Monday, September 29, 2008

Is it just me or has anybody else noticed that we are being totally disrespected and taken for granted by CTV, Global and their holdings? Although I have never been a major fan of CBC, at least they are providing the only oasis of Canadian programming or for that matter new programming anywhere on the dial? That even they are slipping into American domination in a bid to be relevant... that and to meet their budget cut backs - American program dumping works very well in that regard with few complaints.

Our nights are populated with ONE drama followed by a "reality show" of some stripe - pick your channel its all the same. If we are lucky there might be a later drama at 10 PM to round it out but don't count on it. That and the drama is 9 times out of 10 a rerun!

What happened to the CRTC requirements for a specific amount of prime time dramatic programming? Has there been an official relaxing of the rules or have the networks just been sliding it in to see if anyone notices or even cares? Have we abandoned TV? Is it no longer relevant to anyone? I have noticed that my kids are more and more taking to the Internet because there is nothing on TV that they want to watch.

This really becomes a chicken and egg thing. The programming wasn't there due to various programming snafus - strikes etc., that kept putting off any serious amount of new programming for about three years now - that dribbled the audience away, then the networks noticed that the audiences weren't there to support their advertising revenues, so with ad revenues in the lurch they pull back on programming which further leads to the erosion of an audience who get really tired of "still nothing on".

Without someone being willing to build an audience with a properly developed show and to give it more than three weeks to grow where are we headed? Is the government as aware of these numbers as the networks and are they using this for their justification of pulling back on funding for training and marketing? That they perhaps, see no future in it? Especially if there is an, as yet unannounced, official policy in the works (would need a majority government to accomplish) to allow total American ownership of our networks!

Why is the programming focus being totally slanted toward teen viewers and ignoring the current largest block of demographics ever - the baby boomers? We still watch TV, disgusted as we are by a lack of fresh material - we are after all the TV generation. We totally prove the point that we opt for the least offensive programming - that is, lacking a program we want to watch we will cruise the offerings until we arrive at a program that is the most acceptable amongst the plethora of drek that is there.

Where is Marshall McLuhan when we need him? If the medium is the message... OY!! Not good news these days!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Over on the CBC site there is a lot of commentary activity over the last couple of days about "arts funding" specifically referencing the film and television business. The main complaint seems to focus around the idea that if what the film/TV industry produced was any good it would be able to stand on its own two feet.

These are all good points and if placed within the context of an uninfluenced marketplace it would make sense to all concerned. Unfortunately we are not in a free marketplace. We are not free to see our own movies on our own theatre screens, even if we were to somehow manage to do the impossible and finance them with our own money, and that of our families and friends. The movie houses are almost totally controlled either through investment/ownership or by intricate distribution deals where the theatre chains are virtually penalized for not showing the current crop of American Super Movies. Bluntly put, unless you go from town hall to town hall with your movies in the trunk of your car, and show them yourself at destination to destination there is no place to show our own homegrown self produced films! The same challenge exists for Canadian made TV shows. Prime time is dominated by American made product - dumped at comparatively low prices on Canadian Networks which have become nothing more than extensions of the American systems.

The American industry actually believes that it has the right to control the screens of the world and to dictate their viewing habits. Where their presence didn't exist before they are now intruding into the newly developing markets in India and China.

Yet the American Industry itself has gone from an arts based industry to a totally monetized model driven by Wall Street greed (we can all see where Wall Street has been going in the last few weeks). That model dictates that everything must have a guaranteed rate of return - the Wall Street solution has been to increase the budgets ever higher to the point where the usual summer blockbuster now costs around 200 million to produce. Almost as much is invested into promotion and advertising. It is a model out of control but we in Canada exist under the shadow of that economic monster.

It has gotten so out of hand that George Lucas said about a year ago that he was abandoning the mega movie rat race and going into low budget production - launching his own video on demand service in the process. If anybody can do it he can.

But I digress. This is the reason that Canadian government subsidy is required. On our own, our population base is too small to compete. A bit of history. Initially Hollywood was populated by a small group of predominantly Canadian entrepreneurs who went to Hollywood and created the Studio empires that ultimately flourished. A natural extension of that system was the distribution companies that were part of that growth - that and a natural desire to make sure that the people back home got to see their movies... naturally they wanted to make as much money as possible from their ventures.

The result was a Canadian network of distribution companies that were owned and fed by Hollywood. That network has been challenged at times to allow Canadian product - particularly by Garth Drabinski, who through the creation of the Cineplex empire, broke the American monopoly if only for a little while. When the American behemoth returned it returned with a vengeance. Just try and get an award winning Canadian film on a movie screen anywhere near you.

