When he was nine years old, Simon Barry had visions of one day becoming a fighter pilot, but that dream went by the wayside when he became hooked on films and filmmaking. At the age of 12, the future writer/producer began making super 8mm movies with a friend and from that point on never looked back.
“I knew that I loved films along with the production side of things, but I didn’t start thinking about that as a career until I was in high school,” recalls Barry. “That’s when I really became aware of film schools and university programs, so from there my focus was to somehow get into the business.”
While working his way up the ladder as a camera operator, Barry also found time to write. He penned the story for the feature film The Falling as well as co-wrote the screenplay for The Art of War. This year, he finally got his big break when his Sci-Fi TV concept Continuum was picked up as a series. Currently airing on Canada’s Showcase network, it follows the journey of Kiera Cameron, a Vancouver police officer from 2077 who involuntarily travels back in time to 2012 with a group of death row escapees that are intent on altering the future. For Barry, who also serves as the show runner and an executive producer on Continuum, coming up with the initial idea for the show was a true labor of love.
“I’d sold a lot of ideas for shows and written pilots that were a little out in left field, but I was having no luck in getting them produced,” notes Barry. “Although I was generating income from selling pitches and writing scripts, I really wanted to get a show picked up and made. So I started to kind of temper my desire to do something that was strictly desire with the realization or at least acknowledgement that the business of television required me to perhaps embrace something a little more familiar and try a blend of two solid ideas instead of one that was hanging on a single concept.
“So I decided to take a genre I love, which is Science Fiction, and merge it with the structure of a typical police procedural. The end product would then naturally lean more towards the police world. Once I figured out that that’s what I wanted to do, I began to narrow down the list in terms of what could be done as a police show but would also have a larger mythology that made that universe feel bigger without putting a financial burden on the production.
“Time travel has always been kind of front and center in terms of mythology of Sci-Fi, and if you base your story in the present it helps keep the costs down. At the same time, the mythology can feel larger than the universe that you set your story in,” continues the writer/producer. “As many people know, other shows like Life on Mars have experimented with this concept and had some success and some failure. There were also series such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles that used time travel as a mythology basis for a show set in the present.
“I just figured that if I could do it the right way, I could have a mythology in a police procedural that tied into the crime of the week. That was my goal. I wanted to do a police series where the crimes were not necessarily disconnected from my main characters. I also looked at the model of [the TV show] Prison Break about a story of escapees, and thought if I took that model of the story of the bad guys and focused on my time travel element, I could create a mythology based on prisoners who escaped certain execution in the future thanks to an experimental device that sent them back in time. In doing that, my hero could also be swept up in something that was out of her control as opposed to her intentionally traveling into the past.
“I quickly started to see this being familiar to viewers on the one hand, because once they arrived in the present, this group of terrorists would essentially be considered a criminal organization. My police stories could then not only be connected to the mythology of what had already happened, but the present day crimes could then be built into the larger seasonal [story] arc as well. So I was onto something that had the best of both worlds; I could now embrace the procedural part of television that I had been avoiding for a long time as a writer, and also tap into the Sci-Fi genre as well as mythology that I wanted to explore.”
Having come up with, pitched and subsequently sold the idea for Continuum to a network, Barry had to now assemble a group of people that would help bring his story to life. “If something like this isn’t done well, then it shows,” he says. “One of the most important things to me early on was to bring together a very strong production team. I needed to find some of the best people in the fields of production design, visual effects, wardrobe, etc., and then make sure we had a budget that would allow us to do things right.
“The other important thing was putting this big cast together. We have about 10 series regulars, and with the Kiera Cameron character, in particular, we spent months searching for the right person to play her and that embodied all the aspects that we saw as important to give the show longevity.
“Once we had a production team in place that we could count on creatively, the casting process took over and dominated our prep leading up to production. It was down to the wire and literally weeks before filming began when we finally put our cast together. Going into this, though, I honestly feel that the best decisions we made were identifying the right people for these roles. We put our energy into the proper place in a big way, and I feel it shows at the end of the day. This is a character-driven show, and although we have intricate and interesting plots as well as a wonderful mythology, without these actors playing these roles, I think the series would be a shadow of what it is right now.”
In Continuum’s first season opener A Stitch in Time, a Vancouver City Protective Services (CPS) officer from 2077, Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), and a CPS team arrest Edouard Kagame (Tony Amendola), the leader of a terrorist group called Liber8. He and his closest allies are tried, convicted of terrorist acts against the corporate-run government and sentenced to death. However, minutes before their execution, Kagame and his followers are transported to Vancouver 2012, where they plan to set in motion a series of events that will change the future. Kiera is pulled back in time with the prisoners and, with help from local law enforcement, in particular Police Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster), and a teenage techie named Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), she is determined to stop them. Watching his story unfolded in front of the camera remains an unforgettable event for Barry.
