It’s easy to tune out the news these days with the endless parade of violent and shocking stories underscoring the depressing state of the world. It’s therefore no small wonder that many now prefer their news with a dose of satire to help the journalism go down. Whether your flavour is The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, or This Hour Has 22 Minutes, there is no shortage of comedy-laced news to fit your tastes.
One perspective that has been overlooked in this arena has been an Indigenous one. But one team from Saskatoon is looking to change that with the premiere of The Feather News, dropping on the APTN lumi streaming service this week. Originally conceived as a comedy blog, The Feather News approaches issues like Pretendians, racial profiling, and reconciliation via satirical news reporting, fake interviews and spoof ads, all informed by lived Indigenous experience. I had a chance to sit down virtually over Zoom with the show’s executive producer Ryan Moccasin where we chatted about the show’s origins, writing process, as well as the joys and challenges of producing a show in tax credit-less Saskatchewan.
For the uninitiated, what is The Feather News?
The Feather News is a satirical news show with an Indigenous slant. Picture The Daily Show and The Chappelle Show having a child and that show is also Indigenous. We have fake news updates, sketches, fake interviews, but it’s all in the service of comedy and emulating a real news show.
We started as a small, humble comedy blog a few years ago in 2018 until we gained a partnership with APTN so now we’re working towards being a full-on TV show.
The Feather News hosts Shawn “Loosemoose” Cuthand and Danny Knight
Can you tell us more about the genesis of the show?
In 2018, I started The Feather as a simple website because there wasn’t really space out there in terms of Indigenous satire. There’s Walking Eagle News which is another satirical news company run by Tim Fontaine. He was kinda the inspiration.
But there wasn’t really a lot of Indigenous satire out there so I really want to experiment with that kind of medium and genre. So I started The Feather just as a simple comedy blog. I put fake news like The Onion in the States. They do amazing work.
So over the summer of 2018, I met with Shawn Cuthand and Danny Knight who are stand-up comedians here in Saskatoon. Our background is stand-up comedy. We wanted to experiment with doing video segments like short sketches, short news updates like in the style of SNL Weekend Update. We just sort of snowballed from there. We started gaining traction, audience, and people were really engaged with what we were doing and the comedy value in it.
Then the pandemic hit and that kinda slowed everything down. But we have a small bubble, like a small creative team so we were managing to just continue our journey towards wherever we were going (laughs). And we gained another member. His name is Muskwa Lerat, he just came in as our editor, sound designer, and cinematographer. He’s pretty good with the technical side of things which we didn’t really have loads of experience with.
So us four just started building a YouTube presence. So we did that through the pandemic of 2020 and we were gaining grants from provincial bodies like the Saskatchewan Arts Board. They were recognizing our work, which was great.Then at the end of 2021, we pitched The Feather News as an actual TV show to a competition put on by ImagineNative, which is a film festival in Toronto in partnership with APTN. I got Danny Knight and Shawn Cuthand to go in there and pitch The Feather News as an actual TV show and…we won!
From there, we had to build our own production company behind the TV show, which we didn’t have before. So I spent all of last year just learning how to run a business, how to run a company. I’m Executive Producer (and) also writer on the project so I was wearing a few hats. We were just doing YouTube videos and then all of a sudden, we got this big production we gotta do that we have a deadline for.
So I was working with APTN all of last year and I went through a mentorship program with the National Screen Institute that helped me build the machine behind the TV show. So as you can see, starting from 2018 to 2023, the show’s coming out on Feb 14, we had explosive growth, but somehow we made it through the pandemic. That’s the long story of how we came to be.
Each episode has a theme (Pretendians, Protests, RCMP, etc.). Can you tell us a bit more about what the writing process was like?
Historically, it would pretty much just be a free-for-all in the “writers room”. Somebody would have an idea and “Let’s just write it and do it” ya know? For the TV show-style of writers room, it was a bit more formatted. You have your first, second, third draft, and the final.
Each episode has its underlying theme, for example the RCMP. We actually hired some research producers to research subjects like the history of the RCMP, statistics on incarceration rates and stuff like that so it was a research-driven project.
With that research,it was like “Ok, we wanna make this sketch where we interview an RCMP cop, a fake one, but it’s informed by actual research”. So we had the research in place and then we went to the writers room with that research that we could have fun with. Every episode is 15-20 minutes long. It has a certain format where you have news updates, fake interviews, fake commercials, so it’s got this set format which all four of us agreed on.
So once we have the research and outline, then we break up where “you’re gonna write this sketch, you write this interview”. We’d go to our own corners and write it all out. Then we come back together and present the episode as a group. We then mesh it all out together as four writers into one episode. Then we’ll break off again and do another draft. So it’s a pretty cool process we have.
Then we have to send it off to APTN after it’s all done because they have to approve the scripts. Then we gotta come back with their notes and reformat it. Maybe take a sketch out that they didn’t like that went too far or too edgy (laughs). Then we send it back to them and they have final approval. So it took about 3-4 months from the start of researching to getting the scripts done. It was a learning process, but it was great.
A sketch with cast members Howie Miller, Danny Knight, and Lindsay Knight
You mentioned some sketches were rejected. Can you talk about any of them?
