Staying connected can be tough when your family is dispersed across multiple locations. From Paris to Montreal, to Detroit, the family bonds through technology and the awkwardness of a classic Dad joke.

Melbourne WebFest caught up with Samuel St-Pierre, Producer of Official Selection series Connecting (S2) (CAN).

What inspired the concept behind Connecting?

The idea of the first season came to be because we wanted to create a series about families living in different parts of the world and “living” their relationship through video conference, how it helps people keep in touch even though they live in different countries far from each other, but also how it changes their relationships over time, for the better or the worst!

For us, it was natural to set this series in a French-speaking family living between Montreal, Quebec and Paris, France in season 1. At that time, because of what was happening in the world, Mani got interested in knowing more about his family history, how and why they left Iran for Canada. He wanted to understand where he was from in order to maybe find himself a little bit more. This part of the story is definitely inspired by the life of the real Mani (the actor and screenwriter, he kept his real name for his own role). As we say, “you need to know where you’re from in order to know where you’re going” or something like that.

After understanding the first part of this saying in season 1, Mani (the character) is looking for a way forward in season 2. He finds himself alone and craving for connection with other people, but also with his inner-self. The series was released last spring and a year later, I can definitely say that a lot of people felt like Mani, connected to their family and friends with the help of technology, but feeling so far away at the same time. With Covid-19 and the lockdowns, we really realized the great value of getting together, in person, the importance of real human connections.

It was also important for us since the begging of the series to talk about identity in the“real world“ and how the “real world” affects our identity. Our main family is composed of three generations of Iranians descent in Canada. Their relationship to their own culture and identity is totally different from their generational perspective, and they are all transformed by what is happening in the world differently. Granny, Mani and Lili did not react the same way to the terrorist attack in Paris in the first season and again they all have their own way of seeing and reflecting on the racial tensions and political turmoil we see in the US in season 2, with Lili studying in Detroit. Their identity, how they see themselves and their place in the world will be transformed by these events just as much as the current events are affecting all of us, the viewers, in our own lives and forcing us to reconsider who we really are.

It’s a long answer, but I think that these were all the questions we were asking ourselves when we created that series and it guided us towards creating a series that really speaks to a wide range of people and opens up a dialogue about identity between generations and between the audience and the character.

Connecting (S2)

What is your favourite aspect of the series that you’d love your audience to know about?

There are a lot of things I like about this series! If I had to pick only one, I would say that I really like the balance we have achieved between genres throughout the series. There are moments of pure silly comedy mixed with really serious problems and concerns (racism, social justice, growing up, sickness…) and moments of pure emotions.

There was a comment from a fan of the series that I really liked that said (I translate, it was in French), ” Each time I watch an episode I laugh but then I cry”. I think that is a beautiful thing we achieved here: to be able to make people go through a whole range of emotions during something that lasts around 5 or 7 minutes an episode is not an easy thing to do.

Watching the series reminded me so much of my Dad and typically what he’d do and say all the time! How important was Mani’s role within the series?

Haha, thanks! As the dad of a growing pre-teen girl myself, I must say that sometimes I catch myself looking like Mani in the way I talk to her as well! He is definitely a good guy and tries to be a good dad, but sometimes, he’s really clueless, and most certainly all of us dads feel like that from time to time! He wants to protect his daughter from what he knows she will face in the world. He still sees her as a child but at the same time, he can’t deny that she’s growing up and carving her own path. I think he is a bit conflicted about that. He is just a bit clumsy and childish and I think that his daughter is probably growing faster than him, she is the real adult of the family!

In season 2, he’s kind of lost because of a burnout he doesn’t want to admit he had, and because the people around him aren’t there anymore (his mother is living her life and meeting new people in the country, his daughter is studying in Detroit) so he is kind of left to himself. He goes on a journey to explore his calling, his relationships with his family and friends and seeks inner peace in his own way.

