Wharf Rats series hopes to bring P.E.I.-based story to the world

Production has begun in North Rustico, P.E.I., on the locally-produced comedy web series Wharf Rats, which has been in the works for several years.

Shooting has started on the comedy web series

Jason Arsenault and Jenna MacMillan are excited to finally be shooting the comedy series Wharf Rats, which has been in the works for a few years. (Submitted by Jason Arsenault )

Production has begun in North Rustico, P.E.I., on new locally-produced comedy web series Wharf Rats, which has been in the works for several years.

Wharf Rats began as a sketch entered in a national competition in 2014 called CBC Comedy Coup, where it finished in the top five out of more than 300. 

We all see this as a stepping stone to bigger things in the very near future.— Jason Arsenault

Since then, the production received funding totalling $400,000 through Telefilm, The Independent Production Fund, The Bell Fund and the P.E.I. Film Media Fund.

"We're making this product that we think could be something we can sell to the world — we really think there's an appetite for this type of comedy," said director Jason Arsenault, one of the co-creators. 

Cast, crew mostly from P.E.I.

The story centres around the colourful characters in the fictional fishing village of Split Lip Cove. 

The two lead actors and co-creators, Robbie Carruthers and Dennis Trainor, are alumni of other popular made-in-P.E.I. web series Just Passing Through and its spinoff, Pogey Beach. The story follows character Hughie Hackett's quest to scam back a fishing boat he thinks ought to be his. 

Robbie Carruthers, left, and Dennis Trainor, right, star in and co-created the comedy series set in a fictional P.E.I. fishing village. (Submitted by Jason Arsenault)

Shooting began on Tuesday and is scheduled to take 15 days. 

There are close to 60 cast and crew involved. Most live on P.E.I. or are Islanders who work in the industry elsewhere and returned home to work on the production.

Shooting at home with an Island crew is a "dream come true" says award-winning producer Jenna MacMillan. 

"It's been something I've been trying to do in other production capacities, I'm always trying to grow the industry," said MacMillan. "So being in a position where I can hire everyone and just have that as my main focus I'm excited to keep doing it." 

"It's a little bit surreal," said Carruthers of shooting finally beginning. "You have tables of people talking about the characters and the story, where you've been sitting at a computer screen with the story for four-plus years, and now it's coming to life." 

Where will people see it? 

"Once we finish this product we're going to try to sell it to digital platforms around the world," said Arsenault. "We have visuals and locations that people around the world could be interested in."

Jason Arsenault and Errol Richardson work on the set of Wharf Rats in North Rustico. (Submitted by Jason Arsenault)

Shooting the series' seven episodes is "a first step," said Arsenault. "Out of this show, there's all kinds of storylines, characters that we think could be their own show.

"The real goal is, we'd love to be doing a television show here," he said. So the web series will be used to pitch bigger players like broadcasters to make Wharf Rats on a grander scale.

The challenge now is to make the web series look like it could potentially be made into television, Arsenault said — even at $400,000 and 60 people, the budget and crew is much smaller than that of any TV show. 

"So this is a bit of a testing grounds, a proving grounds for us," Arsenault said. "It's something we can sell, but it's also going to be a proof of concept."

"We're going to be able to show people that Prince Edward Island has great filmmakers, great locations and that this crew of people can make something at the television level," he said.  

Shooting was delayed

Shooting the series had been planned for last summer, but the funding arrived too late. This summer, the timing is better as much of the series is shot on the North Rustico wharf, which is quiet for a few weeks as real-life fishermen take a break between spring and fall lobster fisheries. 

The North Rustico Fire Hall has become headquarters for Wharf Rats' production. (Submitted by Jason Arsenault )

"There's always kinks and there's always problems along the way, but mentally I feel really good because we have really good people taking care of the work," Arsenault said. 

The language will be cheeky — "not necessarily as clean as something you might see on CBC, but not something that's out of the ordinary, I don't think," said Arsenault. So, expect a few f-bombs. 

The comedy is cartoonish but not two-dimensional, Arsenault said — "We built a lot of heart into those characters." 

There's room for local extras, too. Keep an eye on the Wharf Rats Facebook page if you're interested. 

"Hopefully, if all things go right, you'll see that the production value, the acting — everything is going to be stronger than anything we've done before and it's something we can build off of to keep making this industry bigger," Arsenault said. 

"We all see this as a stepping stone to bigger things in the very near future." 

Beautiful North Rustico is the set for shooting Wharf Rats this week and next. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

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About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Matt Rainnie