Sunday, July 29, 2007
You finished that screenplay yet? You should have, you loser.
"Oh, have I got your attention now?"When you're writing for a TV series or are under contract with a company or studio, deadlines are imposed and enforced. And there's really no decent excuse to 'not close'. Not to mention there's usually the bonus of a paycheck waiting for you at the end of the day.
But when you're in between gigs or writing a spec and thus have nobody but yourself to look to for motivation, it's very easy to slack off. Writing screenplays is hard work.
Writing screenplays for free or on spec is even harder.
And when there's no hard and fast deadline (like...we shoot next week) hanging over your head to help push on through to the end, you can always find something else more important to do.
Always Be Closing.
You want to complete that script and get it out there, right? To try to get it made. To try to sell it even. To get them to sign on the line which is dotted. But first you have to finish it.
"You close or you hit the bricks, pal."Those who know me know I'm not a big fan of bullies, but occasionally some tough love is necessary. So whenever I'm procrastinating through another day or spending too much time mulling the next story turn or act break or dialogue line in my latest spec, I like to watch this scene from Glengarry Glen Ross and imagine Alec Baldwin's Blake is some showrunner or studio exec or agent or manager talking at me.
It's not fun to listen to in that context, but it does tend to light a fire under my ass.
So whatever your 'coffee', put it down right now. Then pull up the chair, and type until you write 'FADE OUT.'
Cuz coffee's for closers.
There's a transcript of the memorable scene HERE.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Personally, I couldn't imagine the CRTC ignoring these and all the other letters and comments that just I've been privy to, but who knows...it has happened before.
That said, well done everyone...enjoy your weekend.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Toronto, July 26, 2007 - The Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) filed comments today with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in response to the CRTC Canadian Television Fund (CTF) Task Force Report released June 29, 2007. In its submission, the DGC strongly urged the regulator to reconsider a number of the Task Force’s recommendations that will have extremely damaging effects on the Canadian production sector, and by extension the Canadian broadcasting system.
I was happy to receive an email mid-afternoon from the Director's Guild of Canada. In the email was a press release (headline above) condemning the CTF Task Force Report, and an attachment containing the letter they submitted on behalf of its members (a day early I might add....kudos for that).
You can read the entire 16 page letter HERE, but I'd like to highlight the conclusion of the letter in particular...
As noted, our key concern – outweighing all the rest – is the proposal to allow 8 point production to receive CTF funding. There is no evidence that there will be any more "audience success" with future 8 point productions than with 10 point productions. The reality is that the 8 point proposal will simply allow a B-list U.S. actor, writer or director to be employed to theoretically enhance the prospects of a U.S. pre-sale. This has nothing to do with Canadian audiences or good public policy in this country.
In terms of "measurement," however, DGC recalls the first major speech of Chair Konrad von Finckenstein at the CFTPA in February of this year. There, he indicated the following:
"First, I would like to share with you my approach to regulation. In my view the work of a regulator, such as the CRTC, should be guided by the following four principles: transparency, fairness, predictability, and timeliness."
The Chair also stated that: "The broadcasting system – as envisioned in the Broadcasting Act – is an instrument for protecting and nurturing Canadian identity. And so we’re going to have to find ways, in this ever more borderless world, to carve out a special place within the broadcasting system for Canadian voices, points of view and ways of expressing ourselves. I consider this the principal challenge facing me, the challenge that will define my tenure as Chairman."
In order for transparency to be achieved in this proceeding, it is critical that interested parties be given the opportunity to comment on the submissions of the other parties. The CTF is far too important to the Canadian broadcasting system to conduct this public proceeding otherwise.
As for carving out "a special place within the broadcasting system for Canadian voices, points of view and ways of expressing ourselves," this objective will not be achieved by allowing scarce funds imbued with a public trust to be used for projects which eliminate a Canadian director, writer or significant actor.
Nicely stated. I hope Finckenstein will remember what he said not all that long ago, and doesn't pull an Alberto Gonzales.
From Media In Canada and C21:
Los Angeles-based BabyFirstTV is launching its channel in Canada, aiming to reel in parents and children for a co-viewing experience on Bell ExpressVu and Rogers' PersonalTV. The subscription-based service provides interactive experience for parents and toddlers, covering areas such as language, math and creative skills with its programs. Programming on the channel is 80% original and offers subtitles for parents.
BabyTV recently received approval by Canada's regulatory body CRTC for distribution in Canada and will become available to Rogers digital subscribers this week. The Canadian rollout will include free access for Bell and Rogers subscribers for this summer. BabyFirstTV is now available in 26 countries.
Now to me, this just seems wrong. Even in our world of niche television networks, a channel that is essentially designed to allow or even encourage parents to do this:
...seems like it's just going to have us end up with a country of babies that look like this:
First, a DGC update for anyone who cares: the guild was kind enough to respond to me, and the gist was that they are strenuously objecting to the task force recommendations, but felt in this case a formal written submission to the CRTC from the National Office on behalf of all of the members would be a more powerful plan of action to pursue at this time (as opposed to a mass letter writing campaign).
So there you go.
Anyhow, still wondering what you might say should you write up a letter? See below two great examples, one from a pro (Karen Walton), and one from an up and comer (Brandon Laraby). First up, Karen.
RE: Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2007-70 – Call for comments on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) Task Force Report.
Dear Mr. Morin:
This is my written intervention regarding the CRTC’s call for comments on the CTF Task Force Report recommendations. I object to many of its recommendations, and urge you to reconsider acting on all of them until you have offered Canadians a public proceeding to air dissenting opinions on that particular document freely and openly.
I am a Canadian film and television writer who works in the Canadian, American and English film and television industries. I live in Canada -- in Ontario specifically, and Quebec occasionally. My television credits include the Gemini Award-winning television movie, The Many Trials of One Jane Doe, and Heart – The Marilyn Bell Story, and many acclaimed Canadian-made series such as What It’s Like Being Alone, The Eleventh Hour, Straight Up, Queer As Folk (line produced, written and often directed by acclaimed Canadians, in Canada) & Drop the Beat. My Canadian theatrical feature film, Ginger Snaps – and its subsequent prequel and sequel films – air regularly on Canadian television networks like Movie Television and CityTV – and benefited greatly from their Canadian broadcast licenses.
I object to the CTF Task Force Report’s recommendation that the public/private partnership that is currently the Canadian Television Fund be split: even the notion that ‘100% Canadian’ cannot also be a ‘hit’ is absurd and denigrates the industry as a whole, and our programmes’ world market buyers. It is a sad day when a federal regulatory body would endorse such a concept, even in jest.
