Wednesday, April 23, 2014

CBC Gets Desperate

There’s a thing out there called “The Culture of Alarmism”, a kind of social fad in which we are systematically instructed to be afraid, be very afraid -- of EVERYTHING!

You can see it daily in any Facebook newsfeed listing all the foods, religions, internet trends and politicians who are out to screw you or otherwise ruin your life.

It’s regularly on display on CNN, Fox News and most other secular news outlets, urging you to be afraid of taking planes, getting on a ferry or sending your kids to school without either a bullet-proof vest or M-16, depending on your political persuasion.

It’s not what you expect from a National Public broadcaster like the CBC.

Indeed, most of those defending the MotherCorp in her recent budget cut panic spasm, mostly defend her ability to provide reasoned and responsible journalism.

Some (including me most days) may find a certain bias in the way stories are spun at CBC News. But even then, you generally accept that they share that bias with a lot of Canadians, so what-the-hell, it’s keeping the regular customers happy.

What you don’t expect are barely disguised scare tactics. Stories designed to imply that if you’re not watching CBC doing television the way television is supposed to be done, you’re not only risking your health but your finances.

Seriously. There was a feature item repeated endlessly yesterday solemnly predicting that you could end up dead and broke or even both if you don’t turn from the evil Netflix snake in the TV garden and eat not of its poisoned fruit of “Binge-watching”.

According to the CBC, providing both sleep deprivation and Internet experts to prove its thesis, Binge-watching endangers your health and your ability to pay your other bills.

Because –- as we all must understand –- watching several hours of “House of Cards” in a row will completely destroy your sleep cycle. Something which apparently watching several hours of different shows on a variety of networks back-to-back (as the CBC can only pray you will start doing again) will not.

And it would seem that an “Orange is the New Black” marathon is far more dangerous to your health than a triple overtime game in the Stanley Cup finals or one of the current 6 hour double headers offered nightly across the entire CBC network.

Could this be any clearer?

Stay up past Midnight to watch “Strombo”, “Coronation Street” and a “Being Erica” repeat may well require you to brew a second cup of coffee at breakfast. BUT -- stay up to catch an equal number of hours from the Netflix schedule and you’ll be a broken man likely to lose your job if you don’t first have a heart attack navigating the morning rush.

Somehow CBC neglected to explain that despite these dangers, most of their current titles can also be found on Netflix. So those shows are either okay to binge-watch or can pretty much be guaranteed to put you to sleep before matters get out of hand.

And if endangering your health doesn’t put the fear of God into you, have you considered how this Netflix habit might be stealing food from the mouths of your children?

CBC provides an “expert” on this impending danger too. Although he looks an awful lot like your average CBC IT Guy and appears to be about as bright.

This fella waxes on about how close a single HD version of any Harry Potter movie can put you to your data cap. Why, watch the entire series over the same month and you could be shelling out an big bucks (bucks you probably don’t have) to Rogers or Shaw.

What he was either too dumb to reveal or CBC would rather you didn’t know for their own selfish reasons, is that:

1. The bits and bytes your CableCo sends down that little wire so you can watch CBC are identical to the ones they shoot down the same wire to your computer, iPad, AppleTV or Roku box so you can watch Netflix.

Yeah, that’s right. Instead of doing the responsible “we’re from the Government and we really are your friend” “Marketplace”-type expose and reveal that Data Caps are a crock, merely another way for Big IP to vacuum your pockets, CBC used that CRTC endorsed corporate Junk Science to scare you.

And 2: Said expert didn’t admit that if you weren’t paying for the CBC you’d probably have enough money to breach that manufactured data cap pretty much any fucking time you wanted.

This was the kind of journalism that could make some assume the CBC is already in panic mode, grasping at anything to scare you back to the big, comfy couch where they could spoon feed you all those shows you didn’t know were so good for you.

You want a real “Culture of Alarmism” just wait and see how desperate they get when this little scare tactic doesn’t work.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Scene You Don’t Write

View image on Twitter 


(SPOILER ALERT)

If you haven’t watched Episode Three of “Game of Thrones” Season Four (and intend to) stop reading this post now!!!

I won’t much discuss what occurred in “that scene” last night. But I will delve into writing or not writing scenes like it and what it does not only to the fans but those who bring the scene to Life.

Especially what happens when you give in to pressures of one sort or another to create controversy or “kick the show up a notch”.

What happened last night on “Game of Thrones” was clearly a rape. Not the first of the series. Unlikely to be the last.

What made it shocking were three elements. The first –- what occurred was not adapted from the underlying material on which “Game of Thrones” is based. That segment of the George R.R. Martin novels is excerpted above.

Now there’s nothing wrong (at least in my opinion) with diverging from the material being adapted from time to time. But when you go completely against what the original writer intended, you’re getting yourself into dangerous waters.

Doing a 180 on the original material commits one of those “Butterfly Effect” moments from which you can never find your way back because it results in having to re-shade everything both characters are involved in from that point forward –- and not only for them but a significant portion of the audience.

