Archive for April 2010
Canadian Film & Television
Many Canadian actors, writers and directors have established a considerable presence in the American movie and television business since the very beginning.
Talented Canadians have been migrating to Hollywood to make movies for as long as there have been movies. Naturally. If you wanted to be in pictures, that’s where you had to go.
They called her “America’s Sweetheart,” for her movie acting, but she was also a hard headed business woman who was producing her own films early on, going on to co-found United to ensure she maintained her autonomy. Toronto born Mary Pickford, was actually a Canadian girl.
Over time things have changed and today films are made all over the world.
The National Film Board of Canada became a world leader in documentary film making. NFB documentaries and short films have won many Oscars over the years.
The Sheridan College Animation Program offered at the Oakville, Ontario Campus has long been considered one of the best animation schools in the world – and in fact the prime source of Disney animators. Home grown animation companies like Toronto’s Nelvana produce and export a large proportion of children’s programming globally.
On the Home Front
It has traditionally been difficult for Canadian movies and television programming to compete with American fare. Partly because so much Canadian talent has flowed south of the border, but Cancon rules have made it worse by engendering a lack of confidence in Canadian productions .
Initially the fledgling Canadian movie and TV industry was behind in technical expertise. Remember how 1970′s Canadian television programming and films were conspicuous because of the tinny sound? But by the 1980′s the Canadian film and television industry was undergoing change. Thanks in part to the exchange rate which kept the Canadian dollar lower than the American dollar, budget conscious American productions began flowing north across the border.
Today the world acknowledges Canada as the new Hollywood North, boasting a qualified film & TV workforce and decent production facilities. No less a personage than The Terminator er California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to fight to keep American productions out of Canada (and coincidentally in California).
Although it was a successful prime time Canadian Television series, Night Heat was actually a Canadian/American co-production. Great care was taken to place the series in an unspecified North American city in an attempt to make the series acceptable in both countries. In fact, the only North American City that Night Heat could not have taken place in was Toronto, since in one episode the heroes travel to Toronto for a CN Tower chase scene. Of course in reality Toronto was where the series was actually made.
Economically the Canadian film industry may be holding its own, but that isn’t the biggest problem. Although American driven Canadian productions may employ Canadians they are American productions creating American culture. Even when working on Canadian soil it seems Canadians contribute to American culture.
Due South was set in Chicago, and Fraser frequently wears the distinctive RCMP red serge uniform in the series, where he works with Chicago police detective Ray Vecchio. Although Fraser and his pet wolf Diefenbaker are usually the only nominal Canadian in the show, there is never any question that Fraser is the hero of the piece.
Although American audiences liked the show, CBS decided to pull out. But because it was a big hit in Canada and abroad financing was found to keep it running for a few more years.
I wrote a bit about the Canadian talent-drain in copycon: the continuing saga.
As with musicians, Wikipedia also has a Wikipedia: List of Canadian Actors.
But it isn’t just actors, there are a great many successful Canadians working behind the scenes in Hollywood as well.
Why do so many talented Canadians flock to the States?
Quebec has long had a rich Francophone dramatic film and television tradition precisely because of its distinct language and culture.
This most probably accounts for the fact that many of the best Canadian feature films like The Triplets of Belleville, Bon Cop Bad Cop and Maurice Richard [English Title: The Rocket] and Polytechnique have come out of Quebec.
Quest for Fire, an excellent film set before language as we know it existed was made in Canada.
Canadian director Ivan Reitman’s hit film Meatballs was his last Canadian feature before disappearing into Hollywood to make movies like Ghostbusters, Legal Eagles and Twins. Sometimes Canadians get pretty good English language feature films, like Passchendaele, or Nurse.Fighter.Boy.
An interesting Canadian film I’m looking forward to seeing is Before Tomorrow, the first feature film made by the Women’s Inuit film Collective Arnait Video Productions. I was very impressed with the trailer on the Genie Award site
Canada is sadly in the position of having a single first run movie theatre distribution network for the whole of Canada. Which means there is no competition at all. It’s a monopoly. When a popular Canadian movie like Passchendaele or Bon Cop Bad Cop is released, there is little chance of becoming a blockbuster because these films don’t get the opportunity. Their Canadian theatrical runs are very short.
Interestingly enough, there are no “Cancon” regulations for movie theatres. Particularly since we’re down to a monopoly, wouldn’t this be the perfect place to insist on Canadian content?
Canadian television has been producing increasingly good television fare. Like the CBC mini-series The Arrow. Series like Slings and Arrows which has inspired a Brazillian version, Less Than Kind and 18 to Life.