As a Canadian industry professional, and an avid Canadian television viewer, I also object to the report’s subsequent recommendation to compromise the quotient/formula of Canadian talent that defines a programme as entitled to a benefit from the public/private partnership of the CTF, in any administrative construct. Our television’s commercial success depends not on repeating, revising, emulating or submitting entirely to another country’s cultural agenda, tastes and values, but in our celebration – possible only with 100% Canadian talent – of our own intrinsic and fundamental differences from (and competitive alternatives to) the predictable, formulaic pabulum currently produced elsewhere.
The very idea that the CTF Task Force would somehow gather let alone attempt to assert that the effective relation and depiction of “Canadian experiences” can ever be respectably or responsibly wrought by foreign talent with our public money is as misguided as it is bizarre. Even as an ill-conceived exercise in potentially re-patriating former Canadian talent, I can see no good or common sense in it. As a writer who writes in many markets, I can tell you with certainty that artists who do leave this country go not to be absorbed by other cultures’ ways and means, but because of the chronic devaluation of the quality and calibre of their talent and contributions to the beleaguered industry and its governing bodies, here at home. Especially as many Canadian writers’ talents are truly highly valued in the very forums the report’s obviously ‘private corporate interests’ agenda appears to aspire to mimic.
And here we are again, defending our talent to our own. Again.
Some days I wonder whether there are any of us left to fight off the self-serving private interests who believe an American actor or director or writer will solve their endemic creative management issues. I can already assure you here that those companies cannot afford quality foreign talent on the prices they are willing to pay, here. More importantly, ‘hits’ are cultivated by responsible entertainment professionals in collaboration with willing broadcasters. Hits are not bought, and they do not travel exclusively with non-Canadian passports.
Imagine seeking US pre-sales of Little Mosque on the Prairie, Da Vinici’s Inquest, The Trailer Park Boys, Degrassi, or Da Kink In My Hair with mainstream American networks. These shows are only possible, can only exist because of the unique experiences their authors forged as a result of their uniquely Canadian perspectives – in a uniquely Canadian system that recognizes their value over their subscriptions to any given moray of the day. Other nations have no trouble seeing our talent and our experiences as vital to a dynamic and diverse world programming experience. In fact, we – Canadian writers, performers, directors – are actively sought by foreign markets precisely because we are NOT liable to cookie-cut for what is already widely available in the mass market. Only in Canada do we constantly question our own talent’s bankability, and so its validity.
Why is that?
Professionally & culturally, any plan to cut back on the development of 10/10 Canadian-content programmes seems equally self-defeatist. If one wishes to improve upon a product, one invests in its development – and well. And in those capable of developing it in a manner that reflects its purpose: professional Canadian artists, telling our stories to our country, and to the world. It is the poverty of the development economy and a great deal of short-sighted thinking about the health of our creative communities that directly impacts the quality of the resulting productions, not the calibre and potential of its creative talent. Cutting back on development is like sending soldiers to a war with fewer guns so you can pinch a few pennies on the cost of ammunition.
I understand the Writers Guild of Canada is submitting formally a response to the CTF Task Force’s report. As a member, I support their willingness to better inform and if possible correct this latest attack on my ability and desire to physically stay or engage in the CTF Task Force’s proposed version of a ‘Canadian’ television industry. Commercial viability and quality entertainment are standards I also apply when considering on what and where I, as a Canadian business woman and acclaimed artist, elect to spend my time and resources.
The CTF task Force report’s attitudes and assertions send a clear message to me as a Canadian writer who works all over the world: my continued investment in the Canadian television industry is up for review, too. I have more thoughts. But I hope you are persuaded by at least these to consider tabling any decisions regarding the CTF Task Force Report’s recommendations, because I think they are ill-conceived, and dangerous to the future of Canadian television, if not properly debated, - and in Canada, that should mean publicly.
Film & Television Writer, WGC & WGA
And coming from a different direction but no less passionate, Brandon Laraby.
RE: Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2007-70 – Call for comments on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) Task Force Report.
Dear Mr. Morin:
My name is Brandon Laraby and you don’t know me. In fact, there’s a good chance that no one in the industry knows me just yet. You see, I’m what’s called an up-and-coming writer and I am only one of many young Canadians who are currently honing their craft in this country. Some say that our days are already numbered: inexperienced, naïve storytellers just waiting to have their own unique visions swallowed by an ‘American-ized’ system. “Conform to the formula” is what we’re told and, from what I hear, many do because it’s better to be heard in passing than to not be heard at all.
But we will be heard. And it will be done on our terms. For that is our right as Canadians, our right as young men and women who’ve grown up among the many vibrant cultures and people of this country. We are the young ones who reject what is force-fed to us from our cousins below and instead look within for inspiration, we look to our friends and families and the tales of the country that is our home.
Sir, the very concept that we cannot be competitive in a market with 100% Canadian content is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to every one of us who dares to dream that our vision of this great country is valid; that the stories WE want to tell deserve to be told and shared amongst all who would witness.
Splitting the CTF into a “Heritage” pool and a “Broadcast Distribution Undertakings” pool will only hinder those of us who are already fighting for recognition in this industry. Adding that the CBC will also be pulling from this smaller pool is even more disheartening as it continues to limit the venues for which we young Canadians may take to display our talent. What was once an already small, competitive market will fall upon itself like rabid dogs, fighting for whatever scraps are available. You may believe that this will make us stronger and better but what this will do is destroy any hope of true individuality. If you want Canadian-ized carbon copies of American shows, this is truly the path you must take.
But they will not be our vision. And they will not have our heart and our unique perspective – things which Americans prize above all else in our stories.Our voice is distinctive because we as a people are distinctive - and the moment you crush that delicate balance, the moment you push us away in favour of flashy titles and bumping, soulless music, you lose that. It will simply fade away and you may never get it back.
A long time ago, when I was in high school a man once asked me: “What makes a Canadian different from an American?” He was being facetious, thinking that there really was no answer. And as a young child growing up with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air instead of Hockey Night in Canada, I really had no answer to give. Like most Canadians, I don’t think many would be able to answer that question.But I can. And the answer is quite simple:
No one growing up in Wyoming will ever understand the struggles of a single mother raising her three children in a town like Napanee or Deseronto. No one living in the fast-paced world of LA will ever be able to truly grasp the harsh life but loving nature of the Newfoundlanders or the laid back, kindly style of British Columbia.
And nor should they for they are OUR stories to tell.
Please, sir, do not lock out the very voices you claim you wish to hear.
One of Many
Very nice. Well done.
If you've made it this far down the page, go HERE where you'll find Notice 2007-70...scroll down to where it says you can submit comments, click and write up a comment (preferably opposed), follow the prompts and submit it by tomorrow Friday July 27.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Go HERE, where you'll find Notice 2007-70...scroll down to where it says you can submit comments, click and write up a comment (preferably opposed) like this example, follow the prompts and submit it by this Friday July 27.
