Sunday, July 15, 2007

It's No Mystery Why Lionsgate Series In Edmonton...

I feel like I'm turning into Mr. Rabblerouser Guy, but did anyone else notice this article that was in Playback yesterday? Basically, it says that the city of Edmonton and Province of Alberta has created some sexy incentives and ponied up a bunch of cash to entice Lionsgate to come to the city to shoot a U.S. one hour dramatic series.

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, 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'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.


Diane Kristine said...

I'd be curious to hear how it's different from the tax incentives and subsidies places like Vancouver and Toronto offer to attract the US film and television industry. Should we be shutting our doors to the US industry to focus on the Canadian? It would free up a lot of money, but I'm not sure the economic and lack-of-work repercussions would make it a smart move.

I'm all for building a stronger Canadian industry, but the end argument I've heard so often lately is that the industry needs fixing because otherwise our creatives will be out of a job, or will have to move to LA to get a job, or won't be able to learn how to make quality television. That might very well be what motivates them, but it seems like the wrong argument to me. The people who care about the creatives' income are the creatives and their agents. The "we need the opportunity to learn" argument is presented as only a benefit to the creatives - it smacks of "we need to make bad TV now without the help of Americans so we can make good TV in the future," which raises all kinds of questions.

It seems to me there has to be an argument that makes the creatives' case by also showing the benefit to the economy as a whole, the audience, and therefore the broadcasters. If the arguments on all sides are based so blatantly on self-interest, the less powerful group is not going to get their interests heard no matter how much rabblerousing you do.

wcdixon said...

Diane Diane...

Once again, you raise a lot of good points and ask good questions...and to an outsider looking in (though I don't know if you count as an outsider anymore), it must look pretty whiny and self-serving.

But believe me, it's not. Or at least it's not trying to be. It more the result of years and years of trying to get a system that benefits the people still living and working here in this country while trying to produce product that also entertains, and feeling stone-walled most of the time. It's about trying to get regional, provincial, and even cities to invest in one's projects and get denied, but the big sexy US show gets the red carpet treatment. It's about...ugh, enough...I'm sick of hearing it all again as I'm sure you are.

I think what's unique about this deal is how much the city is involved, not just the province and tax credit incentives, but actual cash investment by both province and city.

Other than that, I think it's just a good foreshadow example of not so much what type of programs, but who will be making/doing them to come.

Thanks again, as always, for trying to make us elitist fringe fanatics keep it real.

Diane Kristine said...

Aww, I didn't mean to call you whiny. It's just that the starting point might be that our folks need opportunities to work, but there's got to be an end point that builds on that to say why that's important to everyone else.

I know that argument's out there, I'm just not hearing it being articulated much lately. The broadcasters themselves have talked about how the big bad Internet world of the future means all their American shows aren't giving them their own online content. Having a healthy Canadian industry must mean something to the local economy, especially when the dollar is making us less attractive for US productions. Alex has pointed out that there's evidence that a dollar spent on Canadian TV makes more money for the broadcasters than a dollar spent on importing US products. There's probably more I can't think of and don't know about.

I don't have any of the answers, I just know that I'm more sympathetic to the creatives' cause than the broadcasters', but not because of anything I've heard coming out of the CRTC recommendations. Nothing I've read makes me think anyone is honestly arguing for better TV now and more accountable use of the funds. And yet that's what the broadcasters and the CRTC are pitching their arguments as. It seems to me the creatives have to counter that with something stronger than "we want to work" and relying on people to acknowledge the inherent good of having 100% Canadian shows.

Kelly J. Compeau said...

...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.

That's exactly what I thought when I first read this story. Although I've been in communication with top development executives at LG over the past few weeks (regarding my TV show) no one has said a word to me about this new project headed for Alberta.

Bill Cunningham said...

Will - these incentives are nothing new. Lionsgate produced the WIDFIRE series in New Mexico with a ton of incentives and bank loans sponsored by the government of NM. To the effect of $15M dollars came from NM for a 13 epsiode series per year.

You not only have to look at the incentives themselves but the economic impact of "dollar turnaround." They will spend that $15M but it will in turn come back through taxes, goods and services purchased, etc...

I agree with Diane (and I hope I'm not misunderstanding her message) but your creatives HAVE to clarify their message beyond the "It's the right thing to do." You have to show the economic impact hiring Canadian writers and directors has, AND show the audience what they will be missing if the creatives go south.

You have to make it personal to the audience. It must be simple concise and easily repeated - a meme if you will.

CTRC 2007-70 = No more Corner Gas (or Degrassi, or TPB, or Intelligence).

[understand I'm not up on everything so I use this as simple examples]

And if that doesn't work - go to the web where you don't have broadcasters or ratings to deal with...

Diane Kristine said...

And I don't think this is the story to tie to an argument about Canadian content and Canadian creatives, because the Lionsgate production heading to Edmonton is an American show, pure and simple. It's not aiming for 6/10 or 8/10; it's a Smallville or a Bionic Woman, American but shot in Canada. So if you're objecting to it, it's a whole 'nuther can of worms, about whether our governments should be offering incentives for American productions to shoot up here, and I'd be interested to hear the arguments around that. I don't think I've ever heard the objection to that before (but keep in mind I haven't been paying much attention, either). Bueller?

Wil Z said...

Edmonton can do what they want to attract production to their city. I have no problem with that. BUT there is a difference between that and national policy.

Everyone seems to be focusing on how to produce hits and how to make "good television." The two aren't always the same thing, but certainly not mutually exclusive, either. The erroneous assumption of the 8/10 rule is that if we simply tap into the larger American talent pool, the hits and the good television will naturally follow.

Well, let's take a look at how these American rainmakers actually produce hits and good TV.

There are about 131 pilots shot each year in LA, at an average cost of $2 million for a sitcom and $4 million for an hour long drama. That's just for the first episode. Of these, only about 40 see the light of day. Of these, only about five or six (if I'm being generous) find traction with an audience and become hits.

$300 million spent every year just on the pilot episodes, no shortage of the best TV talent in the world, and no cultural imperative to feed and they still only manage 5% success with an audience.

The CRTC says that if we could only get a few more Americans on the team, we'd be producing more hits and higher quality TV -- all at 1/10th the cost.

Yeah... right.


Halifax TV/Film said...

*sigh*. This type of support was used by the Nova Scotia provincial gov't and attracted numerous unapologetic American and cfa Canadian prodcers to shoot here.

It looks good to say the gov't spent $1M and created $1.8M in economic spinoffs or X # of jobs. (we still do the same thing to attract call centres which is sad on so many levels.)

On one side, our crews gained invaluable experience and cash in their pockets.

But it did not advance the Canadian tv/film industry, other than having trained crews available. No local creatives benefited. And I don't consider most producers "creative".

Luckily an ancilliary industry was being supported with the same tax credits and provincial funding. Hence Trailer Park Boys, came into being and flourished, Salter Street Films pumped out product, some of it good, Leslie Neilson made a series, Thom Fitzgerald made Hanging Garden, etc.

These were made with the leftover crumbs. Imagine if we had $9 M to spend on writing and developing.

I wonder what that would be like....I wonder....