Here’s the great irony of Canadian TV: I was in Montreal earlier this week on the set of Transplant, a medical drama set to premiere early next year on CTV. It’s about a Syrian refugee played by Hamza Haq (The Indian Detective) returning to his medical training roots as a resident in the emergency ward of a downtown Toronto hospital.
Yes, Montreal is standing in for Toronto.
Better than standing in for New York or Chicago or Boston or “Name US City” here I suppose. The hospital is named York Memorial in the series, and why isn’t there a York Memorial hospital in Toronto? It’s a damn fine name.
I’ll be writing more about the series and the cast, which includes John Hannah (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, the “Mummy” movies) as the start date draws near. First a word about the set, which is enormous and impressive.
Years ago I had an older colleague, now retired, who would grouse about being dragged to TV set visits during TV critic press tours in Los Angeles. “What am I supposed to do,” he would vent, “interview the furniture?”
I’ve never felt that way. To stand on a set and see the scope of the world created there provides insight into how it all will translate on the screen. It has to help the actors, too; if your set looks exactly like a real hospital, its probably easier to believe you’re a real nurse or doctor.
With Transplant, production designer Andre Guimond (Street Legal, 19-2), set designers Raymond Larose and Celine Lampron and their team designed and had built an entire floor of a hospital on a giant soundstage at Montreal’s Cinepool Studios. The set is over 2601 square meters and took six months to build. Construction began in February of this year and ended in June. The set required its own sprinkler system and a new, smooth, flat cement floor, suitable for pushing gurneys as well as camera dollies.
Over 100 people worked on the construction team, including carpenters, glass installers, plumbers and electricians. The art work in the hospital set waiting room was done by local artist Luc Bergeron.
Nothing has been overlooked. There is even a patron’s board by the front doors of the emergency ward entrance listing hundreds of names. Dog-eared magazines are on waiting room chairs and coffee tables. Hats off to head decorators Michele Ouellet and Maryse Touchette.
I’ve been on many hospital sets over the years in the US and Canada, dating back to shows such as ER and House and including Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med. I can’t recall anything that comes close to the full, working, hospital environment created for Transplant.
Someone else who has been on a lot of sets is Torri Higginson (This Life; Stargate Atlantis), who plays Head ER Nurse Claire Malone on Transplant. She feels that the hospital set has become a character on the series.
“I’ve never done a show that was so much studio, other than some of the sci-fi stuff,” says the Burlington, Ont., native. Recreating a hospital set is actually harder than creating an imagined environment such as the interior of a star ship, she feels, because “this is real, whereas the other represents something we haven’t seen before so you don’t have the same marker for authenticity.”
Higginson also praised Director of Photography Pierre Gill (Copper, The Borgias) for making the most of the set by taking full control of the lighting. “It’s sort of like shooting a live concert. I’ve never seen anybody do it like this before. You feel the light change as you walk along.”
If there’s anything unrealistic about York Memorial it is that it is so state-ot-the-art. Would that real hospitals were this pristine. One irony is that manufacturers of medical equipment lobby and, in some instances, pay to get their latest life saving machines on hospital TV sets before they even arrive in real hospitals. These dramas are basically infomercials to hospital equipment buyers.
One final note: all TV show call sheets list, in case of emergencies, the name and address of the closest real hospital. For Transplant it is Lasalle — although it might be quicker if they just sent emergency care personnel over to York Memorial.