Calgary producer ecstatic about show's success

BillyBobThe Calgary-filmed mini-series Fargo — based on Joel and Ethan Coen's 1996 Academy Award winning film of the same name — has been a critically acclaimed television program in 2014. It was announced July 10 the show, seen on FX, was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, the most ever for a cable television show. Only HBO's Game of Thrones earned more nominations at 19.

The show currently has a 9.1 rating on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and a score of 85 per cent on Metacritic, a website that insists a score of 82 or higher signifies universal acclaim.

Fargo goes head-to-head with American Horror Story: Coven, which is a top contender in the mini-series category along with BBC One's Luther. Fargo has fared well competing against these shows by winning the Critics' Choice Award on June 19 for best mini-series.

Chad Oakes, the Calgary producer of Fargo, sat down with the Calgary Journal to talk about the Emmy nominations, how his company Nomadic Pictures (Oakes and Michael Frislev are co-chairmen of Nomadic) got involved in the project, and whether the show will be renewed for a second season.

CJ: How did Nomadic Pictures get involved in producing Fargo?

CO: MGM and FX (Networks) were looking for a place to shoot it. They were location scouting in Manitoba and they liked what they saw there.
Then one of the executive producers, Warren Littlefield, had mentioned, "Hey have we checked out Calgary? There's a great company there called Nomadic Pictures and they got a great western TV series that they're doing on AMC (Hell on Wheels) so let's check them out."collinhanksColin Hanks earned a Emmy nomination in the mini-series supporting actor category for his role as Officer Gus Grimly. With the exception of the lead actress, Fargo picked up nominations in all acting categories.

Photo taken by Chris Large.
Photo courtesy of Nomadic Pictures/MGM/FX Networks

Warren Littlefield used to be the president of NBC and the creator of much-watched television in the '90s. He is a force to be reckoned with. It was his concept and idea that he brought to MGM and then it was sold to FX. He also brought in Noah Hawley, who was the brilliant creator that wrote all 10 episodes.
They were flying to Calgary from Winnipeg on the day of the flood (June 20, 2013). They had to cancel their flights. They returned to Calgary two weeks later and we introduced them to the crew we had on Hell on Wheels and they felt very comfortable that we could provide what they needed.

CJ: This mini-series was based on Joel and Ethan Coen's 1996 film. They are both executive producers, but in what specific ways did they help develop this series?

CO: Noah Hawley met with them and he got their blessing to write the script, and if they approved the script — which they did — that would be it. Television is not the Coen brothers' medium so they just said, 'Go make your show, God bless and don't screw it up.'

CJ: The show was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards. What does this accomplishment mean to you?

CO: This is the most amount of Emmy nominations in cable history that was previously held by Hatields & McCoys (2012), a Kevin Costner western, and our own Broken Trail that we shot here in Alberta with Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church in 2005 (released in 2006). To top ourselves is a very humbling honour. These honours come to you unexpectedly. You want to do the material and the scripts justice. You want to do your projects on time and on budget. Any of this stuff is just bonus. It's the icing on the cake.

Calgary Journal Note: The previous record held by Hatfields & McCoys and Broken Trail was 16 nominations.

CJ: Talk about the role of Albertans in making this show a success.

CO: A big part of Nomadic Pictures' success is that over the past 19 years is that we have been able to put together two really strong world-class crews. It didn't happen overnight. It is always a changing and evolving process to build a great crew and crew-base. We are not doing these projects for just ourselves at Nomadic Pictures but for the whole Alberta film industry. We are incredibly proud of our people. My co-chairman Michael Frislev and I were nominated for outstanding mini-series, and out of the other 17 nominations there were seven or eight categories with nominations for Alberta people. It's a testament for what type of talent lies here.

CJ: Can you assess your chances of winning the best-mini series category against shows like American Horror Story and Luther?

rsz fargo1Alison Tolman (left) and Bob Odenkirk (right) were two of the stars of the ten-episode first season of Fargo. It is not confirmed that there will be a second season or not.

Photo taken by Chris Large
Photo courtesy of Nomadic Pictures/MGM/FX Networks

CO: Our company has already won two Emmy awards, one for the Incredible Mrs. Ritchie in 2004 (Daytime Emmy Award) and in 2007 for Broken Trail (Primetime Emmy Awards) and again we won, so we're two for two. The first time you win one usually everybody says, "Holy crap, how lucky are you?" The second time you win people go, "Maybe you're not lucky but doing great work." To be nominated a third time is amazing. It's not about winning. The true success was the ratings were awesome and the positive critical reviews were huge.

CJ: Is there going to be a season two for Fargo?

CO: Since the announcement of the Emmy nominations there has been a rumour of a second season. I unfortunately can't discuss it. There is no official pickup. But I do know that in the coming weeks — potentially the next month or two — we will find out if there is.

CJ: What is the next Nomadic Pictures project people should look forward to?

CO: So season four of our hit western AMC series Hell on Wheels will be airing on Saturday, Aug. 2 at 9 p.m. That is the next project that everyone will be able to see.

CJ: Do you think the success of Fargo could lead to more production companies setting up in the Calgary area?

CO: The unfortunate situation is that is the Alberta film industry growth is limited by the amount of crew available. We only have three-and-a-half crews in Calgary and one in Edmonton so we are still not back to where we were before the 2008-2009 economic meltdown. It's going to take a while to build up that crew-base. It makes no sense for other production companies to come into Calgary. It takes time, dedication and locally based companies like Nomadic Pictures to bring productions here. Not just co-productions like Fargo, but our own productions that we generate, develop and build for us to shoot in our own hometown.

The 66th Emmy Awards take place on Aug. 25 in Los Angeles.

Top photo was taken by Chris Large and courtesy of Nomadic Pictures/MGM/FX Networks

Editor's Note: At the time that the story was written, there was no word from Nomadic Pictures whether there would be in fact a second season of the show. On July, 21, 2014, FX officially announced that Fargo was renewed for a second season. John Landgraf, the CEO of FX Networks stated that the show would have significant changes in the newly announced season. The show's second season would feature an all-new cast, a different time period setting and a different "true crime story." Currently, the show does not have a premiere date established but according to Entertainment Weekly's report the show will premiere sometime in Fall 2015. 

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