Monday, October 06, 2008

This is an item that I posted on another board. Thought it made a couple of worthwhile points.

Re: The Arts

Okay I shall take a deep breath, and prepare myself for what lays ahead...

I am a film maker. I am a writer. The question isn't really "should our tax dollars go to pay for 'the collective arts' but about whether or not we want a Canadian culture to survive the Conservative cultural holocaust".

The heart and soul of any country is its identifiable cultural differences with its neighbors. The short answer is really a question. Do you value our cultural differences enough to want to support it with tax dollars? Remember that we finance other ethnic multi-cultural activities and have for several decades in the form of direct grants to community based ethnic groups - at one time these were as high as 250 million per year - I have no idea where spending is at now.

We used to produce our own prime time television shows, now we watch American made TV almost non-stop. Is that your preference or do you believe that maybe we could benefit from a Canadian slant on the content there?

Bluntly the whole thing comes down to numbers. The USA has over 330 million people to consume whatever they put forward. We have about 33 million. We cannot financially support the making of shows that are of the quality that people want to watch on the 99 cent budgets that our available Canadian sales would allow. The average cost of making a one hour TV episode is about 1.4 million dollars. Using the Canadian yardstick we can garner about 400,000 from selling to a Canadian network. That's a big shortfall. As a result the government supports (or at least it used to) part of the production costs in order to help us be competitive and to produce material that you might like to watch. It also allows us to make shows that we can sell to the US if we are fortunate, and certainly gives us an advantage when we sell to other English speaking countries. Without it you get wildlife documentaries, endless HGTV shows, Big Brother type fare and other so called Reality shows.

To make things worse, the government didn't help when it allowed the mergers and buyouts of several possible markets that used to give us additional finance for production - now they are all part of a single conglomerate. With the CTV acquisition of the CHUM empire and the Global TV buyout of the Alliance Atlantis group we have thirty four less networks/outlets that we as content producers could get sales revenue from. To be fair about five of those channels were resold to Rogers or other groups due to market overlap which isn't allowed, so lets say that leaves us with a loss of twenty nine markets.

The way it works now, two years after the fact is that both Global and CTV buy a show once and recycle it forever amongst their endless layers of specialty channels - you might already have noticed that it is running material on the main CTV channels that originated on Discovery Channel or from other channels that it acquired. The same goes for their competitors. “By sharing programming across our multiple platforms we see opportunities for ratings growth which we expect will ultimately drive advertising revenue growth,” said Leonard Asper of Global TV. Global TV's purchase netted it 13 specialty channels with the Alliance Atlantis buyout.

From a CEO's position this is actually commendable thinking. If the goal were to reduce production spending you couldn't do much better than this - or was that what this was all about - allow the amalgamation of the channels then you don't have to put out as much assistance re: Government spending and allocations... hmmmm... I wonder... nah, they aren't that smart and forward thinking... are they??

Although good for the bottom lines on the CTV and Global balance sheets it further dilutes active production possibilities in Canada.

Right now its looking as though the Conservatives will likely open the ownership of our media companies to foreign acquisition. Something that will most probably kill the future for any aspiring local film makers since the majority of Canadian hopefuls are denied access to Hollywood, even though we have eagerly welcomed their projects here. One exception to that scenario is, if you arrive in Hollywood with a suitcase full of money. You are an instant member of the old boys club! At least until your money is spent!

Only after Canadian actors reach a modest level of fame are they welcomed stateside on H1 Visas - that carries a unique and distinctive clause regarding their work and recognition (and for any others of us wanting to work down there). That fame or notoriety was gained by working on Canadian films - the possibilities of which are likely dead now - unless the Americans open the border allowing us to work down there, you may have seen the last crop of Canadian actors in Hollywood.

Yes its that serious. I have spent my whole life working in the industry that Canada invested millions in developing over the last 35 years. Is it all to be for nothing? All of the sacrifices, all of the hardship now to be written off because of what appears to be misguided party principles?

Three years ago the industry was worth over 6 billion dollars a year. Last years figures show us just over 5 billion. This is not a fledgling industry in terms of the income that it brings back to the government in personal tax dollars. It is estimated by the government itself that for every dollar invested in the industry it gets back at least 4 dollars. In Alberta they have stated that it is closer to 8 dollars that they get back. That sounds like good business with more than adequate investment returns to me. To blindly ignore that fact smacks of blatant disregard for the viability of the industry and allows for bible belt vigilantism against their pet target - the infamous Hollywood Babylon.

To maintain Canada's cultural industries requires a deliberate act of public policy and is bought at a cost, just as a policy and a cost are involved in maintaining roads in good repair.

Government spokespersons have mentioned groups like “Holy Fuck” and commentator Gwynne Dyer or filmmaker Avi Lewis, former CBC host and husband of author Naomi Klein (joined Al Jazeera) or the movie "Young People Fucking". Department employees were forbidden to see the movie, but as it turned out it was a very tame show with more skin seen during CTVs prime time 'Desperate Housewives', the most controversial aspect being the title of the project itself. Fil Fraser, temporary Chair of Telefilm at the time funding was approved, said that the title was chosen in hopes that the buzz would generate an audience in the theatres. It certainly generated buzz but still didn't fill theatres. All this as indications that the recipients of support from the program may not reflect well on Canada internationally

There are two critical errors in this rationale. First of all the program is operated by public servants who make funding recommendations to senior officials and all such decisions are ultimately made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is not a case of some “wonky” peer assessment process deliberately trying to be outrageous or casting the Department in an unfavourable light. If the recipients appear controversial, it is not their fault – they did not jerry-rig the system to receive support. Secondly, it has been established that with a number of the “outrageous” examples quoted, recipients had not in fact applied for the travel grants (in the case of the international marketing programs) but had responded specifically to an invitation made to them by the Department itself!

A tempest in a teapot, but regardless, it does not bode well for anyone wanting to maintain a future in the content creation industry in Canada all because the current government decided to pull back on its involvement in the arts. It appears to be an internal religious fundamentalist streak that believes anything to do with Hollywood is the devils work.

Interesting how most of them have no problem watching American TV shows...

To be sure one can live on a diet of salt pork and biscuits but as countless sailors have discovered over the centuries, going without veggies causes ones teeth to fall out... just as a steady diet of Americanisms can cause one to start humming the Star Spangled Banner and be struck with a sudden to desire to invade Iraq.


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