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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The WGC wants Canadian co-productions (which count under certain Cancon rules) to include more majority co-productions (PDF). They would like more fundamentally Canadian shows, which hire Canadian writers, and fewer minority co-pros like THE TUDORS where there is no real Canadian cultural content, just some money spent in Canada. (A few Canadian actors, say, maybe some post-production services.)
Researching the coproduction landscape in Canada, the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) found proof of what it has long suspected – that there is a severe imbalance between majority and minority co-productions of TV drama. In its submission today to the Government of Canada’s Consultation on the Implementation of Canada’s Policy on Audiovisual Treaty Co-production, the WGC called on the Canadian government to strengthen the domestic film and TV production industry by enforcing the goal of balancebetween productions in which Canada is a majority partner and those in which we play a minority role. The current imbalance has far-reaching negative effects on the job opportunities in film and TV, the Canadian content available to Canadians, and the domestic talent pool.

The WGC noted that for TV drama, in each of the last two years, there have been just one or two majority co-productions to four or five minority co-productions. And current tracking tell us the situation is only worsening. Such high-cost minority co-productions divert scarce financial resources etc. etc. etc.
I agree with the sentiment; minority co-productions shouldn't become a back door for producers to get the taxpayer to pay for service productions.

But I want more than 'more majority co-pros.' I would like to write on these goddamn shows. I would like to write on THE TUDORS. I would love to write on MERLIN or CAMELOT or whatever.

In fact I would like to propose an expansion of the Canadian cultural content rules. There is a rule that shows should be set in Canada and/or feature Canadian characters, but there's an exception for science fiction. You can set a show in the future and call it Canadian, so long as it is set offworld (Caprica, say) and not in some known country that is not Canada (future San Francisco).

Why not make an exception for history? Canada's history is not the same as the history of the North American continent. Canada's history includes British and French history. Our history includes the English Civil War, and Henry VIII, and Magna Carta, and 1066. Our history includes Madame de Pompadour and Joan of Arc. Go further back, and our history includes Caesar and Pericles and the March Up Country. Our legends include King Arthur and the Chanson de Rolond and Exodus.

Why, oh why, don't these count as Canadian cultural content? These are the people we came from, and the stories they told.

And why be Eurocentric? Canadians come from China and Africa and India. Why isn't The Pillow Book "Canadian content"? Or The Tale of Genji? Or the Mahabarata?

The alternative is what we have. You can't make a medieval movie in Canada, not and call it Canadian, because Canada had no Middle Ages. (Otherwise we'd be shooting my medieval zombie pic here.) You couldn't make a movie out of my novel about Morgan le Fay, THE CIRCLE CAST, because King Arthur never came to Montreal. You can't make a sword-and-sandals Canadian TV show because Canada was never part of the Roman Empire.

Which, due to the nature of Canadian film and TV funding, means we can't get a sword-and-sandals show made at all.

Which means I don't get to write one.

If Britain had similar rules, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL would have qualified for full Britcon, but MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN would have been insufficiently British.

As a history fan, this drives me up a tree. (Yggdrasil, in fact.) Cancon rules cede all historical features to other countries.

And yet historical movies travel well. You can air ROME or A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM or BEN HUR in Italy, France, Romania, Morocco and South Africa and the audience will know something about Rome, and want to see more. All these countries have Rome in their history.

Some Cancon rules are necessary. Without cultural Cancon rules, the Canadian taxpayer would be funding nothing but faux-American cop shows set in Generica. But the rules also limit Canadian film and TV to the present and the future. They cut us off from our past.

I think there should be a historical exemption. Go back further than a certain historical time -- let's say 1497 -- and you're off the hook. You still have to shoot here with Canadian crew and actors, but you don't have to set your story within the geographic borders of Canada.




There are two separate arguments. I agree about wanting the freedom to write historical drama. But the real fight here is between minority and majority co-productions. It's about whether Can-con is letting itself become a service production.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 9:47 PM  

Alex, you should probably research what the Canadian Content rules now say.

It's not just a "science fiction exemption" it's a totally different wording designed to allow for a wider array of stories, including what you mention.

The problem is, in terms of cultural co-production, most countries when they step up to the plate fight for their major creative talent -- and that includes writing talent -- to be included. Canadian producers dont'. It's the first thing that gets traded away.

The rule changes and wordings have allowed for these copros to count. What you're arguing for has already happened, and the reaction has been for all these Canadian minority copros to accept editing and some acting and industrial stuff for shows written by Europeans and Americans.

You've gone off half cocked here, without the facts, and you're making the wrong argument. That's what I meant when I said, "try to keep the plot." Or whatever I said.

By Blogger DMc, at 8:56 AM  

Then how come no one is making these shows here?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:58 AM  

Alex, you might as well ask, "why aren't they making hit shows here?" Nobody shoots more from the lip than I -- but there's a serious problem here that affects opportunity for our writers, and money being pulled out of the system to support the careers of foreign writers while still having it called CanCon.

And you want to make a completely different argument -- a philosophical one. I applaud that.

But can we fix the fucking problem first, and not add to the noise before we do?

You're a student of politics. Are you honestly saying that you, Alex Epstein, have a viewpoint here that should be pursued because the WGC is identifying the wrong problem? or is it possible that in your zeal, you're just muddying the waters and making it more difficult to get traction on a real industrial issue.

By Blogger DMc, at 10:41 AM  

I take your point, Denis, about industrial relations. On the other hand, it's a give and take. If I'm a Canadian producer, the only way I can be involved in something like THE TUDORS is as a minority co-pro; and the Guild is rightfully wary of that. But allowing Canadian producers (and networks) to qualify their historical productions means they could actually be the majority partner. It gives them a constructive solution rather than a purely negative one.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:44 AM  

how does web content figure into this? if I write a web series, being that I'm from Ottawa, is it only seen in the light of national regioning if it makes it to broadcast television?

By Blogger beingbrad, at 4:32 PM  

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