There are those in Martin’s fan base today swearing off both the series and HBO for good. And I have no doubt that a lot of them mean it. Seeing a beloved novel brought to the screen is exhilarating for many genre fans. Watching it changed to something it was not hollows that attachment irreparably.

They thought you cared, HBO. You mean it’s all just been about being “edgy”?

Secondly –- the scene was a complete betrayal of the male character involved and the actor who plays him.

No doubt the character (like many on “Game of Thrones”) has an irregular moral compass. But the psychic and physical damage which previous rapes or attempted rapes have caused him had – at least we were led to believe it had – transformed him into a much more sympathetic and complex character.

This morning that actor, stumbling badly to justify the scene in question to the press, has become an internet symbol of those guys who just don’t get it, that “No, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no’…” and those other ill-conceived arguments that just get you digging yourself in so deep you can never get out.

He thought you cared, HBO. He thought you hired him for his ability to play moral complexity. You mean it’s all just been about making him “the last guy” we thought would do this?

And the icing on that is the way your PR people have left him twisting in the wind while your show runners maintain radio silence.

Which brings me to my final point –- there will no doubt be those titillated by what happened. The “Bitch deserved it!” crowd are as prevalent on Twitter today as the naysayers and accepting apologists willing to wait and see what the show’s writers and producers come up with next.

Sometimes, there truly are network and studio execs yearning to play ball with Misogynists or do anything else irresponsible if it gets their name in the papers. God knows, I had the personal misfortune of working with one.

I once showran a co-pro series with three partners from three different countries. At some point prior to my arrival, the partner who was supposed to have no creative influence had made sure that they did and their fem executive was clear that she always got what she wanted.

Initially, we all generally agreed on the direction of things and production went relatively smoothly. But after a shake-up at this exec’s studio, it became clear she intended to take the reins.

One Monday morning, I arrived to a sheet of script notes instructing me that a better twist in the plot would be to have our hero rape our ongoing villain’s female partner. As in -- it would be completely unexpected and thus ensure that the audience stuck to the end of the episode.

I figured she must’ve been either drunk when she wrote the note or at had suffered some sort of Oxygen depletion from strapping the ball gag on too tight during her visit to some local dungeon wet room.

But I was wrong. And this wasn’t a suggestion. It was a non-negotiable demand.

Realizing the harm it could do the show, I attempted to enlist the support of the other two partners. But our second foreign partner had ceased caring, already looking toward greener pastures, and the Canadian exec (also a woman) took that typically Canadian position of going along to get along in the inane hope we could fix any audience blow-back later.

Now, being a showrunner means that your first loyalty is to the show. Sometimes that means accepting uncomfortable compromises in order to keep it shooting and your crew employed.

Such loyalty does not mean destroying what you’ve built to serve the same purpose. Because at that point it becomes a series unworthy of saving. You and your staff will all find another job. Hopefully working for a better class of people.

I emailed my objections to all the partners and challenged them to fire me because I wasn’t doing as I was told. That’s pretty much a career suicide move in the short term.

But I didn’t get fired –- at least not til the end of the season when they could issue one of those “creative differences” and “moving in a new direction” memos.

I assume we were all pleased to be free of one another. I moved on to another job. The series collapsed under that kind of mismanagement not long after.

It will likely take longer for last night to impact “Game of Thrones”. But I believe we can look at that one scene as the moment a undeniably great series either jumped the dragon or at the very least intentionally took to the jump ramp.

There is no crime with tricking an audience or playing with their emotions. That’s often the job. But it’s very wrong to betray their trust or imply that the writers and producers will always be the smartest guys in the room, thank-you very much.

The smartest guy in the room is supposed to be on their side, not that of those desperate for notoriety or a marketing edge.

Pool Report #2: Giant Killers

Zdeno Chara Laughs At Puny Humans Who Want To Fight Him

And there are two ways to take that post title. depending on which word -- “Giant” or “Killers” you place the emphasis.

If it’s the first word, you share my surprise at how roughshod the Blues have ridden the Blackhawks and the Ducks the Kings as well as how Montreal managed to easily win two away games in Tampa.

If it’s the former, you had to question the sanity of Detroit’s Jamie Smith trying to goad Zedano Charra into a fight.

I once was called in to “assist” a friend who’d made the mistake of getting on the wrong side of a trio of Bikers. Self-preservation kicked in and I asked which of them could kick my ass the quickest in order to minimize the pain. The laughter broke the tension and everybody went home in one piece.

But this weekend’s superb exhibition of how hockey is supposed to be played should have also made it clear to fans in the six un-represented NHL cities that the reason they didn’t make the post season will take significantly more than tweaking.

Can you imagine the Leafs or Canucks even attempting to keep up with let alone outscore ANY of these teams in a 7 game series?

And just listening to the CBC commentators over-hyping every good thing the Habs are doing makes one wonder if some objectivity during the season might have helped some of us wake up far earlier.