In one sketch, we interviewed the Pope. I’m surprised that made it into the final episode! It’s a great sketch, I can’t wait for people to see it. But there were some notes around the sensitivity when the residential schools were doing their investigations and, I don’t know the science behind it, but they were finding bodies underneath the residential schools.
So we wanted to stay away from that because it’s a sensitive issue and rightfully so. I think in one sketch we had one of our main actors, Danny Knight, we would’ve had his son in the background getting taken away by a priest or something like that, it was a visual gag we had. APTN didn’t like that because of how related (it was) to residential schools and them finding bodies in the ground. So we understood how sensitive that is and were like “Ok, we’ll take that out, we don’t need that. It’s not really that funny”. So stuff like that.
And I remember, I’ll take blame for this, on our first draft we sent into them, I was like “We’re on a streaming network. We don’t need to worry about cuss words! We can say as many F-words or whatever we want!”. So I told the guys in the writers room not to worry about it. Just whatever, say f-words. And they did! The very first note APTN gave us back on the very first page of the document was “We noticed you guys swear a lot!”. (laughs) And I was like “Sorry, that’s my bad!”. So we took a bit more cuss words out than was originally planned.
To answer your question, there are sensitive issues that we have to be careful about and they were very helpful in helping us understand that.
Aside from leads Danny and Shawn, what went into the casing of the show?
Just to give you a little context of what’s happening in Saskatchewan here, we don’t have a film tax credit here in this province. I believe that was removed about ten years ago in 2012. When that was removed, all the talent moved to Alberta, Manitoba, and beyond. There was no incentive to stay here as a creative person working in the film industry so that kind of sent an exodus away from the province. We’re still recovering from that. We’re making strides to bring that back. But as a result, there’s not as many actors (here) as there used to be.
A Lot of the people that we recruited to be part of our sketches are stand-up comedians. This approach actually works great because comedians have a good sense of timing, a good sense of sketch comedy. That’s their background. In Saskatoon, I wanna say we have 20-30 comedians here. It’s a pretty robust comedy community in Saskatoon so we just reached out and said “You wanna be this person? You wanna be that person” and they were great.
We did use a few theatre actors as well because Danny Knight has a strong theatre background. He’s our director. So we took some theatre actors and they were great. So a lot of comedians and a lot of theatre actors here were our on-screen talent, but (for) season 2, we’re hoping to bring in some larger talent here to the province.
How long did production take from shooting to final product?
Production started in mid-June and went until the end of July. So it took about a month and a half to film these six episodes. And then from August till November for post production. So five and a half months from when the cameras rolled till we had that final master handed to APTN.
It was great. We filmed here locally in Saskatoon. We rented out a studio and we hired a great stage designer who had a theatre background as well. He helped us build a pseudo-newsroom, something that would emulate what you’d see on CTV or CBC.
To build that newsroom, I wanna say it took about a month with materials and design and everything like that. The background you see in The Feather News is all the treaty areas in Canada. I know it’s tough to see, it just looks like random lines, but there’s significance behind all of that.
We (also) did some sketches on-location around Saskatoon. We had the benefit of filming in summertime which is gorgeous here in the city. It was a great time. Some long days as all filming is, it’s pretty tough. But we had a great supportive crew behind us.
Then for post production, we worked with Bamboo Shoots here in Saskatoon. They helped us with mastering audio, colour grading the film for us, doing closed-captioning, all that technical stuff they helped us out with.It took three to four months for post production.
It was great, just seeing that process from that very first rough draft to the final (cut) which we have today. It was just great seeing it all come together, it was super fun.
I’m a film editor myself, so I’m curious what they cut the show on.
Muskwa principally uses Adobe Premiere.
What do you hope audiences take away from this show?
I’m a bit nervous on how they’re gonna receive it all (laughs). I hope the audiences find it funny because us as creatives, we find it funny. This is stuff we enjoy watching and I really enjoy the episodes we came up with. I’m 100% confident in our creative team and their abilities to make something funny.
Danny, Shawn, and Muskwa are really talented guys, they’re the creative force behind this all, and I have a lot of confidence that they can come up with funny material. Does that translate to the audience reaction? I dunno. We enjoyed writing and filming it and we’re happy with the product so we hope the audience can walk away with a few laughs.
Also, since we’re a fake news show and it’s research-driven, hopefully they can walk away with a different perspective, a different nuanced opinion on things when it comes to the indigenous experience in Canada. For example, how the taxes work. We had an episode on that. How does the RCMP interact with indigenous people? What’s going on with that?
But you never know, man. I’m nervous to see how it goes, but I hope for the best and all I can do is be thankful that we put all our hard work and energy into it and hopefully the audience feels that.
Any plans for Season 2?
There is. So we’re developing season 2 now when we have time. We’re coming up with outlines for episodes. We haven’t really met together formally as a writers room since we’ve been so busy with the release schedule and everybody’s got their own projects right now.
But down the road, we’re looking towards bringing the TV show in front of a live audience. We think that would be an amazing experience to do. It’d be a challenge of course, but it would be so much more fun to do in front of a live audience. You see it on SNL all the time, it really adds another amazing dimension to live performance art, which is essentially what we’re doing.
The Feather News is now available to stream on APTN lumi