It’s a good month to be alumni of CTV’s Motive. Netflix’s The Order, Dennis Heaton’s follow-up series that includes several of the Motive creative team, is raking in viewers, and this week, Damon Vignale, one of Motive’s writer-producers, is launching his first developed series on Citytv in The Murders. I spoke with Vignale last week about the new series, a procedural set in Vancouver.
The series follows Kate Jameson (Gotham’s Jessica Lucas), a rookie homicide detective whose missteps in the pilot ricochet across the first season. Riverdale’s Lochlyn Munro plays Detective Mike Huntley, Kate’s partner who worked with her late dad, who was also a detective. The rest of the homicide team are played by Continuum’s Luvia Peterson and Terry Chen and Orphan Black’s Dylan Bruce.
Vignale came up with the concept for the show following the final season of Motive.
“I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve been writing on several shows over the past five years. A lot of the time producers are asking for original content, and I hadn’t had an opportunity to write something new,” he says.
“I had a break after Motive and I thought, ‘OK, now it’s time to write a pilot.’ I immediately went to crime drama because if I was to get a show off the ground, that’s what I wanted it to be. I was inspired by ‘Long Black Veil.’ It’s been recorded by over 100 artists. I love music and I started delving into murder ballads as a genre. Johnny Cash has obviously sung a bunch of them.”
“There’s a whole canon of these songs that stem from folk music. I found that really interesting and I thought, ‘What if we had a serial killer who was marrying music to his crimes?’ I was watching the first season of [British series] Marcella and that inspired having a detective with some real issues that she was dealing with while pursuing her cases.”
“I thought, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen in your first week in homicide?’ I wanted to set [Kate] up with a really heavy load to carry and see where that travels. The journey [in the first season] is really about her coming to grips with [what happens in the pilot] and her therapy sessions continue.”
“The big beat that I wanted to get to [is], it’s one thing for her therapist to know what happens and that’s a big moment when she share that truth. But what if somebody in the department found out? We definitely go on a trajectory toward that in finale.”
“[The season] feels like a chapter. We do have some fun with a relationship outside of work and turn that on its head. There is a bit of an open ending. By the end of the season, we’re hopeful Kate arrives a better place. In Season 2 we’ll blow that up very quickly.”
Vignale calls Vancouver home and was thrilled to base the show there, taking advantage of the local talent and following in the footsteps of Da Vinci’s Inquest and Chris Haddock.
“I live here and I love making television in this city and there’s great crew and cast here. It’s really exciting for me to do that,” he shares. “A show I would always look up to was Da Vinci’s Inquest.”
“I remember years ago I was in a meeting and I was asked if there was a showrunner I aspired to or who inspires me and Chris Haddock came to mind. Being in Vancouver, that show had such an impact and I thought I’d love to have my own cop show in Vancouver. So it’s fun getting this opportunity.”
Vignale has assembled a multicultural and LGBTQ cast and says having his cast in place definitely informed the writers room and his own ear when writing episodes.
“We drove some of the character things we wanted to do around [the diversity of our cast].”
“Once you see that first episode and you start to see dailies and hear actors say those words, you just naturally start to pick up some their mannerisms in your writing,” he shares. “It becomes instinctive. You know how their response will be delivered.”
“Once they put skin on your characters, you start drawing on the person who’s playing that part. I’m very open and collaborative. I want the actors to own their characters. They’d e-mail me about things [they wanted to do or have for their characters]. All that ownership is very important. I love that.”
Behind the scenes, Vignale turned to directors and writers who’d worked with him on not only Motive but also Ghost Wars and Bletchley Circle: San Francisco.
“Kristin Lehman was super collaborative and really respectful to the writing. I was a bit of a fan from [her previous director work] and I was really excited to work with her,” he explains.
“Andy Mikita is a super great guy who directed some of the best Motive episodes and a lot of them. In terms of Jill Carter, we really wanted to be supportive of what’s going on in the industry in terms of supporting female directors and we made the decision to give the pilot to a female director.”
“She didn’t have a ton of experience. She has directed TV but hadn’t directed a pilot. You’re establishing the look of a show and the style. We had conversations and I watched some of her short films. I saw a bit of a filmmaker in her and that was something I thought could serve the show well and give it a filmic sensibility.”
“That’s one of the reasons I went after our [Bletchley Circle] director of photography, Kamal Derkaoui. There’s something filmic about what he brings to a show. I think there’s a feeling [with our pilot] that separates it from other pilots and that was the goal.”
I worked with Karen Hill on Motive and we shared an office. She’s such a strong writer on character and I knew we would benefit from having her. She read the pilot early on, so she’s been involved all along. I worked with Gemma Holdway on Ghost Wars and Laura Good on Bletchley Circle.”
“They were two junior writers I saw a lot of promise in. I liked their contributions in the room. They had lots of ideas and are very contemporary and talented and it was great to give them the opportunity.”
The Murders premieres Monday at 9pm/8c on Citytv. Here’s a sneak peek.