Cast of Continuum (L-R): Lexa Doig (as Sonya Valentine), Roger Cross (as Travis Verta), Victor Webster (as Carlos Fonnegra), Rachel Nichols, Erik Knudsen and Stephen Lobo (as Matthew Kellog). Photo copyright of Shaw Media/Showcase.
“I’ve been on-location and on-set for the movies I’ve written, but it had been about 10 years since I’d been in a position to hear the words I’ve written be spoken by anyone, so I was thrilled to actually be in production again,” enthuses the writer/producer. “It quickly dawned on me that I was surrounded by an amazingly talented group of filmmakers, actors and craftspeople, and I realized the best thing that I could do was give them room to do what they did best and not interfere too much. The chemistry was working brilliantly with the cast, while the crew was at the perfect level of competency, and everyone was extremely nice to boot. It was so comforting in that first couple of weeks to see that the team we’d put together as producers was truly phenomenal.
“As far as specifics when it came to shooting our first episode, I knew that the execution chamber was going to be a very important moment, not only for the pilot but the series as well. It sets up our entire story. Almost all our main characters are in the same room and, again, you could see at a quick glance that this was an ensemble of dynamic and different characters that were being played by actors who’d give multiple layers and dimensions to the show. To top it off, the set itself turned out to be much more imaginative as well as bigger and, I would say, it was astonishing to me to see how great that set turned out. I had envisioned something far less grand, so when I saw that set and all the actors there, it grounded things for me in a way that made me feel that we were on a very good track.”
Looking at Barry’s day-to-day responsibilities on Continuum, they differ quite a bit from his previous projects. “In the past and as a writer on features, my work usually ended when the production began,” he explains. “However, in television, the writer/creator becomes the major component of the production team. So as the one ultimately responsible for the writing, my role on Continuum has evolved as a producer, and that’s been a big learning curve for me because those are responsibilities in the past that I really didn’t have to worry about.
“I was very lucky starting off, though, as Jeff King, who is one of the producers/show runners on White Collar, came onboard to launch us and get the show started. We knew he was only joining us temporarily, so it was an opportunity for him to mentor me and prepare me to take over the reins as show runner when he left. It’s one thing to be involved in all the writing of the scripts, but the actual production of the show is extremely demanding, and then you have post-production. At a certain point you’re doing all three at once, and what Jeff was instrumental in teaching me is what I needed to prioritize in that moment when I’d be juggling all those balls.
“So I was getting a crash-course on being a show runner from someone who had a true understanding of the process. It’s a very hard job and one that you have to love. It’s easy, though, to love when it’s a show that you have a stake in and care about as well. Then the work isn’t work, it’s nurturing. These are things that I was quite intimidated by at first, but I now feel very comfortable doing. I guess at the end of the day, that’s been the nicest part of this, realizing that I can actually do it and don’t have to rely on someone else to bail me out. So as much as I’m pleased that this show is being produced properly, I’m equally pleased that I’ve had an experience that I can now take with me for the rest of my life as a writer/producer and take advantage of.”
When asked if he has a favorite season one Continuum episode, the writer/producer has difficulty choosing one.
“One of the neat things about Continuum is that in the tradition of Science Fiction we’ve tried to connect with what Sci-Fi does well, which is to provoke thought,” says Barry. “The majority of this show takes place in the present, but because there are future elements as well, we’re able to double up and double down on that metaphor in some instances. We can elude to things from a future point of view that make you think about the present, and then underline those ideas by exploiting the present in a way.
“It’s nice to have one foot in each pool if you will, and there are several episodes that are great examples of this. We have some that are truly character-driven and that I find to be on equal footing with those that are driven more by social issues. So we can take the show in several directions with our episodes and not feel like we’re trapped and doing the same thing over and over again.”
Having worked in this industry for almost 20 years, Barry’s idea of what makes his job rewarding has, naturally, changed over time. “At the beginning just feeling like I had a door into this business and the opportunity to show what I could do felt very rewarding,” he says. “Now it feels like the rewarding part is the journey and working with people who I find creatively stimulating, fun to work with and smart. Being able to see an idea through to production is very rewarding as well, and I think being challenged and rising to the challenge is always rewarding. Learning is a rewarding experience, too, and every day I strive to learn something new or how to be a better producer or writer.
“As you mature and your career changes, your assessments of the business also shift and change, but you’re always living in the moment. The one thing about this industry is you’re never really able to rest on your laurels and coast. There’s always the next idea, the next project, the next opportunity. It’s always been that way, and I guess if you don’t mind living by the seat of your pants professionally, then this is a terrific industry. If you’re looking to retire, though, it’s probably the wrong business. You can never sort of say, ‘OK, it’s time to retire.’ It just doesn’t work that way.”
As noted above, photos copyright of Shaw Media and ShowCase, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!