All you have to do is look at her recent successes to recognize Leanna Crouch as one of Canada’s most accomplished and prolific independent television producers. With decades of experience and the drive to constantly evolve, it’s safe to say she is one of a kind in the business.
Like many people who find their way into the exhilarating field of production, Crouch started out in a different direction. She finished a degree in political science at Western, and was about to embark upon journalism school at King’s College, when a visit to a set changed her mind. “I was going to be a foreign correspondent, and then I was completely corrupted by a trip to L.A.” Being bitten by this bug, she then commenced graduate studies in Communications at Pepperdine University, Malibu and began her career as an intern at NBC.
Upon returning to Canada she found work with several successful information-based programs before becoming producer at the TVO literary series Imprint. It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring TV show. During her tenure, Imprint featured interviews and discussion with some of the greatest Canadian minds of the age, including Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Douglas Coupland, Northrop Frye, and numerous others. Crouch was producer there for five seasons, from 1989 to 1994, and she describes that time as a “bright shining moment” in which television took the lead as a bearer of ideas. As she explains, factual producers often find ideas in printed media such as the news, and develop programs based on these reported stories. In the case of Imprint, however, television led that dialogue, and for this reason it was regarded as very unique and innovative.
The aptly named Lively Media has been in constant production since Crouch founded it in 2007. It has found extraordinary success in producing factual programs for both Canadian and American specialty channels. Crouch says this expanded marketplace gives her more choice with regards to what kind of shows she can produce, “a larger palette in which to pitch my work,” and a glance at its recent productions reveals quite a variety of subject matter.
The Chef’s Domain and Gold Medal Plates follow a culinary theme, while Breeder of the Pack documents the world of dog breeding, and Enraged tells the stories of families and anger. Run run revolution, a two hour special created for CBC’s Live Right Now health initiative, was recently nominated for 3 Canadian Screen Awards. The show follows the transformation towards fitness of a group of high school students from Ottawa as they train to run in the Boston marathon.
Lastly, I Didn’t Do It is a crime-themed series following wrongful convictions. Crouch explains the process of how this series came together: “We were very lucky because not only did journalist Trish Wood come to us with the idea of the show but also with solid contacts in this area. She and our crack team of researchers were responsible for identifying and investigating the stories. They were then submitted to the broadcaster for approval. We had fantastic cooperation from the Innocence Project in the US who monitors these cases and provides legal support when necessary.”
Despite its relative youth as a production company, Lively Media has already built an impressive reputation south of the border.“Factual producers were having trouble gaining a foothold in the US market. Well, that doesn’t exist anymore. If anything we’re a preferred supplier because we can produce extraordinarily good television, we execute really well, and we understand what the marketplace needs. And, as a result, I would say at least the last four years, I haven’t encountered any resistance by American producers that I’m a Canadian producer. It has utterly and completely changed.”
Crouch praises the “collegial” quality of the Canadian production industry, saying she has friendly relationships with many other production companies and is glad to live in a country where the industry is not so much characterized by cutthroat competition. Being a member of the CMPA is incredibly useful, she says, because it allows producers to give input and not feel like they are all on their own.
As for advice for a young producer starting out? This industry is a place for people with a strong stomach, she observes.You might have to “wear down the producer until they hire you”, and you must be prepared to grow creatively. “Just like if you go to play tennis, you always have to take lessons for the rest of your life, or else you’ll lose your mojo. It’s the same thing. If I had stuck with what I was doing ten years ago, I would be out of the business by now.”
Crouch is confident in the face of the threat of digital takeover. People will always want long form, well executed programs, she says, and she isn’t intimidated by “20 –year olds doing YouTube videos.” With the clarity that comes with 25 years of experience, she sums up her profession nicely.“Of course the methods of transmission are going to change. We all know that. But we have one job. We’re storytellers.”