Wednesday, December 31, 2008
And they're only going to get more interesting, before they get better get better I bet.
Nevertheless, all the best for the upcoming twelve months.
Enjoy the next three hundred and sixty-five days.
Make the most of these 525,600 minutes.
Savour those 31,536,000 seconds.
Because, before you know it, t'will be...well, you know...
...and then who knows what's gonna happen.
Thanks for reading....have a great year everybody.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Where to begin.
Around this time last year I purchased my first HD television, a 26 inch Sony KDL 26M3000. And I gotta say....I lurve my HD tee-vee. I've actually watched more basic network tv programs over the past year because I find myself only flipping between channels 501 - 525 now...cuz dem's the HD channels. Four are movie channels...two are PBS...and the rest are just your basic U.S. nets NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC east and west...and Canadian nets CTV, GLOBAL, CITY, and CTV. There's been more than one occasion that I've found myself watching an ep of L&O: Criminal Intent, just because it looks so fine.
Anyway, a few months ago a black line appeared down the right half of the screen or picture panel. Out of the blue. And then the line widened. I looked into the problem...dead pixels. Looked like this:
And as I investigated some more, I learned this is fairly common in LCD televisions. Happens about 30% of the time apparently. Not common to any particular brand, it just happens. New technology I was told. Harrumph. Well that sucks. But no worries, it still should be covered under the manufacturer's one year warranty.
So last week, with the warranty nearly expired, I went to my neighbourhood Best Buy...you know, where I purchased the telly in the first place...to get some direction. Erm...bad idea. I asked the first sales assistant I could find where I should take my television to be fixed, and his response: "Why didn't you get the Best Buy extended service plan?" Um, I just didn't. Again I asked, where's the authorized Sony service dealer in town? He shrugged and said: "Don't think there is one. You're going to have to box it up and ship your television back to Sony. Probably will be gone months. Should've got our extended service plan, man."
Sorry...but you're not helping.
I asked another sales assistant...exact same response. Now I was getting snarky. C'mon...let's move past the fact I didn't get the Best Buy extended service plan, where do I go to get it fixed? Shrug. Still not discouraged, I asked a third sales assistant where the authorized Sony service dealer was in town. "Oh, that'd be Video Refit over on McKara." Thank you! I immediately led this helpful gentleman over to the two other fucktards and had him tell them what he'd told me. It didn't seem to matter, they just stared at him blankly... but I felt better.
So I went home and boxed up my Sony and whisked it over to Video Refit, along with my bill of sale and one year warranty card. They seemed very busy there, but were quite helpful...even though I was the annoying customer with lots of questions: were they going to repair or replace screen/panel? Or were they going to just replace it with a new television since apparently the cost of the panel is the majority of cost of the entire unit? And how were they determine what was going to be done...were they going to assess the dead pixel problem themselves? Or did they have to ship to Sony HQ for them to assess?
All my questions were answered...and panel replacement or television replacement were definitely options. They also said a third option might be a refund or voucher so I could go back to Best Buy and replace my TV that way. But they said give them 7-10 days to figure things out...I nodded but left reluctantly, already missing my HD TV.
A refund/voucher, huh? The wheels in my head started spinning...if I got back the purchase price of what I paid a year ago, I could upgrade to a 32 inch version of same television (since prices have dropped). And not only that, I could get the 1080p model, as opposed to the lowly 720p model I was currently saddled with. I raced back to Best Buy to explore this option. And happily, a former student of mine was working in the TV department that afternoon. So I was able to pick his brain without the annoying "Why didn't you get the service plan?" question.
And here's what I learned.
He guessimated it would be about three months before I saw my TV again....that was his experience with people trying to get items repaired or replaced under manufacturer's warranty. WTF? And as for the second part of my master plan, he said he'd never seen a refund or voucher in lieu of replacement or repair before. Bummer. But most importantly, he said that no North American networks broadcast in 1080p!
I. Did. Not. Know. That.
Read about it here and here and here, but bottom line is that it's a bandwidth issue (networks broadcast HD in 720p or 1080i), so having a 1080p television doesn't mean my HD network shows will look noticeably better. Which begged the question: why spend the extra $ for the 1080p if the best digital HD signal you can receive is 720p (or 1080i, same diff)? Oh sure...your Blu-Ray movies will look better, since they are actually delivering a 1080p signal, but that's pretty much it.
I was glad to discover all this, but a little miffed. I'd always been led to believe that HD tv means 1080p tv, if your television can accommodate it. As it turns out...not so much.