Really, just do it... either as a working writing/directing/acting professional, or as an enthusiastic up and comer, or just as a fan and supporter of those who stay in this country to try to make Canadian television.
Hell, look at it as some form of payback for all these cool FREE blogs you get to read every day.
That said, earlier this week I was struck by how little I'd heard about the CTF task force issue from my other guild, the Directors Guild of Canada.
Yes, I belong to the DGC and the WGC (Writers Guild of Canada), and the WGA for that matter. In fact, I've directed nearly as much television as I've written.
Now, I feel I've been fairly well informed by the Writers Guild regarding the proposed changes, and also clearly encouraged to write comments in opposition to the recommendations, even with examples of where to take exception (see Exec Director Maureen Parker's letter HERE).
But the Director's Guild....meh, not so much.
A quick perusal of the DGC website shows one small post regarding the task force:
The CRTC CTF Task Force released its report on June 29, 2007 that made a number of disappointing recommendations for the future of the CTF. While the DGC was pleased to see that the Task Force recommended that BDUs continue to contribute to the CTF, we are extremely disappointed that it recommended that BDU contributions be directed to a new "commercial stream" that will fund 8 point Canadian productions instead of 10 point. The CTF is already well over-subscribed and there is currently a serious lack of funding available in the system for high quality and high cost Canadian dramatic productions. Allowing non-Canadian creators and performers to work on CTF funded productions will not serve to strengthen the Canadian production sector or the Canadian broadcasting system. The DGC will be filing detailed comments with the CRTC on the CRTC CTF Task Force Report by June 27, 2007.
Words like 'disappointed' and 'not serve to strengthen the Canadian production sector' is some pretty soft language...not to mention only non-Canadian creators and performers are referenced as the professionals that that will be getting hired to help make our homegrown product. What about directors? Does the guild think we are exempt?
N.B. I don't consider TV directors 'creators'...to me, creators are writers. If the DGC meant creators to include the directing community, they should be more clear.
I got to wondering...do the DGC and Canadian directors see themselves as 'safe' when it comes to this 10 point to 8 point proposed change? Maybe they do, because in some ways, they could be.
I have no doubt that most companies/productions will go to foreign writer/showrunners and/or lead actors before going after a director. Plus, I can't think of too many U.S. television directors (Thomas Schlamme perhaps?) who could help 'sell' a series to an audience or foreign market.
And let's not forget there's also the task force proposed reductions of dollars for television development in this country. This definitely will affect writers, whereas directors (and actors) and the DGC might think...for us, not so much.
Curiouser and curiouser...
So is the DGC intentionally staying quiet? Or just not able to get their comments and responses and some kind of 'just say no' campaign together in the short window provided by the CRTC (less than a month, during the busiest part of the production season...sheesh). I'm more than willing to give benefit of the doubt...I'd just like to know, ya know?
So I set out today to find out things like: what is the directors guild's position on this issue? Have they commented already and what did they say? What should I, as a member, be taking as guidance or inspiration or a position from the DGC on this matter?
Short version...a handful of email exchanges with the DGC led to these conclusions:
1) the DGC is planning to submit their comments to the CRTC and will put out a press release of said comments...BY END OF DAY JULY 27th?!? No indication of what kind of comments members can expect to read, nor any encouragement to go write comments in opposition to the Notice.
2) the DGC employee in charge of Policy who I was told would be best able to answer all my questions WAS ON HOLIDAYS UNTIL AUGUST 7?!?
To state your guild's position to a Notice the day of the closing of comments on said Notice doesn't give its members any time to read, react, digest, and comment themselves. All 3,800 members I might add.
And as for the personnel issue, I will first state this isn't a knock against any of the staff at the guilds. I've been told Maureen Parker and Doris Tay at the Writer's Guild are also on vacation this week. If we want to point fingers, it should be at the CRTC for the extremely short timelines given to the guilds to respond during the summer months when staffers have already scheduled holidays.
But, that said, where's the leadership or directives from the DGC President or National Executive Board? Why so soft-spoken?
I'm sure the DGC is opposed to this Notice, they HAVE to be...but it seems like they're quietly opposed. Too quietly, in fact. While clicking through other press releases on the DGC website, I was surprised to find this little blurb buried deep in a statement of recommendations for a different Notice about achieving a diversity of voices in Canadian Broadcasting (dated July 19/07):
...the DGC also strongly opposed the CRTC CTF Task Force's proposal that a portion of transfer benefits received through broadcaster consolidations be directed to the CTF. The Task Force has proposed that money directed to the CTF by cable and satellite operators (BDUs) be used to fund 8-point instead of 10-point Canadian productions. The Task Force also proposed to eliminate the requirement that CTF funded productions be set and shot in Canada. The result of this will be fewer Canadian voices and fewer Canadian stories showcased on television.
So that's something, but like I said...it's kinda buried. And quietly ain't going to get heard, not to mention it's still not encouraging members to get involved and comment to help shut this Notice down for the betterment of the indigenous industry and ALL the Canadian working creative television professionals.
Most every local DGC director I've spoken to this week had no idea about this Notice, the ramifications of the changes, and the impending deadline. You could argue it's their job to stay on top of what's happening in the industry, but I'd argue it's the guild's duty and obligation to keep the membership not only informed, but pointed in a specific direction.
So try to look at this post as a big shout out to all the directors and DGC members to get involved and register your comments. I know where the WGC stands, and though the actors have been rather quiet I'm pretty sure about ACTRA's position, but I'd still like to know where exactly the Directors Guild stands...and hopefully before Friday, when it'd be too late.
Who knows if saying anything is going to stop the CRTC from ramming these things through time and time again, but we gotta try.
And we gotta be united on this stuff, brothers and sisters. Seriously.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
X Files theme. Duracell Ad.
(yes...it's still so hot that this is what's on my mind)
And speaking of The X Files (which recently ranked 4th in EW's top 25 Sci Fi Genre moments from the past 25 years), there are rumblings here and here of a new movie in the works.
Oh Mulder and Scully, how much I enjoyed thee for so so many years...but in 2009, would anyone care?
Sunday, July 22, 2007
So some quick comments and quotes to bide the time.
The British Open golf tourney this weekend was terrifically entertaining...nice to see a European win a major (it'd been eight years) though I was pulling for Sergio Garcia. But kudos to Padraig Harrington for prevailing after being burned by the burn (Scottish: a brook or rivulet) at the 18th at Carnoustie.
John From Cincinnati took a step back last night. Or sideways. Or some direction other than forward. Or perhaps it was impossible to top the brilliance of last weeks ep. No idea.
Flight of the Conchords is, I dunno, cutesy...The UK Office/Extras meets High Fidelity or something - maybe the kids are digging it, but I'm kinda meh. On the plus side, it feels like something that could have been made here in Canada, from the latest incarnation of General Fools (or some other regional improv group)...and airing Sunday Nights before Trailer Park Boys.
