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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Q. I'm a fellow Montreal based screenwriter. I was wondering if you have any advice on how to jumpstart my career in English out here?

Until recently, I thought the best way to get a job was to come up with original series and pitch them as a way to market myself. Even though I've recently got one series optioned and another one in development, it didn't land me any jobs on existing series, and the option money is certainly not enough to live on. So I wrote a spec, it scored me an agent from a reputable local agency but still no work. I'm not too sure where to send my spec to, I'm under the impression the people I do send it to don't read it.

Is there any resource on screenwriting jobs I'm not aware of, a black market or some sort of secret group I need to join? Do I have no choice but to move to Toronto, New York or LA?
Welcome to my world. Last year we optioned four TV series and put one into development with a network. Some of it was the best writing we'd ever done. But staffing? Not so much. (Fortunately I optioned some features and got hired to rewrite them, so it wasn't a bad year.)

Montreal is a very tough market. There are very few TV series shooting here, and at least one major show not only didn't hire any Montreal writers -- as far as I can tell, they didn't even read any Montreal writers. More than half the work I do is out-of-province, and that's true of many of my friends who are top writers.

Getting work outside of Montreal is even harder, because you cost more. Even if everyone in Toronto knows and loves you, a Toronto show will generally hire only Ontario writers, in order to receive the tax credits for their Ontario labour spend. A Winnipeg show, say, will often be an Ontario-Manitoba co-production, so they'll hire MB and ON writers, but no QC (or BC) writers.

So you're doing exactly what you ought to do, creating original material and writing spec scripts and getting an agent. But it could be a while before an opportunity comes up.

Meanwhile, Toronto has the best parties. And Toronto producers are always looking for new ideas, while I sometimes feel that Montreal producers are primarily interested in their own ideas. It's certainly easier to get Toronto producers to read. Of the shows we optioned last year, three were to Toronto producers and one was to a Calgary producer. (En revanche, all the features were Montreal.) Toronto has a robust creative community in English, something we're working to develop here in Montreal.

Much as I think there isn't a better city to live in than Montreal, I think you do have to move to Toronto. (Or LA, if you can work the immigration issue.) I consider the move myself every time I get on the train to Toronto, which is almost every month. But I love Montreal, and we're close to New York where my stepson's dad lives, and my daughter is in one of the best schools for autistic kids in North America. So long as I can make Montreal work, I'll stay here.

DMc has blogged about how Canada encourages regional productions at the expense of concentration of talent. But the creative is based firmly in Toronto, and whenever you're not there, you might as well be in Uganda.

Ideally, start by going to the CFC. Toronto is very good at absorbing the latest scions of the CFC. The CFC opens the door very wide.

But whether or not you are accepted at the CFC, do make the move. You'll probably want to do this in December. That way you can work in Quebec in the current year, and then file taxes in Ontario so you're an Ontario writer for the upcoming year.

Good luck.

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5 Comments:

Montreal is a good auteur film town. But TV (in English) is basically like an American service production, unless you created the series yourself. The creatives are often parachuted in from elsewhere.

By Blogger Lisa, at 6:59 PM  

P.S. I won't name names, but one of the better Montreal producers told me he's primarily looking for series he can set up in the U.S., from Canadian writers living in L.A. So maybe get a cell phone with a 310 area code. :-)

By Blogger Lisa, at 7:38 PM  

Ooh, moving in December - I didn't think of that. Thanks, that's very useful.

By Blogger Rich Baldwin, at 1:13 PM  

Sobering - though sometimes it is a relief to hear that it is a tough market, and not just yet another personal failing.

Hope you stick around - and host more schmoozefests. It's been nice to actually see that some people get english writing work while keeping their 514.

By Blogger Hepworks, at 2:19 PM  

I think the key to Montreal is being entrepreneurial and prolific. You have to be able to generate a lot of ideas and push your own projects along.

It also helps to be flexible. Most Montreal writers I know work in more than one genre: film, TV, video games, theater, animation, etc. Or they have more than one skill set -- they're also actors, stand-up comedians, etc.

By Blogger Lisa, at 12:38 PM  

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