Anyhow, my new best Best Buy pal also informed me 'defect' is open to interpretation when it comes to manufacturer's warranty...and in the case of dead pixels, there's actually a number that have to appear before it's considered defective. It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, but bottom line is that several (up to 10 I believe) random dead pixels on your LCD screen falls into normal use/wear and tear, and not a defect to be repaired or replaced. And he said to make sure the manufacturers warranty covered parts and labour...apparently some don't do both.
I was now muttering and twitching...expecting my TV to not only not get looked at for months, but that then I'd be informed my problem wasn't even 'covered' or I'd have to pay for work done anyway.
At any rate, this television adventure has a happy ending. One that sent me over the Marquee Moon, so to speak.
End of last week, a mere six days after dropping off my Sony, I received a call from the repair shop. Come pick it up, your television is ready. Really? I double-checked to make sure they had the right person....even reading out the number off my ticket stub. Yep...it was mine.
I drove over later that afternoon and was greeted by the manager. Nice fellow. But he immediately launched into a "Oh we're so sorry about how long it took to repair your telly..." I'm confused. Say I'm not complaining. He sighs and explains how many units they get in that need repair and how short-staffed he is...pulls out my invoice and loudly sighs: "Oh c'mon...let's see when you brought your tv in. The 30th....see?", followed by more apologies. I am now really confused. It's okay I say...I'm really not complaining. Then he takes a closer look at my work order...now he looks confused. "This was just last week," he says. I nod. He hustles over to the box containing my tv and checks the ticket stub number. "Wow," he says, "Did you really bring it in last week?" Again, I nod.
Now he's shaking his head and reviews the work order --- they'd looked at it the day after I'd dropped it off, determined enough pixels were dead to warrant repair, sent the evidence to Sony HQ (they have to take pictures and list specs apparently), the new panel arrived two days later, they took out the 'defective' one and replaced it with the new one, and then called me.
He told me I should buy a lottery ticket, because in all his days he'd never seen one go through the system that fast. Nevertheless, I still had him turn mine on, just to make sure it was working properly. It was. I thanked him, signed the completed work order, and humped my Sony out to the car and home again.
And the warranty covered everything.
Thus endeth my television adventure. In and out in six days..the way it should be. Nice.
As for the other Television Adventure, that's another post for another time...when the topic is brilliant but unsung new wave bands from the late '70's.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
TRAIN IN VAIN
I have been following with interest the thread that began at Anthony Strand's Live Journal and then continued at Weinman's TV Guidance where they've been discussing...what is the definitive TV show of the past decade?
First off, how do you define definitive? Does that mean greatest, most popular, coolest, hippest, most influential...? I suppose it's a bit of 'all of the above, and as Weinman explains, that doesn't necessarily mean best show, but one that best embodies TV and TV trends over the past (almost) 10 years.
Between Strand/Weinman and the commenters I would say they've covered all the possible candidates pretty well. Strand chose one drama and one comedy...and singling out Arrested Development as the definitive comedy of the 2000's(?) made a lot of sense (though I would award a tie between it and the UK's The Office). And while I'm not sure if Angel stands up as the decade's 'definitive' drama, Strand makes a solid case. Lost, House, 24, CSI, and The Sopranos all deserve consideration, and I still wouldn't exclude Survivor or American Idol (they may not be drama drama, but they sure come very close to 'defining' the TV decade as far as I'm concerned).
At any rate, one thing I took away was the lack of one show standing out...a single program/ series from the past nine years that was entertaining and popular yet also managed to encapsulate the mood, mindset, ambiance, and personality of the decade --- like The X Files or Buffy or Seinfeld or Friends did in the 90's.
Perhaps it's due to there being so many good series out there of late. Or that viewer fragmentation has expanded to such a degree that it's almost impossible for one show/series to stand out. Anyway, go check out those posts --- what I wanted to put on the table is....
....what might be the definitive Canadian series/show of the decade?
Again, comedy seems to be a little easier to nail...a toss up between Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys in my opinion. They both were popular enough to be known by most people of this country (whether you 'liked' them or not isn't really part of the equation)...but they also in their own way defined us as gentler simpler and slightly snarkier people/neighbours to the north of the monolith that is the USA.
But drama...not so easy.
In trying to determine a shortlist, I searched long and hard. Series like The Eleventh Hour or This Is Wonderland or Intelligence were quality but didn't quite attain the necessary 'popularity' factor. Cold Squad and Divinci's Inquest were popular and ran well into the 2000's, but both began airing in 1998 (and one of the criteria seems to be that the series began airing by or at least roundabouts 2000).
