Wanting to tell the story of the first and largest black-led union, Arnold Pinnock pitched the show to CBC by showing pictures of the neighbourhood instead of doing the usual pitch deck. The executives were wowed by something that they did not know before and resonated with it, convincing them to develop the show.
The creative team on the show’s momentous success
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
The new CBC show The Porter tells the untold history of a group of railroad porters and the Black Canadian community in a neighbourhood in Montreal. The show not only makes history but is a surprise hit. It got a lot of people talking as many thought it unlikely that there would be a Canadian show with a mainly Black cast and crew. After a lot of planning and surprises, the creative team was able to produce a show that shines a light on an unappreciated aspect of Canadian history with brilliant acting.
On February 28, the cast and creative team discussed The Porter during a talk presented by VIFF online. It was split into two conversations; one with three of the show’s creators including Arnold Pinnock (who is also in the show as a porter), Marsha Greene, and Annmarie Morais moderated by Diggstown creator Floyd Kane and one with the show’s directors Charles Officer and R.T. Thorne moderated by the President of the Directors Guild of Canada Warren P. Sonoda.
Pinnock got the inspiration for the show after reading several books on the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and visiting St. Antoine in Montreal where the show takes place. Wanting to tell the story of the first and largest black-led union, he pitched the show to CBC by showing pictures of the neighbourhood instead of doing the usual pitch deck. The executives were wowed by something that they did not know before and resonated with it, convincing them to develop the show.
The show’s creators first planned how all the characters were going to get to a certain point by the end of the season. Then Morais and Greene go inside the writers’ room and make sure that the production is on schedule as the showrunners. Both then discussed the process of co-writing an episode where they would be together writing sections of the episode. One would focus on the difficult issues in it and the other would do the less serious scenes in the episode while implementing their experiences to resonate with the audience.
All of them also talked about the challenges of bringing the show to the camera as well as times when they were proud during the filming of the show including when Pinnock wore the porter uniform on his first day of shooting. I asked them during the Q&A what was the hardest scene to write in the first episode and Morais responded with its first scene where a police officer inspects Club Stardust where the characters hang out. She and Greene had to negotiate how to approach it and ended up beginning the episode in silence before everyone has a fun time at the club to show joy before the struggle of the porters is presented.
In the other conversation, Officer and Thorne—who both have a background in directing music videos—described how they set up their shots while making sure that modern-day Winnipeg where the show is filmed is not seen. Both visit each other during filming to get an idea of what is going on and maintain the flow of the show. Thorne did a lecture on how having an idea is not the problem but selling it is in a competitive market.
Thanks to its creative team who were amazed by its history, the story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is finally known to everyone with The Porter and the founders get the respect they deserve.