The genesis of a hit

Why a Vancouver-based web series is winning awards around the world (and how Phil Collins’s daughter ended up producing it)

June 13, 2016

By Dominika Lirette

If you haven’t heard about Coded yet, well, you will soon. The series was nominated for three Leo Awards and is up for best digital series at the Banff World Media Festival, after already winning awards globally, at HollyWeb Festival, Seattle Web Fest, DC Web Fest, and the Rome Web Awards, and domestically at the Vancouver Web Fest. The show, which is a six-part series on Telus’s Storyhive, explores the challenges that an idealistic teacher, Shae Fitzgerald (Jarod Joseph), faces when given a class of five coded students (students that the education system has tested and decided need special assistance in school) with “severe emotional and cognitive problems.” In the first episode, a student named Braden with oppositional defiance disorder lights the classroom garbage on fire and sets the alarm off. As Fitzgerald tries to help his students, the lines between personal and professional are blurred and ethics are brought into question. The eight-minute long drama-packed episodes are produced by Gemini award-winning actress (and, yes, daughter of Phil) Joely Collins, who also plays the back-stabbing vice-principal in the show.

Collins says that the series is loosely based on some of the experiences that Coded’s writer and creator Steve Neufeld had during his time as a teacher in Alberta. “I think the core message in Coded was this whole idea of, ‘are we relying on these certain individuals, like Shae the teacher, who really believe that they can make a difference and will do anything to help these kids, and help reach these kids, and change their lives—is our whole system relying on these certain individuals that’re going 100 per cent, full tilt, to the max until they burn out, for our system to work?’ And I think it’s an interesting question.”

Actor Jarod Joseph as Shae Fitzgerald in Coded
Actor Jarod Joseph as Shae Fitzgerald in Coded

Collins says the series has struck a chord with educators from across Canada, many of whom have reached out to her to share their own stories. “I’m certainly not trying to change the world. But if it starts a dialogue and it gets people talking about this stuff, then that’s great.” Currently, she’s shopping Coded to more traditional television outlets, and hopes to transition it to a full one-hour show. “Now that we’ve had the opportunity to make the web series, we have so much more story that we want to tell with this,” Collins says. “And I think it begs a longer format to do that.”.

Coded is one of the first projects to come out of Million Faces Productions, the company that she created in 2015. Collins, who was born in Vancouver and raised in England until the age of 12 before returning here to pursue her acting career, says getting into the entertainment industry was a logical fit given her lineage. “My whole family is very creative. So for me it felt like a natural thing,” Collins says. And yes, she has collaborated with her famous father, most notably when he wrote an original song for the film Almost Heaven that she starred in and executive produced. “He’s been a big support,” she says. And while she hasn’t worked on a project yet with sister Lily Collins, she says they would both love to one day.

For now though, she is focused on getting a wider audience for Coded and creating projects that give more opportunities to women in film. “I want to help empower women in the business and give them more opportunity. As an actress for over 20 years, you know, women just tend to either be the wife-of, the girlfriend-of, the victim who dies, there’s very little challenging, interesting roles for female actors to sink their teeth into,” says Collins. “So, I want to create more interesting roles for women, and I also want to see more females in the director’s chair—myself included.”

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