Stargate: SG1 or at least it's spinoff Stargate: Atlantis were certainly long-running and popular enough to warrant consideration. And as far as 'defining' us, service producing US programming is certainly high on the list of things we do as an industry...and the Stargates' definitely fall into that category (which is kind of an unfair rap against them because even though the vast majority of cast, crew, writers, showrunners are Canadian, it's primary investors and broadcasters have been American - MGM and US's Showtime and then SciFi channel). Thus, most people up here don't perceive them as distinctly 'Canadian' shows, so I moved on.
Degrassi: Next Generation has been around most of the decade, so it should be a nominee...but it's a half hour drama and the second incarnation (or is it 3rd?) of a series (Degrassi Jr. High) that probably defined us in the 1980's....tell me we've come at least some ways since then, please? In fact, the whole teen/tween/kids arena could certainly define recent Canadian TV to a large extent...there have been countless series/programs of that ilk quite successful in their own right in this category. But the defining show? Nope, can't go there.
Slings & Arrows, Regenesis, Durham County, The Collector, Blood Ties, Mutant X, Blue Murder, The Border, Whistler, Falcon Beach...were all either too new or short-lived or too niche/genre to be serious contenders (but feel free to disagree with me).
All in all, I said "damn!"...it's been a pretty miserable run for Canadian dramatic TV.
Which leads me to my choice for definitive Canadian TV show/series of the decade... Train 48.
Now I know I'm probably going to get called down for naming this show...but for me, Train 48 encapsulated all that Canadian TV has for the most part been since the devastating CRTC decisions of 1999. You know, the changes that decimated the indigenous industry and killed a lot of dramatic TV production by allowing broadcasters to fulfill its Canadian content mandates and quotas with news magazine, arts and entertainment, lifestyle, and reality programming.
A quick recap. The time was 2002/2003. I'd just moved back from LA to Canada, and sussing out what was going on and getting made up here...and truth was, not very much. And then I heard about this new series from CanWest Global. Under pressure to start producing more homegrown TV, specifically drama, and in order to fulfill it's conditions of license and meet CRTC mandated expectations, the network bought into an Australian soap format called Going Home and transplanted it to Toronto. Set entirely on a Go Train, it told the story of a group of commuters each day returning to the suburbs and surrounding communities from downtown Toronto. Largely improvised from outlines (so full writer/script fees wouldn't have to be paid), it was notorious for it's bargain-basement production values and mediocre performances. Shot on the cheap...an episode a day - it was, in short, embarrassing.
And it ran for 3 years.
EDIT: H/T to Weinman for finding a clip (and don't take this whole write up as a knock against the crew or actors or creatives on the show as much as to hammer home the sad fact that this was considered acceptable drama by the network)
Check out some of the negative comment threads on imdb.com for starters, just to get a taste of the disdain people had for this program. And the WGC had a 'behind the scenes' piece on the program HERE, which helps give the lay of the land. From the article:
Global denies picking up the series to meet Canadian content obligations on the cheap. "It costs less per episode, but the volume makes it more expensive," says Loren Mawhinney, vice president of Canadian productions. "Sixty-five episodes cost over $6 million, compared to $3.25 million for all 13 hours of Blue Murder."
Mawhinney calls Train 48 an "out-of-the-box way of creating drama," and says Global hopes to use it to lure advertisers in an increasingly fragmented marketplace. The network also wants the independence of making shows without any direct government funding.
Most of us called 'bullshit', not that it really mattered what we said. From the same article:
Tim Woods of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting says Global has no excuse for not investing in high-budget dramas. "Simultaneous substitution–putting Canadian commercials on popular American shows–is worth an enormous amount of money to broadcasters. It's a gift in exchange for investing in Canadian shows," he says.
Woods suggests broadcasters hoodwinked the CRTC by establishing a "trust policy" in 1999 that leaves it up to them how to fill time allotted for Canadian programming, rather than requiring them to invest a revenue percentage in Canadian shows.
Also true. Not that it mattered what the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting said.
For me, Train 48 embodied Canadian TV and TV trends of the past decade....cheaply produced programming with the primary mandate to fulfill quotas and mandates, NOT to make popular and entertaining hits of high or at least decent quality. The network, and the government and regulatory bodies overseeing the networks/industry really didn't seem to care. And it had a profoundly negative effect on the industry, at least in my circles...as in, if this was the kind of crap that a major broadcaster wanted to throw its weight and energy and money (pittance that it was) behind...was there any point? Was there any hope for us?
From friends, relatives, American colleagues, I heard more negative comments about Train 48 than any other Canadian show produced over the past decade...and every conversation went the same way: have you seen it? did you work on it? isn't it terrible...like, laughable? And then the kicker....is that the best you guys in Canadian TV can do?
