Cypher (CAN) parallels the process of musical collaboration with the peer-support method of mental health caregiving. Just as every musical collaboration is personal and unique, so too is each caregiving experience. Joined by award-winning peer support caregiver Asante Haughton, the web series follows conversations with caregivers and premiere Canadian music talents on the front lines of mental health – and together, unpack key challenges and pertinent issues, providing caregiving insights along the way.

Melbourne WebFest spoke to creator of the series, Ken Galloway.

What inspired the concept behind Cypher?

My production company’s ethos is “video for good.” Essentially, we only take on work that has the potential to create a positive social impact. I had just come back to Canada from two years of shooting micro-docs in developing countries, and my first gig was for a hospital in Toronto. The hospital was lobbying to make changes to the way mental health is handled in ERs, and through making a video for them I met Asante, our series host, who is a superstar in the realm of mental health.

In a TED Talk that Asante has done, he compares the process of musical collaboration with a method of mental health caregiving that focuses on peer-support. Talking to him while creating the hospital project’s video manifesto, I had a bit of a eureka moment: how cool would it be to create a web series centred on musical collaborations that celebrate the caregivers who make a difference on the front lines of mental health?!

What is your favourite aspect of the series?

My favourite aspect of the series is its signature, genre-bending “docu-musical” format. This is something that my team and I are very proud of. In fact, we are currently in talks to tweak and expand the format for longer episodic content on larger platforms.

Cypher Trailer

What is something you’d love your audience to know about you series?

Something I’d love the audience to know is how truly transformative this series has been for everyone involved. Our music supervisor, Derek (aka. D-Sisive), for example, hadn’t released music for four years due to the mental health struggles he had had before doing this show. Yet through collaborating and sharing stories with so many people during production, he has bounced back stronger than ever. Just wait until you see season 2! (I swear, I’m not just saying that!)

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

The message at the core of this series is that you can’t do it alone. Whether you’re a person battling mental health issues, or the caregiver trying to support them, taking on such a tough fight means that you’re going to run your batteries dry. It’s a very basic principle, but ultimately, we can only grow stronger through collaborating, sharing and supporting.

What research (if any) was taken into developing your series?

Having Asante as a right-hand man since the very beginning of this project has been invaluable in navigating the complexities of caregiving in mental health. The thing about the show, though, is that we try to take things in a different direction in every episode. From shooting prison inmates to shooting Muppets, every episode requires unique background research. Ultimately, however, we always end up learning more from the experiences and insights of the caregivers we meet than we could from any background research that we do.

What was your greatest challenge creating the series?

I would say that the greatest challenge that my co-director, Rouzbeh Heydari, and I faced was the time crunch. We were able to unlock some grant funding to produce this series, but this funding also came with extremely tight deadlines. This tightness was increased tenfold because we decided to go all-in with multiple shoot days per episode, and with overall ambition. Not to mention the fact that we had to produce a unique song for each unique episode. (So I need to take a second here to shout out my producer Dani Ng-See-Quan, and co-director, Rouzbeh Heydari, for staying in the trenches with me until the very last minute!)

The last thing we wanted to do was create an on-the-nose video brochure on mental health caregiving, and we were willing to forgo sleep to make this happen. Thankfully, our second season is four episodes instead of eight – allowing us to make S2 all about trying to make these four episodes twice as good as our first eight.

Overall, how long have you been working on your series?

We developed and produced this show last year, and are currently in the colour-grading stage of Season 2.

How important was the music in telling the overall story of Cypher – and how did this impact the overall vision of the series?

Just as every musical collaboration is personal and unique, so too is each caregiving experience. (I stole that from our series bible.) Music is absolutely integral to how we tell our stories, and is a key part of what makes us unique… Honestly, if I see one more predictable, over-narrated mental health awareness video with sappy stock music slapped under it, I will need to eat three lasagnas worth of feelings.