Not that objectivity will likely intrude on Rogers trying to get more fans signing on to upgraded streaming and data plans – but it might help teams realize they really do have to try harder.

In the pool, it appears some of those who “tried harder” and didn’t go for the chalk or follow the “smart” money might be very well placed as the games progress.

As we begin Week 2, Jeff Eyamie leads with Larry Raskin and Will Dixon both within a single shutout of overtaking.

But it’s still early days for the rest of us too –- although the Sun could well have set on almost half the first round series by Friday’s Pool update, which would be some kind of record –- and far from what a revenue hungry CBC needs in this its last turn at the Stanley Cup pay window.

Things will only get more interesting on a lot of levels…

21-04-2014 1-56-04 PM

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 321: 4-20 Easter

It’s April 20th. 4-20. The famous police code for a Marijuana infraction. And a day a lot of people celebrate breaking that law.

It’s also Easter. The day a lot of people celebrate a story they feel should not be forgotten.

It’s also Passover. A time when a lot of people celebrate God sparing them from wrath for not respecting his laws.

It’s a combination that could end up being confusing.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

DJesus Uncrossed (Saturday Night Live) from razorgrind on Vimeo.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Infamous Writers Hockey Pool Report #1

Here we go, Hockey fans! Not even one game into each 2014 Stanley Cup playoff series and we’ve already got rookie unknowns showing up veteran stars, a 3OT and a coach going “nuts” on the referees.

I believe the big show has begun.

This being the first set of standings for the Infamous Writers Hockey Pool and given that two teams have yet to take to the ice, I’ll save further comment until after the weekend.

We’re a smaller group than we’ve ever been here in the pool. Given that there’s only one Canadian team in the running, I guess that’s to be expected.

So let’s just accept that the names below are the true fans of the world’s greatest game and use the extra room in the pool to have some fun.

To that end, I’m extending an open invitation to all pool participants to “guest” on one of these twice weekly reports. Just email something you want to be included and I’ll make sure it gets posted. That includes not only anything you want to write but photos, cartoons, videos and gifs.

Such as my favorite moment from last night:

Herewith the standings. Nobody gets a shout out until all the teams have had the chance to exhibit what they’re bringing to the rink.

1 Jeff Eyamie            14

2 Larry Raskin           12
3
Jim Henshaw          11
3
Will Dixon               11
5
Peter Wildman        8
5
Sugith Varughese    8
7
Todd Gordon           7
7
Will Pascoe             7
7
Maurey Loeffler      7
7
Michael Foster        7
7
Barry Kiefl              7
12
Allan Eastman       6
13
Jon Brooks            4

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taking On The Government

'1971'

I came of age in the late 1960’s. A time of radicalism, social unrest and mistrust of government. There were battles for racial equality. A struggle to stop a war that made no sense to most.

At that time, the American government was decidedly conservative. Those opposed to it embraced liberalism and even revolution. And it was clear –- to them at least –- that the powers that be would stop at nothing to discredit or destroy them.

Perhaps most telling, is that there were few voices in the media willing to question the government. Most newscasts reflected the “official” position on things. Most people didn’t really want to hear what those crazy, long-haired hippies had to say.

It’s easy to look back now –- post-Watergate –- and believe that there was a crusading press diligently digging to expose the corruption at the top. But that wasn’t the case at all.

In other words, it was exactly like it is today. Only with the political sides reversed.

Now, the American government leans Left, largely peopled by those who shared the now vindicated positions of the parents and teachers who once put their lives and careers on the line to stand up to a government they saw as unjust.

And now (as then) the mass of the media takes the government side, branding those opposed to its laws and regulations as crazy or misguided, not really wanting to hear what those white trash tea party types have to say.

Maybe that’s how the world works. The socio-political pendulum just keeps swinging. First Left, then Right. Then back again. Pivoting only when the power at the top of its arm can be fully identified with the opposite side.

A new documentary entitled “1971” is about to be released which vividly captures the Left-leaning revolutionary nature of that past era.

It tells the story of a group of ordinary people who broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office and stole thousands of files they disseminated to major newspapers, exposing for the first time that the government really was lying, spying on law-abiding people and up to all kinds of illegal activities.

“They saw injustice and decided they were going to act on it”.

Most of us, these days, are aware of Julian Assange and Wikileaks as well as the revelations of Edward Snowdon. Two people who similarly saw injustice and decided to act on it.

Whether they’ve made any difference is debatable. Whether they are heroes or villains depends on where you reside along the pendulum’s swing.

However, last week it was revealed that America’s National Security Agency was aware of the Heartbleed virus two years ago. But rather than moving to protect American citizens from the threat, as it was created to do –- the agency exploited the bug to more easily spy on those same citizens instead.

That pendulum just keeps swinging. And it seems those we thought we could trust aren’t much different from those whom we replaced.

Most of you are probably unaware that an old-fashioned “Range War” was almost fought in Nevada last weekend. One with armed cowboys on horseback and everything.

You can be forgiven for not knowing, since the event went virtually uncovered by most American media outlets and was completely ignored by the CBC in Canada.