It was tough to argue with them. And the resulting feeling was really demoralizing and depressing...not so much because we couldn't do better for the networks, but because the networks didn't really appear to want 'better'. Train 48 was 'good enough' it seemed, and we've been paying for and trying to live that down for the past four years.
That said, there has been a recent trend to at least try to return to more engaging quality dramatic TV (though having the US as a partner seems to be a necessary criteria). And, even if just through pilots, there's also been an attempt to make more of it...drama, that is. But still...
...we were off the rails for quite a while.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
IF I KNEW NOW WHAT I DIDN'T KNOW THEN
No that headline's not a typo...stick with me.
Just finished teaching another TV producing class...and it actually looks like a couple projects developed over the course of the semester will get bought by local producers. Very cool. And kudo's to the students for coming to the plate and bringing some game. And I see it in their eyes that the projects might actually happen.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the mindset one has when starting out in this film/TV biz. You are usually naive and blind to the harsh reality of it all, but are driven by one objective...to get the damn thing made.
I miss those days these days...here's why.
I came up with a TV series idea and a feature idea over the past couple weeks. Both jazzed me a little...I 'saw' them quickly...and liked the possibilities for both. And I started to rough them out...quickly laying down what might happen...how they both might unfold. I penciled in some character sketches...and projected what those characters might go through and where they might end up.
...I read about a series project in development somewhere that sounded very similar to mine. And who knows if it actually is, but just reading about it dampened my enthusiasm. And with the other...a feature film idea, I realized how much it would actually cost to do it up right. To do it the way I was 'seeing' it. It would have to be a big US feature, parked at some studio, with one or two stars....and knowing the prospect for all this to occur was so slim, my enthusiasm for that project soon began to wane.
And before I knew it, my ideas were being slid into a desk drawer.
Now some might say I'm just old or lazy or out of touch or don't get 'today's sensibilities'...but I would argue "no". In fact, when I take a look back at some of my early original idea pitches, I would say the current ones are far superior. Cleaner premises, better drawn characters, cleverer plots and plot twists, display longer legs. The only real difference is back then I didn't know any better...and today I almost know too much.
Sidebar: This last thought is really directed at those of us who peddle our wares in the minor/middle leagues....not brilliant or famous enough to warrant put pilots and pitches being snapped up for millions, and not starting out with nowhere to go but up and no way to get there without just getting something made...but middle men, as it were. Talented enough to have a track record and a generous amount of experience, but not talented (or lucky) enough to hit a home run every time we're at the plate. And creating series/movies from scratch is really really hard, which is why once we grasp the amount of effort (unpaid a lot of the time) actually involved, working on TV series can be so appealing. All of a sudden, you get to 'make shows'...quickly...over and over...without enduring the heavy lifting of creating it and selling it and pushing it and prodding it and changing it and evolving it until it finally gets made.
At any rate, I sold or optioned the first three big ideas I had post film school graduation, and eventually each got produced. And I had no idea what I was doing or how it all really worked or how much things cost...I just had some ideas that I liked and set about trying to get them made, even if one took almost six years.
But I did it.
Cut to the present, and I find myself yearning for that naivete sometimes. And every time I shelve a new idea because of the daunting prospect of the work ahead to get it made, or talk myself out of working on it because it might be a little too similar to something else out there, a part of me wishes I was starting out again, and could just say 'damn the torpedoes' and crash ahead.
If I knew now what I didn't know then, some of these new ideas might actually get made.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I really don't know how educated or enlightened you'll become, but watching that and THIS to better understand how they produced the finished advertisement is certainly entertaining.
"I believe the message for this commercial is that we are trying to inspire people to...give."
Happy Holidays everyone.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Because it makes me smile...
Thursday, December 18, 2008
First, John August effectively lays out how the money can flow for screenwriting and why to manage those dollars smartly in his Money 101 For Screenwriters post. For example (and remember, the numbers he's throwing around are a lot more than you can expect to see here in Canada)...
We’re used to getting paychecks that have all of the taxes and expenses taken out. Maybe you’re bringing home $850 per week. The math is relatively straightforward: you know how much you need for rent, food, utilities and whatnot. And next week, you’ll get another check.
Screenwriting is nothing like that. You get paid in chunks, from which you have to pay taxes and percentages to all the people working for you. The money shrinks at an alarming rate. Worse, you have limited ability to predict when you’ll get paid again.
As an example, let’s say you and your writing partner sell a spec script to a studio for $100,000. That seems like pretty good money. But how much of it do you get to keep? Let’s run the numbers.
Purchase price: $100,000
Agent (10%): -10,000
Manager (10%): -10,000
Lawyer (5%): -5,000
WGA (1.5%) -1,500
Partner (50%) 36,750
Gross before taxes: $36,750
Out of all that money, you have less than $37K, and that’s before you’ve paid a penny of taxes. So don’t buy your fractional Net Jet just yet.
