Film Production Grad’s Telefilm Talent to Watch-Winning Web Series Premieres on TV5

What do you get when you combine the surreal absurdity of Twin Peaks with the awkward workplace humour of The Office into a web series with a distinctly cinematic vibe?


That’s a question Toronto Film School alumnus Laura Bergeron answers with Meilleur Avant – the newly released, Telefilm Talent to Watch grant-winning web series she co-created alongside Maxime Robin.


Poster Art / Rosalie H.Maheux


“We were fascinated by how far David Lynch took the awkwardness a little extra step in Twin Peaks. He really plays with that line, and we were much influenced by his work,” the 2015 Film Production grad said of the inspiration behind the seven-episode series, which began streaming on tv5unis.ca on April 30.


“We were also inspired by the kind of deadpan comedy of The Office…The fact that it’s a work environment, so it’s very awkward and you have to kind of interact with people you wouldn’t normally get along with, but you’re obligated to. It creates this really weird situation.”


Filmed on location in Keswick, Ontario over three weeks in October 2019, Meilleur Avant tells the story of Fred – a 28-year-old Philosophy PhD student who’s forced to take on a job as a night janitor at a 24-hour grocery store to fund his thesis on Nietzsche – and his interactions with all the oddball characters he meets there.


Image / Gabriela Osio Vanden & Jack Weisman


“It’s all about him entering this world that is completely different from the world of ideas and concepts that he’s used to,” explained Robin, who co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced the series alongside Bergeron.


“He’s really out of his comfort zone and the people there are super, super strange. The story is about him trying to find how he belongs and what his place is in comparison to the group: Is he aside from it? Is he in it? Is he over it? Above them?”


Image / Gabriela Osio Vanden & Jack Weisman


That theme of finding one’s place in the world is one that resonated with both Bergeron and Robin, alike.


The pair, who met as coworkers at a Quebec City restaurant, first began working together creatively before Bergeron moved to Toronto to enroll in the Film Production program at TFS in 2014. Soon after, Robin followed Bergeron to Toronto, where he not only became her roommate but also starred in her capstone short film, Winner Gagnant, which won the award for Best Editing at the 2016 Festival of Films.


It wasn’t until after Bergeron graduated from TFS in 2015, however, that the two began to write Meilleur Avant together at their dining room table.


Describing the five years it took to finally bring the project to life as both “tedious” and “rewarding”, Bergeron and Robin both said the end result was worth the grind.


Photo / Oliver Whitfield-Smith


“In the end, it was a blessing we had so much time, because we had to think this project through and make sure it was exactly how we wanted it,” Robin said.


The first big hurdle they were able to clear came in 2018, when Meilleur Avant was named as one of just seven narrative web projects from across Canada to secure $100,000 in funding from Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program.


While both Bergeron and Robin had first conceived of the project as a film, that plan changed when they received an additional $50,000 from TV5’s Créateurs en série – a program that promotes the production of French-language web series.


“We still basically filmed it as a movie…and we think about it as a movie split in seven different pieces that are roughly around 10 minutes each…” Bergeron explained.


“We’re both huge cinephiles and we’re very much influenced by television that has been directed by movie directors, and we really wanted to give it that cinematic vibe.”


What that meant, Bergeron said, was ensuring a ‘show don’t tell’ approach to writing a script with minimal dialogue, and a lot of attention paid to creating the proper “ambiance” on set – including a lot of work put into creating an aesthetic design, capturing unique camera shots, and eliciting strong performances from their cast of characters.


Image / Gabriela Osio Vanden & Jack Weisman


They also worked hard to ensure that Meilleur Avant could help change people’s cookie-cutter perceptions of what web content is and can be in the future.


“When you say you’re working on a web series, people automatically think of a certain aesthetic – they think fast-paced, a certain type of editing and a lot of dialogue – kind of like YouTube videos. But the web is just a platform,” Bergeron explained.


“What we tried to do with Meilleur Avant is create a web series that’s a little more substantial, something that has a lot of detail to it and that you have to think about…We want our viewers to be intrigued, to ask themselves questions, because I think it’s more stimulating for the audience when it triggers something else in their brain.


Image / Gabriela Osio Vanden & Jack Weisman


“I truly, truly, truly believe that creators have to trust their audience, and I truly trust that people are smart enough to spend the time necessary to watch something that’s maybe a little more demanding. I think it’s worth it in the end.”


And judging from the feedback Bergeron and Robin have received since Meilleur Avant made its debut on TV5 on April 30, audiences agree with that assessment – so much so, that the pair are considering a follow-up project.


“We’re definitely thinking of doing something with a similar tone and vibe, although it might be completely different in terms of the setting and stuff,” Bergeron admitted, noting that, in the meantime, both are looking forward to a post-COVID-19 reality in which they can properly celebrate Meilleur Avant with a theatre screening with the entire cast and crew, as well as friends and family.


Photo / Oliver Whitfield-Smith


“The night it got released was kind of anti-climactic. We put all this work into it – so much energy and torment – and then all of a sudden we just got a link and it was available for people to see it,” Bergeron explained.


“We really wanted to have a screening with the team, but we didn’t get to do that because of the crisis…But we have a second license kicking in next April with Télé-Québec, so we think that will be a good occasion for us to maybe having a screening in Montreal.”


Meilleur Avant is available to watch at: https://www.tv5unis.ca/meilleur-avant/saisons/2020