FYIG Chats With Joel Thomas Hynes, Creator of CBC’s Little Dog

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FYIG recently had the chance to chat with Joel Thomas Hynes, creator of the new CBC comedy, Little Dog. Find out more about Little Dog and the interesting story about how the idea for the show came to be in the full interview!

Tell us a little bit about yourselves for readers who may not be familiar with you.

I’m Joel Thomas Hynes. I have no idea what to call myself, an artist of some sort. I work in several creative fields. I’m from a very small coastal town in Newfoundland called Calvert, which is about an hour’s drive south of St. John’s. Shout out – The Squid Jigger Lounge in Calvert serves up the best feed of fish and chips east of Vancouver. I’ll fight you on that.

You have a new show that has just premiered on CBC called Little Dog. Tell us what it’s all about.

Our new CBC series is called Little Dog. It’s a raunchy comedy about a burnt-out boxer named Tommy Ross, who is making a very unlikely return to the ring after walking out of a fight five years before. A once fairly celebrated, scrappy warrior on his way to the big time, he’s been living in self-imposed exile and disgrace ever since, slumming around feeling bad for himself. And then suddenly he’s thrust back into the spotlight and, of course, his highly dysfunctional family and all the old devils of the past and all the old troubles that he ran from five years ago are waiting right where he left them. And his mother, the infamous Sylvia Ross, proves herself to be probably Tommy’s biggest hurdle on the road to his redemption. His family is as wild in their day to day as Tommy is, or used to be, inside the ring.

Where did the inspiration for Little Dog come from?

I’ve been mapping out different TV shows for a few years now, never quite landing on the right idea at the right time. So I have been pushing for a show. But nothing felt as right and as interesting and as challenging as the Little Dog story. I knew it when it hit me, that it was the one to roll with. But I think there was a series of events that happened in my life over the past few years, events that triggered a lot of new awareness in me and brought up a lot of unfinished business from my past, that ultimately inspired the Little Dog story. The first was a random act of violence I was involved in in the summer of 2012.

Long story, and without going into too much detail, I was attacked by this big dude just outside Job’s Cove in CBN. It was in the middle of nowhere, no one around. He was on a motorcycle and I’d pulled off to the side of the road in my truck and I was getting something out of the back when he pulled in behind me. I guess something had happened on the road, maybe I gave him the finger or something, I don’t know. But he jumped off his bike and grabbed me.

He had a full face helmet on. I never did see his face. He was riding a blue and red and white Suzuki GSX750, around a 2004 model. He was about six foot two. Big guy. And anyway he was pretty twisted up over something I’d done passing him on the road. And he grabbed me by the throat. And there wasn’t any sort of room for anything to escalate to that point, that’s just where it immediately went. No one around for miles, full facemask on.

It was all such a shock, really. I had a hammer and a hickory stick within reach that I could have used. But I froze. I didn’t do anything. And he was really aggressive and overbearing and loud. He kept threatening to take his helmet off, as if that would be the end of me then. But anyhow I didn’t do anything. I didn’t defend myself. I’m not one to run from a fight, I’m hardly known to be afraid of pain. I’ve gotten a few good beat downs and I’ve given a few. Everybody fought, where I come from. All the boys fought. Some girls fought. It was a part of my culture. But I didn’t do a thing to defend myself against this guy. I didn’t stand up for myself. He gave me a shove and walked away laughing at me, jumped on his bike and took off.

It all happened in less than five minutes. I never did see his face. I was pretty shaken up, but what’s hard to admit after the fact was that I was scared. He scared me. I really, really struggled with my anger for months after that. It’s a wonder I didn’t get into trouble because I was ready to fight with anyone, anytime, after that. I was angry with myself. And ashamed of myself. And I ended up doing a lot of soul-searching, about why I didn’t stand up for myself. And other times in my life that I didn’t stand up for myself, every punch I wish I’d thrown came rising up to mock me.

There are loads of angles you can look at it, like hey, thank god I didn’t fight because maybe he would have killed me. But this whole notion of being the bigger man by walking away, that’s never been my philosophy. Or maybe it’s a learned behavior, a cultural default. But in truth I like a good street fight. I like to watch and I like to participate sometimes. It’s tough. A fist fight is not easy. And where I come from, it offered you an identity, a good fight, whether you won or lost, made you a king for a day.

