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Monday, March 27, 2006
Q. In a showrunning course, we've had quite a few Canadian producers talk about the advantages of filming in Canada because of the province and federal credits. Has this system helped you get your projects done faster than if you were concentrating in the States? One producer said that Canadian writers were particularly valuable.
In TV, I've definitely had a leg up. I co-created Naked Josh
after staffing exactly one show. Imagine trying to do that in the States.
There is no real market for homegrown Canadian films in English. There were, I think, seven features (by the WGC's count) in English last year. So my features are pretty much stymied; to get them done I'm going to have to go to the States.
Canadian writers are particularly valuable if you want the credits because then you can use a US director and still qualify for the CAVCO credits, which are a big chunk of change. The various federal and provincial tax credits can add up to a quarter of your budget, so there you go.
An aspiring Canadian screenwriter recently asked Xena & Sheena writer/producer Steve Sears about the value of Canadian versus American talent. Here was his rather eye-opening reply:
Actually, the move from Canada to the U.S. is a LOT easier than the reverse, take my word for it, immigration-wise. It doesn't make your situation any easier, but feel some comfort that you aren't a U.S. writer trying to get landed in Canada.
Here are the plusses you have going for you:
1. Canadian TV shows, if they are purely Canadian, hire Canadian staff.
2. French/Canadian series don't hire U.S. Writers, only French or Canadian (there may be some change in that, but I'm unaware of it at this moment).
3. The Canadian subsidies are based on a point system so that money is allocated to joint U.S./Canadian productions depending on the number of Canadians who are hired.
4. Provincial subsidies also apply for Canadian workers.
5. The WGA doesn't like their Writers working under Canadian and WGC jurisdiction and will do everything in their power to sabotage it.
Here's the drawback:
Canadian productions generally do not want Canadian Writers. They want U.S. Writers. And they will do a lot to get them and have all the above restrictions figured out.
Sounds strange, doesn't it? And it doesn't apply to Canadian Directors. Just Canadian Writers.
When it's the point system, Canadian co-productions will trade the Canadian Writers for Canadian Directors in order to secure U.S. Writers. Canadian Directors, in fact, have done very well in the U.S., but no one in the U.S. is talking about those Canadian Writers.
When it's French/Canadian, many times they will hire Canadian "Writers" but, in fact, have a staff of U.S. Writers writing without credit (amazingly enough, sometimes with their offices in Los Angeles).
When it's a purely Canadian production, they will look for U.S. Writers who have landed immigrant status in Canada.
The reasons for this aren't going to be something that is easy to say or easy to hear. It's going to be upsetting, especially for Canadian Writers. And it is this: Canadian Writers are generally regarded as not very good. Their story plotting is slow, their characters are confusing and/or shallow, their logic is flawed and the products aren't very exciting. Please keep in mind, I'm giving you the general prejudice, not saying that I agree with it or would feel right applying such a generality to a specific person.
But, in fact, this is true with almost all other foriegn productions, they all prefer U.S. Writers. In this perception, U.S. Writers reign supreme. We could get into a long discussion as to why (personal belief is that the U.S., after WW II, basically recreated the world according to U.S. Standards and TV was the major emerging techology at that time). But even the French had to enact laws to prevent U.S. Television product from overwhelming their airwaves.
I've had experience with all this from both sides. In fact, I was just talking to a producer who is setting up a six picture deal in Canada and he told me he wanted to get me involved. But he said he had to deal with the Canadian situation. I told him that I was a landed immigrant. It was like I had hit him with a wet fish. He got all excited and said that it would make things a lot easier since the studio specifically wanted U.S. Writers but also wanted to get all the advantages of the Candian deals. (whether this deal goes through or not is still pending).
Another friend was just producing a series for Canadian domestic and he, also, is a Landed Immigrant. The series has Canadian Writers on it, but his is the lead guy and the studio defers to him over the Showrunner.
Sounds depressing, I know, and it makes things difficult. However, there is a white knight running to your rescue. That white knight is in the form of the Writers Guild of America. The advantage for U.S. Writers in these scenarios is obvious. But, they usually have to work under Canadian rules and with the WGC (Writers Guild, Canada). Those rules don't match the WGA rules and, in fact, are very much different as far as residuals are concerned. So the WGA is trying to use every loophole it can to demand that Canadian Production companies guarantee the same basic agreement as the WGA has in the U.S. And the WGA is going after U.S. Writers in order to do it, even when the series has NOTHING to do with the U.S. My friend is going through this although he is Canadian (landed), the series is Canadian, the studio is Canadian and it isn't intended for the U.S. market. He told the WGA all that and, believe it or not, they said that since his AGENT had an office in the U.S., that made it a U.S. project. Such b.s.... but, before I get off on a rant, take this as being something positive for you. Canadian production companies are certainly not going to adopt the WGA basic agreement (as well they shouldn't have to) and U.S. writers aren't going to threaten their WGA membership or risk paying the penalties.
Okay, so that's a lot of stuff to think about and it still doesn't address how you get started in Canada as a Writer. To that, I have no idea as I haven't had to deal with that situation in my life.
So the best thing you can do to get work as a Writer in Canada is be percieved as a U.S. citizen. Except in the U.S.
Ah, the logic of the industry....
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