The basic plot could have been from some old Randolph Scott or Audie Murphy Western. The Law came to seize an elderly rancher’s cattle, empowered by courts who had ruled him in arrears of fees for grazing his herd on land expropriated to protect the Desert Tortoise.

The rancher insisted that no damn turtle had ever been stepped on by any damn cow and his family had paid the State what he owed. Armed men took his cattle anyway. His neighbors rode to his rescue.

“They saw injustice and decided they were going to act on it”.

Forty years later, it’s the same battle being fought by people with the same belief. A belief that their government is not listening to them. The only difference seems to be who’s in charge and who’s willing to fight them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

THUNDERSTRUCK!!!!

Sad news out of Australia this morning, that AC/DC has decided to hang it up after 40 tumultuous years at the pinnacle of Rock.

The retirement is involuntary, coming as the band was about to record a new album and book a world tour. But during rehearsals it was discovered that rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, victim of a recent stroke, had suffered a loss of some of his playing ability.

Rather than finding a replacement and soldiering on as the band has had to do under tragic circumstances in the past, Malcolm’s lead guitar playing brother Angus and the rest of the band decided -– maybe it was time.

For those of you who never had the chance to see AC/DC in concert, my sympathies. This was truly one of Life’s great experiences, leaving you adrenaline maxed and with a week long case of Tinnitus. Hell, my ears are probably still ringing…

There was a time when I wrote entire scripts with Rush, AC/DC and Zeppelin blasting from my office. I truly believe the music contributed to the energy in the text that resulted. Not to mention how fast they were typed.

People don’t write to Metal anymore? Pussies.

Anyway, here’s a taste of AC/DC from their magnificent River Plate concert. If you’ve got a script to finish today, the entire concert can be found here.

Thanks for all the help, guys –- and the memories.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 2014 Infamous Writers Hockey Pool is Open!

“It’s the mo-ost won-der-ful time of the yeeeaaarrr…”

Yep, it is! For this is when those with hockey smarts and the courage of their convictions shine. Because next to getting stitched up on the bench or playing with a broken leg, the most venerable tradition in the quest for the Stanley Cup is the "Hockey Pool"!

AND NOW YOU CAN BE A PART OF THE BEST ONE THERE IS!!!

Will Dixon and I have been organizing hockey pools almost as long as we've pretended we were adults. No matter where we were or what we were doing, we celebrated our on-ice warriors by picking the best among them and placing a little wager.

Many seasons back, being thousands of miles apart and with most of the people with whom we regularly communicated passing through our blogs, we cooked up a plan to hold our hockey pool online. It was an astonishing success! As have been the years that have followed. And 2014 will be even bigger and better.

HERE'S HOW IT WORKS

You join "The Infamous Writer's Hockey Pool" by sending me an email at seraphic77@gmail.com with "POOL PICKS" in the subject line between 8:00 AM Eastern Monday April 14/14 (today) and Noon Eastern Thursday. (04/17/2014).

Now, “Technically”, that will be after two Wildcard games on Wednesday night.  But that’s a deadline far too tight for even a seasoned prognosticator like me. So we’ll take our chances that nobody gets a leg up knowing those results.

In your email, list the 10 skaters and 2 Goalies who make up your team. They can be members of any of the 16 teams competing in the opening round.

HOWEVER…

At least THREE of your picks must come from one team. Three skaters, two and a goalie, your choice. The point is to make a small commitment (25% of your roster) to a team you think is either going to win it all, go deep or roll up a lot of points.

The scoring is as follows:

For every goal or assist scored by your skaters you earn 1 point.

Should one of your skaters score a “Game Winning” goal, that’s worth two points.

Every time your goalie wins you also earn 2 points and you tally seven points each time he earns a shutout.

Shutouts in Stanley Cup play are rare and skaters will always earn more points than a Goalie, but this is a way of evening things up.

In addition, the pool will also award one point to a goalie who loses in overtime.

The 12 players you choose are yours for the entire tournament. As the teams your players represent fall by the wayside, they cease earning points, but their totals remain part of your total.

In the end, the pool contestant with the most points wins.

I'll post your team online. From then on, you can check your progress by visiting our private online pool site whenever you like. All players will be provided with a login and password so they can check their progress throughout the playoffs.

Once you're inside the pool site, you'll see all the information on the teams you’re up against. You'll also receive a twice weekly (Monday and Friday) update of the pool standings, which I will post for all the world to see here at The Legion.

See -- easy and fun!

The only thing missing is the chance to share beer and wings and make fun of each other's choices. Anybody who wants to open a Facebook group to handle the trash talk or Twitter their opponents has our blessing.

Now, playing in a hockey pool is very simple. But a certain amount of strategy is involved.

I've seen contestants pick players from teams that exited early still win because their players racked up so many points in the early going. I've also seen contestants with terrible picks come out on top because they had a hot goalie.

Like everything else in the game, it's ultimately up to the Hockey Gods.