I spend an entire 3 hour class on this kind of stuff when I'm teaching, including what deductions to try to claim, but Mr. August does a great job of summing up a lot of the major points in one post. Go read him now.
And for a Canadian perspective, Alex Epstein at Complications Ensue discusses how the economic downturn may or may not impact the entertainment business, but he also lays out a great overview of what is needed (money-wise) to finance a project here in Canada (primarily TV series, but a lot of what he's saying can be applied to the movie business) in his You Know You're Not Going Out Tonight... post.
Unless you're a studio, you don't start with the money to make a movie. You start with a script, a director, and a cast. You sell your package of bankable elements to distributors in the various territories. (I'm making these numbers up; I haven't been in foreign sales for a decade.) The contract with the British distrib gives you a "minimum guarantee" (m.g.) of X number of dollars. Say Great Britain comes in for 15%, and Germany for 20%, and Japan for 15%. Say you wind up with 70% of your budget presold. Often a foreign film won't be able to presell the US market for any kind of reasonable price. How do you make your movie?
You take those contracts to a bank. They "discount" your contracts (as they would in the rag trade), and give you cash for your contracts (taking a small fee). That leaves you with a 30%+ "gap."
Now you need "gap financing" to "bridge the gap." Gap financing costs more than discounting, because it's riskier. What if the movie stinks? The presold territories have to pay anyway -- their contracts don't promise a good movie, only a movie based on the script, starring the stars, and directed by the director. But you'll have trouble selling the unsold territories. So the bank is going to want to see territories worth, say, twice as much as the bridge money it's fronting.
In years when credit is loose, banks love gap financing. They charge a lot for it. Charging for financing is their business. But now that credit is tight, banks are wary of gap financing. They might only gap 10%, and they might demand, say, three times the gap in territories. They'll make less money, but they won't get left holding the bag.
Alex goes on to speculate why he doesn't think the credit crunch will affect making TV in Canada all that much, and I'm still mulling over what he said and whether I agree or not...but that will be another post another time.
At any rate, newbies go read. And thank your lucky stars you've got this kind of insider insight at your fingertips.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
His blog covers the usual 'crafty' categories, but he just finished a long interview with script reader DC Mar (works with New Regency, The Weinstein Company) that made for a fascinating read. Script analysts are generally the gatekeepers for companies, networks, and studios....the first line of defense your pitch/script needs to navigate past in order to get into the hands of the executives. The analyst's 'coverage' of your material can have a huge impact on how far up the ladder your project actually gets.
DC Mar tells it like she sees it...a few excerpts:
Re: what you look for when you are reading...
--As I start reading, the first page tells me a lot. Does the tone clearly signal what kind of movie I’m in for (genre)? Does the script have me hooked yet? Or am I confused? Indifferent? Bored? Or am I intrigued, excited, amused, unsettled and, in other words, emotionally engaged in some way?
--By page five, if something hasn’t hooked me yet, I’m scribbling peevish notes on the margins such as “what’s going on?” “what’s happening?” “too slow,” etc.
--By the end of act one, if I’m still not hooked, I’ve already formed enough of an opinion and am starting to write the comment for the coverage.
--As I read, I circle major characters and plot points. To be honest, I’m reading so quickly that I’m not always paying attention to whether ALL the major story pillars are in place. I don’t break down your script’s structure, but I am reacting to whether or not it’s essentially sound.
Re: which is most important: great story concept, strong characters, distinctive writing style...
In my experience, the scripts I give “considers” to almost always have GREAT or memorable characters to go along with a great concept. I often find that excellent characters are what make the difference between a concept that is familiar and one given a fresh slant. Often it is the characterization that elevates a run-of-the-mill script to a great one and the element that tips the scale from a “pass” to a “consider.”
A great distinctive writing style could also get you favorable coverage even if concept isn’t great or characters aren’t exceptional because Hollywood loves finding new writers with that fresh, new and unique voice. Even though their script may not get picked up, the writer gets buzz, which translates to meetings and sometimes even writing assignments.
The ideal, however, is a script that has all three elements working in tandem. These are the scripts that get readers excited and raving about the script in their coverage. These are the scripts that a reader happily rates a “consider” for both project and writer.
Re: your favorite types of scripts to read...