Entourage feels like it's seriously repeating itself...or perhaps they're rerunning last season and I just didn't get the memo. Like seriously. Repeating. Itself.
And Meadowlands ain't bad, but it ain't no Dexter. Kind of a British Twin Peaks meets The Prisoner about a family placed in a prison-like village/suburb witness protection program, I have stuck with it but barely...some unsettling creepy beats, but it just got me pining for more Michael C. Hall.
Now here's a good quote/writing tip from Steven Moffat (Dr. Who, Coupling):
"People complain about endings a lot, but they don't know really what they're talking about. They talk about 'God out of the machine', but they don't actually mean that. What they mean is, you can't win the game with a new piece on the board. You have to have seen already what the downfall of the enemy will be, but not recognized it for what it is. That's what they mean.
"Across the board, you have to introduce the element that's going to end your show disguised as something that was self-supporting, there for its own reasons. A self-supporting gag. Done, we don't worry about it anymore, forget about that. Then -- there you go -- it's come back!
People love that."
Yes they do, when it's done right.
And here's a good quote from Brent Butt whilst down in LA celebrating the Corner Gas sale to Superstation WGN in the gosh-almighty United States:
"I love TV. Without being facetious, I think television is man's greatest achievement. There's a lot of s--- that goes on it, but I can sit in my home and watch what's going on in Africa as it happens. What kind of a miracle is that? Flying is probably third. Penicillin is probably second. But television?
"Saying television is crap is like saying food is crap. No it isn't! Apples are delicious!"
Uh oh...must abort post...laptop overheating....sssssssss
Friday, July 20, 2007
When people say they don’t understand what the show means, or ask what it means, I’ve never understood why that’s an obligation that art has—to be understood.
Going back to that Newsweek interview with creator David Milch, I was struck by how many times he referred to himself as an artist, or his work as art. Can television be art? Does art belong in television? I suppose there's an artistic element in everything that qualifies as a creative endeavor, but "F*** art, let's shoot..." was what I always heard when it came to making TV.
And I realize it's HBO, so it doesn't really count (as in it's not the TV normal), but I asked myself: what can new television writers (or experienced TV writers for that matter) learn from or try to emulate from JFC.
And my answer is...not much.
It's a special treat --- a wonderful and unique viewing experience...but it's doesn't follow any of the rules and requirements of most network drama, or even cable drama for that matter. And its obtuse serialized story arc makes it damn near impossible to parachute in to sample the show and have any idea what is going on --- a problem that generally leads to early cancellation.
So what can you take away...how to write quirky yet complex characters? How to pen cryptic yet colourful dialogue? Theme over plot as driving force? Perhaps...but can you use that knowledge in crafting your new spec of Numbers or Criminal Minds or Bones? In your original pilot maybe, but keeping in mind how noncommercial JFC is, I'd be cautious about how much to to use it as any sort of template.
JFC also appears to be a limited series (10 episodes I think), though I keep hearing it is waiting to find out if it will get picked up for more. But if it is limited (and it does seem 'limited' in that once we find out who John is and what his mission is, the hook is no more...much like who killed Laura Palmer), this is another reason to avoid using it as a model if you're looking to create a long-running series.
Jill at Running With My Eyes Closed likes to analyze TV pilots, and she made this comment about the UK series 'Jekyl':
For that reason it's quite different than many of the other pilots I've posted about. No, it doesn't apply to what most Canadian writers are doing to respond to the demand (?) from our broadcasters. Our marketplace wants stand alone episodes of unarced series. Miniseries are out of fashion here.
But maybe this is what we should be doing. Maybe an intense six part series is exactly what we should be doing. It seems to me that our audience could commit to a whole six hours of programming. And it's certainly the kind of event television that would fulfill cultural mandates (if those still exist under the current government); drawing the audience into a shared experience.
Sort of like Durham County? Or perhaps Across The River To Motor City? These limited series have aired or are about to air here in Canada, and Durham certainly received an enthusiastic reception. But they're both on Movie Central/Movie Network, and aren't targeting the masses. As good as they are (or will be), they either weren't designed or didn't have the premise to support a long successful run.
I'm not advocating creating simplistic twaddle, but network and cable TV series need to be accessible and have legs. Intelligence or The Best Years (or the upcoming The Border) seem more practical and realistic Canadian TV one hour series models to be studying and emulating.
Anyway, I'd be curious to see what Jill has to say about Milch's series (apparently she's working up a post).
John From Cincinnati...fun to watch, wouldn't suggest writing it.
And on a sort of related (but not exactly) note, Lisa Klink at What It's Like took my comment that nobody sets out to make a bad tv show and ran with it. Go. Read. She's good.
Because it makes me smirk...
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
...and that powerful sixth episode. And though I feel like I am having a conversation with myself, I've finally found another viewing experience to liken it to --- can you say Twin Peaks? A surreal blend of police investigation with small town soap opera told over a classic tale of good vs. evil, when Twin Peaks hit the airwaves in 1990 it steamrolled through most everyones living room generating wave after wave of discussion. I will admit to being obsessed for those first 20 episodes or so, almost counting down the minutes until the airing of each new hour. It burned fast but oh so bright...propelled by the question Who killed Laura Palmer? which dovetailed nicely into Who is Bob?
One of the questions constantly swirling through John From Cincinnati's Imperial Beach surfer community is Who is John? which has led to Why is John here? And though not near as creepy or eerily disturbing as Twin Peaks (remember Agent Cooper's dream?)...
...JFC also scores way high points on the 'friggin' surreal' scale, with plenty o' cryptic dialogue, dreams, miracles, and a sense of something bigger playing out before our eyes with no idea what might happen next. As for the good vs. evil aspect, I sense John is 'the good', though I'm not sure what, if any, the 'evil' is. But like Twin Peaks, I have a growing anticipation for each new episode in the quest for answers to the question of what the heck is going on here?
John From Cincinnati hasn't hit the ground running with the same hype and fanfare as Twin Peaks did, but the viewing experience feels very similar.
I will say up front that I still very much dig this show. It's become one of the few series this summer I cannot miss (although to call it a TV series is a bit of a misnomer...with only an eight episode run, it's more like a very long movie).
But this last episode (entitled: His Visit: Day 5) and its extended climax was quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. I'm finding it very difficult to arrive upon the right words to describe it. Others have tried to encapsulate, and I'm not saying they succeeded brilliantly....but at least they tried.
At South Dakota Dark, here's some of what they had to say:
I thought it really nailed the feeling of religious harmony, the feeling of what it's like to come together with a band of disparate people and feel like you're approaching something higher than yourself. John's literal come to Jesus meeting at the end of the episode is the sort of thing I don't even want to try to bother finding a definite interpretation for (not that there necessarily is one) without having watched the episode 15 times or so, but the general feeling of warmth I got from seeing all of these fascinating players gathered together to listen to John speak to them and listen to an impromptu jazz duet was like nothing I've ever seen on television.
