Friday, February 15, 2008

DOING THIS RIGHT

I've frankly been overwhelmed by the reaction to the post just below this one touching on the accounting practices within the Canadian film and television industry. Over the last couple of days, this site has attracted more readers than I get in the average month. And that is both gratifying and troubling.

Gratifying because like any writer, it's rewarding to know that people are reading and responding to something you've written. Troubling because of what's been written to me in return.

By last night, I'd received a boatload of Comments and private emails. However, most will never appear appended to the "Eden" post. Not, as some may assume, because their writers don't agree with me. In fact, not one reaction falls into that category.

No, what I've been reading over the last 24 hours is a litany of personal humiliation at the hands of Canadian producers and broadcasters; artists being silenced, work being misappropriated and other tales of show business greed and misdeeds that range from the possibly criminal to those merely morally reprehensible.

And I'm not sure what to do with all that stuff. I sought advice from several friends last night, receiving recommendations from "Don't say anything" to "Print it all" including the compromise option of offering the material with the names redacted or disguised.

But none of those choices work for me.

Although I'm not a journalist and the blogosphere doesn't cleave much to journalistic principles, I've always felt you've got to follow that MO if you want to be taken seriously. I don't have physical proof or witnesses to what's been relayed, nor the time to do the legwork in finding such.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm not interested in being a conduit for gossip or assisting somebody with their own personal axe to grind.

I'm also a guy who has always believed in the knock out punch rather than the bitch-slap. So I want to do what's right. In my world, you get respect and whatever room you feel you need until you prove yourself unworthy -- and then you never get either one again. That's a cruel path to take with somebody else's foes.

But there is too much pain in these letters and comments to be ignored and what we're up against in getting rid of that suffering feels like a mythic task.

Canada has always been a nation that has devoured its young, its most vibrant and most promising (the "Tall Poppy Syndrome"). And that's not done out of spite. It's done to protect the Oligarchs and institutions already established. They're terrified of any renewal or change that might lessen their power. As a result, we've become a living embodiment of the myth of Saturn.


According to this ancient tale, it had been foretold that one of Saturn's sons would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his father. To prevent this, Saturn ate each of his children as soon as they were born. His wife finally hid his son Jupiter in exile. And, as predicted, Jupiter returned home to overthrow his father.

Take a moment to visit this CPAC LINK and watch last Friday's submission from four Canadian screenwriters to the CRTC hearings on the Canadian Television Fund. You have to click the [>] button past the first clip to reach our guys.

What is patently obvious throughout is that the Commissioners have no clue what these writers are talking about. I don't know Aaron Martin and, not being in his prime demographic, I don't know much of his work. But he's a pretty smart cookie and watching him try to remain courteous and respectful and even get his head around the lunacies being suggested by the CRTC would be darkly funny if it wasn't also so damn tragic.

Aaron, you are among my new heroes. And I have no doubt, you will soon move into exile, where like such Jupiters as Jim Carrey, Paul Haggis, David Shore and the creative forces behind (the not Canadian enough to compete for a Genie) "Juno", you will be part of a culture that will one day fell our own Saturn establishment.

Click back on that CPAC link and you can witness a completely different tone of engagement between the Commissioners and satellite provider Bell Expressvu. And this is doubly ironic because Expressvu is part of a corporate entity facing a multi-Billion dollar class action suit in its telecom divisions while covering that alleged malfeasance with the false claim that their actions were mandated by the CRTC.

Less than a week later, Expressvu itself is on the wrong end of yet another Class Action suit over billing practices that, if proven, will result in criminal sentences.

Yet they get the kid glove treatment and the goody bag while the kids with a passion for their country receive a surly, cold shoulder.

And Canadian writers aren't the only ones reeling from the stench of what goes on within our production community. A friend who runs a well-known international charity recently turned down a six figure donation from a Canadian film and television producer after vetting his company. His exact words to that producer -- "You're not doing your charity penance here."

What does it say about our "respected" establishment favorites when even those fighting starvation, HIV and medical need around the planet decline much needed donations rather than be associated with them?

Something within our industry and our nation needs serious attention.

And right now, I need some help in figuring out what to do with all these letters. Do I send them to the CRTC, who I already know can't be trusted? Do I provide them to journalists who might enjoy leading a two-day "Cause Celebre" before moving on to some other topic? Are they the fodder for yet another WGC pity party?

