'Listener' director Clement Virgo wants to know what you're thinking

'Listener' director Clement Virgo wants to know what you're thinking
by: CTV.ca
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Canadian film maker Clement Virgo isn't a telepath, but he did try to spend more time in his audience's heads while working on "The Listener."

While Virgo is best known as an indie film director, the Toronto-born director admits that working on a network television series meant he had to think about his audience in a whole new way.

"Television forces you to be sophisticated yet simple... the best shows on TV are that," says Virgo.

"After working on 'The Listener,' I now ask myself, 'Am I being clear? Does my audience understand what's going on? Am I being too obtuse? Does it make sense?"

Audiences can find out if Virgo succeeded by tuning into CTV's latest original series, "The Listener," Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET or online in the CTV Video Player.

Virgo was originally born in Kingston, Jamaica and immigrated to Canada at the age of 11. His first feature film, "Rude" premiered at Cannes as an Official Selection in 1995 and won three Genie awards for "Love Come Down" (2000). He has also directed episodes of "The Wire," "The 'L' Word" and "Regenesis."

Virgo talked to CTV.ca and answered questions about whether or not he believes in telepaths, featuring Toronto neighborhoods in the city, and how his directorial approach changes when working on television.

So how did you get involved with "The Listener"?

I did the pilot in 2007, and I really liked the project. It was unique -- the first pilot I've done. They asked me if I wanted to come on board and I said sure, absolutely. Normally in these situations you do one or two, and that's it, but this show feels like a film, like one of my own films.

How did you decide on the direction of how to tackle the telepath angle of the show?

It's high concept. It's a conceit that audiences can go with, like Spiderman with his spider-sense. We wrap it in a world, where there are certain rules and a certain language, so you can buy into it. So you can believe Toby can read minds.

Do you believe there are people who can read other's thoughts?

I've never met any, but I think there's something to be said about intuition, when you get a sixth sense about something, or a feeling. Those are viable. I think we all have that, but in terms of reading thoughts, I don't think so.

It almost seems like this series could be about how everyone maybe needs to listen more closely to each other - read the clues that are obvious, and take advantage of chances to help each other out. Does that sound right to you?

I think that's a part of it. It could also be that because we live in an uncertain time, good and evil are ambiguous in the world, that we look to these kinds of stories, like a superhero, someone special that will help us carry through this dark time.

Perhaps we have a need as a culture to understand that there is a difference between good and evil. Maybe that's why we've gravitated towards comic book movies, and TV shows like "Medium" or "Ghost Whisperer." These shows that delineate this notion of good and evil, and it's more about culture. Maybe it's something about culture that needs to be more concrete... certainty in an uncertain world.

How do you describe the role the city of Toronto plays in "The Listener"?

I think that normally, when you see Toronto, it's sort of a stand in for Chicago or New York in American movies. Toronto is culturally dynamic and diverse and we wanted to show that off, and what it feels like in the summertime, and what it feels like to walk down Queen Street on a sunny afternoon, or down at Dundas Square, or the Beaches. I wanted to have the city play a role in the environment where the characters move through. We want to make sure we show that and we show our city as vibrant place.

We shot a show in Chinatown, on Spadina and Dundas, showing that part of the city. We've shot in Parkdale, we've shot on Queen Street West, and we've shot in the entertainment district. Toronto is about neighborhoods.

As a director, did you have to stretch yourself in new ways for this show?

It's taught me a lot, and this show has been an eye-opener. I've been forced in a way, to think about the audience that I've never thought about before. How do you make it interesting but at a same time, inform the audience and entertain them? As a filmmaker, you know someone will see it, pay for it, sit down with it and let the story unfold. On television, you have to earn it. You have to jump in there real quick and make sure you communicate in a way that is simple and clear. I think it's going to help my filmmaking. It makes me aware of what the audience needs to understand.

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