During an early meeting with her Toronto producers, Arden told them upfront that she would not shoot the show in their hometown. She wasn’t going to shoot it in Vancouver, either. Not only did she insist the series be shot in Calgary, she wanted Calgary to play Calgary.

This may not sound like an unreasonable demand, but it is a rarity.

Most television series or films that shoot here, with a few exceptions, use Calgary as a stand-in for somewhere else. But much to Arden’s surprise, the producers in question — Project 10’s Andrew Barnsley and Ben Murray — were not only agreeable but enthusiastic about the idea.

“I thought I’m going to get shut down before I even got out the door and nobody said anything,” says Arden, in an interview last week. “I kept waiting to be stopped and nobody stopped me.”

It may be rare, but it makes perfect sense in this case. In Jann, Calgary will play Calgary and Jann Arden will play Jann Arden, albeit a very bizarre version of Jann Arden. But the character’s adventures on the new CTV series, which will air in 2019, will take her to some recognizable Cowtown landmarks: the Stampede, the Saddledome, Ranchman’s, the downtown core.

“Calgary has been used in film, but it’s never Calgary,” says Arden. “In Fargo, it’s North Dakota, in Wynonna Earp, it’s Purgatory — wherever the (expletive) that is. As far as Calgary being a character, we talk about the Saddledome and we’re shooting in locations throughout the city. It’s so memorable. It’s another character in this show. It’s very prominent. We have so much here. We’re a young, enthusiastic, really progressive place and I, for one, want to show people who we really are.”

An inconvenient blast of winter hit the rural set near Bragg Creek, Alta. of Jann in early October. From the CTV, Calgary-shot series Jann. Courtesy, CTV. CTV

On this particular day, Alberta was certainly showing its true self by offering crews a logistical challenge to work around. One day before CTV invited Canadian journalists down to the rural set near Bragg Creek, Mother Nature decided to deploy a sudden snowstorm. Jann is meant to be a “green” show and, as beautiful as it looked on the evergreen trees last week, the snow proved to be a bit of a headache. Certain adjustments had to be made to hide the great outdoors from the interior shots.

“As an Albertan, it’s still funny how the weather can surprise us,” says Jordy Randall of Seven24 Films, the Calgary producers of the series. “We’ve never seen a fall like this. We’re on a 19-day shoot and expecting Alberta’s usual dry, sunny fall and snowmageddon happened.”

Through the magic of television, the snow will not make much of an appearance in the final product, and it goes without saying that Alberta’s hardy crews are used to shooting in far worse conditions. And, who knows, maybe this sudden blast of winter near the end of the shooting schedule will help bolster the series’ “what’s-real-and-what-isn’t?” type vibe. While Jann is a grounded comedy based on realistic characters and situations, the Jann Arden at the centre of the six-episode series is in many ways a fictional creation. As in real life, fictional Jann is a singer who has found success. Not unlike the real Arden, she is also caring for a mother (played by Deborah Grover) who is showing signs of dementia.

Unlike the real Arden, fictional Jann’s career has taken a bit of a nosedive and she is desperate to revive it. This pits her devoted, old-school manager Todd (played by Jason Blicker) against her new manager Cale (played by Elena Juatco), a slick and ruthless millennial convinced that Jann needs a thorough career makeover to make her more palatable.

The cast, creators and producers of Jann meet the press last week. From the CTV, Calgary-shot series Jann. Courtesy, CTV. CTV

Unlike the real Arden, the fictional Jann has a younger but more mature sister named Max (Zoie Palmer), who is pregnant with her fourth child and wants her older sibling to take on more responsibility when it comes to their fading mother. Also in the mix is Cynthia (played by Sharon Taylor), fictional Jann’s ex-girlfriend who has recently decided to dump her high-maintenance partner.

But while the show takes some major flights of fiction, many of the situations are based on real events in Arden’s life, even if they are slightly exaggerated. The writer’s room for the show was actually run out of Arden’s home outside of Calgary, so the writers always had access.

“We would say ‘What’s the worse thing that ever happened to you when you were doing a radio interview?’ ” says executive producer Jennica Harper, who shares showrunner duties with series co-creator Leah Gauthier. “We were finding scenes within that, too, where we’d say ‘OK that’s going to be a comedic scene.’ Our version is totally fictional, but the stuff that comes up and the conflicts that come up, there was a real version of that.”

But the biggest difference,  as most of the cast were quick to point out during this set visit, is that fictional Jann is a selfish, slightly narcissistic and occasionally oblivious diva who is poorly equipped to handle both her fading career and the encroaching real-life demands her mother requires.

“It wasn’t originally written this way,” says Arden. “Right up until the 11th hour when CTV greenlit us, the conversation came up that they wanted me to be Jann. They wanted my name to be Jann, not Stella Fredrickson or Jill Matheson. When that ball started rolling down the hill it was a bit of an avalanche and our show shifted a little bit. It was always going to be based on things that had happened to me but I wasn’t me. But we just took that final step to do that. And it’s a very bizarre version of me, indeed.”

Jann will air in 2019.