Canadians are capable of creating good movies and television. Why has there been so little of it?
How much of the problem comes down to perception. In spite of all of this evidence to the contrary, Canadians don’t think Canadian television or movies are generally very good. After all, if Canadian film and television was good, there wouldn’t be any need for Canadian Content regulations.
This perception first makes it hard to raise the money needed to create television or movies, and again to distribute them.
The advent of the Internet has opened up new distribution venues for Canadian film and video. This can only bode well for Canadian Culture.
[Novel permitting, I hope to publish the conclusion of this article Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 3] next week.]
Mary Pickford photo in the public domain, original made available from Library and Archives Canada: Celebrating Women’s Achievements Mary Pickford photo © Public Domain
Canadian Content regulations haven’t turned out so well for Canadian Culture. In the music industry, Canadian Content – called “Cancon” – is indicated on a recording by way of the MAPL symbol which appears on the record album dust jacket or CD tray card to indicate the percentage of Canadian Content per recording.
Elements of any recording are broken into four segments:
M is for the composer of the Music
A is for the Artist
P is for the Performance recorded in Canada, or performed and broadcast live in Canada
L is for the composer of the Lyrics.
25% for the Nylons themselves as Canadian principal Artists, 25% for Performance– recording it in our home and native land. But non-Canadians Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the Lyrics & Music.
When Michael Kaeshammer records his own compositions in Canada, the recording would be considered 100% Canadian Content. Yet there is no MAPL designation at all on the Michael Kaeshammer Lovelight CD I bought last year at a jazz festival. Why wouldn’t an internationally renowned Canadian performer want a MAPL designation?
So What’s the problem?
The very existence of Canadian Content regulations indicates a lack of confidence that Canadian Content can compete in Canada on the basis of merit alone.
CanCon quotas assume that not only would Canadian DJs choose not to play Canadian music, but Canadians consumers wouldn’t willingly listen to it either.
CanCon rules tell the world that Canadian content is so bad that the only way anything Canadian made can get Canadian radio air play or TV exposure is if it is government mandated.
That message is simply not true.
As many great Canadian acts show, Canadian Music is quite capable of competing globally. Both at home and abroad, Canadian artists have created a great deal of wonderful music over the years.
Currently a 15 year old Canadian boy named Justin Bieber is continuously “Top Trending” on Twitter. (For the uninitiated that means there are so many people “tweeting” about him that his name is on the Twitter front page banner.
has millions of users worldwide. This is an indicator of extreme fame and a fanatical fan following. In the few minutes since I began typing the Justin Bieber portion of the article, the Twitter Justin Bieber page has racked up more than six thousand Tweets. Since Bieber’s fan base is young girls, and I’m writing this on a Friday morning, there is a very good chance that a many of these tweets are being generated in classrooms.
Granted some of the Tweet traffic consists of people hoping to catch the Justin Bieber wave to get their tweets ReTweeted, and some of it is trashing the young R&B performer. There are whole web pages devoted to dissing the entertainer — now that’s fame. Weirdly enough a good bit of anger is directed at him because all these very young girls swooning over him… Unlike geriatric rock stars young girls have swooned over for years, Justin Bieber is an appropriate age. OMG, he’s not 15 he’s really an old man of 16! But you know what they say– “no publicity is bad publicity”. And the Twitter trend proves it: even those dissing Justin Bieber are adding to the tweets that are keeping him on the top of the heap.
Ye gods! Even Google has a Latest Results for Justin Bieber live feed.
Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that Bieber’s Mom began posting his home made music videos on You Tube to share with family members in 2007. (As an internet savvy mom myself, I’m willing to bet she knew exactly what she was doing.)
Three years later Justin Bieber is a superstar.
Justin Bieber is of course a prime example of my point: Canadians are talented, and given a level playing field can certainly make it in the world of arts & entertainment. The Internet is levelling that playing field, by making it possible for artists to find their audiences. And although I am making the case for talented Canadian artists, the Internet provides the same opportunity to artists in every country around the world, because the Internet breaks down distribution barriers. And as any artist knows, the lively arts do not exist in a vacuum.
Granted, I’m decades older than Justin Bieber‘s target audience, but I will admit that although I have seen the name I had no idea who he was until I saw someone mention he was a Canadian musician on Twitter today. I only mention this because THAT is what the Internet can do.
DRM artificially imposes regionality on DVDs
British pressed DVDs are unplayable on a Canadian DVD player, as Canadian pressed DVDs are unplayable in the UK. Consumers accepted this at first, since the NTSC and PAL video tape formats were incompatable most of us assumed that was just the way it was. The reality is that regional encoding, the DRM that restricts where you may play the DVD you have bought is a DRM additive. Your DVDs would play on every DVD player were it not for the DRM. (My guess is that the reason consumers have so much trouble burning DVDs that will play on DVD players is due to DRM as well. I had to buy two different commercial software packages before I was able to burn my home movies to DVD.)
