Monday, June 09, 2008

OLD PEOPLE FUCKING

My favorite drama teacher had a phrase he used when he saw a movie he particularly hated, "It was like watching old people fuck!".


That was at a time when porn movies were still illegal and only seen at a buddy's stag, when some sleazy guy with a 16mm projector would slink in and take ten bucks from everybody to show a collection of scratched and jumpy one reelers.

It was also a time when sex was still finding its way into mainstream films, with nudity rare and audiences aflutter over sex scenes in "Alfie", "Klute" or "Carnal Knowledge" that would barely cause a raised eyebrow today.

In 1976, I wrote and starred in a Canadian feature called "A Sweeter Song" that featured a lot of nudity, sex, graphic talk about sex and a gay character played as a real person and not for fey laughs, something quite unusual for the time.

That film received some funding from the then relatively new government arm of the film industry called the CFDC. The only comment we got on the content came from the guy who wrote the check, who told me, "That's one horny little script!"

"A Sweeter Song" wasn't really about sex, it was about love and relationships. But since those topics usually involve sex and titillation always sells tickets, we ended up with a spicy little movie that was "R" rated then but might pass as PG-13 today.

Incidentally, if you ever do see it. Those shots that appear to be the Hindenberg crossing frame are actually of my ass!

Recently, a film I haven't seen, but which sounds remarkably similar to "A Sweeter Song" has been making headlines because it's called "Young People Fucking" or "Young People F***ing" if you're reading about it in a newspaper.

Either the title or the concept that there might be movies out there which imply that young Canadians are having sex, probably outside the bonds of holy matrimony, not necessarily for reasons of procreation and possibly not limited to two people or the missionary position seems to have caught the attention of the government and other interested parties.

So we have the C-10 debate about pre-censoring Canadian films because the government shouldn't sponsor such outrageous behavior -- even though it already has (many times over) and so far the Nation's institutions are still intact and nobody's doing it in the street and scaring the horses -- except for Pride Weekends (which are, coincidentally, government funded).

We also have the, quite frankly, pathetic spectacle of the film's distributor scheduling screenings for MPs and other government pooh-bahs to "prove" the film isn't really all that "offensive".

Nice message to send to the movie ticket buying youth of the country -- "Hey kids, ignore us. Nothing to see here. We couldn't even give a Member of Parliament a Woody. Save your money for the next Judd Apatow movie."

William Castle must be turning in his showman's grave. Any intelligent distributor would have played up the outlaw implications of the title, even refused to screen it for the press. Doesn't anybody here realize there's no future, let alone profit, in being "those nice, provincial and harmless Canadians"?

The only way you counter censorship is to build a buzz that sells enough tickets to people who think the movie actually is about "Young people Fucking" so that you never have to go back to the government for approval or money again!!!

As I said in the post about Government Controlled Art below this one, there are quantifiable stages in the ascent of those who control others. We, the soon to be dominated, enable them, then we show them deference and finally, we do as we're told.

If you don't understand that process, check with anybody living on a reservation. But the history of Canadian film and television offers clear empirical proof of the thesis as well.

Where once we got a little money from Government agencies to make our films and TV shows with few questions asked, we have allowed them to become our regulators, our financiers and our cultural conscience.

We've swapped artistic exploration for the opportunity to advocate for government policy. No wonder Stockwell Day wants to guest star on "The Border". He knows it wouldn't have even gotten on the air without being an extension of his Ministry.

Last week, the CRTC issued an edict creating yet another level of bureaucracy in CTF television funding which will be dispensed based on the "popularity" of the programming. And while some of our Creative Guilds and Associations may carp about that decision, you know that nobody will fight too hard, because the money's easy and finding it elsewhere has become virtually impossible.

American ghetto kids might pelt social workers with government cheese, but up here, we can't swallow enough of it.

So, now, to add to the confusion of whether your script or concept is a "cultural" or "popular" property, we'll have to design a way of determining what's "popular" and how much more money you get for being more popular than the next guy.

In the real world, (ie: anywhere outside Canada) people make programming and if lots of folks watch it, they make money and if everybody thinks it kinda sucks, they lose money. But here, it appears, a level of success will be determined and you'll be funded accordingly.

First of all, I'm not sure how that's going to work, since popularity can only be quantified after the fact.

Will funding which may already be contingent on not offending the Minister of Heritage once he/she gets a look at it now be forced to leap through the interim financing hurdle of not knowing how much you get until the final BBM numbers are in?

How nuts is that for a producer or his once friendly banker to calculate?

Or will we simply see set Network envelopes that fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the seasons -- while CBC stays stable with its separate portion of the Fund?

Gee, how unfair are the private broadcasters going to find that? Wanna bet the CRTC is already scheduling intervention hearings?

Let's also not forget that the private networks are already loathe to spend any of their own money on development. How anxious will they be to embrace it if they can't know how much funding they'll have access to until the final tally of the current season's numbers is complete -- and what does that mean for the timing on renewals, let alone the pick ups on new shows that were being considered for the next season?

Once again, instead of creating any certainty for the industry, we've added another level of government administered confusion.

And exactly what's going to define popular anyway?

Like what's the number that says a drama is popular? Global's "The Guard" didn't bust a million. Neither did CTV's "Robson Arms". So it appears CBC's criteria for what hangs around won't apply to the other networks.

Is popular, say, 800,000 in this new world, half a million -- maybe 300,000...? And is there a different number for docs, magazine shows, cooking series? I mean the bar has to be set somewhere different for each genre, doesn't it?

And does that bar move?