I remember going to a school dance one night after I’d clearly dominated an older, bigger guy from the next town over, and I was treated like a someone, like I’d done something special. I know that’s dumb as rocks because how I got my kicks as a kid is hardly how I get them as a grown man. But it gets ingrained in you. I grew up in the age of the action hero, where JCVD was a god. Mike Tyson’s demonic reign. WWF Wrestling. The idolatry of violence was rampant in the culture of my youth. We learned that the measure of a man is in his fists and how fast and hard he can throw them. And that walking away from a fight makes you a coward. And that belief system prevails, no matter how politically correct and hip and tolerant the world is becoming, whole industries continue to rise up around fight culture. Huge money. People love to watch. And people love to participate. The Romans might be long gone but the spectacle of two men bashing each other’s faces in, that lives on.

Anyhow, after that incident with the maniac on the motorcycle, and all this work I had to do on myself to get through it, one of the best outlets I found was a mixed martial arts class in downtown Toronto. Everything was anonymous there, so I really was able to cut loose and push my own boundaries and pinpoint my limitations. I went there to empower myself. To dig in a learn how to fight without getting emotional, how to separate anger from aggression. It was interesting. But I ended up getting really badly hurt and had to drop out. And the moment I couldn’t fight anymore, the moment I had to walk away from that whole trip, I had a flash of this fighter, this boxer. And I saw his story. And I knew what he needed and where he needed to go. And that flash, that initial idea eventually became Little Dog. So I guess ultimately I do my best fighting on paper. Hopefully, that will translate to the screen too.

I’ve read that Joel originally pitched Little Dog as a drama and Sherry was the one who convinced Joel to make it more of a comedy. What thought process led to the change?

I originally conceived of Little Dog as a dark and gritty, emotional drama about this boxer making a very unlikely comeback, struggling with family, with the legacy of disgrace. I took it to Sherry and she really loved the idea. Then I think she saw me with my shirt off and suggested we turn it into a comedy.

What stands out about Little Dog compared to other shows in this genre?

We really hope Little Dog is a stand out show. Yes, it’s a prime time CBC comedy series, but it’s really got a more cable-style feel to it. It’s new. It has a refreshing feel to it. But it will feel familiar. To me, because the comedy is so grounded and executed with a lot of reserve, it feels more like a drama. We really carefully straddled a tone that lies somewhere in-between. I’ve obviously seen the show many times now and what’s interesting to me, when I can be objective, is that I can have a different emotional reaction to the same scene each time I see it. Sometimes I can have a good laugh and then that same scene can come across in a very tragic way. The characters are very layered and rich and we had an amazing cast who opened the story up even more. So it’s fairly interpretive, and doesn’t offer up the easy answers, and doesn’t conform to the usual conventions. It’s a smart show, I hope it’s a standout.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

To aspiring filmmakers out there, I’d say trust your initial instincts and don’t bounce too many ideas around before you’ve got them written down. And I don’t mean because anyone will steal them, but that I find the creative energy you use up trying to convince someone else that your idea is a good one, it can be better spent in the writing process. And also it means you may not get the approval you’re looking for, for whatever reasons, and that’ll get all up in your head and you might never write your ideas down. There are a lot of naysayers out there, who are quick to point out supposedly insurmountable challenges than encouraging ideas that are not in line with whatever the current climate is. Ignore the current climate. Keep your ideas close and wait until it’s the writing that you’re having to stand behind, not potential writing. I also think, when you are actually developing a project with a producer or writing partner or a story editor, whether if it’s your baby or you’re a gun for hire, be prepared to give over. My philosophy is that the best idea wins. There are smarter, keener, more objective creative minds out there who have great ideas that are sometimes better than yours. It’s a fact. And learn to spot the red flags. If three people all tell you that the blowjob scene is not making sense, then chances are you need to cut the blowjob scene because you’ll only end up having to deal with it in the edit anyhow. Save your production some good money and get your editing done on the page before it’s shot.

Let the readers know where to find you online.

You can find me online on all the regular social media platforms, under my full name.