The Internet allows music or movies released online to be seen and heard everywhere. This is the ultimate distribution network, which will be good not just for our artists, but all the artists who make use of the distribution methods available here.
Locking down the Internet with bad laws like the UK Digital Economy Bill, the American DMCA and bad treaties like CETA and A.C.T.A. is intended to stop this Internet distribution revolution in its tracks. This is why the big media corporations are pushing for these laws: so that they resume total control of the international distribution. For the past fifty years or so they have been the “gatekeepers” who decided what artists could have the opportunity to find an audience. They held this power because they controlled the major distribution for the entire world, not because they had any particular ability to discover or promote talented acts. Citizens are beginning to fight back through initiatives like The Wellington Declaration because a free Internet is incalculably valuable to us all.
World Famous Canadian Musicians
The following is just a very small sampling of the many Canadians who have shared their music and our culture around the world.
- Guy Lombardo,
- The Rankin Family,
- Avril Lavigne
- Shania Twain,
- Oscar Peterson,
- Blue Rodeo,
- Holly Cole Trio,
- Robert Goulet,
- K. D. Lang,
- Paul Anka,
- Alanis Morissette,
- Stompin’ Tom Connors,
- Diana Krall,
- The Arrogant Worms
- Sarah McLachlan,
- Moe Koffman,
- Gordon Lightfoot,
- Joni Mitchell,
- Honeymoon Suite,
- Molly Johnson
Unfortunately many of these websites are flash dependent which will make them inaccessible to a lot of people. I was particularly impressed with Paul Anka’s site, which offers flash or non-flash versions. If you’re interested in finding out more about these artists, all are featured in Wikipedia and included on the Wikipedia: List of Canadian musicians which doesn’t scratch the surface of great Canadian artists.
The problem with Cancon is that it creates a self fulfilling prophecy.
When radio or TV stations are forced to adhere to a quota system, they will follow it because they must, but the moment the quota is filled, the door slams shut. They certainly are not going to exceed the Canadian content quota.
Under the Commercial Radio Policy, 35 per cent of all music aired each week on all AM and FM stations must be Canadian. In addition, 35 per cent of music broadcast between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday must consist of Canadian content.
The easiest way for any broadcaster to manage filling this quota is to ghettoize Canadian music identified as MAPL. Segregating your 35% Cancon in a separate area makes it easier to ensure that you will meet the quota. Once this onerous task is done, you can now play what you WANT to play. Since broadcasters are forced to play Cancon, it is unlikely they will ever exceed the quota.
That’s why so many of today’s independent Canadian Artists are deliberately NOT identifying their music as MAPL.
Do the math. 100% Canadian content allows Canadian musicians a shot at 35% of the Canadian dial. Is it any wonder that more and more Canadian musicians are not stamping their work with the stigmatizing “MAPL” label?
Without the Canadian content MAPL designation, suddenly 65% of the dial is open for your music.
Canadian Independents are making use of the Internet to distribute their music internationally. When you’re making your tracks available for download, MAPL isn’t an issue. And if you’re selling CDs internationally MAPL may well be a handicap.
[I've been working hard on my novel which is part of why this article has taken so long. The other part is that it has been growing... since the draft was pushing 4,000 words-- long even for me-- I decided to break it down into manageable segments.
[Novel permitting, I hope to publish Why CanCon Hurts Canadian Culture [part 2] Canadian Film & Television next week.]
Woo Hoo… finally, my first draft is done.
Which is not to say that my beta readers will get their hands on it just yet. To keep myself from beginning revisions before hitting “The End” I have been very scrupulous about not re-reading more than small bits here and there. Were I to begin editing before finishing, finishing would have been jeopardized.
Structurally there are several places where scenes will intercut, but currently they just look like very long scenes. My problem is that the fun part is editing. Getting the bones in place is the hard part. If I’d allowed myself to re-read any more than absolutely necessary done may never happened.
Some things changed during the course of the writing process too, character rebellion leading to outline revision & recasting type stuff; more smoothing needed.
And I know I will need to add at least a few additional scenes needed for transitions and strengthening of build ups and whatnot. I’m thinking it will take about a week to get that all done.
I have a few outstanding blog posts to do (expect one here for Monday) as well as a couple of birthday presents I need to make this week, so it may take a wee bit longer.
I’ll keep you posted.