There are two types of scripts that readers love: the really, really good ones that are an obvious, easy, no brainer “consider” or “recommend” and the really, really bad ones that are an obvious, no brainer pass. This is because coverage for these are fast and easy to write. It’s easy to rave about a script or rip it apart. The much harder ones for readers to cover are those that have us on the fence because it’s much harder to justify why it merits a consider or deserves a pass. Obviously, writers should avoid making it easy for us readers to give their script a no-brainer pass. Even if your script is not an obvious “consider,” at least make it hard for us to justify giving it a pass. Then at the very least, you might wind up with a “consider” for the writing even if your script gets a “pass.”
Believe me...it's all about just getting a checkmark in that "consider" box.
Great stuff. Read all 6 parts of the interview HERE.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Yesterday it was this interesting essay HERE at Mediafest's TV Board that got me thinking about "audiences"...and a couple of days ago it was THIS POST that had me thinking about the stigma in this country of being labelled a "Canadian" production.
Today I was thinking about how we measure success.
Lately, on a number of fronts, I've been involved with the analysis and assessment of a lot of Canadian TV and movie projects seeking development money. And I kept hearing a particular 'phrase of praise' heaped upon applying producers or filmmakers in order to evaluate the merit of their project.
"They're a proven winner."
Me (as always, being the curious one), asked "Why?"
"Yeah...why is this particular filmmaker or producer a proven winner?"
I wasn't challenging or disputing...I was genuinely interested.
Well, it was explained to me...their last film got accepted at TIFF or the Whistler Film Festival; or the CTF or Telefilm supported their last series or movie; or they got nominated for a Gemini or Genie; or even, their last film got a great review in the Globe or the Star or NOW Magazine!!
This is what we use to determine proven winners in film/TV in Canada? WTF?
I proceeded to be difficult and kept asking questions: "But how many actual viewers (aka eyeballs) did their last TV series or television movie get? Or what was the actual box office take for the last feature film of said producer/filmmaker?"
Colleagues looked at me like I was nuts. Much whispering and headshaking. Well, I was told... we can't really use things like that to measure success here in Canada. We have to judge our successes 'differently'.
There's that freakin' word again.
But I guess it kinda makes sense...since almost EVERYONE (media, journalists, Joe 'Average Viewer' Public) treats Canadian TV and movies as 'different', and nobody really expects any of our shows/movies to actually 'hit'...it only follows that the system that finances them has to have a different set of criteria for whether to fund or back them.
I know its kinda always been that way, but all of a sudden it struck me as pretty messed up. And further discussion with my colleagues uncovered a real desire to have more substantial criteria in place in order to determine our 'proven winners', but these days, that would mean excluding almost everyone. And that's no good.
Which isn't to say there isn't great stuff out there...it just might not be particularily popular or accessible. Or if it happened to be popular and accessible, it wasn't necessarily that good. Sigh.
Of course, we do have exceptions to the rule. Recently, Brett Butt got the greenlight for a new series...that made sense. And some of the key creatives behind Corner Gas and Little Mosque and This Hour Has 22 Minutes also got the greenlight on a pilot...that also made sense. And I'm not trying to downplay the 'success' of shows like Flashpoint, but I'm trying to focus just on programs that are all around homegrown and not riding the thoroughbred that is the US/Hollywood machine right out of the gate. And I really don't want our only 'legitimate' success stories to be just U.S. network co-productions...
And I'm not stupid or naive...I know how things work up here. Many smarter than I have written about the problems and ways to make it all better. I know how hard it is to get any sort of decent marketing or promotional campaign in Canada; or any good 'primetime' slot for your homegrown TV series or TV movie; or a wide release or even screens in movie theatres for your indigenous feature. And I know these are all huge factors necessary to a decent shot at a hit or even an "audience", but still...c'mon. Should filling out a form properly for a funding agency, or getting accepted to a film festival, or receiving a positive review or an award nomination really be our most commonly used measures of 'success'?
I dunno....the bar needs to be higher.
"That's the truth. And that's no lie."
But who should be responsible for raising that bar....and why.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
TV has always defined itself at the intersection of time and real estate. It's that cubby in the primary focal point of the house, in the armoire at the foot of the bed, or in the corner of the gym. But it's also a human allocation of attention to a one-way televisual communication -- one that historically generates internalized emotions, and on rare occasion, reaction.
But in each and every instance and location, the element most necessary to qualify as TV, is an audience. And as the mass audience continues to dwindle, so, too, does TV's very existence (and its definition) become less meaningful.
Despite Les Moonves' cheerleading that "the model ain't broken," TV is, at a minimum, a medium that has lost its identity by allowing itself to be too many things to too many people. What it has failed to do is to fully embrace and enable communication among its consumers, its entertainers, and its sponsors.
Then he goes on to talk about hardware and interactivity...
