Q&A: Tim Stubinski & Michael Markus
Screenwriting team Tim Stubinski and Michael Markus, originally from the Ottawa Valley in Canada, knew each other in high school. Tim moved following graduation to work mainly with tax consulting firms while Mike pursued his writing dream, having published a children’s novel and optioned a screenplay before he turned 22.
Tim returned to his hometown of Pembroke in 2001 where the pair reconnected, and at a friend’s suggestion began writing together. Mike’s experience with television and a second published book led them to penning scripts as Tim marketed the duo to film and television companies.
One of those companies was Really Real Films with their script for a half-hour comedy called, “Wolf Canyon,” which they completed on spec for someone else who couldn’t produce it. They took it to Cynde Harmon for consideration. Cynde and husband Allan loved what they read and decided to produce it, casting talents that include Kevin Sorbo.
Tim and Mike paired to answer some questions for us about “Wolf Canyon” that airs December 25 and 26, on APTN:
SW – What other projects have you worked on together?
TS – We have seven completed spec screenplays that have all at one time or another been optioned or in the early stages of development. Some are still in development, as well as some other television projects we are trying to launch up here in Canada. We also have an eye on shooting our own project within the next five years.
MM – In addition to the screenplays and television endeavours with Tim, I have had a couple books published, the most successful was with Scholastic (called), “Lumps, Bumps and Bodyslams.”
SW – Describe your screenwriting process as a team.
TS – Essentially one of us will do the “principal” writing, meaning we have outlined the story (together) and he then writes it from start to finish. Then the other writer will do a pass on the script, punching up dialogue (and) descriptive, and point out some plot points that could be enhanced if necessary. We used to sit together and write together line for line, but it was a slow and occasionally maddening process; we actually like each other and would like it to stay that way.
MM – Although we seldom are in the same room to write together, as to avoid knife fights, it still is intensely collaborative with modern technology, the ability to get instant feedback through email and so on, being a huge boon. Also, after all this time working together I will hear Tim’s voice in my head when I write something and I will edit it right there because I know what he would say–most of which would not be proper to relate here in polite company.
SW – How did you get the idea for “Wolf Canyon?”
TS – “Wolf Canyon” actually spawned from a spec script we wrote several years ago. A friend of mine who works for a production company and I were chatting about the script, which she loved, but it was set in the mid-60’s and period pieces are a hard sell in the best of times. It was actually her idea to modernize it, and knowing we needed to change from the making of a film to the making of a T.V. series, we needed a good hook. Taking inspiration from shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger” and other “fun” T.V. action series, especially made up here in Canada (primarily in the 80’s and 90’s), “Wolf Canyon” really took shape. The premise of plopping actors and crew in the middle of nowhere making this goofy action series just seemed too funny. The original concept we pitched the Harmons pretty much has stayed intact.
SW – If “Wolf Canyon is picked up, how if at all will that change your approach to writing?
TS – I don’t think things will really change much at all. Mike and I are used to turning things around quickly, tight deadlines, and we all share a similar vision for the show and the direction we want to take it in. The key for us and “Wolf Canyon” is to keep it as entertaining and funny as possible.
MM – Other than having to work more quickly and efficiently, the key, hopefully, is to not change too much at all. When we are writing comedy we just try to write things that will amuse each other. It is always a bit of a surprise when other people find it funny. If it gets picked up that means a lot of people are on the same wave length as we are, which is both encouraging and rather frightening.
SW – Describe Rick Denham. Does Kevin fit your idea of him?
TS – Kevin plays Rick Denham, the new lead actor for this terrible action series, “Wolf Canyon.” Rick’s best days are well past him, and he has a bloated sense of self and still thinks he is God’s gift to the ladies, which is extremely untrue. Rick’s son is directing the series, and to say they are estranged is an understatement.
Kevin positively nails Rick and actually takes it a step further. Kevin is such a pro he gives Rick this incredibly funny edge a very smooth sleazy. We felt extremely fortunate having Kevin playing this pivotal role. People have to remember that he has excellent comedic timing, and we were thrilled to have him be able to get his funny on.
MM – (Kevin’s) sense of comic timing and physical presence are huge assets for sure, but an important addition is this genuine likeability that still shines through. Rick Denham, needy and self-centred with the sex drive of a first day of spring Jack Rabbit, could come across as a sort of creepy guy, but instead, in Kevin’s hands there is an endearing boyish quality. Rick is just this big kid who still wants his cookies and ice cream before supper.
It was very gratifying once Kevin did his first scene to sit there and be very pleased, to say to yourself as a writer, “Well, there he is; there’s Rick Denham in the flesh.” The simple lines on paper in this script we have been working on for months suddenly are leaping around the room, and we are laughing like we had just heard them for the first time.
SW – Describe working with Kevin.
TS – Being a newcomer I couldn’t have had a better experience working with Kevin. He is so positive and engaging on the set and makes you feel comfortable right from the start. He is a real people person and treats everyone so well. You can definitely see why he has such a loyal fan base as he takes time to talk to anyone who comes up to him. A pretty darned sharp guy, too, we talked about a variety of subjects, but what I will always be grateful for was how he said how much he liked the show and script right from the start.
We are thrilled and honoured to have Kevin as a part of “Wolf Canyon,” and we are all very hopeful we will be picked up. This will be in no small part thanks to Kevin as he simply “brings it” in this episode. As a writer it makes you very excited about writing future episodes and having our excellent cast shine. Kevin’s character gives us a lot of flexibility to get him into all sorts of predicaments, and his fans will be seeing a different side of him as he will get a chance to really flex his comedic chops.
MM – Yes, that warmth and likeability that you see on the screen with Kevin, when you meet him you immediately see that it comes from a genuine place. Frankly, I didn’t expect to see him around the set as much as we did; I always thought “Stars” did their bits and then disappeared with their handlers. It doesn’t work that way with Mr. Sorbo for sure.
Pros like Kevin make it look easy, but sitting there watching him work for the shoot gave me a greater appreciation of the acting craft. Just the ability to remember the lines, the marks, to instinctively know where the camera is at all times and then do it over and over again with the same quality was very impressive.
Kevin is great in the pilot, and there is a great chemistry with the rest of the cast. We were sitting there watching the filming and a lot of great potential comic scenarios came to mind. Hopefully, someday we can do this again and talk about what is coming up in season two.
(Photos courtesy of Really Real Films)