And at the House Next Door, Keith Uhlich comes as close to anybody I've read to nailing it:
The sense of the series as a composition – as an extended ballet of suffering and redemption – was never so strong as in “His Visit: Day Five”, which opens with a brilliantly self-referential scene in which filmmaker Cass (Emily Rose) avoids any direct contemplation of the footage she shot of John in the previous episode. Any artistic type should be able to sympathize with Cass’ plight; the creative process is rarely a straight line – more a formless, engulfing void given as much to intense lulls as to fresh bursts of inspiration.
It would require a separate essay to break down every beat of this episode’s climax, which I will hyperbolically state to be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Such greatness, you see, strikes me fanboy dumb, leaves me gasping for air in its wake. I wouldn’t dream of ruining such a potentially profound experience for others with my inadequate words.
Those are some strong statements, but hear me now and believe me later...I kinda know what they're talking about. The best description of my viewing experience I could come up with was that it was like reciting a poem, writing a short story, playing the piano, and performing a ballet all at the same time --- so intense it should be mind-blowing, but instead was, like...soothing, you know?
Oh, and here's Milch from a Newsweek interview explaining a little bit about the series and this episode:
DM: William James once said, and I’m paraphrasing here: if this life be not a real combat, then it is nothing more than a private theatrical from which one is free to resign at will, but it feels like a struggle. What James was suggesting, I think, was: it feels as if life has meaning and that the universe responds somehow to our effort to find it—but that’s a far different thing from saying that we will ever understand what the meaning is. To me, John [played by Austin Nichols] is a living, breathing character who embodies that paradox. He is an intermediate entity between us and the absolute, but he knows as little about himself as we do about ourselves. Somebody’s running him, in other words, and he doesn’t understand who. But he reveals more as it is in his power to reveal it.
NW: I don’t want to ask you to give away much of your story, but based upon what I’ve seen so far, it feels like it’s building to something much bigger than just a family of surfers.
DM: Oh, absolutely. Someone once referred to a spiritual experience as “a slow unfolding,” and to the extent that this story is about a collective spiritual experience, the unfolding is a little slow. John has been sent for some purpose, at a specific time and at a specific place. He doesn’t understand it, and neither does the audience, but it does become clearer. In the sixth episode, John will begin to speak of his father and of 9/11. Everyone around him assumes that he’s talking about the 9/11 we know. But he’s actually talking about a 9/11 to come.
I don't know if it became that much clearer but...Wow.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
But what is this ginger beer of which I speak? Well, it's a type of carbonated beverage, flavored primarily with ginger, lemon and sugar. It originated in England in the mid 1700s, and it reached its peak of popularity in the early 1900s.
I know I was first attracted to it because it was the only carbonated drink in my small Midwest hometown that came in a can (otherwise it was nuthin' but bottles back then). And I grew to dig that gingery goodness.
Ginger beer is similar to ginger ale except that it has a significantly stronger ginger taste. Other distinctions, are the cloudy appearance (which is traditional), a predominately citrus sour taste base, and the spicy bite.
But I soon wanted not all gingery, not all of the time...which led to the lighter tasting but equally refreshing dry ginger ale. Schweppes, Vernors, Seagram's and Canada Dry are the major brands, but for me, it has to be Canada Dry.
Created in 1904 by Canadian pharmacist John J. McLaughlin after he opened a carbonated water plant in Toronto, McLaughlin used as his base recipe a Belfast-style ginger ale. But following a champagne-tasting trip to France he became convinced that a lightly coloured and clear dry ginger ale would be his ticket to riches.
And the Champagne of Ginger Ales was born.
Mmmm...sparkling tasty goodness.
So after all the serious posts and discussion of the past several days, what's everyone's summer drink of choice? What's your 'go to' beverage when all hot and bothered, or just plain hot?
What wets your whistle?
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Lionsgate mystery series nets almost $9 million
Lionsgate Entertainment has secured a cool $8.9 million in provincial and municipal government incentives to shoot an unnamed U.S. series in Edmonton -- scoring a whopping 44.5% of its $20-million budget.
The unique deal was initiated by the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, which brought Lionsgate and the Alberta Film Commission to the table. The City of Edmonton kicked in $3.5 million in grants and the province ponied up $5.4 million. Officials are talking up the job opportunities.
"A TV series like the Lionsgate production creates long-term, ongoing employment throughout the year," says Ron Gilbertson, EEDC president and CEO. "While movies generate high-profile attention, they employ crews for a comparatively short period; several weeks or a couple of months."
In an EEDC news release, it hinted that the deal may extend past one year, stating that 13 hour-longs "per season" will be "filmed both in-studio and throughout various locations in the city."
Lionsgate has not yet said if the show is new to its slate, or if it will relocate one of its existing series -- such as The Dresden Files, which shoots in Toronto.
The job opportunities...um, yeah. I know I'm only speculating, but it sure seems to me that under the guise of testing the viability of supporting a film/TV industry in Edmonton and 'diversifying the local economy', we'll just see a scenario that'll play out a lot like the ones described in previous posts should the CTF go to an 8 out of 10 point system.
As in: yes, there will be money spent in city for food, supplies, basic labour, accommodations, and misc. services....and a fair number of 'locals' will be hired in below the line crew positions or secondary cast roles...but none or next to none of the above-the-line key creative (i.e. writers, directors, producers, lead actors) will be local, much less Canadian. In fact, it very well may be primarily run and written out of LA with the majority of actors and directors flown in.
But the series will be getting a whack of Canadian money. Hmmmm...
How the hell can the creatives still living here in Canada get more experience and improve their craft while trying to create a dramatic television 'hit' if they hardly ever get the opportunity to do so? What we hear instead is that most all our indigenous shows suck and so the CRTC puts forward recommendations to allow American key creatives to access and/or receive Canadian Television Funding monies. And this isn't just me whining or only looking out for my self-interests...it's a flawed system that doesn't seem to be able to let the big American boys to play in our sandbox without essentially sacrificing the sand castle creators who still work in Canada.
Trust me, over the years I've been witness to plenty of these provincial incentive programs designed to 'kickstart' the industry and provide opportunities to locals, but other than line producers/glorified production managers and the occasional director, the majority of the creative and decision-making work goes to personnel from the outside.
And can you really blame Lionsgate? I mean, the shows being bandied about for relocation to Edmonton are 'Everytown' USA shows (so it doesn't really matter where they're filmed), and look at all the money they get in return. In fact, according to the articles HERE and HERE, the Alberta governments has been wooing them for over a year.
Must be nice to feel wanted...