If you're new to pools or the game, you can learn more on who you perhaps should pick for on your team by visiting TSN or Sportsnet.

WHAT DO YOU WIN?

Well, since gambling is technically illegal around here and Infamous Writers entrants come from several disparate currencies, your entrance fee should be something either related to your career or a sports souvenir you've acquired as a fan.

What you choose to wager is completely up to you and never revealed to anyone but the eventual Pool Winner.

Once our winner is decided, all entrants ship him or her their prize. In the past, the winner's booty has included DVDs, autographed scripts, game worn jerseys, signed hockey cards and much more.

There will also be prizes for finishing 2nd and 3rd as well as our incredibly popular "Props" contest in the final round.

There are no other restrictions to participating. Just join up, pick your players and set aside your victory swag.

A lot of great Canadian artists (even some you might recognize) and hockey fans from here and elsewhere are looking forward to playing with you!

So jump in the pool!

Game on!!!!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 320: Do The Right Thing…

…because not all that deep down, we all know what the right thing to do is. No matter the situation.

And it takes so little. And it’s as easy as breathing.

I’ll let this speak for itself. Please be prepared to thoroughly…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CBC’s Enemies Are Not Without

cbc-logo-bacon

It’s supposed to be the sinew that ties our nation together, the mirror that reflects us to the world while having as much local appeal as our own version of bacon.  But it’s not.

This morning –- or at least what passes for morning in my world -– the CBC announced major cuts to staff and programming, as well as completely opting out of Sports broadcasting.

In the official press release, management blamed slumping television advertising, disappointing program ratings and the National Hockey League’s decision to sign a multi-year broadcast deal with Rogers Communications.

There was also a reminder that their annual stipend from the Federal government has been reducing on an annual basis, no longer even assisted by the pretty much regular top-ups for budget shortfalls.

It’s the kind of perfect shit-storm few corporations could weather without severe damage. And doubtless, in the next days blame will be apportioned to everybody from evil, heartless Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the even more evil ghost of Ted Rogers and the beyond evil, completely heartless and Canuckaphobic NHL head honcho, Gary Bettman.

The blamers will just as doubtlessly be supported by various supposed “Friends” of Canadian broadcasting, creative guilds and all those who use such crises to further their own ends.

But the enemies of CBC do not lie without its maximum security walls. The true villains in this tragic turn of events occupy some of the most well-appointed offices inside the fortress. And either in person or in mindset, they’ve been there for decades.

Yes, the Harper Government has not been helpful in making sure the corporate coffers were always full. But neither have governments of all stripes going back as far as aged mofo’s such as myself can recall.

Back in my thespian days, let’s say 1982, I was doing a two-hander in a drafty Toronto alternate theatre during one of those “CBC’s Broke” periods. Their head of casting dropped by and came backstage afterward, gushing about the performances and how much she wished they were casting something.

I asked when production might kick in again and was told that they hadn’t held a single casting session in the past year and unless things changed soon, she might have to let someone on her multi-person staff go…

It might’ve been the moment I understood that what those more experienced in the business constantly opined –- the real problem with the place was that the people running it didn’t have the first clue about what they were doing.

Anybody who has ever pitched or gone through a fruitful or otherwise development period with the CBC has reams of stories about the confusion, the constantly changing goals and agendas, and most often -- the indecision. Indecision often comfortably cloaked in an acceptance that this is the way the world works.

I don’t think I can fully describe the impact on my life and attitude of the day I made my transition to working for an American network, walking into the LA offices of CBS and realizing ten times the primetime programming output plus development of the next season’s potential multiple of ten was housed on a single floor of far from impressive low-rise offices.

Development time there was calculated in weeks, not years. And individual executives supervised three, four, even five shows per season –- jobs on the line if but one of those should tank.

Okay, the scale’s different here. I understand that. But some things are the bedrock of any successful operation. A clear plan for the future and consequences for lack of achievement to name but two.

I don’t know that those have ever existed at CBC. They can’t when under-performing series with visibly declining ratings are regularly renewed. They can’t when “five year plans” are rebooted every 12 months. And they definitely can’t when the people at the top can’t clearly articulate their goals to those designated to carry out the orders.

As late as this far from happy morning, CBC President Hubert LaCroix was quoted as saying, “As the media landscape changes, CBC/Radio-Canada will also need to re-imagine itself.”

No, buddy. That needed to happen long, long before now.

Everybody knew a Hockey-less landscape at CBC was coming. They’ve known for years. But nobody focussed on that reality. A reality that has been faced repeatedly in the Sports division.

When they lost CFL Football, the CBC promised to refocus on Soccer and curling. They didn’t.

When they lost curling, they promised to make up the difference with leagues like the hugely popular and far more pervasive in Canada WHL and OHL, as well as University sports. They didn’t.

Those games, often pulling better numbers than CBC Prime Time programming, are still most often found on the local cable access station, if they are available at all.

So much for a commitment to tying the country together.

