Below Zero: Down and Out in Montreal

The best ideas in the world are hatched while blackout drunk and naked in a South Korean sauna. That’s where two Montrealers came up with the idea for a TV show, whose crowdfunded pilot is now online.

David Groves and Blake Gregory

The best ideas in the world are hatched while blackout drunk and naked in a South Korean sauna.

Or at least they should be.

That’s where Blake Gregory, 26, and David Groves, 25, came up with the idea to document hyperbolic versions of their Montreal lives for Below Zero, their newly released TV pilot that was nearly three years in the making.

First, they had to come back from Korea where, like many freshly-graduated Canadians, they had travelled to teach English (Gregory graduated in 2008; Groves, in 2009). Gregory returned first and did a one-year communications diploma at Concordia University, during which he wrote six episodes of Below Zero as part of a scriptwriting class.

Shortly after Groves returned from Korea in 2011 and upon the recommendation of a friend, they launched a Kickstarter project to raise $900 to shoot the pilot; they got just over $3,000 — about a third of which came from strangers, and almost all of which has already been spent.

“Doing it the shoestringiest possible, it still cost 3K,” Gregory says.

That it cost them over three times the projected budget is not only evidence of their poor math skills, but also of their desire to produce a pilot that would be of a decent production value and quality. They called in favours from friends to shoot and act in the pilot, and hired a musician to score it.

“It’s by no means fit for TV, but it’s a pretty decent product considering the money [spent on it],” Gregory says.

The concept for Below Zero — the title a reflection of both Montreal temperatures and their bank account balances — is rooted in what Gregory says is a new and unique problem affecting young graduates, otherwise known as the most highly-educated unemployed people in history.

“It’s this idea of a whole generation going through the same problem. It’s somewhat relevant to people our age,” says Groves, who is currently back in school for a law degree.

The pair first met in 2006 when working on McGill’s satirical Red Herring publication; over the summer, they both worked at Just For Laughs, and eventually moved in together, fulfilling their Below Zero destiny.

The 28-minute first episode starts off with the graduation of Derek Gray (Groves) and Mark Rudd (Gregory) — “We got BAs now, we can do anything we want,” Mark tells their jock friend, Chad (Anthony Mlekuz). And if that means drinking cheap booze and eating store-brand frozen pizzas in the dead of winter in the shitty apartment they share, they’ve got it made. Derek gets a paper route; Mark has to take Viagra to have sex with a girlfriend who makes too many Will Smith song references.

The nods to ’90s sitcoms are intentional and rife throughout the six scripted episodes. But whether they get produced is more a question of whether the creators can shop Below Zero to the right people.

“This project is meant to be a showcase of our writing and producing skills,” says Gregory, who has designs on a career in producing scripted comedy for TV. Future episodes are intended to clock in at the 22-minute mark, and the duo are willing to truncate, repackage, reshoot — anything, really, to get Below Zero on Canadian television sets.

But like their post-graduation existential crises, they haven’t got a next step figured out just yet. Whatever it is, though, it’ll surely involve more cheap beer and frozen pizzas. ■

Watch the pilot here:

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