Thursday, July 12, 2007

BITING THE HAND

"Never bite the hand that feeds you -- unless it prevents you from feeding yourself."

-- Thomas Szasz - Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry State University of New York.


Sometimes I think they do these things when they think I'm too busy to react. Here I am, working on three shows at once, five if you count the two I'm not being paid for (yet) and the CRTC decides to review the CTF and calls for comments -- by July 27th.

How's that for democracy in action?

A systemic change that will have a massive impact on an already struggling industry and we'll give you -- oh, less than 30 days to gather your thoughts and respond -- in the middle of summer, when most of those affected are up to their eyes because it's the height of the production season, on vacation, or weren't paying attention because the edict was issued on the Friday of a long weekend.

Y'know, I thought Konrad Von Finckenstein's predecessor took the weasel cake, but it appears he's got tricks Charles Dalphen never had the balls to try...

On the other hand, Chuck had the stones to just flat lie to our faces. Here he is from a speech delivered on November 6th, 2002 to the members of ACTRA:

"I believe we have a common goal: a healthy and distinctive Canadian broadcasting system that makes the fullest use of all the great creative talent that we have in this country. And let me emphasize that I do mean all the talent."


And while that was as hollow as Chuck's assurances his commission would react to the devastating body blow the CRTC's 1999 decision watering down content rules had delivered to Canadian drama; now the CRTC wants to water them further by getting rid of some of us pesky Canadian artists.

Hey, Konrad, any chance you might consider diluting the CRTC to something in the 8/10 range by bringing in Americans or Brits or even Canadians a little less beholden to the Canadian broadcast industry than some of your guys?

How about mandating our networks hire a contingent of American or British or Australian or Dutch execs who've actually developed successful programming, instead of some of the hitless wonders we have to pitch and deal with year after year after year?

Any chance improving the marketability of Canadian TV that way is on the table?

I took a call this morning from a writer friend practically in tears. He's been in development for months with one of our major networks on a script they first described as "an incredibly exciting page turner" -- and then called to say they wanted to change the premise.

Guess it showed too much promise of actually being successful.

If you're a professional Canadian screenwriter, the Writer's Guild of Canada has sent you the following letter. If you're not a Canadian screenwriter but care about television in this country, you have an equal responsibility to read it and respond.

Hi writers:

We know writers are never far away from their computers and this is a good thing because you need to send e-mails/faxes/letters to your Member of Parliament and the CRTC about the CRTC Task Force’s Report on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF). Nothing in this report is good news for writers. In fact, this report directly attacks your ability to work as a writer in this country.

The Report makes a number of ill-conceived and ill-informed recommendations, but the main thrust is that CTF (currently a public/private partnership) should be divided into two separate pools – one being the Heritage contribution of $100 million, renewable annually, and the other being the $130 million or so from the Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (BDU’s) – ie, the cable/satellite companies.

The Heritage pool will become the "cultural" fund – aka "must do Canadian stuff.” A producer will still need all ten Canadian content points to access this money. Also, development funds will come out of this smaller pool of $100 million whereas, in the past, it was a percentage of the full $230 million. The Heritage pool will also pay for minority groups’ TV projects – aboriginal films, projects funded by the educational broadcasters, French outside ofQuebec, etc. The CBC's guaranteed envelope will also come out of the Heritage pool rather than of the total $230 million CTF.

The BDU pool – $130 million – will be "a more flexible and market-oriented private sector funding stream,” which is supposedly devoted to funding “hits.” The flexibility they’re talking about is in the form of lowered Canadian content points, specifically a drop from 10 points to 8. This means either the writer or the director (worth 2 points each) or one of the top two leads (worth 1 point each), do NOT have to be Canadian. Canadian producers will now have the “flexibility” to pre-sell their program to an American broadcaster, who can insist on an American writer. This isn’t a new phenomenon. A lot of our “industrial” production works this way. What’s new is that for the first time, these programs would be eligible for CTF funds. Now, American writers will be charged with writing programs that “reflect Canadian experiences.” – CTF’s mandate. And our regulator is supporting this policy change.