Can anyone clarify this Lionsgate deal for me if they know more details? I hate to sound critical without knowing all the facts.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Scroll down about halfway down the list until you see Application/Notice Number 2007-70 and click it...
About halfway through that page that describes Notice 2007-70 is a link to a comments form which you click...
Making sure your comment is labeled as 'In Opposition' (at top), fill in the box with your comment or attach your comments as a separate document and click next...
From there is pretty straight forward to the end (follow the prompts)...
And if you are looking for things to comment/complain about, find examples below in a reprint of a letter mailed out by the WGC's Maureen Parker.
We know writers are never far away from their computers and this is a good thing because you need to send e-mails/faxes/letters to your Member of Parliament and the CRTC about the CRTC Task Force’s Report on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). Nothing in this report is good news for writers. In fact, this report directly attacks your ability to work as a writer in this country.
The Report makes a number of ill-conceived and ill-informed recommendations, but the main thrust is that CTF (currently a public/private partnership) should be divided into two separate pools – one being the Heritage contribution of $100 million, renewable annually, and the other being the $130 million or so from the Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (BDU’s) – ie, the cable/satellite companies. The Heritage pool will become the "cultural" fund – aka "must do Canadian stuff.” A producer will still need all ten Canadian content points to access this money.
Also, development funds will come out of this smaller pool of $100 million whereas, in the past, it was a percentage of the full $230 million. The Heritage pool will also pay for minority groups’ TV projects – aboriginal films, projects funded by the educational broadcasters, French outside ofQuebec, etc. The CBC's guaranteed envelope will also come out of the Heritage pool rather than of the total $230 million CTF. The BDU pool – $130 million – will be "a more flexible and market-oriented private sector funding stream,” which is supposedly devoted to funding “hits.”
The flexibility they’re talking about is in the form of lowered Canadian content points, specifically a drop from 10 points to 8. This means either the writer or the director (worth 2 points each) or one of the top two leads (worth 1 point each), do NOT have to be Canadian. Canadian producers will now have the “flexibility” to pre-sell their program to an American broadcaster, who can insist on an American writer.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. A lot of our “industrial” production works this way. What’s new is that for the first time, these programs would be eligible for CTF funds. Now, American writers will be charged with writing programs that “reflect Canadian experiences.” – CTF’s mandate. And our regulator is supporting this policy change.The CRTC has given the industry a July 27, 2007 deadline to file comments on these proposed changes to the CTF.
In the WGC’s official response we are requesting that at the very least, a public proceeding to give everyone an opportunity to hear the dissenting opinions on the CTF. We’d also like to see factual evidence to back up the report’s assumptions. Because we don’t think there is any. Programs written by, directed by and starring Canadians do better in the ratings than the “any-town-USA” stuff the broadcasters/cable operators are shilling.
You can help fight for your livelihood by e-mailing your comments on the CRTC’s Report on the CTF to the CRTC through the Commission’s web site at www.crtc.gc.ca. Click on E-Pass in the top menu, then click on participate in a CRTC public proceeding, then find the sentence to submit a comment related to a public proceeding and click on the word “form.” Then you scroll down to 2007-70, click on it and submit your comments. Attached you will find a copy of the Public Notice CRTC 2007-10 for your review. Also attached is a sample letter to the CRTC that you may choose to use. We have put both documents as well as a copy of the Report on our web-site for your information (all three are available in the WGC Members' Only section).
WGC Executive Director
Okay...my work here is done.
Friday, July 13, 2007
UPDATE: Could they make this process for commenting any more confusing or complicated??!!
If you are trying to navigate the instructions below (and I hope you are), when you get to the list of application/notices, the one you are looking for is about halfway down and is numbered 2007-70. That's 2007-70 (of course there's no mention of the CTF just to make it difficult to locate). Click on that and about halfway through that page is a link to a comments form (make sure you say your comment is 'In Opposition' at the top), and from there is pretty straight forward. Sheeesh.
Click on E-Pass in the top menu, then click on participate in a CRTC public proceeding, then find the sentence to submit a comment related to a public proceeding and click on the word “form.” Then you scroll down to , click on it and submit your comments.
But do it quickly...there's not a lot of time (by July 27) and we need a lot of nuts (see Jericho).
Jim joins Alex Epstein and Denis McGrath and John Doyle and their posts and columns this week encouraging the same action. These gentlemen all say what needs to be said better than I, and thus don't have much to add....but off this from DMc:
In 1999, when the CRTC relaxed the rules on drama spending by networks, allowing them to count reality and cheaper fare as Cancon, they insisted this wouldn't result in less homegrown material. Instead, the number of Canadian scripted shows dropped off overnight.
We're the ones who are still fighting the perception that we're not good enough -- even though there are plenty of us who want to write in a more commercial vein -- we just don't want to have to go to L.A. to work on Canadian shows.
The whole thing's a mess. And it basically still comes down to: you haven't fixed what was wrong from 1999, and you're rolling the dice on us again.
Those rulings in 1999 sent a lot of guys like me who wanted to keep working here down to LA to basically try to keep getting employed on Canadian-shot dramatic television shows. It was a move made against my wishes. I preferred a life for me and my kids here in Canada, and ultimately came back to try to fulfill that existence. But it's been difficult to stay in the drama game --- the number of shows just don't support the amount of writers/creatives. And to let these new recommendations pass will only send the majority of us back to LA again, or just getting out of the business altogether.
But this isn't about me, it's about the bigger picture and draining a swamp that has filled with alligators. And like these excerpts from some commenters state:
Canadian money from these funds should go to Canadians and Canadian shows, full stop. If a project is populated by Canadians above the line, it is ipso facto Canadian, no matter the content. There is no need to pretend to be yourself. We have to stop trying to manufacture culture. It's the only true "free market" out there.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
But I am planning some email interviews with some Canuck directors to see if that will suffice. One most definitely will be with Rockin' Ron Oliver.
I first saw Ron when I served him at the video store I was working at in downtown Toronto when I first first moved there right out of college. How I knew who he was still escapes me...perhaps it was just that he was talking loudly about having written Prom Night II: Hello Mary Lou. Then we crossed paths on the scary tales for kids show Are you Afraid of the Dark? (he was prepping, I was directing...or vice versa). Then he directed some episodes of Psi Factor that I wrote and produced. Then we hooked up for girly drinks at the Caboose or some such bar in what I remember as a rather ratty area of LA. And then...?
Well, Ron still makes his home in Los Angeles, or rather Palm Springs (the proverbial Canadian living in LA but working in Canada for the most part) and I, um, don't anymore.
Anyhoo, Ron has a very funny and entertaining blog called Ron Oliver's Fabulous Life filled with lots of anecdotes from his kooky existence mixed in with some wicked observations of the Canadian scene from afar. A taste:
But for the love of all that is right and pure in the world, WHY ARE THERE GENIES? Nobody inside or outside of the industry cares about them, the Canadian audience barely knows they nor the movies they apparently honor exist, and the show itself can't even attract Atom Egoyan, a filmmaker who will attend the opening of cigar box if he thinks he can find somebody to invest in one of his glacial cinematic endeavors.
