Kim’s has become a worldwide phenomenon, gaining a global fan base (referred to as “Kimbits”) and receiving countless accolades and awards. Kim’s was the first Canadian TV show with an all-Asian lead cast and told a story of Canadian immigrants and their children, not often seen on screens.
Below, Directors Sherren Lee and Peter Wellington, Picture Editors Robert De Lint and Aren Hansen, Production Designers John Dondertman (Seasons 1 & 2) and Ian Hall (Season 3,4 & 5), and Sound Editor Barry Gilmore talk to us about their creative relationships, their favourite memories, and how working on Kim’s Convenience impacted their careers.
Can you tell us a bit about the creative relationships between the Directors, Editors, Designers and Showrunners on Kim’s Convenience?
Director Peter Wellington: I used to be an Editor and devised my shot list (and decided when we can safely “check the gate”) according to how moments will work in the cutting room. Editors Rob De Lint, and Aren Hansen, are both skilled and engaging storytellers, so I tend to describe the point of view, feel, and pace for a scene and let them handle the execution. Same thing with our Designers: Ian Hall, and before him, John Dondertman. Both effortless collaborators, I’d almost always nod my head at their suggestions, then say “wow” or “thank you” at the completed sets.
Director Sherren Lee: Getting into the editing suite is always such an exciting final step of the process — it’s where all the pieces come together. I loved watching [Editors] Aren and Rob interpret the footage in their assemblies and working with them to make it all sing. They’ve both been with the show for many seasons, so they bring their expertise to Kim’s identity while bringing in fresh ideas and vision to my episodes. When those two elements can marry seamlessly, it’s a dream come true.
Picture Editor Robert De Lint: On Kim’s, the Editors worked with both experienced and up-and-coming Directors. As an Editor, our challenge was to maximize the unique qualities that each Director brought to the table while making sure Kim’s stayed true to its tone and sensibility.
Picture Editor Aren Hansen: The Directors and I usually connect during pre-production to chat about the script’s shooting challenges. Perhaps there’s a stunt that requires careful planning of angles, or maybe there’s a joke that needs a specific type of delivery. It’s great to talk some of this stuff out together. Hopefully, I can help them develop solutions that ultimately let us achieve the result they’re looking for.
Once everything is shot, and I’ve done my assembly, we get together for the Director’s cut. This year it was all done online using Evercast, which is like the Ferrari of Zoom. Depending on the Director, we will spend a couple of hours or days on an episode. We usually share a lot of laughs and do some experimenting. You never really know how far you can push something until you try it, so we play around. I try to keep the process very creative and non-technical during our time together by doing a lot of extra work up-front to make the material malleable and fast to work with. This involves fixing a lot of dialogue overlaps and setting up the project in a certain way. The Director usually comes in with a priority list of things they want to work on, so we’ll start by tackling that. Throughout the session, we’ll swap outtakes, adjust pacing and rework structure. We’ll screen the show a final time, make a few last changes and send it to the Producers.
Sound Editor Barry Gilmore: I was the Dialogue Editor, so I creatively interacted mainly with the Showrunners, Kevin White and Ins Choi. My job, when actors have to come in for ADR, is to see that they match the sync of the lines that needed replacing and be sure that their performances are believable and as close to the original as possible. Sometimes a note would come from the Picture Editor/Directors/Producers asking for a different performance from an actor, and I would oversee that. Meanwhile, I am also working on the original, sync dialogues and cleaning them up for the mix where the dialogues, sound effects, and music are blended for the episode’s final audio. When the sound for an episode is mixed together, a “playback” is scheduled and attended by the Producers, Broadcaster, Showrunners and Sound Editors.
Production Designer Ian Hall (Season 3, 4 & 5): While the prime relationship in television is with the Creator/Showrunner, Kim’s Convenience introduced several new Directors each season. It was essential to give each Director the background story of all the established sets and address each of their creative ideas and requests for their particular episodes. There were always episodic sets to design and dress, allowing for ample room for the Director and the Designer to interact.
Production Designer John Dondertman (Seasons 1 & 2): The relationship between myself and the Directors of Kim’s would be similar to how I approach any other television series or film work; we all react to the script and the details within the individual episode. Working on a sitcom is often about the “gags” and involves building unique props. In Season 1, Episode 4 (“Frank and Nayoung”), we had several fun props to build for the character of Nayoung (Janet’s cousin from Korea), like her anime-style backpack. We collaborate with the Director and Showrunners to make sure we are fulfilling everyone’s vision.
