Over the last few weeks, as Creatives in the film and television industry await decisions from Ottawa bureaucrats regarding Federal funding through the new Canadian Media Fund, there have been rumblings from within that tough times lie ahead.
There is a government in power apparently pre-disposed to eliminating support for the industry. The “Hidden Agenda” of this government is to get rid of the CBC, cancel funding to activities that don’t reflect their heinous political agenda or horribly unsophisticated personal taste and otherwise wish to make it impossible for film and TV artists to earn a decent living in this country.
Cause they really hate our guts, y’know!
All that may be true.
Or there may be another “Hidden Agenda” in play.
Last week, Alex Epstein, over at the eminently well written “Complications Ensue” listed some of the new criteria predicted if you want Federal money for your next TV show.
Since virtually no television gets made in this country without that kind of funding, Alex was publishing the first checklist of the new CMF era.
As those concerned debated whether these new elements would be beneficial or become a further drag on the industry, they were assured by various Guild and Union representatives that the decisions were coming directly from Minister of Heritage James Moore and that the more experienced bureaucrats slaving on our behalf within his department didn’t like all the new changes any more than we did.
In fact, these tireless administrators of Arts funding were working hard and with the assistance and expertise of our own administrative staffs to blunt as much of the negative impact as they possibly could.
If you’re buying that, I got a lady at the CMF I can sell you who is “really on your side”. She’s the one who assured members of the Writers Guild of exactly that the day before a conference where we were to have “input” into the new CMF rules and where we arrived to discover the decisions had already been made.
Actually, I can’t really sell you that lady. She’s already sold herself for a regular government pay check and an indexed pension. Because that job she does has nothing whatsoever to do with assisting the Arts or building a viable production industry. She’s there to distribute whatever money the government feels is enough to make us STFU or at least keep our bellyaching confined to the nearest Starbucks patio.
If this was a world of real money, there would be somebody investigating just how come Billions have been poured into an industry that has created little profitable product no matter how often the funding requirements are tweaked, while simultaneously providing immense wealth and comfortable tenured employment to a select few.
If the government were actually trying to invest in an industry, somebody would be stipulating specific goals, progress benchmarks and hard deadlines to be met. Instead, we have initiatives like Telefilm’s Screenwriter program where writers get to write the kind of scripts that exemplify the creative and innovative strength of this country --- and then can’t sell them to anybody because independent producers know there isn’t money in the network envelopes to finance them.
If the government were actually trying to subsidize the Arts in the way that other countries subsidize theirs, somebody would be gauging audience reactions and critical response to determine who gets further support. Instead, we have the CBC renewing series that can’t attract 0.1% of the population and maintaining the salaries of non-productive management who regularly show their younger talent the door when belt-tightening comes around.
That woman at the CMF is not a government deputized Patron of the Arts who cares about you.
She’s a welfare clerk and she knows it.
Why don’t we?
If you want an example of the lack of thinking and complete disregard for reality that permeates the distribution of the government’s meagre Arts largesse, you need to look no further than the $130,000 Banana.
Two years ago, an Argentine artist named Caesar Saëz applied to the Canada Council and le Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec for a grant that would allow him to build a 300-metre long flying banana that would float over Texas protesting the policies of then US President George W. Bush.
Now, anybody with any cognitive faculties or even a tenuous grasp on what might help invigorate the local Arts, might have had a couple of questions about that application.
1. Is this guy a legitimate Canadian artist?
2. How much does it really cost to build a blimp that is not only larger than the Hindenberg but approximately the size of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier?
3. Since the American President lives under a protective security bubble, could facilitating this work of art be considered an act of terrorism at worst and a violation of another country’s national airspace at best?
4. Would we fund a Dutch artist who wanted to build a flying Gouda ball to float over Caracas and protest the policies of Hugo Chavez?
But they didn’t ask those questions.
Instead, between the two funding bodies they gave the man $130,000.
Over two years.
So they had time to think about it.
And assess his progress.
That’s enough money to fund a half dozen original scripts, a low-budget feature, the production of a new Canadian play, a free Sarah MacLauchlin concert in Timmins, North Bay, Sudbury and maybe Kenora too.
Or for the people whose tax dollars paid for a flying banana intended to strike fear into the very soul of a heartless right-wing warmonger --- it’s a doctor for a town that doesn’t have one, a ward shift of new nurses, maybe a few miles of new road or an extra sheet of ice so their kids can play hockey.
Yeah, I know, every dollar spent on the Arts expands to create six more dollars in the economy. And the people who manufacture the bamboo and Tyvek with which the masterpiece was to be built would have benefited for sure.