The CRTC has given the industry a July 27, 2007 deadline to file comments on these proposed changes to the CTF. In the WGC’s official response we are requesting that at the very least, a public proceeding to give everyone an opportunity to hear the dissenting opinions on the CTF. We’d also like to see factual evidence to back up the report’s assumptions. Because we don’t think there is any. Programs written by, directed by and starring Canadians do better in the ratings than the “any-town-USA” stuff the broadcasters/cable operators are shilling.

You can help fight for your livelihood by e-mailing your comments on the CRTC’s Report on the CTF to the CRTC through the Commission’s web site at www.crtc.gc.ca. Click on E-Pass in the top menu, then click on participate in a CRTC public proceeding, then find the sentence to submit a comment related to a public proceeding and click on the word “form.” Then you scroll down to , click on it and submit your comments. Attached you will find a copy of the Public Notice CRTC for your review. Also attached is a sample letter to the CRTC that you may choose to use. We have put both documents as well as a copy of the Report on our web-site for your information (all three are available in the WGC Members' Only section).

Best,

Maureen Parker
WGC Executive Director


And for all you pro writers who have a tendency to cower and cover and suggest some of the things I write might be "career suicide", I got one thing to say...

Time to Cowboy Up! Because keeping quiet now will certainly be career suicide.

I'll be responding to the CRTC and I'll be posting that response here in the next few days. I beg you to do the same.

I once walked off a television series that was masquerading as a Canadian production while all the decisions were being made in LA. I left behind a New Yorker Cartoon I would have posted here if their copyright restrictions weren't so onerous.

It featured a little Scotty dog being interviewed on a radio talk show and saying, "But you must understand, the hand I bit was not very nice." One of the confederates I left behind told me he spotted the faux Canadian producer reading it the morning after my departure, then taking it down and sadly folding it into his lapel pocket.

That producer, like many others in this industry, knew how the game here was played and had no choice but to go along with it. Perhaps it's time those truths were more widely known.

Former CRTC chair Charles Dalphen one more time, "If Canada is possible as an independent country, it seems to me that Canadian TV drama is not only possible but essential. A country that does not have access to its own stories is a country that has no soul."

These people play you, boys and girls. They tell you what you want to hear and then look after the interests of their friends instead, giving with one hand and taking away much more with the other. It's time to bite the hand. It is stopping us from feeding not only ourselves but the souls of our fellow Canadians.


8 comments:

Webs said...

Are you misspelling "Charles Dalfen" on purpose?

Also, say what you will about Von Finkenstein, but in 2004 he was the judge who re-confirmed that Canadians have the legal right to download shared music online.

How's that for a weird disconnect?

jimhenshaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jimhenshaw said...

Thanks Grammar lady -- spelling is corrected.

And WOW! I did not know that about KvF. If your facts are as accurate as your spelling, Webs, it would seem the CRTC Chair shares much with both the broadcasters' desire to spend as little of their own money as possible for product and the disdain of Pirates for artists and copyright holders...

Jim

Bill Cunningham said...

Jim -

Exactly what is the recipe for "weasel cake?"

While I'm not up for taking a bite, I am curious...

Webs said...

Hey, I'm a journalism prof. I know facts AND spelling (unless it's spelled Finckenstein, apparently).

Here's KvF's decision: http://daledietrich.com/imedia/decisions/BMG_v_John_Doe_(Federal_Court_of_Canada_(March_31_2004).pdf

The copyright issue starts at the bottom of p. 12. The relevant quote from the Copyright Act is on p.14:

"Subject to subsection (2), the act of reproducing all or any substantial part of (a) a musical work embodied in a sound recording...onto an audio recording medium for the private use of the person who makes the copy does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the musical work, the performer's performance or the sound recording."

For the above right, consumers in Canada pay fees as part of the cost of blank media. The collected fees go to the labels.

Oh, dear. I find myself dangling off a tangent....

jimhenshaw said...

Bill -- I've never actually tried the recipe myself. But I believe it's:

One part Lawyer
One part Arrogance
Two parts Ignorance
Add Bitters to taste
Serve Cold.

Bill Cunningham said...

Oh see that's why I've never tasted weasel cake - I'm allergic to all that stuff!

(okay maybe not the arrogant part)

Jutratest said...

I've left a comment at the CRTC page and I've emailed my good buddy Jack Layton.