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Complications Ensue:
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

I've been a bit quiet here lately, because I was prepping for my trip to the Banff Worldwide Television Festival. Not just setting up meetings with a billion producers from Out West, but trying to think of questions to ask Ron Moore that he hasn't answered in his fifty-odd hours of BATTLESTAR podcasts or on the many fan forums he has graced with his presence. I think I came up with a few, and I'll be posting my interview with Mr. Moore in the next week or two.

My big takeaway from this year's Banff was that US networks and cable outlets have finally decided to take Canadian shows seriously. When the Writers Guild strike came two years ago, I thought that US buyers would be forced to look at Canadian shows, and once they were forced, they'd realize that Canadian shows don't all suck. And once Canadian shows pass the don't-suck test, they become a fantastic bargain. Thanks to CTF funding and tax credits and the Canadian domestic license fee, you can pick up a Canadian drama for anywhere from 20% to 10% of what it would cost you to film it yourself in the States. (I've heard of US license fees going down to $200K for a show that would cost at least $2 mil to shoot in the States.) That's cheaper than reality TV. It's cheaper than putting on a talk show.

The fallout from this epiphany is FLASHPOINT and COPPER and THE BRIDGE. (And, I guess, the pilot I'm writing for The N, but they were always Canadian-friendly.) And more are in the works.

I won't say every US network exec was up in the Rockies to buy. Some of them seemed to there to hang out with other Americans. But I heard again and again that, yes, please bring us your shows. AMC is particularly open, for example. And of course, CBS, which already has THE BRIDGE and FLASHPOINT.

A word to the wise: the other thing I heard over and over again was: we want shows with a strong creative vision, it's all in the script, we were excited to work with Stephanie and Mark (the creators of FLASHPOINT). The guy from AMC said he bought a pitch from a writer because her agent described her as "the Canadian JJ Abrams." (Could that be Tassie Cameron? Or, as a spy tells me, Esta Spalding?) They are looking for strongly scripted shows where the creator/showrunner, or the creator and the showrunner, has the authority to deliver their vision. I did not hear anything along the lines of "we were interested because the producer has a strong track record hiring writers to execute her vision."

If you want to sell shows to the Americans, they seem to be much more comfortable when the person writing the show is the person responsible for the show. The producer is important, no doubt. They want high production values, shows delivered on time, great crews. (Ron Moore went on at length about how fantastic his Vancouver crew was, by the way.) But they believe that the producer is there to support the creative vision of the writing team, not to dictate it.

There's still economic gloom. Everyone was saying this Banff was sparsely attended. To me it was a whirl of meetings and interviews, and on Monday I came home so tired I couldn't even take a bath. But I'm coming away feeling much more confident about selling my ideas and getting them made than I've felt since January when my fallen angel series did a face plant.

If you're a writer in the States, this is probably bad news for you. More outsourcing. Yeesh. Canadian service productions stole a lot of business from LA, and now Canadian creative productions are stealing more. But you can take heart that we're a tiny country -- 22.5 million anglophones compared to your 300 million plus. And our government is anxious to gut all the tax credits and subsidies that make Canadian shows so attractive.

I'll blog more about what I learned at Banff, and you'll soon (or soon-ish) see interviews here with Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis, Mark McKinney, Dmitry Lipkin, and Ron Moore.

I've gotta catch a plane.



Be prepared, though, for the agencies putting forward their Canadian-born clients who have spent their professional lives in LA. This has already started happening, even on shows that have been created with pilots by Canadian resident writers.

Forewarned is forearmed.

By Blogger deborah Nathan, at 11:55 AM  

I'm looking forward to your RDM interview. I hated most of the questions fans asked him (ie, "Who's the fifth cylon?").

By Blogger David, at 9:28 PM  

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