Jim Henshaw Guest-Rants about the CRTCComplications Ensue
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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jim Henshaw wrote me an email, continuing his well-needed rabble-rousing about the attempt by the CRTC to sell out Canadian content rules for the Canadian Television Fund:
You guys didn’t live through the Canadian film boom of the 70’s. I did and that’s what this 8/10 rule would send us back to. “Corner Gas” would star Paulie Shore and “Intelligence” would feature Lee Majors. Guys like Win (The Greek Tycoon) Wells would be writing “Little Mosque” with Potsie from “Happy Days” directing. They’re the “names” that the agents at CAA can market internationally over anybody from here – and until we build a legitimate homegrown industry they always will be.

Think about it. When HBO and Showtime are getting guys who can’t land features anymore, the guys who worked there are moving to the nets, and the guys that worked on the A shows on NBC and CBS are running the B shows and the guys who couldn’t get arrested at CW or the D2DVD world are coming here. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. And with the audience shrinking everywhere it’ll happen quicker with some species like Canadian writers suddenly turning up on the endangered list.

Has anybody considered that nobody can sell Canadian shows because they’re already mostly written by LA writers who can’t get even an animation job in LA?

And look at the money. If the $230M is divided $100M @ 100% and $130M at 80% with ALL development and the CBC coming out of the hundred that means $0 for virtually everything that isn’t CBC and $130M going to stuff 99% of Canadian writers, directors and actors won’t get a shot at.

I also see something more sinister here. It’ll take companies headquartered or well connected in LA to package those 8/10 shows. No wonder Robert Lantos put money in Blueprint.

You want a plan – how about no development or pilot money. Maybe no public money for the first 6 shows. If a series scores with an audience, you get future funding and something to offset the original investment. How about supporting the MOWs and “cultural fare” out of a levy on prime time shows that don’t come from here. If CTV and Global want to continue to make fortunes on non-Canadian shows, then let them if it’s funding indigenous programming. That’ll also take our hands out of the pockets of the taxpayer and Jim Shaw, so nobody gets to complain anymore – and maybe we get back to doing what we’re supposed to do.

Not much for ten minutes thought I agree, but it’s a start. And as for who takes it to them – well we’ve all got MPs. I had mine get me face time with Paul Martin cause I bought him lunch at Red Lobster for crying out loud – and Martin’s first questions were how much money I wanted and if I’d contributed to a political party lately.

The most important thing is that we’ve got to stop being the whipping boy for this industry and we’ve got to make people see it’s the execs running the system who are incompetent not the ones writing, directing and starring in the shows. God, we’ve got people who make the majority of their money by selling Video on Demand porn and ringtones deciding our cultural policy. How f***ed is that!?
Amen, brother.

I was much too young to work in the '70's, let alone sweat Canadian cultural policy. But I did work in L.A. in the '90's trying to set up co-productions. We would package an American script with one of the few bankable Canadian directors available to work on commercial projects, and go and shoot up in Quebec. We succeeded in making some very bad movies that way, and a few okay ones. None of them had anything in the way of Canadian cultural content. How would they, with an American script and an American producer?

There was always a Canadian co-producer who qualified for the Cancon rules. But he didn't originate the project. Except one guy I worked for was a Dutch national with a Canadian permanent resident card who lived in Palos Verdes. For Cancon purposes he was the Canadian co-producer. Guess how Canadian our projects were.

There's nothing wrong with making American movies in Canada. I'm all in favor of CAVCO, the program that subsidizes productions without Canadian content. It keeps our technicians busy, and busy technicians become good.

But if you are asking taxpayers to kick in their hard-earned dollars to support Canadian cinema and TV, they damn well ought to get Canadian cinema and TV.

I'm inclined to say that of all the "points," the ones that really most need to be Canadian are the points for writers. If you have a script with a Canadian sensibility, an American director is not going to make it any less Canadian. An American actor is not going to make it less Canadian, unless you're asking him to fake an Ottawa Valley accent.

But the real problem isn't American writers. It's the producers down in L.A. who are going to try really hard to erase any Canadian content from the movies or TV shows they're making, so they can sell them into the US more easily. US distributors and TV networks persist in the notion that Americans won't watch anything set in Canada. On Naked Josh, we couldn't say the word "Montreal."

You can, however, push back. We never said "Montréal," but we refused to change signage. Eric lived above Ciné L'Amour. The stop signs said "Arrêt". We had Frenchie characters.

American producers, obviously, are not going to push back. They'll just set everything in Generic North American City. You know, the one where everyone has New York accents and there are snow-capped mountains in the background?

I hate having to go to Generic North American City. Montreal has spectacular landmarks. Even Toronto has the occasional spot of architecture worth showing. Writing a good movie is all about the specifics. I don't think American viewers have a prejudice about Canada. I think American distribs still have a prejudice against crappy, low-budget Cancon shows from the old 8/10 days.

No society can afford to have its culture made somewhere else. Not even by expats.

Jim, thanks for raising your voice. Now all you readers out there in Canuckistan: what are you doing to raise your voices? Remember, all you have to do is surf to the CRTC site and click on the "2007-70" button and add your two cents.

Hey, for that matter: all you American readers, feel free to chip in at the CRTC, too. Do you want to see more Generic North American City movies coming out of Canada? Or do you want to see more stories about Canadians?



As an American, I just care that it's a good movie.

Also as an American who used to live in Boston and now lives in Chicago and who has visited Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa, you folks have much prettier cities than most US cities.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 11:18 AM  

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