John, as the Production Designer for seasons 1 & 2, can you tell us how you went about designing the establishing world of Kim’s Convenience?
John Dondertman: When we started to prep, we visited writer and creator Ins Choi’s parents’ home. As the storyline originated with his family, the heart of the design lies within that. We were also scouting for an exterior to shoot, and I used many details I discovered looking at different convenience stores all over Toronto. I, of course, also took inspiration from Ins’ Kim’s Convenience, the 2011 award-winning play.
What do you all love about making TV in Toronto and its filmmaking community?
Director Sherren Lee: I adore the crews in Toronto, and it’s a treat to see familiar faces as I hop from set to set. To be able to build on existing relationships while continuing to meet new people is so wonderful. From the Location PAs that keep us safe to the craft team that keeps us fed, I am grateful for every person on set, each crucial to our day’s success and the final product that makes the show. During this trying time of COVID, I’ve felt everyone’s enthusiasm, humanity and warmth. Something not to be taken for granted.
Director Peter Wellington: What I love about filmmaking in Toronto is the variety of excellent locations. You always have a superb second and even third choice. The Location Managers have developed good-faith relationships with the community so that everyone knows the drill. The crews working in Toronto are reliably talented, seasoned and good-natured; it’s fantastic.
Picture Editor Robert De Lint: What makes cosmopolitan Toronto so engaging is that it has many small communities with distinctive cultures. This makes Toronto an exciting place to shoot TV shows and movies; Nothing seems impossible. There are actors, writers, and creators for any type of show.
Production Designer Ian Hall: Kim’s Convenience is unabashedly set in Toronto and attracts a team that loves working on independent Canadian shows. COVID has certainly tested us all and proven how important it is to have a tightly-knit creative team.
One of the best parts of working on Kim’s was collaborating face-to-face with the Directors and Showrunners. So, season 5 was more challenging because we had to work at a distance from one another.
However, despite the restrictions and complications, it was hugely rewarding to see what we could accomplish thanks to how well the crew knew each other and the show and the Producers’ efforts to create protocols that ensured the health and safety of the cast and crew.
Production Designer John Dondertman (Seasons 1 – 2): I love working in Toronto because I feel connected to the cast, crew, writers, and film technicians who call this place home. Toronto has an incredible and vast base of film technicians and artists.
Sound Editor Barry Gilmore: I love working in Toronto because I know (from a long history of working here) that I’m working on professional and high calibre productions. Our standards are very high, and the editing talent available is very experienced. We are on par, if not better than most other production communities in the world.
The exciting thing about Toronto is that we don’t get stuck in a niche. You could be working on a feature film in this city then onto an episodic or a documentary or a commercial. We’re very versatile (more aptly, we’re professional survivors). Toronto is a very vibrant city and has formed an excellent reputation for production.
Tell us about a highlight from your time working on Kim’s Convenience.
Director Peter Wellington: One highlight was when a background performer entered the store to browse, went to the counter and loudly asked Appa for a pack of “Du Maurier Lights.”
There was also the annual summer backlot BBQ where everyone in the company finally relaxed and said aloud what a good gig we all had.
Director Sherren Lee: It’s hard for me to choose a highlight! My parents owned a coffee shop in the Beaches when I was in high school, so this show’s familiarity felt personal to me for that reason. The whole experience, walking into the studio, working with the wonderful cast (even behind masks) and just getting the chance to be a part of this final season is so special to me.
Representation matters, and I’m proud to have been a cog in this machine, hopefully paving the way for more BIPOC creatives.
Picture Editor Robert De Lint: As an Editor, my memories of Kim’s are rooted in watching the cast grow so wonderfully into their fictional roles. Every day I would ‘visit’ with my fictional Kim family of Paul, Jean, Andrea, and the Handy family of Nicole, Simu and Andrew.
But, if I had to pick one moment, it would be when my partner and I saw the original Kim’s Convenience play by Ins Choi’s at Soul Pepper Theatre. After watching Ins’ funny and moving production, I turned to my partner and mused that CBC should adaptit. A couple of years later, it was, and I was lucky enough to work on it.