Why didn’t they make those changes? My own theory is that while still being the top dog in the country’s biggest sports draw, NHL hockey, anything “other” was BENEATH them.

It’s the same vibe many Canadian artists feel –- that they’re somehow BENEATH those who toil for the CBC.

The same way Canadian musicians have realized their remuneration from CBC’s online Music Service is far BENEATH what’s paid to the American artists who are the primary draw.

Today it was reported that far from unique service alone had a loss last year of $13 Million. Combined with some $50 Million siphoned from CBC Radio to cover TV’s failures, and TV’s record of only securing 5% of our viewing hours, we clearly have a management team failing to deal with the resident issues.

And, for me at least, that 5% figure further represents that the audience itself feels BENEATH those who manage the CBC. Perhaps that’s why so few of them get too exercised when Stephen Harper refuses to hand out any more Public money.

Perhaps its why CBC Management itself didn’t bother to divest any of the corporation’s vast real estate holdings to support their core business. I mean making TV is kinda BENEATH having large and lucrative land holdings.

Yesterday a good friend laid his blame at the feet of the unholy Cons, wondering how much could’ve been accomplished if the $400 Million spent on their Economic Action Plan commercials alone could have made to a struggling CBC.

It didn’t seem to dawn on him that the majority of such commercial budgets goes to purchasing airtime, the bulk of which flows to the broadcaster with the greatest audience reach.

In the physical world that’s the CBC. In audience numbers, it’s not. But either way it would seem that neither the option of giving the CBC more money nor allowing them to earn it in ad fees results in any improvement in programming.

Two final examples from this morning…

Right after making its unhappy announcement, CBC News broadcast a press conference during which Aboriginal leaders expressed their hope that the Federal government (after years of consultation) was today introducing a bill to solve decades of problems with First Nations education.

Now this is something I know a little about since one of my neighbors just got home from being part of the First Nations negotiating team and seemed pretty satisfied with the bill.

But CBC News immediately followed the press conference with a First Nations educator who admitted not knowing what was in the bill, but made it clear SHE had not personally been consulted.

She then went on to list some of the short-comings of her  own Northern Saskatchewan school, including her inability to Skype or watch Youtube, despite having a net connection that sounded a whole lot better than my own.

The interviewer admitted to not knowing much about Tech herself and continued to press for negative responses to a bill whose contents the woman had already said she didn’t know.

And there you have it, I thought.

Why bother eliciting facts or informed insight when you can just get somebody to bitch about how they “personally” weren’t getting what they wanted from the bad old government.

That seems to have become a regular feature of CBC News, which serves only to further under-inform an already uninformed audience.

Minutes later, on the way to a meeting, I tuned in CBC Radio, hoping for some expanded coverage of the CBC dilemma. What I got instead was a “Q” interview with a couple of well known Canadian artists –- recorded in 2007.

And these are the people who want me to think they are offering a RELEVANT and ESSENTIAL service I need to rally behind saving?

I think not.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 319: Yakitate!

The first yard sale of the season appeared in my neighborhood this weekend. Still early if you ask me. But there it was, featuring that item you find at virtually every yard sale because everybody’s got one and nobody really knows how to use them –- the electric rice cooker.

For reasons which escape me, one of the simplest things to cook –- rice –- has evolved complex digitized devices designed to cook it perfectly, yet few who purchase one find it makes the process either easier or simpler if we can get them to work at all.

And so the average rice cooker resides in the back of the bottom shelf of the darkest kitchen cupboard until somebody spots it and decides it will make a great addition to next weekend’s yard sale.

And there they sit, unsold even at a couple of bucks because -– we’ve all already got one. And even if it’s got more buttons than the one we picked up at some Chinese grocery or Sanko outlet when we decided we could make our own Sushi, it remains (to the North American mind at least) completely inscrutable.

So we pass it by for that other yard sale regular we also can never get to work right –- the electric bread maker.

Maybe that’s why a Japanese television network started a contest to find the best recipe for bread you make in a rice cooker.

In Japanese, either the contest or the bread is called “Yakitate” and it’s a huge hit, especially with kids. And since many of our kids series and competition shows were spawned in Japan, maybe it’s time to dig out your own rice cooker and get a head start.

There’s a recipe included in this Sunday’s video and another one here if you’re really inspired.

If you like the end product – great! At least you’ve finally found a use for your rice cooker, allowing you to ditch your bread maker to make room for a Keurig, Sodastream or some other device that delivers a product you can already buy ready made for a fraction of its cost not to mention that of the pre-packaged ingredients.

I’m betting there will be a ton of those at next year’s yard sales.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 318: Film Studies 101…0100101101

This week on Karen Walton’s inimitable Facebook Group, InkCanada, a writer hopeful sought advice with regard to which educational stream might best suit her desire to join the tribe of screenwriters.

She was inundated with great ideas from both industry vets and neophyte scribes. Yet another example of how the Internet can nurture a community and culture.

And it got me thinking about how rich a film education these days can be.