With the digital-analog transition countdown now reduced to double digits, the TV will, for most people, soon become merely another "dumb" device with speakers -- a monitor with multiple inputs, for all intents and purposes. And like every other monitor we own, its usefulness is linked to the enabling hardware attached to it.
Truth be told, it's always been about the hardware. While the cable or satellite TV set top box tends to grab input A, as these monitors leave room for other connections, the threat to TV will continue to come from devices that provide for the most important input of all: CONSUMER INPUT.
Go read all of what Mr. Maggio has to say HERE...he certainly offers some interesting meat to chew on.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
By hiving off and making sure that Canadian TV is usually only talked about in this separate bubble, it subtly reinforces the point of view that it's something different, something, in the stentorian tones of my long-gone Catholic youth: something slightly unholy.
This kind of disconnect and separation is what allows a lot of the misapprehensions and fictions to keep bubbling through; it's what allows some people to turn up their noses at Trailer Park Boys and talk about it like it's an object of shame, and not a show that brings hordes of fans out every time the actors make a personal appearance. It's what allows a double standard where Canadian shows are judged (sometimes) by a harsher yardstick -- and 'judged' is probably the wrong word, what I really mean is "dismissed."
Go read the rest of what the big guy has to say.
And like DMc says, it extends far beyond just the media. I'll get into conversations with regular folk all the time about something I worked/am working on, and invariably I'll hear: "I've never heard of that!"; or "I didn't know that was Canadian."; or (and most commonly) "But it's Canadian, right?"...that last one being the big 'qualifier' or justification for why they didn't watch it.
And though we must take responsibility for the quality of the programs we put out there, the stigma is really hard to overcome. And it's instilled so young. A quick story.
Over the past five years my kids have watched Family Channel a lot. A LOT. And two "Canadian" shows made a positive impression...one was Radio Free Roscoe, the other was Life With Derek. The young 'uns were big fans of both programs, but I remember when it was revealed that they were homegrown. Really. Really? That was the almost 'in shock' response...it was like they heard me but didn't actually believe me.
They still watched...but it was like the experience was tainted somehow.
More recently, two other programs showed their true colours to the kids, Naturally Sadie and The Latest Buzz. They would watch these series, but not happily...really only to get through them until the next show came on (usually a Disney or Nickelodeon effort). I clearly remember when I recognized one of the writers or directors names and mentioned it aloud, and thus it came up that these two shows were also homegrown, and the venom that spewed forth from my youngsters was palatable. "I knew it! I knew they were Canadian...because they're just soooooo bad!"
My youngest aren't even teens and yet that's what had somehow been impressed upon them. How is this possible? I certainly don't walk around the house muttering: "Canadian TV and movies suck!" Where was this attitude and opinion coming from? I asked and got the usual criticisms: the shows looked cheap and not as slick or polished....the actors were weak (and remember, they're measuring 'acting' against Miley Cyrus or Jaime Lynn Spears)...but mostly, it was that the shows were just kinda lame.
I pointed out some American shows that seemed to fall into the category of 'lame', and got this sort of begrudging..."Yeah...I guess...but the Canadian shows also feel or seem 'different'."
That word again. And as you can guess, it wasn't 'different' in a good way. And in all of these examples, the kids didn't know the programs were from here initially, but discovering that definitely painted them in a negative light....lame somehow equaled Canadian.
Like Denis concludes, I don't know how to fix this problem either....but it's like it's ingrained in our DNA or something. And if the media at large treat our programs as different, that certainly can't help. Look, I know our stuff has to stand on its own two feet...and be able to measure up to American or UK/foreign programs in terms of quality and entertainment value. But if every single program we produce has been consciously or even subconsciously stamped with the label of: "Oh, but it's Canadian, right?", is it any wonder we're always running/(falling?) up that hill?
EDIT: Maclean's Jaime Weinman posted his thoughts on McGrath's piece the same time as me, and interestingly enough uses some of the same examples I did:
Some Canadian shows have, I think, managed to prove that there’s a way out of the ghetto. Kids’ shows especially. The viewers of the Family Channel don’t see The Latest Buzz or Life With Derek as CanCon; they see them as shows, no different from the American shows on the same network. They argue over whether they prefer the realistic family shows or the fantasy wish-fulfilment shows, not over whether they prefer American or Canadian product. For one thing, these shows don’t really identify themselves as Canadian. Not that they deny that they’re Canadian, but they don’t go out of their way to demonstrate it, and a new viewer doesn’t always know if they’re Canadian or not. Which is one way around the innate suspicion that Anglo-Canadian audiences have of their home-grown shows.
I would've thought the same thing about a lot of our kids shows being 'exempt' so to speak Jaime, if I hadn't witnessed otherwise.
