Struggling to succeed in show business, the aspiring comedian Walid Bensalem agrees to work for his uncle Akmar, a renowned florist with questionable sales techniques.
The Florists (CAN) producer Patrick Bilodeau spoke to Melbourne Webfest and shared with us the process of putting together a web series, which hilariously highlights how an effort to understand a person’s lifestyle, traditions and personality can help bring people together.
The Florists explores family, relationships, and culture, what did you observe or experience in real life to help create The Florists and the character Walid?
The Florists was created by Maxime Pouliot, who visited a florist one day and found it very interesting that the owner of the shop was meeting various people living very different, but very profound, situations. The show really started with this idea, a florist character and a location, the florist shop. Then Nicolas Krief, the screenwriter, joined the project and the story began to take form. Nicolas is born in Montreal from a Canadian mother and a Tunisian immigrant father.
The relation between Walid and Akmar and their struggle to understand each other is greatly based on his experience with his father. The duality and sometimes conflict between heritage and modernity, tradition and new ways of life, home country and new home, is all based on Nicolas’s experience. Walid’s quest to make it in the show business, and all the struggles that come with it, is inspired by our own experience as up and coming artists.
What were the benefits of creating The Florists as a web series?
The first reason to create the show as a web series was because there was more opportunity for us to find partners. However, the majority of the content we watch is on the web, and we are fans of shorter formats. It was natural for us to create shorter episodes. I think short-form series is a great format for comedies, it is more concise, fast-paced and punchy.
The Florists Trailer
What was the greatest challenge when creating The Florists?
The two biggest challenges were financing and casting. When we started working on the project five years ago, we were inexperienced. The concept of the show was appealing to a lot of partners, but it took us a long time to really convince everyone to get on board. Once we did, the casting was challenging, especially for Akmar’s character. We knew there were very few opportunities for actors from cultural communities in Quebec’s television and film industry. We soon realized that because of that lack of opportunities, there was simply no active actor that fitted our character’s description.
It was unthinkable for us to cast someone that didn’t have the cultural background that our character has, we thought our show and the character would have lost credibility if we did so. We had to expand our research outside of Quebec (the rest of Canada, USA, France and even the Maghreb countries), and we finally found Said Benyoucef in Toronto and flew him to Montreal.
Walid (Anas Hassouna) delivers an engaging performance, his delivery and cadence when doing his standup bits seemed very real, is he actually a comedian?
The casting of Walid was also a challenge. Obviously, we wanted a good actor, but also someone who would be naturally good at delivering a standup bit. That was important for the credibility of the character. We decided to take a chance with Anas, who is a standup comedian who had almost no experience as an actor at the time. His stage characters proved to us that he could impersonate a character. He worked very hard and in the end, his performance really surpassed our expectations. He was able to really connect with the character and deliver a sensible performance.
Of course, Anas, as a son of immigrant parents and an up and coming standup comedian, has a lot in common with Walid and was very much inspired by his own experience. We also involved him in the writing of the comedy bits, to make it more credible.
What message would you like the audience to take away from the series?
I think the main message of the series is that we can benefit a lot from making an effort to understand each other. Walid and Akmar have very different personalities and ways of life, and because of that, they think they are just incompatible. In the series, they are “forced” to work together, and that experience makes them realize that behind their differences they have a lot in common and that they can be allies instead of enemies.
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