When I was starting out, I saw the classics the way they were originally meant to be seen, on a gigantic screen in a cavernous theatre. Because that was the only format in which they existed.

Oh you could see great movies on television, but only if they were fragmented by commercials and often with chunks left out to meet the demands of time or family friendly censors.

I remember sitting slack-jawed before “Citizen Kane”, “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Yojimbo”, literally overwhelmed by the cultural power that reflected from that giant screen, wondering why so few of the films I saw every weekend held such sway over their audiences.

That feeling drove me to shelves of books about film-making and dog-eared copies of magazines like “Films & Filming”, where the glossy illustrations offered a taste of what was imparted onscreen.

But short of getting into one of the few major film schools, that was about the best you could do.

And these days you can learn more online in a single afternoon than you could hope to encounter over a full semester in one of those schools.

Virtually any film and most television from any decade, genre and nation is there for the watching, or at least the ordering to stream or download. The scripts are there. Interviews with all of the creatives. “Making of…” footage. “How to…” workshops.

You can even find forums of filmmakers looking for those who (whatever their experience) want to get hands-on experience in a film going into production.

I find it hard to believe you couldn’t get a fairly top-notch education just by taking the free courses offered by Coursera or iTunes University.

One of the richest mother loads of film education can be found at a great site called “Cinephelia And Beyond” -- always located on the sidebar to your right once this post disappears.

What’s great about this site and others like it is that they offer students of film not only all that most film schools offer of an educational nature, but the ability to focus on where their own passions take them.

If you’re convinced you’re the next Hitchcock or Robert Towne. If you need insight on cinematography, scoring or art direction, it’s all to be found online. Find a place to start and map your own path to suit your own talents or dreams.

What’s missing, to some extent, is the mentorship and one-on-one personal attention of a live teacher. But over the winter I earned a couple of film credits on Coursera where the professors were readily available in chat rooms and forums, open to discussing whatever you needed. 

Ultimately, we all learn differently and we each have our own needs and criteria for feeling we’ve gotten what we wanted. But when you’ve got some of the greatest film-makers in the world available at your fingertips any time you want them, you can’t go too far wrong.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Popcorn Time

Every now and then you get an indication of just how far behind Canada’s executive and governing classes are.

A few months ago, the Federal government instructed our broadcast regulators to finally address consumer dissatisfaction with channel bundling by our cable companies.

That dissatisfaction has been building for decades, fuelled by escalating rates for content endlessly repeated over multiple tiers of broadcasting and more recently sold once again to the same consumers over online and mobile platforms.

The CRTC itself announced it would be dealing with the issue in 2011, but didn’t for reasons they’ve never explained but most of us assumed was because the cable/broadcast conglomerates didn’t want them to.

While this foot-dragging was going on, a new player called NETFLIX arrived on the scene, soon followed by similar set-top box services delivering content across multiple platforms for a monthly price far lower than the cost of a single cable bundle of movie channels which often just interchange the same titles between one another.

To date, about 30% of Canadians have subscribed to Netflix, mostly attracted by the simple concept of “what-you-want-when-you-want-it” and a menu of new titles arriving with more regularity than they do in the cable system.

In the US, Netflix now has more subscribers than HBO and (along with Youtube) accounts for 50% of downstream traffic.

And while cableco’s and regulators continue to rail against OTT services, they’re clearly the future. And a future bright for content creators as well as consumers.

Because in much the same way that iTunes turned music pirates into buyers by allowing consumers greater access to the music they wanted instead of purchasing entire CDs, NETFLIX and its ilk have lowered piracy rates to a fraction of what they were a few years ago.

The only people being hurt by this transition are the cultural gatekeepers and the corporate conglomerates who have heretofore controlled distribution and access to content.

They’re not giving up without a fight and it appears the CRTC continues to sympathize with their plight.

In it’s continued slow process of divining consensus, the CRTC rolled out some surveys and talking points that felt couched in the same broadcaster protecting language we’ve come to expect of the regulator.

Many of the questions about cable bundles suggested you wouldn’t save much money from unbundling since some channels would charge premium rates and niche offerings might be lost.

In the Internet section, the possibility of data caps or additional charges for content were floated. This despite that option failing to find acceptance from the population or the Commission a couple of years back.

Unlike most digitally savvy Canadians, the CRTC seems unable to grasp the reality that the same bits and bytes that deliver a myriad of programming to TV sets don’t cost more if they go somewhere else over the same cable.

But that wilful blindness is part of the same unwillingness to give up control of the system exhibited by the studios, networks and cable companies. And now it’s “Popcorn Time”.

Popcorn Time is an App that makes video piracy impossibly easy.  On top of that it doesn’t download any selected movie or TV show to your computer. It just streams it in HD. Leaving no trace of what you watched or when you watched it on your screen device.

In other words, nobody can prove you pirated anything.

So much for the potential Hollywood revenue stream discussed here a couple of weeks ago.

Now the content owner is royally fucked.

And so are you because less content gets produced as a result.

And so are the Gatekeepers, distributors, cable companies and everybody else who decided they also needed to be well paid for what you watch.

