The making of 'Paragods': Mockumentary series follows everyday lives of first responders
Veteran firefighter-EMT Shawn Allen sought to create a unique comedy-drama that was a mixture between "The Office" and "Rescue Me"
Ten years ago, veteran firefighter-EMT Shawn Allen was kicking around the idea of a TV series that followed the everyday lives of firefighters and paramedics.
Instead of a typical action-drama series, Allen focused his creative efforts on a unique comedy-drama that was a mixture between popular mockumentary TV series, "The Office" and Denis Leary's "Rescue Me."
Allen pitched his idea to Hollywood producers, who were initially on board. Once that backing fell through, Allen decided to green light the series anyway – without anyone's approval but his own.
And, just like that, "Paragods" was born.
The 'Law and Order' of New England
Allen, a 20-year veteran firefighter-EMT, has always had a video camera in his hand.
"I've always loved making movies and shows," he said.
With no formal education in film, Allen taught himself how to shoot, edit, write and direct. "As 'Paragods' has moved along, we brought on another editor, a couple different writers and some people who help direct the episodes," he said.
"Paragods," which takes place in New Hampshire, follows the lives of fictional Sandville County firefighters and paramedics. There are only two real first responders who play a role on the show – Allen, who plays the part of fire chief, and EMT Chris Dubey, who plays the part of Chad. The remaining cast members are actors who responded to Allen's casting call.
To date, the show, which just wrapped its fifth and final season, has had almost 250 actors involved in the making of the series.
"They call us the 'Law and Order' of New England," Allen joked. "If you work in New York as an actor, then you're not considered an actor unless you've been on 'Law and Order.' That's how it is here. You're not considered an actor unless you've been on 'Paragods.'"
The YouTube series averages about nine main cast members – all with a unique sense of humor – per episode. The episodes last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and there are six episodes each season, with an hour-long finale. Each season, according to Allen, is a 6-to-9-month-long commitment.
"Those days can be up to 15 hours long," he said. "But we've been doing it for so long now that we can shoot one episode in a day."
The episodes are a direct reflection of 911 calls Allen has responded to in his own career – with the original names changed and a side of over-exaggeration sprinkled in.
"I realized a lot of the EMS calls we responded to made me shake my head and say to myself, 'Did that really just happen?' I always thought, 'Why doesn't TV do something like this instead of all these, 'I'm a hero and I'm going to save the day' shows," Allen said.
However, the show doesn't focus solely on humorous calls. It also sheds light on important and serious issues in fire and EMS.
'Tales from the Ambulance'
In order to have a good show, Allen said they had to tackle topics that today's first responders are facing.
"We tackled that because the suicide rate is really high in fire and EMS," Allen said. "In season two, one of our characters dies by suicide and we show the toll it took on that character as well as the effect it had on the rest of the characters."
There is a fine line when it comes to presenting serious topics, Allen noted. "We don't want people to take it the wrong way," he said. "We throw some jokes in there, but we're not making fun of these issues. Suicide is a big issue right now and we want to help people by starting a conversation."
The fifth season, which is a standalone season, includes the most serious and heart-wrenching episodes. Without giving too much away, the season begins with the chief's stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis – a storyline reflection of Allen's personal life.
"I was diagnosed with a disease that makes it hard for me to continue," Allen said.
After airing the season finale, Allen and the rest of the cast members discussed why "Paragods" started and ended. Toward the end, Allen candidly explained why ending the show was a decision based on his current health status.
"With the little time I do have, I want to do some things that I've never done before," he said.
As the cast and crew say their farewells to "Paragods," Allen said he will always be proud of what they created. "It's its own entity – you can't compare it to anything else. It's real life with humor."
The series finale, titled "The Fatal Incident," is a must-watch episode. If you're a new viewer, Allen has only one request: watch before making any assumptions.