WATCH ‘Welcome to Surrey’ — a show about real people

You can now watch all episodes of ‘Welcome to Surrey’ Season One (above) online.

‘Welcome to Surrey’ is a TV show launched this summer on Storyhive with the premiere held in August at Surrey City Hall. Two friends – Kashif Pasta and Shyam Valera originally pitched the pilot for a competition organized by TELUS Storyhive but didn’t win. Yet, it didn’t stop them from developing a full 5-episode season which was noticed by TELUS Optic local arm. As Kashif states, ” Storyhive and TELUS Optic since merged into one program, which is why we’re proud to still have that Storyhive logo on all our episodes.”

It all started from realizing that there were not so many (sometimes not at all) TV shows about people living in suburbs. With Surrey having mostly South Asians there such series had a big potential to be adored – they are so relatable “to the extent that a few of Kashif’s and Shyam’s friends thought they made a show about them!”

The show tells a story about a young lady Suneet who grew up in Surrey but moved to Toronto to study in a medical school.  Her instructor sends her back to Surrey to be a doctor in the very first episode. As she arrives, she notices a lot of changes, but also reunites with her family and friends. Kashif worked with Suneet (that’s the actress’s real name) on a film Zoya in 2013 and as he recalls, “Her role in Zoya was small, but I loved how she brought so much to even just a couple of lines and knew we had to have her lead a project.” Overall, for the most of the roles, Kashif and Shyam had cast in mind while working on a script so it wasn’t an issue finding the right people.

Kashif worked with Suneet (that’s the actress’s real name) on a film Zoya in 2013 and as he recalls, “Her role in Zoya was small, but I loved how she brought so much to even just a couple of lines and knew we had to have her lead a project.” Overall, for the most of the roles, Kashif and Shyam had cast in mind while working on a script so it wasn’t an issue finding the right people.

Young filmmakers reached unbelievable success with series being watched by 100,000 people.  It even inspired them to start working on the second season much sooner! So their advice to all individuals who wish to enter Storyhive or launch their own video series is simple – “do it, but do it incredibly well.”

Read our full Q & A with ‘Welcome to Surrey’ Co-Creator, Kashif Pasta

1. What inspired you to start filming ‘Welcome to Surrey’?

It came out of growing up here. With over 80,000 students in the Surrey School District and so many parks, recreation, and arts-and-culture related things to do, it’s really a great place to be a kid. And because of that, it’s a great place to raise your kids. But if you’re anywhere in between those two things, it’s not really designed for you.

So the idea is that you’re supposed to leave at a certain point. Find yourself. But less and less young people are doing that, and many are moving TO Surrey. We were in that stage ourselves when we thought of the show in university, and thought that the mismatch was a great setting for comedy. Add the fact that there are millions of people living in the Canadian suburbs with literally no shows about them on TV or the Internet, and we knew we had to make something happen.

2. We understand the show was a runner up for Storyhive, tell us the story of how the full series came about.

So TELUS Storyhive runs various “editions” for things like short films, music videos, and webseries, that involve getting public votes to earn funding for a pilot episode. We were fortunate enough to be one of the teams that made a pilot in 2016, but it didn’t get picked up for series. We had ambitions to get a five-episode season off the ground, and in the process of starting to pitch it around, it ended up coming full circle when we talked to TELUS’ Optik Local arm, which produces shows outside of Storyhive. They’ve since merged in to one program, which is why we’re proud to still have that Storyhive logo on all our episodes, and to have had them support an emerging filmmakers panel at our big premiere at Surrey City Hall in August!

3. How did you choose the cast?

Welcome to Surrey was mostly written with the cast in mind. Shyam (my co-writer and producer) and I are easy to schedule since we have to be on set, but Suneet was someone we had worked with on a short film called Zoya in 2013 and just couldn’t get enough of. Her role in Zoya was small, but I loved how she brought so much to even just a couple of lines and knew we had to have her lead a project. Welcome to Surrey was the perfect fit.

