Saturday, June 23, 2007

Me And Al(ly) Magee...(Part VI)

Okay, let's put this puppy to bed...the final installment of my interview with Canadian TV Producer and Creative Guru Al Magee. Thanks to Al for taking the time and sharing...this was great.

Will: How did your Banff 2007 go?

Al: Our Banff was an absolutely awesome experience. Our team got amazing results, most of which I’m not going to share with you on your fabulous blog for a mix of confidentiality, superstition and general tight-lippedness. But I can say we had one new show ordered, pitched a ton more, got a lot of promises and interest, created and nurtured a bunch of great new relationships, and have more follow up than I think I can handle.

I got reamed out by Jeff Alpern (which was cool because Jeff is an absolute pro and a champion), brainstormed with the Style Network, got to watch the fabulous Shelley Eriksen in action, had a wonderful dinner with some members of the Writer's Mafia and my team, and was blown away by Ben Silverman’s speech. Banff is essential. It’s the highpoint of our development year.

Will: Where is Smart Woman Survival Guide at these days, and what does its future hold?

Al: We’re just shooting the last few episodes of season three right now, and will be finished production in August. It’s no longer an impossible to define lifestyle hybrid as it’s a full blown scripted comedy and our cast and crew have surpassed expectations. We had Michael Kennedy (of Little Mosque on the Prairie fame) come in to direct for three episodes and he re-introduced us to our show. He showed us what was possible and it blew our minds. We go to air August 11 – and we have to capture a big audience to get an order for more episodes – so check your listings and watch the damn show and tell your friends to watch the show. It’s funny. We’re on the verge of a big international distribution deal and all my superstitions are kicking in, so more on that, or not, later.

Will: I know you’ve been very involved with the Canadian Film Centre over the years. Why do you think it’s important to the Canuck Film/TV industry and is it managing to stay relevant and up with the times?

Al: In my not so objective opinion, if it weren’t for the Canadian Film Centre we wouldn’t have an industry. I could rant about this for hours. What the CFC does is allow people the space to commit to their careers, and to then get the industry behind them in that commitment. While you’re at the CFC you are mentored by the industry and have access to the experience and teaching of dozens of industry mentors, and get a very rigorous education and set of challenges. Coming out of that experience, most people know what is expected of them by the industry and have begun to master the skills to deliver. And they have built a community around themselves who will support them in their career.

Will: You’ve worked primarily out of Toronto for most of your career. Any thoughts ever of making the move to Los Angeles? If not, why do you like working in Canada and navigating the minefield that is Canuck television?

Al: I have worked primarily out of Toronto but I spent almost five years criss crossing Canada where I spent up to 150 nights a year in hotels from Yellowknife to St. Johns. And then spent three years doing the same thing all thru Europe so I had 8 years where I traveled a lot. Prior to that I wrote features out of Los Angeles and learned everything I know about writing but hated being in L.A, and missed everything that’s great about living in Canada. Once my kids got old enough to miss me I quit traveling and set up shop in Toronto.

The minefield of Canadian television can be petty and stupid and incomprehensible but it’s a life that we choose so I have to take some responsibility for that choice. I’ve worked on 24 productions in seven years at Showcase making what I think are some of the best series made in Canada or anywhere. Being a part of shows like Trailer Park Boys and Slings and Arrows and Rent A Goalie is as good as it gets. As a producer I’ve produced seven series in seven years and have a hit show on right now so I have nothing to complain about. I’d love to make the money available in the US but we have a good life here and I don’t have to worry about my kids’ safety or health care the way I would in the U.S..

Will: What energizes or inspires you creatively?

Al: I’m very inspired by the people around me. Melanie, my kids and my friends are very inspiring. I’m inspired by positive energy. I already know all the reasons why everything won’t work and why every idea is a bad idea, so even a drop of positivity can go a long way.

I get inspired when I listen to other people and get connected, and I get really inspired when I know they are listening to me. I get inspired when I’m trusted to do the job. My best work always comes out of trust. Nothing kills creativity more than micromanagement. The reason most of our television sucks is because it has all the life and inspiration micromanaged out of it. There’s nothing more inspiring than another person’s faith, believing you can do something when you’re not sure you can.

Will: What are your personal pet peeves, in work and in life?

Al: I can’t stand cruelty or injustice or disrespect of any kind and I get quite bent out of shape about it. People can be cruel in this business and use “its only business” to justify intolerable behavior. That’s bullshit. “It’s only business” always means – “I’m going to screw you now and break all of our agreements.”

When creative people pour their guts into a project they deserve to be treated with respect and honor, regardless of the opinion on their work. I sometimes forget that and don’t show proper respect to the people I’m working with and that is my greatest embarrassment.

In life I like things to be impeccable so I can’t stand any kind of physical mess. I spent five years living with my ten year old in a cancer ward and he has a compromised immune system so I’ve become something of a germaphobe. I can’t stand it when people are careless with germs. We were in the hospital during the Sars crisis and it showed the danger of being careless with germs and the kind of hysteria that can result. The film and television industry in Toronto still hasn’t recovered from the impact. I take a lot of crap for my germaphobia but it kept my son alive. He's made it to ten when he might not have made it to five.

Will: Favorite Movie of all time.

Al: The Magnificent Seven (and the original, The Seven Samurai)

Will: Favorite TV Shows of all time

Al: The Flintstones, Gilligan’s Island, Twin Peaks, early Sopranos, The Shield, Sports Night and TSN’s Sportscentre.

Will: If you hadn't become a writer/producer in television, what do you think you would have done with yourself?

Al: I would have studied architecture and furniture design and hopefully been practicing both skills. But knowing what I know now, if I could do something else I’d go to business school and start businesses. I’m loving the business side of the industry more and more. And I have a not so secret dream to have a tree farm and hope to one day.

Will: What the hell's a tree farm?

SONG&ARTIST? - "If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al."

1 comment:

DMc said...

Thanks for this very detailed and inspirational series, Will. Class act meets class act.

In reward, I'm giving you the garbage action down at the fairgrounds and three more no-shows on that condo construction over on Douglas.

-Don McGrath