Watching this farce (The Genie Awards) reminded me once again of why I fled the country years ago. I have never been interested in making movies nobody wants to see. At the most, I try to make entertainment. At the very least, I try not to bore the audience. But there wasn't room for my type of movie up here in the true north strong and free. So I packed up and left, went to "Hollywood" (or what passes for it in this era of co-productions, tax shelters and off shore financing) and took my B-movie imagination with me.
Things have worked out well, for the most part - there have been ups and downs, good years and bad ones - but not once have I ever regretted getting the hell out of Dodge City.
Canada is a wonderful place for children and retirees: free health care, as long as you're not in a hurry; good education, as long as you don't mind a stultifying political correctness draining every drop of adventure from the learning curve; and several weeks off every year to hibernate in snowbound luxury as long as you can afford the electrical heat. But it ain't a great place to flourish.
Government financing for mediocrity in the arts doesn't exactly encourage innovation. And in a country where money is routinely handed to writers who can barely string together a cohesive plot outline, it's no wonder nobody goes to see their homegrown movies - let alone watch an amateurly staged PR event to "honor" the damn things.
Brrrrr....but that's Ron. He calls it as he sees it.
And for the directors in the house, he has a great day-by-day diary of him directing 'A Dennis The Menace Christmas' movie this past winter up in Montreal, which begins HERE and HERE, and then you sort of have to navigate your way forward. It's a bit of a bitch fest, but an entertaining bitch fest, and an honest look inside a directors mind when they're ploughing through an insane schedule under impossible conditions...like bad weather...and kids...and dogs!
Go say hi to Ron, and offer to buy him a drink. He won't say no.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
That first film for many people I know was either Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Arc. Neither really worked for me at the time of their release (though I've grown to appreciate them with age). For me the first was probably Jaws. Awe-some. Subsequent movies that made a similar impression were Alien, Road Warrior, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Matrix, and The Fellowship of the Ring.
So why those films exactly (interestingly, nearly all could be categorized as fantasy/sci-fi/action)? A decent story and interesting characters for sure, but more importantly was a combination of palpable energy emanating from an enthralled audience with lots of 'blow your mind' spectacle. And that spectacle was usually achieved via some new and extremely effective visual or practical effect done in such a way as to essentially transport one to another place/time/realm or world.
Well, last night, Transformers joined the list. Yes, it's a Michael Bay film, so that is a little troubling...but it was also a Spielberg film, so perhaps they cancel each other out. Or maybe that's who Bay needs exec producing him in order to create something acceptable. Or maybe I don't know squat. But this morning I couldn't stop thinking about and marveling at so many of the sequences in the flick...much like one other film Transformers reminded me of that needs to be on my list: Jurassic Park.
Yes, the dinosaur movie. Awe-some. Movie. Experience.
Like Transformers, I knew little about the story of Jurassic Park before I saw it, but I was well aware of the film long before it arrived in the theatres. We see this all the time today, but back then I remember being stunned after opening up a Variety and seeing this one page spread...exactly one year before its release date.
An ad? One year early?? WTH???
I turned to a colleague and made a joke about it...snarking that there's no way anyone will remember this movie when it comes out. But I did secretly admire the simplicity of the ad, and was somewhat intrigued by a film that might be so amazing it was touting its release a year in advance.
Then I saw a teaser trailer for it a few months later...
Interestingly, last summer, a YEAR IN ADVANCE, I saw this print ad for Transformers.
I was a little confused...such early promotion, for a cartoon? But then I saw this teaser trailer for it....
Besides both being groundbreaking in the art of CGI, Transformers and Jurassic Park ran almost identical ad campaigns and celebrated near identically spectacular openings. And I realize I'm talking about two different things here: the marketing and selling of a movie, and then the movie-going experience itself (one so often lets the other down). But I'm letting these two examples stand because the build-up ultimately contributed to the 'awe-some' experience. At the end of the day, the movies delivered.
Now, were they perfect? Hell no. There were plot holes and logic bumps aplenty in both films, but visual spectacle and a spectacular movie-going experience trumped in a big way.
That's when effects laden movies can truly be magic...when you don't find yourself saying: "Wow. How did they do that?" but rather, just: "WOW."
Sunday, July 08, 2007
There have been some good discourses recently at some of the usual blogs about the in's and out's of note-giving (and note taking) and the craft of story editing... specifically in Canada where the role is not just relegated to the staff of TV series, but also for features or TV movies. And one of the toughest tasks that you can face as a feature story editor is telling a writer he/she needs to 'rebreak' their story.
Breaking a story takes a number of forms, but it generally means laying out your tale in short concise 'beats' from beginning to end (on a whiteboard or 3x5 cards). Each beat usually describes or represents a scene. From that 'beatsheet', the writer does up an outline or step outline, essentially an expanded and more detailed version of said beats. And then that outline will go to the story editor for feedback.
This is a crucial stage in the development of any screenplay. It's usually the last step before the writer goes to first draft, and it's the story editors job to help the writer move forward armed with as solid an outline as possible. It's also their job to highlight what is working, then point out what isn't working, but with suggestions how to make it all a little cleaner, sharper, tighter, funnier, dramatic...you know, better. Notes without clear, concise suggested fixes are useless.
Now I've story edited several Canadian features and TV movies, and there's been more than one occasion when I joined the development fray that I had to suggest that the writer rethink their structure. The kernel of the cool idea may still exist, but their execution hasn't realized the full potential of the idea. It needs a rebreak. In essence, you're telling the writer they need to 'start over', and that's not easy for anyone to say...or hear.
One thing I've learned is that you've got to be up front in stating that objective. If you don't, and try to bury those dramatic changes in your notes, the writer will generally ignore them. Why? Because they're usually happy with what they have thus far, and are looking to you to help make it better...but only to make it better within the plot and structure and arcs that already exist. So slipping in a note like: "Oh, and it feels like the hero goes on the run too late, perhaps you can look at having it occur about a quarter of the way in instead of three quarters way through"...the writer will consider this, figure out that it changes everything, and tend to move on to the little, more doable notes. You have to acknowledge right off the bat that making this change will alter everything, and then do your damnedest to explain why you think it not only will be an improvement, but will more fully realize the writers original vision.
That's also very important. The rebreak has to be suggested with the writer's original intention in mind, NOT just to tell the story YOU'D rather tell. I'll always say: "The story you said you were writing was this, but I'm not reading that, I'm reading something else instead." That's why I also feel it's crucial for the writer to also provide a logline and 1-2 paragraph synopsis with their step outline, just to give everyone a place to come back to if it feels like the story has lost its way.