This is the key reason why there has been government involvement in the film industry since at least the late 60's if not longer. If you consider the National Film Board, government participation in the industry goes way back. Our population base has always been too small to make the kind of returns necessary to compete on an equal footing with the American market. Therefore the government stepped in and provided incentives to assist in the production of Canadian stories. This assistance allowed us to create an industry that today, is providing about 5 billion dollars annually to the Canadian economy.

That and previous governments understood the value of having and displaying our own culture to the rest of the world. A point that seems to be lost on Mr. Harper and the current crop of Conservatives. On the other hand, I imagine that if an MP disagreed with the party position they would be shut down very quickly by the "boss".

Yes you get the farmer in Saskatchewan, and the bible belt rednecks in Alberta and Nova Scotia up in arms about the kind of movies being supported, I mean, after all when you have a shock driven film maker release a movie with the title "Young People Fucking" you are going to get a negative reaction regardless of how tame the movie really was, but the bottom line is this: For every dollar that the Canadian Government puts forward as an economic stimulant its own figures show that it receives a minimum of four dollars (or more) back through the economic multiplier effect. In Alberta they discovered that in some cases it was closer to eight dollars in economic effect. Stelmach is looking like a convert to the reality that there is a strong economic argument for supporting the arts. We'll see on that one.

So where does that leave us? We have a Prime Minister who marginalizes our efforts and importance in our own country and markets, and at the same time guarantees failure on the international level by cutting the support for off shore marketing and future training. Some would call that self fulfilling prophecy! Niche market indeed!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What is Stephen Harper thinking? Here is a man who generally has a measured and calculated approach to every move he makes. Nothing is by chance, nothing is without design. So what is the grand design behind the systematic elimination of the Canadian Film Industry? It doesn't make any sense. Here you have a man who willingly mugs the camera at almost any request for a guest appearance. Here you have a man who, in the past, has spoken if not in glowing terms about the industry in Canada, at least in positive reference.

His recent statements that the industry is characterized by glitzy festivals is only partially true. Sure the trappings look great, but if he has ever gotten close to the behind the scenes of such events he would realize that everything is rented.

Its all smoke and mirrors Mr. Harper. When we walk the red carpet, few of us have the money to buy the clothes we wear and are generally handsomely outfitted in loaned or rented clothes. The clothiers and couturiers are more than happy to gain the exposure such events afford and eagerly push their wares onto the backs of the willing for the night. Its great advertising. We don't object, it makes us look fabulous and feel fabulous - sometimes only for once in a career of hardship and poverty.

There are probably more writers, filmmakers, artists and actors that live below the poverty line in Canada than in any other developed country. I'd like to see somebody do the real numbers on that. I bet you'd be very surprised Mr. Harper. Rich artists indeed!

From coast to coast I hear almost daily of the plight of my fellow filmmakers, losing their houses, losing their cars, and most tragic of all, giving up on their dreams and their careers. Please don't forget that these are careers that Canada encouraged us to engage in, to commit to. These are careers that Canada poured millions into, and by doing so created an industry that equaled the proficiency of Hollywood itself. So much so that the MPIAA objected, the Unions and activists south of the border protested our success.

What happened Mr. Harper? Did we get sold out? Is this all part of a grand plan to eliminate the Canadian industry? Is this part of the American takeover of our movie screens, our Television networks and of our culture? Is this the final footnote to the Goldman Sachs buyout of the Canwest Global Alliance Atlantis deal? Is our culture and our individuality not worth protecting?

We understand that the Canadian dollar went to par, we understand that there are considerations other than the movie and television industries, but when the oil & gas industry (such poor fellows) can be government supported and continuously given tax breaks, is it too much to ask that we get a little consideration? That the minor gestures you had been making were worth leaving in place? That it actually made a difference to the viability of our industry abroad?

A speech about "these are tough economic times" when pestered by journalists about the treatment of the arts doesn't cut it. Not when your next speech is about how strong the economy is in Canada and how we all need to stay positive. Which is it Mr. Harper?

All we want Mr. Harper, is to be given a bit of a break to create the projects that we know are competitive in the international marketplace. Instead of stripping what little we have away from us you should be topping up some of the funds that were there and already moderately successful - make the programs actually work for Canadian producers!

Most Producers in this country have been starving since at least 2003 when the last grandfathered (and yes, much abused) tax shelters were retired. In order to make their financing work, most Producers have to pay themselves first in order to qualify for the maximum tax credits, then they have to loan that money back to the projects they are trying succeed with.

That leaves the production companies with money to get the projects running but it doesn't leave anything for the actual Producers to live on. That usually ends up being a personal line of credit, if they are fortunate enough to be able qualify for a line of credit... No Mr. Harper, you need to examine the true state of the arts industry before you start making statements that don't befit a man of your intellect and stature or the Prime Minister of Canada.

All we want is to be treated fairly and given a chance to compete on a no longer level playing field, we ask that you look at what our needs are and actually help us to achieve the greatness that we are capable of.

