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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Q. I have been studying/writing screenplays on my own for close to ten years now, and I'm returning to Canada after a stint teaching English overseas. What I want to know is, do I need to live in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver to be "in the industry?" How close-knit is the Canadian screenwriting community?

I'm considering taking a scriptwriting course at a college in Ottawa. Am I going to be removing myself from the industry and the jobs by living there? The main reason I'm thinking about going to school is to build relationships and network, but if I'm completely cut off from everyone else geographically, it won't do me a whole lot of good.

I know that if you're writing for the U.S. market you pretty much have to be in L.A., but is there a Canadian equivalent?
Toronto is far and away the center of anglo showbiz in Canada, as Montreal is the hub of francophone showbiz. The networks are guilds are all Toronto-based. At least a plurality of Canadian shows are staffed and cast out of Toronto. There is a good deal of production in Vancouver, and to a lesser extent Montreal, but many of those shows originate in Toronto. 18 TO LIFE, SOPHIE and DAD'S IN THE ATTIC are all Montreal productions with Toronto prodcos; BLOOD TIES, which shot in Vancouver, was largely a Toronto creation as well. (Weirdly, they shot Vancouver for Toronto, which seems a huge waste of production value.)

I live in Montreal, because it's the best city in the world to live in. But I make a point of visiting Toronto regularly. Maybe every 6-8 weeks. My pay cable series is set up with a Toronto production company. Montreal producers are, collectively, terrible at reading people's material.

I also have feature writing friends who live here, who work with producers in LA, New York, England, even Mongolia. But their agents are in Toronto or LA, or they have networks of producers who know and love and think of them.

In Canada there is support for regional production, which means that an Edmonton-based writer will occasionally get a gig because he's the best available Alberta writer. But I wouldn't advise anyone to stay in Edmonton and wait for that to happen. [UPDATE: Though, as DMc points out in the comments, I would recommend that person make friends with any production companies active in Edmonton, and maybe Calgary too, before ditching the Prairies for the Center.]

Anyone who's serious about working in the Canadian biz should make it a priority to go to the Canadian Film Centre. A shockingly high percentage of working screenwriters and development execs and network execs are alumni of the Prime Time Television Program or the Film Resident Program. They're both only six months long.

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But to his point directly, there are actually a few companies that specifically produce movies and TV out of Ottawa.

Before he answers his own question, he needs to go to the Library, haul out the Playback prodco listings, and familiarize himself with those companies and what they've done. The quickest route in in Ottawa is to figure out the people who are actually doing things in Ottawa and see if you can hook up with them.

I would advise that for anybody who's a writer in regional cities -- be it Halifax, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, or Winnipeg. Figure out who's doing what where you are, then suss it out after you talk to those people.

If you don't do your due diligence on that front first, then you're not demonstrating the kind of initiative that's going to get you somewhere in this business.

By Blogger DMc, at 10:47 AM  

"I live in Montreal, because it's the best city in the world to live in"

i won't touch that one...

Go to Toronto.

By Blogger Allen, at 2:11 AM  

See, to a Canadian Noob, that is bad advice.

Fundamentally, in the United States, all decisionmaking regarding TV production or film production is made in Los Angeles. It is all there.

In Canada this is not so.

And if you are "from the regions," that will be the single greatest advantage you have (assuming you can write) starting out, for service producers or people trying to put together budgets in your province. It would be just plain bad business to move to Toronto, or Vancouver, until you at least surveyed the local talent and got your face in front of them.

They may well ignore you in that polite Canadian way. But you better know who they are. Since you'll need to know them down the road.

And imagine how fun it will be when they want to know who you are and you already know who they are? Hmm?

By Blogger DMc, at 7:13 PM  

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