All of which could have easily been solved years ago by regulators and smart corporate executives willing to adapt rather than try to hang onto a broken business model.

Is piracy wrong? You bet your ass.

Is continuing to hang onto a system that overcharges and under-delivers because it’s all we know worth fighting for?

Srsly? That’s still under consideration?

According to the CRTC, it is.

But once again, we have yet another example of how technology is continuing to outpace our industry and unless we come to grips with these rapid changes soon, they will completely swamp whatever production methods and structures we had in place.

And then nobody survives.

Here’s a look at Popcorn Time. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 317: Life After Pi

In what used to be the real world, studios made movies and the television programming that they sold to theatre chains and networks. If enough people bought tickets to see the movies or kept TV advertisers happy by staying tuned, they made money.

And the artists working on those films and TV shows kept working.

In what used to be the real world, artists who wanted to make films and television programs migrated to Los Angeles and New York (or in the case of Canada, to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver).

Those artists put down roots, raised families, cross-pollinated creatively, essentially creating the critical mass of personal life satisfaction, artistic innovation and economic stability that allowed the system to flourish.

But that world of filmmaking doesn’t exist anymore and the one moving in to replace it threatens to destroy whatever lifestyles and careers artists once thought they could sustain.

Things began to change about 25 years ago when Toronto and Vancouver began attracting “Runaway” production from Hollywood and New York.

Originally, the studios came because production costs were cheaper and the Canadian dollar was weaker. But they still depended on Box Office returns and good TV ratings to make money.

Other parts of the country soon discovered they could attract production by offering various incentives. And then other American states and foreign countries realized they could do the same.

Politicians realized that these incentives increased local employment numbers while bringing some of the glamor of Hollywood to their communities.

And the studios realized their bottom line could be further served by forcing all of these places to come up with better and better deals to garner their production presence.

Meanwhile, other networks and studios realized that they could use those political needs to encourage more money from government and the services government regulated coming their way, even if they didn’t make films that attracted people to the Box Office or to tune in in such numbers that advertisers saw satisfactory ratings.

And that’s when the rest of what used to be the real world went away.

What passes for our industry reality now (especially in Canada) is that without government regulated financial support and various regional tax credits, there would be virtually nothing made here.

Program financing is garnered from the tax-payer and cable companies “taxing” their subscribers to the point that we have some of the highest cable rates in the world.

And in order to survive, Canadian creatives, even those living in a once flourishing production center, have to keep hop-scotching the country to earn a living. And the companies who employ them have to keep moving too, recreating “state of the art” work spaces in diverse locations to keep winning studio contracts.

And it’s killing them.

And that’s killing us.

I can’t count the number of Post studios, effects houses, even casting agencies which were once thriving and have subsequently gone down for a dirt nap.

I can’t count the number of talented people who used to work in those places who now work twice as hard for half the salaries they used to earn, while the studios and networks reap record profits.

As an actor, I remembering crunching the numbers on one out of town job and realizing the costs I would incur would end up costing me more money than I would earn. My agent’s pained response, “You gotta save up for jobs like this”!

These days we all have to help pay to support what work might come our way.

I also can’t count the number of projects I’ve been part of that died because while the tax credits dictated the location, the extra cost of per diems and travel and accommodation to shoot there all but erased whatever benefits were supposedly to be had.

Add networks factoring your tax credits into your initial financing and its no wonder so many production companies have also been rolling over to take the big sleep.

This is of little consequence to governments, studios or networks. There are always people willing to work cheaper either in the belief that they are building a career or a trusted business relationship.

And there are invariably those who believe doing exceptional work or making the most effective use of burgeoning technologies will keep them afloat.

Life of Pi

Tell that to the people who used to work for legendary FX house “Rhythm & Hues”.

In 2013, the company won an Academy Award for its VFX work on “Life of Pi”. Eleven days earlier it had filed for bankruptcy after 25 years of exceptional contribution to the film industry.

What follows is a documentary on what happened to “Rhythm & Hues” and why it happened. Pay attention.

Because the story of these artists could just as easily be your own. And likely will be unless we begin to bring real world economics back to our industry.

There is no free ride. Keeping people busy does not necessarily mean you are building something that can eventually sustain itself.

Politicians need votes, so they will keep trying to outdo other politicians to bring jobs and movie glamor to their jurisdictions. Studios and networks want bigger profits and think nothing of playing artists off against one another to get those profits.

The change, if it is to come, needs to come from us. Maybe by just demanding that some of what used to be the real world be returned to the phoney economy that now typifies our business.

Because if it doesn’t –- well…

Enjoy Your Sunday. 

UPDATE:

And if what’s here isn’t concerning enough, here are a couple of links I was just sent claiming Canadian tax credits are being used to sub-contract offshore.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/b-c-visual-effects-artists-say-work-being-sent-overseas-1.1370614

http://www.cbc.ca/player/RADIO+HOLDING+PEN/Jinghua/ID/2339467576/