As Gordon Pinsent said yesterday "we need to be the landlords of our industry, not the tenants!" Bless you Gordon!

Joe Thornton,
Starving Producer

ACTRA challenges parties to stop the cuts and stand up for Canadian culture

September 24, 2008 - TORONTO - Canada's top film and television actors gathered for an ACTRA press conference condemning cuts to arts funding and attempts to censor film and TV productions. Performers called on political leaders to start taking Canada's cultural industry seriously. The arts contribute $85 billion dollars and one million jobs to the Canadian economy each year.

"Our culture and our jobs are under attack by a government that wants to cut arts funding, censor our work and allow increased foreign ownership," said actor Wendy Crewson. "Culture is critical to our identity as a country and is a huge part of our economy. These policies are job killers and artists will not stand by and allow these attacks on our industry to continue without a fight."

Actors spoke out against the Conservative government's $50 million in cuts to arts programs and its attempts to censor films with Bill C-10, as well as the need to tell more Canadian stories on-screen - issues that have galvanized artists across the country. The actors also drew attention to the alarming potential for foreign ownership of Canada's media industry in light of Prime Minister Harper's recent announcement that a Conservative government would relax foreign-ownership rules.

"Our cultural identity is being allowed to slip away. We are challenging leaders to demonstrate that they recognize the critical contribution that culture makes to our lives," said actor Colm Feore. "We're also asking Canadians to look at what the parties are saying about the arts and vote for candidates who will protect our culture and speak up for artists - not silence us."

ACTRA members spoke out against 20 years of governments' allowing arts issues to fall by the wayside. ACTRA has issued a questionnaire to each political party asking parties to specify their commitments and will publish the results in early October. They called on parties to follow through on their promises about arts and culture if they are elected.

"We're running out of time: we need a government that will stand behind artists and make protecting Canada's unique culture a priority." said Feore.

Actors participating in the press conference included: Charlotte Arnold (Naturally Sadie), Chris Bolton (Rent-A-Goalie), Raoul Bhaneja (The Dresden Files), Martha Burns (Slings & Arrows), Catherine Disher (The Border), Jayne Eastwood (Billable Hours), Art Hindle (M.V.P.), Richard Hardacre (ACTRA National President), Tabby Johnson (The Sentinel), Maria Del Mar (Terminal City), Miriam McDonald (Degrassi), Gordon Pinsent(Away from Her), Leah Pinsent(Made in Canada), Chris Potter (Heartland), Karl Pruner (ACTRA Toronto President), Wayne Robson (The Red Green Show), Michael Seater (Life with Derek), Alberta Watson (The Border), and Maurice Dean Wint (ReGenesis).

ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) is the national organization of professional performers working in the English-language recorded media in Canada. ACTRA represents the interests of 21,000 members across Canada - the foundation of Canada's highly acclaimed professional performing community.

For immediate release

Toronto, 15 August 2008...The Directors Guild of Canada has written the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to protest the recent abolition of two international cultural promotion programs, Trade Routes and PromArt, designed to assist the arts and the cultural industries gain access to foreign markets. The relatively small investments made by these programs have generated large returns over the years, and their loss will severely limit the ability of the film, television and new media sector to explore and exploit foreign marketing possibilities.

"We are gravely concerned by these recent decisions," said Sturla Gunnarsson, acclaimed director and President of the Guild, "and will be seeking meetings with both Ministers to encourage their reconsideration. Given the size of our market and the current state of our industry, now is the time to strengthen, not abolish, such key programs," he went on to say.

The $4.7 million PromArt program administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the $9.0 million Trade Routes program of the Department of Canadian Heritage have played a vital role in enabling organizations and individuals from the film, television and new media industry explore and exploit international marketing opportunities.

The federal government also announced this week the termination of the $2.5 million National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector and support to the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, both programs administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The loss of these programs is of similarly great concern to the Guild.

DGC National Executive Director and CEO Brian Anthony said "Now is the time for the federal government to recommit to its vitally important role in the cultural life of Canada, and reinforce its programs of direct and indirect investment. Thanks to federal partnership, we have accomplished much in recent decades," Anthony added, "and need to work together to build on our accomplishments and forge a more vibrant and competitive future for our sector."

The film, television and new media industry in 2006-2007 accounted for just under 5 billion dollars, and generated 126,900 jobs - - 48,800 directly involved in production and 78,100 in providing goods and services to the production industry. That year, a total of 9,090 hours of Canadian television programming was produced, as well as 96 theatrical films.

About the Directors Guild of Canada
The Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) is a national labour organization that represents over 3,800 key creative and logistical personnel in the film and television industry covering all areas of direction, design, production and editing. The DGC negotiates and administers collective agreements and lobbies extensively on issues of concern for members including Canadian content conditions, CRTC regulations and ensuring that funding is maintained for Canadian film and television programming.