Connections Productions, the successful Canadian television production company, is nowhere near Toronto. It’s not based in Vancouver, neither is it in Montreal. The backdrop of Moncton, New Brunswick serves Frank Savoie and his company very well, thank you kindly. It’s nothing against the big cities, of course, but Savoie sometimes finds it difficult to convince people from said places that you don’t have to be from there to have talent. I’m not sure why it’s such a task, because one look at his career and Savoie’s talent ceases to be a question.
It was in September of 1992 that Frank Savoie launched Connections Productions. After working for 24 years with CBC, he decided to venture out on his own, and he hasn’t looked back. Starting as a small shop, Connections has evolved into one of the largest, fully-integrated entertainment houses in eastern Canada, having produced or co-produced thousands of independent productions in both French and English. Over the years, clients have included the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, TFO, CBC, Radio-Canada, ARTV, and APTN.
Despite its present success, Savoie maintains it was a challenge to get the company off the ground at first; it was a steep learning curve. While the company convinced CBC to do Pour l’Amour du Country in 1992 (which was an instant hit), it wasn’t until 1997 that Connections Productions really started to produce on its own. It turned out to be great timing, too, because the provincial government had just introduced the New Brunswick Film Tax Credit, offering companies up to 40 per cent of eligible salaries paid to local film and TV production personnel.
Today, Gemini-award-winning Connections Productions has made a name for itself as a specialist in country music and aboriginal variety television shows. “We have been doing these two styles of music for a long time,” says Savoie. “Now, we have an award-winning series called Makusham, which is an Innu word that means ‘gathering’ or ‘party.’ We have musicians from different tribes across the country and we match them with non-aboriginal musicians to perform in various genres. The first series was last year and the network loved it, so we will be continuing that for the next few years. Makusham is also fun because we’re training an aboriginal company, Kunakan, to take over the series.”
“The other popular one is our country variety series,” Savoie continues, which is interesting because he used to hate country music, but saw the market for it. “This will be our eighth season coming up, and last year we celebrated our 100th episode. We have had the best French country singers and some of the best English country singers (including Garth Brooks). It’s fun and easy television, and this series has put people like host Patrick Norman on the map.”
Aside from variety shows, Connections Productions has also seen success with its numerous documentaries. In fact, Turning Points in History, a show that featured the most pivotal events in the 20th century, was the 1997 series that brought the company to the next level. “It was an exciting series—one of my favourites,” recalls Savoie. “It was produced at the beginning of the cable fund, and it is what got us off the ground. We did all of the music, sound and post-production ourselves, and it’s still being aired around the world now (and will until 2016). It was in making that series that we got to shoot the Apartheid in South Africa, the Solidarity in Poland and war stories all over Europe. We have built our success on storytelling.”
More than just entertainment
In Savoie’s experience, television shows aren’t just for entertainment; they provide a medium through which people can be affected. “We don’t do open heart surgery,” he laughs. “If we make a mistake, no one is going to die, but we do have the opportunity to reach people and touch lives.”
“The nicest thing that ever happened in my career was in 1992,” Savoie continues. “I did a Christmas special on the Acadian Christmas traditions; it was called The First Rose of Christmas, after an Acadian legend. We had two choirs, an orchestra and a few stars that, at one point, performed a medley of obscure, ancient Acadian songs. About four months after it aired, I got a lovely hand-written letter from a nun, who asked if she could get a copy of those songs, because she grew up listening to them. I got her a copy of the show and a calligraphied song book, and sent it to her for Christmas. The letter she sent me after that is still with me. I carry it everywhere. I touched one person. And that’s the beauty of what we do.”
“There are a lot of shows that are made for popularity and commercial value,” Savoie says. “A lot of it is schlock, but it’s business. But that’s not what we do, and I am honoured to have changed just one person’s life. I will hold on to that letter until the day I die. She wrote ‘you have restored my faith in mankind, and this kindness will stay with me.’ I choke up just thinking about it.”
On a larger scale, Connections Productions has been a part in changing small communities in Africa and Panama. By filming and airing practices of local traditions and customs, the production company has helped restore otherwise dying cultures. Savoie has received reports saying that youth, who would usually move to bigger cities, have decided to stay in the villages and preserve the local culture. “People are moving back to the traditional farm lands. We were able to change the minds of entire villages; this is from a little company in Moncton,” Savoie beams.
Indeed, Frank Savoie lives a blessed life. With his son at his side, who oversees the technical studio, a passport that has accompanied him all over the world, and an exciting career, who could ask for anything more? “I have been producing TV for 37 years now,” Savoie says. “I have met amazing people, had great experiences, and at the end of the day, I get paid for it.”
“I am proud of the Canadian television industry,” he reflects. “We have our own culture and our own way of telling stories, and we have given people in this country a platform to express themselves. I’m proud of being a Canadian, especially having travelled abroad. And I’m proud to show Canada to Canadians.” Truly a national treasure, Connections Productions continues to treat Canadian viewers to our culture and history.