Monday, December 08, 2008
El Caminito del Rey (The King's pathway) is a walkway or via ferrata, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Álora in Málaga, Spain. The walkway has now gone many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. It is one meter (3 feet) in width, and is over 200 meters (700 feet) above the river. Nearly all of the path has no handrail. After four people died in two accidents in 1999 and 2000, the local government closed the entrances; however, adventurous tourists still find their way into the walkway.
Personally, that's one walk I'd like to take myself...but I know a lot of people who wouldn't even be able to start up the hill, much less step one foot on the pathway. Watch this vid however, and they can a healthy dose of 'whoa' without fearing for their life.
To see what others have seen and experienced...amazing things that we may never see or experience ourselves...that's one wicked upside to the youtubes and the internets and such.
H/T to Aaron Moore
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Executive-produced by Lorne Michaels, the 300-minute tentpole will be helmed by Canadian-Armenian director Atom Egoyan, whose 1994 heavy-breather Exotica remains the only film about sex ever to emerge from the Great White North (the triple-X-rated ouevres of Peter North and Brandon Iron excluded).
Rounding out the cast will be Donald Sutherland, as a retired member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police whose border-side empire of duty-free shops becomes an underground railroad for draft-dodging Americans; Celine Dion, as a militant Québécois separatist who cuts ties with Morissette after she takes up with Aykroyd’s Ottawan bureaucrat; and Mike Myers, in full Dr. Evil mode, as a poutine-munching French-Canadian terror-cell leader plotting to kill the Queen of England during a royal visit to the Chateau Frontenac.
Read all the funny HERE.
H/T to NYbro
Friday, December 05, 2008
Because it makes me smile.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
On the other hand, maybe everyone is just preoccupied by more pressing and disconcerting issues....like our country's government meltdown, or the continuing global economy crisis, or the very real potential of a SAG strike.
Sheesh...taking all that into account, I should probably feel lucky anyone is visiting at all.
Anyway...who knows...have a smile as Charlie Brooker takes on adverts and Mad Men for Screenwipe.
Monday, December 01, 2008
Yesterday, DMc waxed on about fall TV and PVR's and the internets and the experiencing of one's television (and glad to see the big guy has managed to finally locate Super Channel on his dial), and it got me thinking about cable providers and the channels we get/have to take.
HBO is still considered the darling of premium pay television networks (even though Showtime and several cable nets are starting to challenge HBO's crown). And in Canada, we've been able to watch a lot of HBO's finer offerings via our own premium pay 'darling's', Movie Central and The Movie Network. MC and TMN had an exclusive deal with HBO to simulcast a lot of the US nets TV series and specials. A lot, but not all.
That is until recently when Corus and Astral Media (owners of MC and TMN) struck a deal with its southern partner in crime to replace one of their channels with HBO Canada.
I'm not sure if I like.
The upside: lots of wicked documentaries....several have really grabbed me, including Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas At The White House and Hard As Nails. And it's been cool getting to see shows I'd been hearing about but never viewed, like Summer Heights High (overrated); Little Britain USA (yet to really grab me); and Real Time with Bill Maher (entertaining though it completed its run after the election and won't be back on until March or something).
As for specials, I did rather enjoy Chris Rock's Kill The Messenger concert last night, though for the life of me didn't see the point of intercutting between three shows taped in New York, London, and Johannesburg --- I mean I got the point, but it really didn't have any impact). And I'm looking forward to Ricky Gervais' Out of England standup special airing next weekend.
The downside: REPEATS REPEATS REPEATS! In the past week alone, entire days were filled with full seasons played back to back to back (and then again later in the evening) of In Treatment or Curb Your Enthusiasm or Entourage --- and it was at least the third such 'day run' of these and other series since the network premiered in Canada only last month. Also, HBO Canada's pretty much all about the series and specials and docs, but movies...not so much. Which may not seem like that big a deal, but when we only get two HD channels from MC/TMN and one is now HBO Canada...it means not getting to watch a lot of theatrical releases in HD.
Personally, I find that kind of a drag.
And I understand, more and more, tee-vee viewing is becoming about HD viewing --- but it's still movies I enjoy most watching in HD. Less opportunity to see feature films in HD takes away one of the big reasons why I subscribed to Movie Central. And when you calculate into the equation the fact that HBO seems to be sliding downward from its heyday of creating and producing ground-breaking innovative entertaining series (sorry True Blood - you ain't no Six Feet Under)...I wonder if this was the right time for one of TMN/MC's coveted HD channel slots to go 'all HBO all the time'.
Not that we have any choice in the matter...yet.
(oh, and PVR's need bigger hard drives...mine's always full....just sayin')