Monday, June 15, 2009

This Knob Wants Names!

I had a few more Banff posts I wanted to do, like notes from a couple of really wicked 'Making and Pitching Children's TV' panels I attended which I'll try to get up eventually. Instead I'm gong to relate a couple of introductory incidents from the festival that were seemingly insignificant...or were they?

One involved being introduced to a small group including some mid-level network execs, and one of them remarked: "Ah, Will of the bloggers." It was said with a small smile, but I felt like the subtext was: " of the crazies...or difficult ones...or one of the snobs even." Are we the snobs? God I hope not. We're just talking here on the blog circuit...trying to share and educate and discuss and kibitz...seriously, that's all.

But it took me back to the recent NY Times article where Flashpoint exec producer Anne Marie La Traverse (I know I swore I'd leave this one alone, but still...) was quoted as saying: “There's a snobbery about commercial shows here, among writers particularly,” La Traverse said. “Everyone dreams of doing a dark HBO series. There's a resistance. It took us a while to find writers who embraced this shape,” she added, “and wanted to be accessible, relatable, heroic, emotional, all the choices we really wanted to make.”

Really. Really?

TV writer Denis McGrath, another blogger, took exception, and then our friend John Doyle at Globe & Mail joined the fray and defended the Flashpoint exec's comments:

Thing is, La Traverse is correct, as I see it. Yes, many members of the tribe of Canadian TV writers take themselves very, very seriously indeed. They complain constantly. They complain about network executives and producers. They complain that their work is being diluted and diminished by people who are not, you know, artists. They complain about press coverage of their work. They complain about the lack of promotion for their work, often without reason. Most are decent, interesting people, devoted to creating really good television. But some of them make up the biggest chip-on-the-shoulder bunch in the entire arts and entertainment world. There are a few who sneer outright at those Canadian shows that are a commercial success. There are some who are, as La Traverse says, outright snobs.
Really John? Really?

I want names. Seriously. I want to know who the TV writer snobs are out there, because I sure don't know any.

I mean, I know what I am...I'm a mid-level TV writer/director/producer with some worthy credits on my resume, and some less than worthy credits (like the MAJORITY of anyone working in Canadian TV has). But I will say most of them are of the commercial variety...and snobbery hasn't really entered into the equation. During April's WGC Awards night in Toronto, I was pleasantly surprised to run into so many TV writers that I'd met, worked with, directed or written for, hired even, over the past fifteen years or so of what I'd like to call a career. And I'm pretty certain that, like me, none of them turned ever down a gig because they felt they were above the material.

In fact, yet another TV writer and blogger, Jim Henshaw, tells it like it is and more in his brilliant post Mexicans In Sweaters (MUST READ, HERE)

Now we’re “complainers” or we’re “difficult” or we’re “snobs”. Like the creeds and nationalities and races before us, it’s easier for some to snigger that somebody thinks they’re Hemingway or Shakespeare or Frank McCourt than to figure out if they, perhaps, just might be.

It’s always easier to be arrogantly dismissive than to engage those who don’t share your world view as possible equals.

I’ve run shows and hired writers in a half dozen countries over the last 25 years. Hundreds of writers. And unlike some of our current successes, many of the shows I ran were pure, unadulterated crap. ‘Cleavage and Dinosaurs’ as I’m wont to describe the formula.

But even if the shows I was working on demanded vivid decapitations, misogyny or ridiculous leaps of logic, I’ve never had a single writer turn me down because they thought they were better than the show.

They turned me down because they were busy, absolutely hated the show or didn’t think they could write a good script for it.

Not one ever gave the least impression the material was beneath them.

That’s because good writers know that nothing is an unworthy subject nor is there a title that might not come in handy on their resume someday.


Of course Denis fired back again at Doyle, and La Traverse and Doyle are certainly entitled to their opinion, but this sniping back and forth without naming names or citing examples is ultimately as fruitless and useless as CanWest Global's Barb Williams outlining how the Canadian TV biz really works to the CRTC during the recent in-camera meetings, and inferring that the creatives in this country just don't get it...and then having the entire passage WE WON'T KNOW WHAT SHE SAID! AND THEREFORE WON'T KNOW WHAT WE APPARENTLY DON'T GET!

(I hope you've saved your pdf copy of said transcripts, because not only were they redacted further after they were initially released, but now they've been taken down completely)


Anyway, the other Banff introductory incident I wanted to relate was a somewhat sheepish but excited CTV network exec sidling over to me and McGrath while we were at the Western BBQ and exclaiming: "Fanboy alert! Fanboy alert!" Denis and I kinda just looked at him as he introduced himself and continued: "I just have to shake the hands of two of my favourite bloggers, especially seeing the both of you live and in person and offline. Very cool."

We yakked with him for a while. Had a few laughs. That's not how snobs behave, is it?

Now if La Traverse or Doyle had said there are some Canadian TV writers that are outright knobs...well, I'd definitely be put in my place. Just sayin...maybe it was a typo.

I still want names though.


ron oliver said...

great post Will.

The one thing i would add is, in my humble experience, the difference between a Canadian writer and an American writer (or a Canadian who has lived/worked in the US trenches for any length of time) is the "conflict" factor.

Every Canadian feature script i have read in the past five years takes 25-30 conflict-free pages before anything really happens. As a species, Canadians abhor conflict...and this seems to make it into the scripts. It's a hard habit to break.

instead of conversations, they should be arguments. instead of handshakes, punches or slaps. you get the idea...

granted there are exceptions but it would have made for a few rather interestingly violent episodes of "Anne of Green Gables" certainly....

blindmind said...

Hadn't thought of it that way - was too busy contemplating the abject silliness of it all.

Good point. Snobbery is, most often, not a luxury that we can afford.

And now I must return to the writing of what will (hopefully) prove to be a very commercial show for CBC. Which, yes, this knob loves writing for.

Thanks to Mr. Oliver's perceptive comment, I'm also going to pitch an ultra commercial high-concept "Anne of Green Gables" meets "UFC" show.

"Anne of Ultimate Blood Red Gables"

It sells itself.

Please e-mail me with development money as soon as time permits.

Ryan said...

What? They took down the transcripts? But they were full of so much valuable information!

Alex Epstein said...

Seriously, Ron? That's just bad writing. You need to read better Canadian scripts.

I just optioned a romcom in which, in the first ten pages, the girl gets kicked out in the street by her boyfriend. I just optioned a thriller in which a guy kills his mistress in the first ten pages. I just read one in which a government official is kidnapped in the first page. A friend of mine has a script which starts with a horrific, bloody car crash. Another guy I know starts his script with someone imprisoned in a concrete box.

Who are you getting these conflict-free scripts from?