Friday, 8 February 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #45: Woe Canada Part 2

All righty.

Yesterday I talked about how the Canadian Film Industry excels at doing one thing, missing opportunities, and now I'm going to talk about one of Canada's other biggest problems.

It's inbreeding.

Now I'm not saying that the folks in the Canadian film industry are a bunch of cousin-marrying hicks with a gene pool the size of a shot glass, so let me explain.

I've often said that the Hollywood film business is too focused on an isolated, narrow group of people, well the Canadian film/TV business is 10 times more isolated and narrow.

e an industry where all TV shows and movies are written by the same dozen or so people. Where actors who star on one show, have regular supporting roles in other shows. Where the annual Canadian film awards basically give prizes to a rotating circle of the same people every year, year after year. They make the recent Oscars look like the People's Choice Awards.

And the industry is completely closed off to any new talent coming into the scene.

A good example was a group called The Foundation the Underwrite New Drama. They opened with a lot of fanfare declaring that they were going to bring "new writers" into the Canadian Film Indust

I w
as in film school and was looking into breaking into the industry, so I called up The F.U.N.D., and asked them what it took to qualify as a "new writer."

Here's what they told me.

In order to qualify as a "new writer" you had to have had written two feature films that were produced and released in theatres on your curricula vitae.

Think about that for a second.

Did you figure out the cognitive dissonance in that statement?

In order to be considered a "new writer" in Canada you actually have to be an old writer.*

Now imagine an entire industry that thinks like that.

Hollywood is different.

Despite being extremely hard to break into, Hollywood is constantly looking
for the new, the novel, and the catchy, because they are based on commercial appeal. If you have something they think they can sell to the public, then you actually have a chance.

Canada's film industry is based up being appealing to government bureaucrats who run the funding agencies, and they militantly prefer the familiar, not matter how dull, over the new, the novel and the catchy. The public, also known as the audience, has no real say over these decisions.

So you see the same faces on the screen, and the same names in the credits. It's come to a point where familiarity has bred contempt, with Canadian films being unable to play in their own country.

ow this 'scene' is based mostly in Toronto, with an outpost in Vancouver whose existence is barely tolerated because of the city's popularity as a Hollywood location, but woe betide anyone from outside that narrow scene.

Which reminds me of the story of Don Messer's Jubilee. The CBC program was a variety show specializing in homespun country and traditional folk music. It was old fashioned, it was hokey, but it was also the Number 1 show in Canada.

It was also produced in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

That was the kiss of death.

Despite the show's ongoing success and popularity it was cancelled at the first opportunity by the Toronto based CBC. The only logical explanation for its cancellation was that they didn't want anyone outside of the narrow Toronto scene to be so dominant on the airwaves.

Sure, other shows have been made outside of Toronto, and some, like the satirical news show This Hour Has 22 Minutes have been successful, but for those shows it is a constant struggle to survive no matter what the ratings say. The tactics used today include under-promotion, constant time-slot changes, and budget cuts.

Some breaks have occurred in this untenable system, thanks to the success of Western prairie produced sitcom Corner Gas on the private CTV network. But the Toronto elite still dominate the publicly owned CBC and have immense influence with the funding agencies.

Will any of this change any-time soon?

I don't think so.


*In fact, at that time (about 10 years ago) the only Canadian writer under 40 that I knew of who could qualify was Don Mckellar, and that was because at he was writing and appearing in just about everything in Canadian film, TV, and theatre throughout the 90s and 00s. While he is a talented guy and his show Twitch City was an oddball classic, it's not healthy for an entertainment industry to be based on such a small group.

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