After exploring dance and music in popular series The Next Step and Lost and Found Music Studios, Canadian showrunner Frank van Keeken is back with a new youth drama that vaults into the competitive world of gymnastics.
Newly greenlit by DHX Television’s Family Channel (Canada) and snapped up by CBBC (UK), Up in the Air is a 15 x 22-minute inter-generational redemption story about a 12-year-old girl who longs to become a competitive gymnast on the world stage, like her mother and grandfather before her.
The multi-cam, live-action series is produced by Beachwood Canyon Productions in association with Family Channel. While the Toronto-based company has numerous shows in development, Up in the Air is its first original production since van Keeken founded the prodco in late 2015.
After creating and producing three shows for Temple Street—Wingin’ It, The Next Step and Lost and Found Music Studios—van Keeken was ready to step out on his own.
“It was time to build on my own prodco and original IP,” says van Keeken. “The Next Step was in good hands when I left after the fourth season, so it was an easy transition.”
Now in its sixth season, The Next Step airs in more than 120 countries and is currently produced by Radical Sheep Productions for Boat Rocker Studios, in association with Family Channel and NBCUniversal-owned net Universal Kids.
When it comes to following up a hit, van Keeken says Up in the Air already has elements in place that will bolster its chances on the international market. He picked gymnastics because the subculture of the sport is equally as popular as those of the worlds of dancing and music. If you search “gymnastics” on Instagram, there are hundreds of thousands of videos that come up from the amateur to the elite levels. To provide authenticity, the production is currently casting some of Ontario, Canada’s best gymnasts for lead and secondary roles, the same approach he took with The Next Step.
But unlike van Keeken’s previous kids shows, Up in the Air will be fully scripted rather than let kid actors use the sometimes risky and time-consuming method of improvisation that he has used in the past.
“On The Next Step, many of our actors were dancers first so the [improv] approach made it easier for them to perform,” he says. “After using this approach for several years, it taught me how to write dialogue that is meaningful and to the point without being overly flowery.”
For this reason, van Keeken believes he can efficiently deliver realistic, natural-sounding scripts without the risk of not getting what they want from the actors. To step up the writing on this show even more, he has has ensured a gender- and ethnically-diverse writer’s room “to allow as many varied perspectives on the project as possible.”
The series’ chances for success will also be lifted by an experienced crew, many of whom have worked with van Keeken before. Ian Malone (The Next Step) will be a supervising producer and a writer on the show and joins writers/producers Conor Casey and Lyndon Casey (Wingin’ It), as well as Emma Campbell (The Next Step, Lost and Found Music Studios).
Up in the Air will begin shooting at Revival Film Studios in Toronto this June. Though a delivery date is yet to be determined, van Keeken is hopeful the series will premiere concurrently on Family Channel and CBBC, and on as many platforms as possible. “The Next Step launched in different territories at different times so the fans were in different states of excitement [on social media],” he says. “I hope we can go out at the same time to keep the global fandom in sync [by avoiding spoilers] and help grow the show.”