Picture Editor Aren Hansen: Like most productions, Kim’s did its post from home this year. It was pretty intense with my whole family here at home together during the day. There are only three of us, but we take up a lot of space. My son is a big fan of the show, and he’s surprisingly opinionated (and usually right!) about some of my choices. He was thrilled to temp in a bit of frog ‘ribbit’ Sound effect into a recent episode. The character, Mr. Mehta, picks up a little toy frog, and it ‘ribbits’ at him. When our temp sound inevitably made it through the mix and to air, we all had a good laugh. It was fun to make that little piece of magic happen together.
‘Magic’ is an excellent word to describe my entire experience working on Kim’s. From the day I got the job until I finished my last episode on this final season, it was an absolute pleasure to work on.
Production Designer Ian Hall: My biggest highlight was the honour of working with some of the best Producers and Showrunners I have ever worked with – specifically Ivan Fecan, Sandra Cunningham, Alex Raffe and Kevin White. I was told early in my career that it “all comes from the top.” This proved very true on Kim’s Convenience, where the Producers’ loyalty, support and generally positive approach permeated down the crew list and created a fun and familial working environment.
In terms of specific highlights, designing a condo set for Shannon’s character comes to mind since we had gotten to know her over four seasons but never seen her at home. Working with the Showrunner and actor Nicole Power to describe her more fully through her home environment was a pleasure. Adding features to the Kim’s Convenience store year over year, giving it more lighting angles and character beats, was always a treat. Working with two young DOP’s, Fraser Brown and James Klopko, and getting to know a third, Iris Ng, was also a highlight.
Production Designer John Dondertman (Seasons 1 & 2): It’s hard to pinpoint just one particular highlight working on Kim’s. In general, when working around people who tell jokes for a living, you have a pretty good time! I was able to hang out with Ed the Sock and Mr. Kim in the store, so I would say that was a highlight.
Sound Editor Barry Gilmore: Working with amazingly friendly and talented people and a “playback” without any notes…is always a highlight in my life!
How did working on Kim’s Convenience impact your career?
Director Sherren Lee: Working on Kim’s Convenience earned me my first official half-hour comedy TV credit. I’m a big fan of comedy, and I’m thrilled to have gotten this chance to bring my sense of humour to the forefront of my work. Laughing on set is essential to me, and a massive perk of directing comedy is working among a group of talented and hilarious people. This experience is hopefully an exciting opportunity to direct more comedy. Here’s to many more laughs ahead!
Director Peter Wellington: Too early to tell, though my agent can now more easily describe me: “Peter Wellington, the Director of Kim’s Convenience, would like to Direct your comedy.” And generally, they call him back.
Picture Editor Robert De Lint: When I joined the Kim’s team, I was not well known as an Editor in Toronto, having spent much of my career writing and directing projects in Regina. Working on a primetime CBC series gave me the exposure I needed to establish myself as an Editor who can deliver the comedy and story beats on a high-profile show.
Picture Editor Aren Hansen: It’s a shining star on my resume. It helped me land gigs on Jann, Baroness von Sketch Show and everything else I’ve worked on recently. Most importantly, the people I’ve worked with on the show will be lifelong collaborators, supporters and friends. You can go through any successful Editor’s IMDB and spot the show where things started to take off for them. Kim’s is that show for me.
Production Designer Ian Hall: Kim’s Convenience welcomed me into the family in Season 3. It has been a privilege and great pleasure to be part of the Kim’s Family of gifted producers, writers, performers and crew for three Seasons. It has anchored numerous key creative relationships as well as established many lifelong friends. Kim’s Convenience continues to remind me of the remarkable storytelling creative talent we have in this country, and I am happy to have played a role in making it grow. I will forever be proud and honoured to have been part of this beloved and groundbreaking show.
Production Designer John Dondertman (Seasons 1 – 2): Kim’s had a positive effect on my career because it was a hit that resonated with many people. The experience was thoroughly enjoyable. I made new friends, got to work with a talented and motivated group of people and reconnect with producers with who I previously worked.
Sound Editor Barry Gilmore: I’ve enjoyed over forty years working in Sound, and Kim’s was closer to my “swan song.” I was happy to have the experience and skills to work on such an esteemed project. I’ve always believed that every day should present something new, and Kim’s was no exception. There was always a new way of approaching the work and material, which contributed significantly to an already capable arsenal of abilities.
To all the Members who contributed to 5 amazing seasons of Kim’s Convenience: Thank you!
Kim’s Convenience series finale aired on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. on CBC and is now available on CBC Gem.