Except Señor Saëz didn’t build his banana.
He skipped with the money.
And the Mounties are now hot on his trail, scouring the trendy Cantinas of Buenos Aires for anybody buying Banana daiquiris for the house…Right?
It seems the funding agencies involved don’t actually have a problem with the fact that this Artist didn’t produce anything to justify his six figure subsidy.
According to an interview with two bureaucrats representing each of the bilked Arts Councils (taped version in French here and English transcript here) Caesar Saëz “fulfilled all the required government criteria”.
They know he didn’t actually make anything. But he did “research” and he “developed theories”.
You know like the way you Google Porn and then discuss how you might convince your girlfriend to do that over drinks with your buddies…
Yeah, there’s a grant for that!
And if you film it and post it on Youtube you can call it Art. And then you can ask for more government money.
Because, according to these two bureaucrats, despite not creating anything and absconding with the cash, if Caesar makes another grant application it will be properly considered --- and perhaps funded.
After all --- he met their requirements the last time around.
Neither of these highly ranked members of the Arts industry had any problem with the lack of any Art at the end of their funding exercise. After all, “reports” were filed on schedule. Properly double spaced and with a table of contents and color-coded tabs, of course.
You Creative types need to start realizing the real “Hidden Agenda” operating here. These people don’t massage policy, defend your interests or give a good God Damn about anything you do. They’re no different from the clerk who needs three pieces of photo ID before renewing your Health Card or refuses to even touch your Drivers License application because you forgot to check one of the boxes.
They shuffle binders. They tick off checklists. They go home at 4:30 and they don’t know Tolstoy from toilet paper.
And are those who represent your interests to them making up for their failings?
Well, if you go back to that post of Epstein’s, you’ll find an update from the Writers Guild of Canada clarifying that the Independent Production Agreement has Guidelines in place to cover writing done for Digital Production...
“…all fees for digital writing are negotiable. (The other general terms of the IPA still apply, however, i.e. payment on delivery, I&R, copyright, grievance, etc.)”
You got that? You want to be paid for digital work you negotiate with the producer. You’re on your own, Skippy! No dues funded collective bargaining has set a reasonable fee on your behalf. However, all the fees paid to the Guild for their services are locked in.
The bureaucrats are always protected. Their fees are always secure. Yours are --- negotiable.
These people all look after themselves first --- so they can look after your interests, of course.
Because unless you were dependent on them, they wouldn’t have a job.
Like the phone company who won’t cut you a better deal because they know you need the service, they’ve got leverage. You’re not driving the culture. You’re the guy who needs that government check to pay the rent. So get with the program!
Well, what do we do about this?
A couple of weeks ago, a friend who’s dealt with the ridiculous way Canadian television operates almost as long as I have paraphrased Voltaire with his solution:
"We shall only be free when the last network executive is strangled with the entrails of the last bureaucrat!"
So, if I were Heritage Minister James Moore, I might tear myself away from trying to find tickets to the Two-Man Luge and have a little chat with my staff about how they’re supposed to serve the will of the people Canadians elected and not what they think might reduce the number of complaint calls they have to avoid answering.
And then I might stop all the faux “We’re helping the Arts” nonsense in favor of setting some specific goals for the industry. 5% of movie screens showing Canadian films. Audiences of a million for each episode of a federally funded TV series.
How about production guidelines that can’t be weaseled around to make sure Canadians tell Canadian stories to Canadians. Minorities get their share of the work as well as the opportunities to express the culture of their demographic the law says they have a right to expect.
And nobody gets to program work that was made for credits or where PA’s are earning less than the government mandated minimum wage.
Just set some targets and if your staff don’t find a way to meet and properly police them, they’re gone and somebody else gets their job.
Maybe there could be a tax-break for Canadian production too. One that actually gets audited this time and has meaningful penalties, so nobody can scam investors or sneak projects that would never qualify past bored government paper-shufflers.
And maybe the people who are paid to represent the collective interests of artists should start setting hard targets of their own for what their constituency needs instead of getting chummy with people who get paid whether we work or not.
And maybe those people should just go back to the Department of Natural Resources where all they had to do was count trees, or better yet Agriculture where they might actually experience a real banana from time to time.
Because those may be the only ways we put the culture back in the hands of the people who make it.
At the very least, it might stop things from getting worse.
Because as I was writing this post this morning, Dominic Maurais, the Quebec talk show host who interviewed those Arts Bureaucrats and was told to file an Access to Information application if he wanted the details they wouldn’t tell him, did just that.
You’ll find it here.
Seems the price of bananas keeps going up.