Should I Move to Canada? - Complications Ensue
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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Q. My Canadian wife says we should move to Canada, where there are fewer screenwriters. My career is not catching fire down here in LA. Would my writing career be better there?
I began my career in the US, and moved to Canada because of its more nurturing cultural environment. Canada supports emerging writers, established writers, producers, and production, in various ways, through various government programs and subsidies. Canada funds grants and training programs, and has a truly awesome film school (the CFC). Because of that network of support, once you establish Canadian permanent residency (the equivalent of a US green card), it could be easier to make it up here than down there.

Establishing permanent residency takes about eighteen months. Unlike the US, Canada has a fairly sane immigration policy, which encourages educated people with professional experience to come here. You're looking at spending a couple thousand bucks if you do the paperwork yourself, or about five thousand bucks if you hire an immigration lawyer. You wouldn't actually come live here until you're granted permanent residency, which is also when most of the fees come due.

There are indeed fewer screenwriters up here. Of course, there are also fewer jobs. Herman Mankiewicz lured Ben Hecht out to Hollywood with a telegram that read "There are millions to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around." Nobody is making millions in Canada, and the competition includes some very smart, talented people.

However, as someone who's knocked around Hollywood, you might have a bit of an edge. People in the Canadian industry often have an inferiority complex about the US industry. Anyone who's worked down South gets a bit of hero worship. Some of that is undeserved, but you have probably also absorbed the LA work ethic. Many writers in Canada do not hustle much. They don't write spec scripts, because even newbie writers can get development deals. They don't agent their agent. They fail to send samples when you ask for them. They don't go to every party they conceivably could. Some of the most talented writers don't have agents.

Also, we do periodically lose some of our best and brightest to LA. We lost K-Walt years ago; she lives here but works there. DMc keeps threatening to go down to LA to test the waters.

So you would probably be welcome here. Canada is probably one of the most welcoming countries to immigrants in the world. We're a melting pot like the US, without the anti-immigrant hysteria.

And then there's the free health care. If you're free lancing, it's nice to know you can go to the hospital if something's wrong.

The major downside to working in the Canadian industry is that, if you decide to go back to La-La-Land, I don't know how transferable Canadian credits are Down South. (Otherwise we would have lost DMc long ago.) I generally tell Canadians that the only good times to move down South are when you have no credits, or when your Canadian show is getting good numbers in the US. (I hope Heaton and Barken aren't reading this.)

How do you break into the Canadian biz? Same way you break in to the US biz. One kickass spec script of a popular US show. One kickass spec pilot. And lots of networking.

So... move to Canada? It is a biiiiig step. It is another country. You will have to make new friends. You'll have to make new contacts. But it could be the break you need.

Now, would I encourage writers to move to Canada? Aren't I increasing my competition? I don't think that's how we think up here. We're mostly in competition with you down there. The more brilliant writers we have up here, the more shows we can get into the global marketplace. The more shows shoot up here, the better the crews, and the more credibility Canadian shows have overseas. What's good for FLASHPOINT is good for me.

It's a small enough community that you can get to know everyone. The weather outside is variable, but the weather inside is pretty warm.

UPDATE: Tim asks if it's harder to make a living in Canada. My response in the comments is: it's easier to make a living. It's harder to make a fortune.

UPDATE:
Q. regarding your comment that to get work you need a kick ass TV spec and a kick ass spec pilot, what about a spec feature? is it worth it to write one in Canada?
If you want to get paid to write movies, then write spec features. The Canadian English-language feature market is not strong. (The Quebecois one in French is tiny but strong.) But about half my business is writing features, so there you go.

Labels: , ,

12 Comments:

Hi,
I live in Edmonton, alberta, Canada. I don't know a terrible lot about the buissness your in but i think it should do OK. If you want to know anything more about Canada just tell me on your blog.
Brayden

By Blogger Brayden, at 1:34 PM  

"We're a melting pot like the US, without the anti-immigrant hysteria. "

Nonono. Canada is a cultural mosaic while America is the cultural melting pot. The difference is in how immigrants are treated and how to country operates on a cultural level. America stirs everyone into one 'culture', while Canada lets everyone come here and keep their cultural identities.
You won't see Americans calling themselves Italian-Americans, and you won't find many Italians who live in Canada sitting still when you call them Canadian. They'll correct you and tell you they're Italian-Canadian. The only people I've seen sitting still when called 'Canadian' are people whose families originated from or near the UK.


And yes, the weather outside is variable (sucks, basically). It's nice and hot in the summer, but if you live near Toronto or any of the great lakes, it's usually humid as hell. Vancouver is very warm, but ALWAYS humid as well.
But the weather inside is definitely nice.

By Blogger Carlo Conda, at 4:08 PM  

The Permanent Resident process is faster for "family class" applicants, which includes those married (or common-law married) to Canadian citizens. It took me about six months to get through the process, while the 18 months figure is applicable to those applying skilled worker class.

By Blogger Andrew, at 4:27 PM  

Carlo,

I've lived in Vancouver for 15 years and would never call it humid during the summer. I grew up in Ontario and THAT'S humidity. The one thing I like about Vancouver in the summer is it generally doesn't get too hot and it's not very humid.

Alex,

Would you say it's more difficult to actually make a living writing in Canada than in the US, meaning not having to take other jobs to supplement your income?

By Blogger Tim W., at 5:38 PM  

No, Tim, I'd say it's easier to make a living. It is harder to make a fortune.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:09 PM  

Andrew makes a good point about "common law married." Canada is pretty liberal about what constitutes a "partner" (in French, a "conjoint"). If you've been living with your Canadian girlfriend for a couple of years, you might qualify for the faster, easier family application.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 7:11 PM  

Alex,
regarding your comment that to get work you need a kick ass TV spec and a kick ass spec pilot, what about a spec feature? is it worth it to write one in Canada?

By Blogger sean, at 10:43 PM  

If you want to get paid to write features, then a spec feature is what you write. See above!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:52 AM  

What do you mean by "agent their agent"?

By Blogger Mary, at 11:03 AM  

Who is K-Walt ?

By Blogger Craig, at 5:51 PM  

I live in Canada, and my question is: should I move somewhere else in Canada? I'm Montreal, and an anglophone writer.

By Blogger Rich Baldwin, at 10:45 PM  

Rich, you'll have to give me a LOT more info to answer that question. Email me.

The headline is: there's more work in Toronto but there's also more competition. Go to the CFC if you possibly can.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:01 AM  

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