Tamy Emma Pepin certainly seems to have had a pretty successful career in the media. A contributor to TQS, the Journal de Montréal, and TVA as a freelancer. An editor for Huffington Post Québec. A social media ambassador for Tourism Montreal.
More recently, she was a contributor to Cap sur l’été on Radio-Canada, and she was one of the hosts of local lifestyle series Only in Montreal. That series, sadly, has not been renewed, but she quickly moved on to her next project: a travel series produced by Toxa (the company behind Urbania) and airing on Évasion.
The 13-episode one-hour series, Tamy @ Royaume-Uni, was shot last fall, and debuts Thursday at 8pm. So I had a chat with Pepin and another with producer Raphaëlle Huysmans about the show for a story that appears in Thursday’s Gazette.
It’s a French channel, and voiceovers and explanations to the camera happen in French, but because this is Britain, most of the stuff that happens is in English (which is thankfully subtitled rather than dubbed). Rather than sounding like an instructional video or sales pitch, the series takes a more documentary-style approach, following Pepin around as she plays tourist.
What makes this series different from most is the social media aspect. Pepin visits a different city each week, and her itinerary in each one is defined almost entirely by suggestions she received through social media. Pepin has a wide social media following, including almost 13,000 followers on Twitter, which made her an ideal candidate for the show in the producer’s eyes.
Taking suggestions on social media can make it more interesting, but there’s also an added risk.
“Now that Twitter is so popular, you have to be careful of PR,” Pepin said. “It happened once that I was at an event and I realized a PR person got me to come to their event.”
Pepin tells me the idea for the series started about two years ago when she attended the launch event for Urbania’s Unique Guides. She got to talking with the people there, and as tends to happen, she wanted to collaborate on something and they had a project in mind that they figured would be perfect for her.
It’s not just a TV series. It has a very strong web component. “To me the website is as important as the TV show,” Pepin said. And rather than shoot the show in obscurity, the public got to follow Pepin through social media as the show was shooting, and contribute by offering suggestions on where to go. Through the show, as Pepin explains where she’s going next, the tweets or Facebook messages that included those suggestions appear on screen. As she takes photos to post on Instagram, those photos also appear on screen. It’s an integration that stops short of getting gimmicky.
The show was produced with a small budget and a field team of three: Pepin, director Émilie Ricard-Harvey behind the camera, and a production coordinator doing planning and driving (Sophie Samson for the first two episodes, Sara-Eve Rioux for the rest of the series).
The documentary style means that it’s not all that glamorous. Pepin doesn’t stay in fancy hotels. She goes couch surfing or stays with a friend or goes to a bed and breakfast. It has a seat-of-the-pants adventure feel to it, as plans fall through and have to be replaced at the last minute, or as she nervously knocks on a door to meet someone for the first time.
And sometimes things go wrong. In the second episode, she loses her wallet, which has her passport in it, and we see her freak out in the back of a car as she’s on the phone. The third episode is centred around visiting the Maunsell Sea Forts (which she decided to go to after reading about it on BuzzFeed), but high wind makes it too dangerous to get on them while she’s there.
And there are some nice surprises too. In the first episode, she randomly runs into a fellow Quebecer at a café in Brighton, who notices that she’s speaking to the camera in French. And she lets a guy talk her into trying out his catapult bungee ride as she walks by.
Pepin is really happy with the show and very proud of it. Not only is this the first TV show that is centred around her, but she did writing and research and “worked on all aspects of the production” so she feels that “this project is really kind of my baby.”
At an hour an episode, it’s a bit long. I wonder if it might not have been better as a half-hour series. But for a show on Évasion, the length makes more sense.
If you like the idea of following someone charismatic and funny as she takes a trip through a foreign land, then this is a good show for you.
Pepin said her experience on Only in Montreal helped her build experience that was useful for this series. “We were doing so much and writing the stories and directing them. That definitely prepared me for the Évasion project.”
Plus, she said, it helped her discover Montreal as a traveller.
Thorough online guide
The website, which until Wednesday was a place to offer suggestions and keep updated on her progress, has been replaced with a completely different one that includes stories, photos, video capsules and other information from her experiences. A post about the first episode is online, and others will be added over the next 13 weeks.
The posts include her thoughts about the episode, portraits (video or text) of the people she met, details about her fashion of the day, tips on using technology while travelling, tips on where to go and what to see in that area, and even the soundtrack of that episode. Pepin said it was important to her that she include Montreal bands in her show “because elevator music in TV shows annoys the crap out of me. We did our best to have a good soundtrack, which was a challenge due to mu$ic rights.”
Yeah, she spelled music with a dollar sign.
Including local music is a nice touch that adds to the quality of the series.
For the first time in a while, Pepin doesn’t have anything lined up. She’s working on some ideas to pitch, but after she’s done writing up all her experiences for the show’s website, she’ll be a free agent again.
Both Pepin and producer Huysmans said they’d love to do a second season of the show or some other collaboration in the future. Pepin said she’d like to go somewhere less touristy, where people don’t expect social media to be quite as active. Practical considerations mean that it would probably need to be a country where English or French is the spoken language.
“If my career stays in Quebec, I really want to keep working in French and in English,” she said. Only in Montreal “was my first real experience working for an anglo production company.”
But nothing’s on the table yet. How well this show is received will probably be a big factor in whether they decide to try this experiment again.
Sadly, there’s no way to watch the show online. “There’s one disappointment I have with this show and that it’s not available online,” Pepin said.
Tamy @ Royaume-Uni runs Thursdays at 8pm on Évasion, starting March 13. It repeats Friday at midnight and 8am, and Saturday at 9am and 6pm. For more information, visit tamy.urbania.ca or the show’s website on Évasion.
UPDATE (June 19): The series has been nominated for three Gémeaux awards.