That’s Mark Ellis in a nutshell. However, I don’t think it’s very comfortable in a nutshell (Austin Powers didn’t seem to like it) and so I’m going to flesh out Mark’s existence a wee bit before running his rep though the mill with my shall we say, “unique” interview style?
As an actor Mark’s done the short film, TV series/movie thing to great effect, but as a writer and producer he’s helped change the world. This may come off as hyperbole but television, when done right, can change people’s lives by enlightening them and forcing them to look at corners of the world and history they would have otherwise overlooked.
Flashpoint focused on a fictional elite Canadian police SWAT unit, the Strategic Response Unit (SRU), tasked to resolve extreme situations like hostage-taking, bomb threats, etc. The show featured the best of the best getting their hands and minds dirty so people at risk could go back to their lives in one piece. The series ran for five seasons and it gave us a wholly-unique point of view: that of the people who make life or death decisions in a split-second.
Flashpoint showed viewers things they don’t see in action movies or the usual TV cop shows. If you’ve never seen it, search it out and I guarantee you’ll be an instant fan, it’s that good.
And that brings us to X Company. Another winner created by Mark and his spouse Stephanie, X Company takes place during the Second World War and follows five recruits as they are trained as spies at a Canadian training facility near Lake Ontario and then sent out into the field. As the grandson of two souls who experienced the ravages of war first-hand (Grandma was a nurse in a German military hospital and Grandpa was a Polish resistance member who wound up as a security guard at a United Nations interment camp when the war ended) X Company holds a special interest. This is a period piece cut from a special cloth.
Mark Ellis creates fictional worlds inhabited by characters that viewers can identify with on an all-too real level. The CBC, and for that matter, Canada, are blessed to have one more season of X Company to look forward; the show spotlights a vital segment of history, having been inspired by the real spy training facility, Camp X, which was located between Whitby and Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Yeah, that’s right, Canadians can James Bond with the best of them.
All right, so now that you know why I feel so honored to have Mark Ellis here today, we can segue-way to the 5×5 portion of our program.
ONE) You’re partially responsible for two brilliant series; how does your brilliant brain box come up with such fully-formed, endlessly-intriguing- yet-oh-so-real television realities?
None of it arrives fully formed. It starts with the scrap of an idea. With a question. A police sniper is tasked with killing a gunman at 9am in the morning. What’s the rest of his day like?
X Company started with Alfred’s character. He’s inspired from a real life case study about a man whose senses were fused together, which gave him a perfect memory. We wondered — “What’s the worst place you would want to be if you couldn’t erase anything you ever saw?” War.
We build with lots of research, interviews, and then we work with brilliant writers in a story room that make us look good.
TWO) Did you receive any feedback from real police officers while Flashpoint was in production? (Or even now?)
We found our first cop with the help of our good friend Constable Google. Barney McNeilly was a retired senior officer lecturing on critical incidents. He agreed to meet us but he was a little bemused, maybe a little wary. After all, we two had no track record at the time and he had no idea what the hell we were trying to write. But when he found out we were more interested in the human costs of wearing a SWAT uniform than the cool gack, he put us in touch with a policeman who’d just gone through a shooting.
We toured Toronto’s ETF headquarters, met a bunch of the guys there. And then, when we started filming the pilot, we met Jimmy Bremner, ex-ETF Team Leader, who was the first cop to speak truly transparently about the difficulties of that job. Jimmy worked with us for 5 years and inspired many stories.
I also remember getting called into Toronto Police HQ by some of the brass there. They weren’t thrilled that we were showing some of the tricks of their trade onscreen. I got the sense about half of them liked what we were doing and the other half – not so much. But Hugh and Enrico became very popular in the cop community. And there are some secrets we agreed to keep…
THREE) I’ve been married 22 years and my wife still manages to fool me when necessary; does being married to an ultra-talented actress mean you can never beat her at poker? Can you ever see though her white lies?
My wife doesn’t play poker. And she never lies, which means I have to keep honest too. She’s very respected by her colleagues for saying exactly what she thinks, while still being collaborative and open to better ideas. Or now that I think about it… She is a very talented actress. Oh dear…
FOUR) What would you rather be: A cyborg or a vampire? (It’s never boring in my reality, Mark.)
One of the great questions, and one I pondered in my formative years, driving the van for Holiday Inn Etobicoke, picking up bags and breakfast trays at 6am.
Vampire. Mainly for revenge reasons.
(And that, kids, is why Mark Ellis is really here: he’s a former bellman and thus a compatriot of yours truly.)
FIVE) What do you find more enjoyable: Being an actor or a behind-the-scenes mastermind?
I don’t miss acting. I’ve watched thousands of auditions. Worked with some of the world’s best actors. If I ever saw me on a screen now I’d say ‘what’s that guy doing there?’ Better to live vicariously, to mouth the words silently at the computer and then watch the pros make it better.
When I acted I loved researching a character, trying to understand where he fit into the larger story. Those are valuable things for an actor to do, but even better for a writer. Stephanie and I get to shape X Company from first idea to final cut in the edit room. It’d be hard to lose that kind of control over telling a story.
My thanks to Mark for taking pity on a fellow hospitality wage slave and elevating my little slice of cyber-space in the process. Thank you for being here, friends.
See you in the lobby and on the CBC, kids…