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Anne Stirling, Ray Penton launch quirky new series

Anne Stirling has always had a quirky sense of humour.

I know, because I once worked with her.

Now she has chopped, diced and distilled her whimsical view of the world into a TV series called “Quirky View”. Produced in partnership with Ray Penton, the series pilot will air this fall on NTV.

“Quirky View” is a documentary series with an irreverent twist and a light sprinkling of learning moments, but the key objective is entertainment. In a nutshell, Stirling interviews a variety of characters with an offbeat and quirky lifestyle, hobby or occupation. In most cases, she is able to extract a simple life lesson from each subject. 

Anne interviews nine people in the “Quirky View” pilot, so the show unfolds at breakneck speed. Most interviewees are from this province, but some are from New Mexico, in the U.S. of A.

To understand how that came about, you need to follow the arc of Anne’s career over the last couple of decades. I worked with Stirling during the mid-1980s, when she was business manager of The Newfoundland Herald. She was smart, well-spoken and highly professional. She also had a great sense of humour that made her a joy to work with.

I lost track of Anne after she left The Herald around 1986, and heard nothing more about her until recently. Turns out, she’s been living in New Mexico, and has worked for more than 10 years as a documentary filmmaker. In fact, she started a not-for-profit collective for independent filmmakers, much like our own NIFCO.

“It’s called Friends of Film, Video and Arts,” she said, in an interview. “I felt that independent filmmakers were working in isolation. When you’re all doing your own projects but don’t have your own team, it’s nice to be able to call on other talent to get the job done.”

The concept of working together rather than competing was foreign to most of her American colleagues, Stirling said, but the concept did take root and the collective has produced about 70 projects since forming in 2006.

“It’s done really well and I have weaned myself away from it now, just to see if people would continue to open doors and the group would continue to have legs without me. It appears that it does. They continue to do lots of interesting things.”

This left Anne with plenty of free time to follow her muse and develop “Quirky View”.

“Living in the U.S., it was clear there is just not enough laughing going on – and learning. There is plenty of news about what isn’t going right, and I was getting tired of that too. You watch the news and think no one’s pretty great, but there’s a lot of interesting, passionate people doing interesting, offbeat things. And I thought, I only know great people.”

That realization was the genesis for “Quirky View”.

“I have a lifetime of material. (Enough to) go all over the English speaking world and do short show and tell pieces about people who have interesting hobbies and points of view, and it would be playful. And it gives me permission – as one who has done documentaries and always felt I had to be more serious – to just relax, laugh, interrupt them and break some of the rules… in a good way.”

She pitched the idea to several colleagues but none seemed to grasp her vision for the show. Then, she spoke with Ray Penton, a local filmmaker and producer, who tuned in immediately.

“I got her idea in part because I have known her a long time,” Penton said. “We have been friends for over 30 years. Anne has a unique outlook and ‘Quirky View’ brings some of her engaging, fun-loving perspective to the small screen.”

They were able to secure some development funding, from the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corp., to produce a pilot episode and to incorporate as Quirky View Media. And there was no problem finding individuals to profile.

“There are people who are so passionate about what they do, and putting their energy and time and money into something purely for the love of it. Those are the people I am finding, and they are very much the people next door. I’m not interested in anyone who is particularly well-known or famous… The show is curious, playful, offbeat, upbeat, show and tell, and I would say the people I’m interviewing have a sense of humour about themselves and that creates the energy. I’ve done interviews where I’m the one constantly trying to provide the energy, and now I want some energy coming back. I’ve done enough of these things for enough years that, you know, if I want to have fun, I will.”

If the pilot gets picked up as a series, Anne says she would limit herself to one or two segments per show, while bringing in guest producers from here and everywhere.

“I want it to be a show where people can participate. It would be headquartered and produced here, but it would have broad appeal. I’m looking for a format where it didn’t matter where you lived, you’d be interested in the content … We want to invite local filmmakers and producers to submit, to maybe even re-edit something (they’ve already done) into ‘Quirky’; maybe a couple of minutes they could re-edit to our format and have some fun with.”

Anne also plans to develop a strong web presence to support the show, offering extended clips of interviews and other features. But all that hinges upon NTV picking up the show, and there is no guarantee of that, despite the family connection (she is the daughter of Geoff Stirling, who owns NTV).

Indeed, some will say, "No wonder she landed this pilot – look at the family connection." Well, frankly, I don’t think that’s fair. Stirling has been honing her skills as an independent filmmaker for more than 10 years. No doubt she has a foot in the door at NTV, but they aren’t going to run with a series unless Anne delivers the goods.

And we won’t know about that until the pilot airs this fall.

I, for one, will be watching.

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