Lights, Camera, Action!
Little sleuthful subtlety as youth-oriented TV series begins shooting

Winnipeg Free Press

Despite the TV series' title, there was little in the way of sombre, sleuthful subtlety apparent as The Adventures of Shirley Holmes began on-location shooting yesterday.

Instead, the cooridors and classrooms of The Manitoba School for the Deaf were abuzz with shouted commands over multi-layered conversations, the clank and scrape of moving equipment, a constant, seemingly chaotic to-ing and fro-ing of actors and technicians and an almost-tangible sense of nervous anticipation.

"It's a typical first day on the set," said Kim Todd, producer-in-charge for Winnipeg-based Credo Entertainment Corp., which is partnered with Vancouver's Forefront Entertainment Group on this 13-part, youth-oriented mystery series, which will air early next year on YTV.

"Everybody's feeling their way through, crew members are getting to know eachother, cast members are getting to know the characters and, of course, it's pouring rain outside, which makes moving equipment around less than easy."

The Adventures of Shirley Holmes stars 12-year-old Ottawa native Meredith Henderson as the fictional great-grandniece of the legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Inspired by a series of short books published in Britian, the series will serve up all the clues and eventually the solution to a mystery in each episode, inviting young viewers to try to solve along with Shirley.

"The scripts have a lot of detail, and you have to stay on your toes in order to keep up," said Forefront producer Gary Harvey. "They're fairly intricate stories. We've really focused on trying to play up to our audience rather than down to it."

Despite everyone's opening-day jitters and the unco-operative weater, work seemed to be hitting its stride by midday, with director Anne Wheeler (The Diviners, The War Between Us) firmly in control of what will eventually be the second epsiode to hit YTV's airwaves.

"On the first day, most of your energy has to be directed towards rhe kids, because they've got the beggest leap to make here," said Wheeler, who is making her first return to Winnipeg since her turn at the helm of The Diviners.

"They're ervous, they're playing characters they've never played before and they're starting from scratch on everything . . . In a way, what I had to do with the kids was slow them down on the first few shots, because they came in so excited."

In the series, 12-year-old Shirley is a bright, eccentric girl who can't resist getting involved in anything resembling a mystery that takes place at Sussex Academy, the private school she attends.

Her version of Dr. Watson is another young misfit, Bo Sawchuk, (played by John White) whom she meets in the first episode, and by the second instalment she finds herself facing a fellow student archrival by the name of Molly Harty (Sarah Ezer).

Henderson, who has been working professionally for a couple of years, said she appreciates the intelligent fashion in which Shirley Holmes' scripts portray the show's characters.

"It doesn't show how adults think kids are - some adults think kids are just stupid, waiting to learn," said Henderson, who starred in the made-in-Alberta film Song Spinner. "This shows the brighter side of being a kid."

The young Ontarian is undaunted by the prospect of carrying a series - in fact, she seems excited by the challenge and not at all worried about having to learn the lion's share on the show's lines.

"I don't find that hard," she said. "I think getting to know your character is the hardest part. With Shirley, it's hard because I'm a lot like her in some ways, but in other situations, I still don't know how she'd react.

"I think that part will take a little while."

Although the order is for 13 episodes, which will take until mid-November to complete, Todd said there's already a good chance the series will be expanded to 26 shows or more.

Shirley Holmes is the second consecutive series she has overseen for Credo (she also handled the company's first multi-episode project, My Life As A Dog) and Todd said she's thrilled by what she's seen so far.

"Int he writing department, we've really wracked our brains on this one," she said. "We've got very smart writers, three story editors and a researcher trying to make sure Shirley's as smart as we want her to be.

"One of the things that really interested me was the idea of creating a smart 12-year-old girl for television. That's pretty unique. I've got a seven-year-old daughter and there's a real sense that you're accomplishing something if you can create intelligent, entertaining programming for kids."