If we set a standard of 200K for designer shows and then a Canadian Martha Stewart emerges and gets 500,000 does the bar go up or is that show just considered "extra-popular" so everybody else can keep working?

Likewise, if the audience goes off the design genre and the overall ratings for those channels drops, does the bar drop to keep them funded or do they just disappear?

Or do our networks simply program lowest common denominator in order to ensure they have respectable numbers no matter what the content?

"Young People Fucking" could end up being on every night in the hope the title will attract extra viewers and Cheryl Hickey might have to go into full skank mode to keep her series' CTF money rolling in.

Maybe you think that's an exaggeration, but sex sells and lots of "viewer discretion" warnings are already the norm on higher rated series.

Can you picture the CTF (a government agency) having to issue a press release saying that some worthy kid's show which won a ton of awards didn't qualify as popular enough to enhance its network's numbers but Global's version of one of those seamy Lie Detector shows earned it a bigger envelope?

Elsewhere on the web, smarter guys than me, Peter Bart, who green-lit iconic films like "The Godfather" and "Chinatown" and veteran sitcom writer Earl Pomerantz are writing extensively on how corporatization and the undue influence of the bean-counters are destroying film and television as we've known them.

Here in Canada, we just turn over even more of our decision making to the government.

It's like watching old people fuck!

11 comments:

Ken said...

You're so right you piss me off. They call themselves Conservatives. They call themselves ethical. They claim the moral high ground. They're old...and they sure know how to fuck people like you and me.

deborah Nathan said...

I have long held the belief that the government is tired of supporting the arts and has been killing them through attrition. Nothing outright, just more and more hoops to jump through. Less and less money allocated. Greater and greater bureaucracy to wade through.

I think this particular crafty policy has been in play since 1999, when the rules first changed about programming.

These days, the networks have a lot of money for development, but none for production. Their license fees remain the lowest in the English-speaking world. And they don't care.

At a time when the British are making series at $3 million an episode and the Australians are in a Renaissance of dramatic programming, where are we?

The networks are proud to hail British programs looking to fill their gaps (Burn Up, Crusoe, Tudors, etc.) by creating "co-pros" where Canada is the minority partner, i.e., very little money.

I can only see this trend continuing. As well as that of the CanCon dramas driven by the U.S.

"The Book of Don" said...

hey..I didn't think your ass was THAT bad, although perhaps todays 08 version is not quite as...er, "pert" as the 76-er was ?

:)

James Goneaux said...

Jim: a few weeks ago I was wondering if there was a Jim Henshaw film fest: "Lions for Breakfast" and "Deadly Harvest" were on the Drive In network, and "Sweeter Song" pops up, so to speak, with great regularity. I hope against hope that you get some residuals...

But to turn to your essay, I'd just like to point out that the Canadian MUSIC industry certainly seems to have found its way. I mean, it still produces pap for the most part, but it is internationally renown pap.

Is there a Canadian movie and television equivalent to Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Alanis Morrisette, the Barenaked Ladies or for that matter, Oscar Peterson, Ian Tyson or Stan Rogers?

Once you get beyond Cronenberg and Egoyan, I don't think so. And for TV, I don't think there is ANY equivalent. And no, selling "Little Mosque" to Fox doesn't count.

Ever look at the back of a Canadian artist's CD? See that little symbol that says "MAPL" (cute, eh?). Stands for Music, Artist, Produce, Lyrics, and you need 2 out of 4 to be Can-con.

Of course, Bryan Adams found out that even though you could be a Canadian artist, living (at the time) in Canada, writing and producing your own lyrics and music, if you have an non-Canadian co-producer, you aren't Canadian enough.

Neil Young, on the other hand, who has not lived in Canada in over 40 years, could produce an album of mariachi music in Japan with 100 Sudanese musicians, and the album would be considered Canadian.

Go figure.

jimhenshaw said...

Not only don't any of the artists see a dime when any of those films run on the "Drive-In Channel" -- that CanWest operation refuses to even tell anybody where they buy them in the first place.

deborah Nathan said...

Jim, careful of your blood pressure. Might want to go out and hit a few golf balls.

jimhenshaw said...

As a cold-blooded producer, my BP is always low. And I gave up golf to keep it that way :)

wcdixon said...

golf rules...

DMc said...

Jim, you've got your facts wrong in this post again.

It's actually the OTHER huge Canadian Broadcasting company that owns Driv IN Classics now.

Call Ivan and demand your cheque!

And the only reason that Canadian music today is vibrant (or as vibrant as it can be in the current climate) is because in the long-ago once upon a time they didn't water down the CanCon provisions at a time when most people got their music from Radio.

They HAD to play; the product had to be there, there was no choice. Eventually the public got used to it, tolerated it and then embraced it.

In a world where the public was educated that, you know what? You'll still see all your American favorites because those networks are ON THE AIR HERE,
and Canadian nets were "encouraged" to run more drama in prime time, and put in more than 20% of the cost of making the thing -- you'd see five more CORNER GAS level successes in a few short years.

Never going to happen, but still -- that's where the analogy breaks down.

In Music, they had the vision to regulate and the will not to water it down. And the flourishing of Canadian talent today is the result.

I mean,you don't think it was the Canadian Record Industry being naturally brilliant, do you?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAH!~

Oh, I laugh. I laugh because I hate.

Steve said...

I've completely given up trying to make any sense out of the Canadian funding system. I lost all hope when I learned that Telefilm's requirements for development funding were:

a) you must not have a script AND
b) you must have a distribution deal.

Stephanie.... said...

Jim, once again, great post & I just gotta say I absolutely love reading your blog.