The dramatic arc of the series follows his own inner quest: what he finds out about himself, his origins, what he can take from his mother, what he learned throughout his life, what he can give his daughter, what he doesn’t want to pass on… He is kind of the character that glues everything together. I think we can say that he even almost kind of becomes the bearer of the family history and legacy. By looking inward he finds that building a real connection with others is what definitely makes us feel human. I think that Lili, his daughter finds it as well through the things she lives in Detroit. Technology is helpful sometimes but also tends to dehumanize the Other, and I think that Mani realizes that and tries to address this issue by reconnecting in a more meaningful way with everyone he loves.

Connecting (S2) Trailer

I absolutely loved the mixtures of languages within the series. What was the experience like working with a mixed-language script/series?

It was really fun! In the first season, we were already playing with words and languages, we did, for instance, a lot of comparison between the French spoken in France and its differences with the French spoken in Quebec. So for season 2, we wanted to open up to other languages and since Lili was going to Detroit to learn English, we thought it was the perfect setting to play with words in English and French.

It wasn’t too hard to work on the script and even on the set since every member of the team is pretty much bilingual (French and English) in real life. Living and working in Montreal, it is pretty much usual for most of us to speak both languages in an ordinary day, so mixing languages in the series was making it appear more like real life in our eyes. It’s also a great way to make our series appealing and accessible to English and French speakers around the world. But I must say that we made it a bit harder for Tayna (that plays Lili) since her character mixes a lot of languages in the same sentence sometimes; French, English, Farsi, and teenager expressions and/or abbreviations all at once, it wasn’t an easy task to remember her lines! But she is a true professional and she overcame the challenge like a champion!

There are also other languages in the series from time to time, for example, Mani swears in Farsi sometimes, Tyrell who is of Haitian descent speaks creole with Mani once, and Charles talks about his native Huron-Wendat language he never learned because it got lost over the years and with the passing generations… We wanted the diversity we see on the screen to be reflected in the way our characters speak. I think it makes them more believable and relatable. We also planned from the start to create subtitles both in English and French so that people would be able to watch the series in their preferred language and not miss anything. It was an important part of the process and I think that it will become more and more common.

We already see series shot in multiple languages on Netflix for example, and they all have different options for subtitles. I think people are getting used to that way of watching video. By the same token, I think it makes those series feel more real, compared to dubbing or making all the characters speak the same language for a weird reason, even though they would all speak a different language in real life.

What was your greatest challenge creating Season 2 of your series?

Easily the logistics and the planning of the shooting! We had an ambitious project and a short shooting window. Our schedule was really tight to get all the material we needed for the 22 episodes we had in mind. Our actors were also almost all on other projects at the same time, so it was a big puzzle to solve! On top of that, we had big aspirations for this season, we wanted to get out of the “Skype/Facetime/Zoom” format that was the standard for season 1, and go outside, see the characters in their real life and get to know them better, away from computers. It required us to move between locations a lot more than season 1… that had just one location for the whole series!

We also wanted to add a layer of polish on the quality of the series in comparison to season 1, so bigger budget, a bigger team and bigger headaches! All of this took time and effort and without the great work, dedication and good spirit of everyone on the team we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have done with this series. I am very proud of our work.

If they only took one thing, one message, what would you like the audience to take away from the series?

That’s a hard one… maybe that even though we all come from a different background, we all have our own unique journey through life, we are all humans and to be able to make our lives and our world better, we all need each other… maybe it’s too profound of a statement for a comedy series?

Nevertheless, I think that this is something we often forget in our digitally connected world. We are still living creatures, we still need to connect to something real. That’s why Granny goes to live in the country, she wants to connect with nature; that’s why Lili falls in love with Deyon (spoilers oops!), the guy that’s always there by her side, in the flesh and that’s why Mani tries art, yoga, karate, building furniture, a poetry club… All real stuff outside of the digital world. He also wants to bring everyone he cares about around a good meal at his place. That’s something very real to share, smell and taste food together, a real fundamental part of the human experience.