So writers, listen to your story editors...that's why you're paying them. And remember it's always better to try to fix it earlier in the game, as opposed to in the edit suite.
Friday, July 06, 2007
"Oh my...I've never anything like seen this before."
(what he meant was: "I've never seen anything like this before...", but his English was not so good)
Oh yeah...and it's the HOTTEST day on record for the city...EVER.
Waddaya say we all head back to the lake...
P.S. posted using last few seconds of dying battery while 'borrowing' neighbours wifi signal
UPDATE: for anyone who cares, 10:15 pm and after two electricians the power is FINALLY back on. Turns out there was a loose piece of metal in the plug-in for the coffee maker, and if one thingee shorts out or isn't connected or something, the whole place shuts down (I knew I shoulda taken those Shop classes instead of drama or art).
House is an oven, going to join kids at a good and caring and considerate and helpful friends (much cooler) house...
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Who can remember a single year of television that had programming to match “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Heroes,” “The Office,” “Ugly Betty,” “24,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Idol,” “Deal or No Deal,” “My Name is Earl” — to say nothing of many more — and the current HBO crop of “Entourage” and, my own favorite, (and that of my wives) “Big Love.” Better still let’s applaud the makers and the networks for making shows available free and on-demand on multiple platforms — and doing it with the breathtaking quality of the Move Networks player on abc.com.
The winner by a street is the consumer, who gets all the benefits of self-scheduling and the devices and bandwidth with which to enjoy it. So far, at least, there are no new bills to pay, apart from those from the cell phone companies, who charge the most for the least-good user experience, and the TV manufacturers whose new devices are worth every single cent. The value of Sling Box and Apple TV remain to be seen, but represent yet further anything, anytime, anyplace options — so either they or the next one along will find a home and a value. In the same vein, we are beginning to see the advertising and revenue puzzles being solved, as well as quality driving audiences and formats creating relevant homes for brand owners. Winners without losers. How splendid.
Is it really the just the best of times? For viewers maybe, but when I look at that list of shows, I can't help but feel we may be heading into a creative downturn... and if you combine that with the challenges on the horizon for key creatives to make TV in Canada, it may also be the worst of times.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
So, in the meantime, yay to Denis for doing the heavy lifting with this analysis of the recent CRTC recommendations for the CTF, and this wonderful overview of the script note-giving (and taking) process.
And yay for some time off and fun with the kids...
And yay for all the Moon Bloodgood wannabe's...at the beach.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Lisa Klink, a self described 'mid-career' TV writer (Painkiller Jane, 1-800-Missing; Earth: Final Conflict; Voyager) has a new blog over at What It's Like and is presently penning an episode of the new Flash Gordon series. Lots of good thoughts and insight into the TV series writing process, including her take on US shows that shoot in Canada (of which she's worked on several). Most all of what she says below is true, and though it can be irksome for a lot of us up here already, Klink cleanly and efficiently lays out the realities of working for these types of shows...
I’ve worked on several shows that were technically Canadian productions, that shot in Canada, but with a writing staff in Los Angeles. “Flash Gordon” is one of these as well. It all comes down, as most things do, to money. It’s cheaper to shoot in Canada, particularly when the foreign exchange rate is in our favor. There’s also a tax credit and some direct funding available from the Canadian government for shows that meet its Canadian content requirements.
According to the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office, the “individual who controls and is the central decision-maker of the production” has to be Canadian, as do a majority of the key creative personnel. There’s actually a point system: two points for a director or screenwriter, one point for the highest paid actor, etc. There are limits on how many non-Canadians can hold a “producer” title. That’s why I (an American) have been a “creative consultant” on my last several staff jobs. The WGA allows its members to work on Canadian productions through a waiver system. I also had to join the Writers Guild of Canada and pay dues there.
You may ask, if it’s a Canadian show, why not just hire Canadian writers? Some do just that - there are plenty of all-Canadian shows which air in Canada. They don’t tend to play as well in the U.S. Their style is just different. To snag an American audience, production companies turn to American writers. Not to mention that the talent pool is simply larger in L.A. This is where people who want to work in TV tend to congregate.
If you work on a Canadian show, do you have to move to Canada? Generally not. There are some shows who ask their American writers to relocate for the duration of the season, but most will keep a writing office in L.A. The upper-level producers will usually fly back and forth, and sometimes, the writer of each episode will go to Canada for their shoot. When I worked on “Missing,” the Canadian executive producers stayed in Toronto (where we shot) year-round. The U.S. writing staff went up there for a couple of weeks at the start of the season to discuss story and character arcs and lay out the first few episodes, then stayed in L.A. the rest of the time.
It basically works, but the geographic separation of the writers and production team is unfortunate. You never really get to know most of your colleagues. Some you never even meet. A kind of “us vs. them” mentality can develop. This happens to some degree on all shows, I think, but it’s worse when you’re not working face to face. I got spoiled on my first job: “Voyager’s” writing office and soundstages were on the same lot. On other shows, I’ve missed the ability to walk on over to the set anytime I wanted and watch them shoot, schmooze with the make-up people, raid the craft service table. And I think the cast and crew like having closer access to the writers. Sure, they can call us from Canada if they have a question about a line, but just don’t tend to do that as often. What they tend to do is change the line themselves, which can aggravate the “us vs. them” dynamic when the writers watch the daily footage and hear the change for the first time.
The Canadian content issue isn’t as big a deal for lower level writers as it is when you get into the producer ranks. One showrunner-level American friend is currently hacking through the paperwork to get landed immigrant status in Canada. His wife is Canadian and still owns property there, so legally he can be considered a resident. It’s a huge, bureaucratic pain in the ass, but it probably will open up more career opportunities for him on Canadian shows.
Ah yes...the American "Creative Consultant" or the orchestrated "landed immigracy"...I know all to well of which she speaks. I worked on several of these kinds of series while living in Canada, and I also saw how it worked when I was in L.A. and shuttling back and forth (or up and down).
When we moved into the new millennium, a lot of these shows began to insist that whoever they hired needed to be primarily located in L.A., yet they still wanted the tax credit benefit of hiring 'Canadians' (very loosely defined). For me, that meant living there only to be sent back to Canada to work. A lot of it's the 'system that's in place, and it always felt a little 'ass backward' or even 'wrong' to me, but that's just the way it was/is.
Anyway, thanks to Lisa for joining blogland. I'm heading out the door but feel this topic warrants more discussion...more at a later date.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
And though I sometimes wish I was John Cusack, I'm not hoping for One Crazy Summer. Maybe a little 'Walking On Sunshine' instead...
Regular blogging will resume after the vacation jump... Happy Canada Day!
p.s. Top Five Songs to play on a Monday Morning? Discuss amongst yourselves...