It's so odd to live in a free country and feel you have nowhere to turn to find justice.

Maybe our only choice is to make some Class Action attorneys extremely wealthy through what we know.

Please send me your suggestions. I promise they will be printed.

6 comments:

Ken said...

If things keep going the way they are I might be asking for those letters so I can set them alight and keep warm. My head's down and my neck hurts because not only do I have to watch where I step on the unplowed streets of Toronto, I live in fear of the creeping destruction of our culture by those charged with safeguarding it. Maybe I can get my hands on Jim Shaw's empty chair and burn it too. Thanks for the "Eden" post, Jim. And I'd add David Barlow to my list of heroes too.

Ken said...

Jim,
I’m new to this stuff, but just pissed off enough to think it’s worth it. I’ve been visiting your blog now and again for quite a while and it’s always worth the read. Your “Eden” post was so very well researched, deeply considered and very enlightening. I’m not surprised you rattled some cages and ruffled and few feathers with it. Keep it up; after all if we can’t talk amongst ourselves who the fuck else can we complain to? And thank you so much for the kind words about Mayerthorpe. Michael Storey, my cinematographer on it called me today to debrief a bit about the fallout --all good by the way. Right out of the blue he said something to the effect of, ‘It was so great to work on something Canadian; something that felt like it mattered for a change.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself. Even though it’s almost a year since we shot it that feeling that we were doing something important to us AS CANADIANS still resonates in the empty space between my ears. Everybody on the set on every single day of shooting, swathed in the Calgary cold, amid the sick film set jokes, felt they were a part of something that mattered. I hope I get to taste that again sometime. Hope somebody does. Alas, I’d wager our illustrious CRTC members were tuned in to Kayne West and Amy Winehouse on Global. (Have to admit, I like Amy Winehouse)
Stay well,
Ken

peb said...

This may seem naive, but shouldn't the tax authorities be interested in this type of shenanigans? Don't the studios get audited?

I really enjoy and appreciate your blog.

Brandon Laraby said...

The hardest part about this whole situation is that in order to make it work, someone's going to have to fall on their sword. 'Cause the moment you kick the Giants in the Junk, well, they're going to react very, very poorly (at best).

That being said - I'm not even in the running yet and I'm absolutely disgusted with what people have told me (let alone the wonderful stories you guys shared with me in the cafe that day...). The only reason shit like this continues is because of silence, because we all gotta eat and if we rock the boat, well, dammit, we shoot ourselves in the foot.

However, there's a measure to be taken from the recent American Writer's strike: We don't have to stand for it. If those who're supposed to have our best interests at heart don't, well, we're writers. We communicate. That's what we do. There's gotta be ways to weed these fuckers out of the stream.

The thing that works against us all is the fact that so many writers are solitary in their work. There's not a lot of communication between one another and so there's no collective unconcious that tells us "hey, you're going to get burned".

The fact that you recieved such a deluge just screams to me that people are sick and tired of getting molested by a system that's supposed to empower them. Each and every one of them can help to prevent any one else from ever having to endure these things. By working together we can educate each other about the system we're all a part of and how best to navigate it - and where best we can affect change to it.

Don't worry Jim. Jupiter is coming.

Artemus said...

peb said...
"This may seem naive, but shouldn't the tax authorities be interested in this type of shenanigans? Don't the studios get audited?"

When you have some time, you should google and look up the outcomes of investigations of Cinar and Telefilm Canada which involved the theft of millions of tax payer dollars from 1993-2000 (paying american writers for work credited to canadian writers).

There's also the $122 million they put in their Bahamian bank accounts without approval.

The RCMP and the Surete du Quebec seized documents and started investigations.

The government issued a statement that the Telefilm investigation would be taken away from the RCMP and replaced with a Telefilm "internal investigation" because they would be the best people to investigate this. Quebec never filed criminal charges and Cinar settled out of court for a couple of millions and the story quietly went away. (Writer Fabienne Larouche received death threats for exposing this to the media).

Look it up for yourself and be shocked.

As long as production companies can commit fraud with impunity, there's no motivation for the system to change.

BlaineW. said...

Write a book.