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Hard Rock Television


Stars of Hard Rock Medical. Photography by Westmount Photography

Fall 2014 Cover Story


Season 2 of Hard Rock Medical, TVO’s first commissioned drama series, on February 15, 2015 at 8 pm.


Following a critically acclaimed first season, the ensemble cast, including Northern Ontario talents, Stéphane Paquette (from Sudbury) and Jamie Spilchuk (from North Bay), return for a second season, in which the students hit the ground running. Charlie (Paquette) struggles to find financial support for school and family with a fourth child on the way and Cameron (Spilchuk) receives divine inspiration when lightning strikes.


After money, coffee is what fuels television and movie productions. There’s lots of “hurry up and wait,” on a set. It can take hours to shoot a short two-minute scene. The mornings are early; the days are long.

Despite its allure, Stephen Caruso knows making pictures is not glamourous work. The former business development officer for the city worked as a film liaison in the days when the Northern Ontario film industry (NOllywood?) was in its infancy. He has reinvented himself as a caterer and provided craft (food) services for the cast and crew of Hard Rock Medical, the “made-in Sudbury” TVO series, for five weeks at the end of the summer.

Hard Rock Medical, inspired by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), premiered in July 2013 and has been renewed for a second season. The public broadcaster is making its first dramatic television series with partners Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Distinct Features Inc. and Carte Blanche Films Inc.

Season two’s eight episodes are scheduled to air in early 2015. The audience will get to know Boréal Medical School students better as they meet the challenges of their second year of med school.

Coffee-dependent people understand just how important Caruso is to the success of a day’s shoot.

“It depends on the weather. Some mornings we go through four or five pots of coffee, some days at least 12 pots,” says Caruso.

His job is one of the 50 or more that the television production is creating in Sudbury. Job creation is one of the key reasons the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund chipped in $1 million for the first season and $712,000 for the second season.

Most of the technical crew has Northern Ontario roots. Dennis Landry of Copperworks Consulting, and formerly with Music and Film in Motion, is the co-production manager on set.

He explains there is a huge demand for northern film crews this summer because well-known Canadian director Atom Egoyan is shooting a film in the Sault Ste. Marie area.

Hard Rock Medical’s best known star is Patrick McKenna, who plays professor Dr. Fraser Healy. He is best known for his roles as the nerdy Harold on The Red Green Show and the money-driven Marty Stephens on Traders. One of the lead actors, Stéphane Paquette, is from Sudbury and secondary roles are being offered to northern actors. Sudbury Living sales representative Marie Whitehead has a small role as the mother of Cameron Cahill, another of the students who is played by Jamie Spilchuk, formerly of North Bay. Casting director Jim Calarco, whose company, North Star Talent, is based in North Bay, plays his father, a mining company CEO.

The music used in the show is performed by northern artists such as Patricia Cano, Kevin Closs and Kate Maki.

At craft services, there is a small army of artsy young people dressed in black. They have all kinds of wires hanging out of their pockets and around their necks. Most have a walkie talkie and a cell phone. They are waiting for instructions from the director who has the skills of a master puppeteer. The crew waits, they drink coffee, some smoke. The wizard gives a direction in their headsets and they jump to attention. Quiet on set.

Creator and director Derek Diorio is a down-to-earth guy. He fell in love with Sudbury when he was filming TFO’s Météo+ in the city a few years ago.

“I was living in an apartment on Elm St. I would wake up at five in the morning. I would listen to CBC Radio. There are two things you hear about here, rocks, trees and resources, and the horrible state of medical care in the north. Then I heard about the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and I thought it might be an awesome idea for a television show.”

In addition to directing and producing, Diorio writes the scripts with Toronto screenwriter Smith Corindia.

“Cop shows and medical shows are the staple of television. What is different about our show is that it is the first show set in a medical school. We found a wrinkle in well-worn genre. We are doing a much more character-driven show.”

The medical school is not used as a location for Hard Rock Medical for logistic reasons. Many of the interior scenes are shot in the Parker House Suites on Elm St. External “bush” shots are done in a wooded area behind Collège Boréal.

The show has a medical consultant, scripts are run by NOSM, and there is a medical adviser to ensure authenticity. Actor Paquette is fortunate to also get medical advice from his wife who recently graduated from a nurse practitioner course.

“There is so much terminology I have to learn. She showed me how to use a stethoscope.”

His character, Charlie Riviére. has three kids with a fourth on the way this season. His real home doubles as his character’s home; some scenes have been shot in his bedroom.

“It is quite surreal to do a bedroom scene lying in my real bed with my fake wife while my real wife is watching it in the kitchen. You know then your relationship is solid.”

In addition, his 10-year-old daughter plays Charlie’s daughter. “In season one, my character was supposed to have three boys. One of the boys could not make it at the last minute, so they asked my daughter to be in the show.”

Actors are given some latitude when it comes to adlibbing dialogue.

“Derek knows who he is working with. I am an improv guy. Last season, a scene where I pick up the garbage bag and the garbage falls to my feet, I yell, ‘You are so not getting a Christmas card this year Carl.’ That was completely adlibbed. The director did not call cut and it made it on the screen. Hats off to the director who knows his actors.”

Whitehead enjoyed her day on the set. “The television/movie set is a different world. Exciting, busy, fun, and it can also involve lots of waiting. My day was only seven hours long while most crew work 12-hour days. There must have been 30 or-40 people working quickly and efficiently. The producer/director was clearly in charge,” she adds.

The budget for Hard Rock Medical is smaller than last year and there are fewer episodes in season two but Diorio is not discouraged. “We have less money and less financing. These things ebb and flow. Hopefully next year we turn that around.”

Working under the radar allows him to take risks while building some “cred” with well-known Canadian actors. Edgy actor Nicholas Campbell, who started in CBC TV’s Da Vinci’s Inquest for seven seasons, expressed interest in appearing in the show and will have a part in the second season.

Diorio is proud Hard Rock Medical is set in Northern Ontario and makes no secret of it. Many Canadian television shows and movies are vague about their Canadian locations so they can attract American audiences. Northern Ontario’s rocks, trees and resources play a supporting role.

Hard Rock Medical hasn’t yet been picked up by an American network but the reviews in the major media outlets have been very good.

John Doyle, the television critic for The Globe and Mail, calls Hard Rock Medical, “ pithy, funny and inventive…At times it is a drama of smart, sophisticated construction. And with each episode 30 minutes long, there’s no room for unnecessary fuddling with the plot.”

“The one complaint we hear is ‘We wish it was an hour’,” says Diorio.

Hard Rock Medical season two was filmed in Sudbury this fall.

Hard Rock Medical season two was filmed in Sudbury this fall.

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