One of the most exciting people was cast was Manoj Sood. Manoj plays Suneet’s dad and his role wasn’t written for him. He played Babar on CBC’s Little Mosque in the Prairie, and he was so great on that that we just assumed he would be out of the question. Luckily he’s an incredibly great guy and was happy to read our script and ultimately do the show, which I still almost can’t believe. He brings so much to it and I can’t imagine any of it working with someone else in his role.

4. How was the response of the public to the first episode?

Incredible. Of course we did the best we could with it, but ultimately you never know how people are going to take it. I think the fact that we have this massive demographic of suburban Canadians and then many South Asians on top of that, neither of whom have seen their lives reflected back to them, has had a significant impact. It takes so long to make these things and you’ve seen it so much by the time you’re done that you lose some objectivity about the whole thing. People’s responses have made us realize we may need to get on a second season sooner than we thought!

5. Why do you think people watch your show? (what makes it unique?) What is your audience like?

There’s a couple of things. One, it’s super accessible and that can’t be ignored— YouTube, Facebook, TELUS Optik on Demand— it’s free and really not that long when it comes down to it. That might get people to click but I think what they’re identifying with is their own stories, and it’s so rare to see. Every South Asian woman in her early- to mid-twenties that’s talked to us about the show relates to it in a very real way. To the extent that a few of our friends thought we made a show about them! We didn’t base it on anyone in particular, but that sort of response means a lot and tells us we managed to create something relatable..

6. How do you advertise the series?

Honestly, we’re just getting started with that. Right now it’s been a quiet launch on our personal networks, with which we’ve reached around 100,000 people. But articles like this are hopefully going to help a ton, so thank you! There’s a challenge right now in figuring out what our “hook” is to a general audience. There’s obviously a diversity angle, as nearly our entire cast is South Asian and our lead is a woman, but it’s not really a show about that, so it poses an interesting challenge.

7. How many episodes/seasons are you planning to produce?

At the moment, we want to get this first season of five short episodes out to as many people as possible. Beyond that, the show is really designed to play out in longer, TV-length episodes across a full season, so that’s where we want to take it. Welcome to Surrey on TV!

8. Do you have any more projects like this in mind?

For sure! Can’t talk about them at the moment because we like to take our time on the writing stage, but you’ll definitely be hearing about bigger things from us soon!

9. How does this whole experience feel like? What did you learn?

It feels immensely satisfying to take an idea that started in 2009 and went through a lot of different versions since then, and actually see it as a tangible thing. It also feels like levelling up, because we were blessed with the best executives at TELUS, who pushed us out of our comfort zone and in to much higher ambitions. Their belief in us was a lot to live up to, and I hope they feel like it paid off!

10. Do you have any advice for others who wish to enter Storyhive or launch their own video series?

I think the common refrain would be to “do it!” or “go for it!” and you absolutely should. But I would also say aspire to more than just doing it. Try to do it incredibly well. I’m not saying we’d win the webseries equivalent of the Oscars, but with this show and every new project we do, we’re really striving to be the best we can be and comparing ourselves to work that IS Oscar-worthy. They’re lofty goals that we don’t reach, but it helps to move us past what we expect we can do at the outset. I guess that applies to any career, but don’t settle for being “Surrey” good, or good when whatever limitations you have are taken in to account. Try to make it g-o-o-d enough that you can be proud of it it beyond your demographic. Especially if you are or are representing a minority group, you’re going to have to work twice as hard anyways, so might as well double up and be twice the quality of anyone else at the same time.

About The Author

Alie Slabenko

Alie Slabenko is a local writer and poet passionate about human rights. She recently completed the New Media Journalism Program at Simon Fraser University. She also holds a Masters in Tax Crimes from Russia and PDD in Marketing from Douglas College in Vancouver. Alie has volunteered for the YVR airport magazine as a creative contributor and written several travel and lifestyle articles for an online Russian magazine. She is a traveler by heart and has visited Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, China, and the USA. In her free time Alie likes to paint, take photographs, write poems, and manage her social justice oriented website. Alie is a human rights advocate who seeks to serve people through her journalistic skills focusing on racism, transgender rights, women rights, and human trafficking.

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