Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Steal Your Pain

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

light-a-candle

These are difficult times.

And though it’s intended to inspire discussions on the realities of the current Canadian film and TV business, a lot of what I write on this blog gets interpreted as concentrating on the negatives.

But while I do spend more time examining problems than offering solutions, the reason for that is simple.

There are a lot of problems.

And they deserve a rigorous examination instead of simply being accepted as unchangeable. Meanwhile, most of the solutions remain tightly held in the hands of folks who, in their own self-interest, don’t seem inclined to apply them.

But after writing the “New Zealand” post below and receiving the responses I did, I feel the need to offer something more positive. There are simply too many of you seeking solutions you can perhaps help initiate.

So here goes…

In that previous post, I asked disingenuously why other countries could make programming audiences wanted to see but we couldn’t. I say disingenuous, because --- I already knew the answer.

Our industry doesn’t take advantage of great Canadian literature that could be turned into miniseries. It doesn’t look for ways to counter “Band of Brothers” or “The Pacific” with identical tales from our own history. It doesn’t search for fresh ways to exploit either proven talent or new arrivals with obvious potential.

And it doesn’t do all of those things for the same reason.

It doesn’t have to.

Yes, there are all kinds of Canadian content rules. But those have been so warped over the years that they no longer reside in the same ballpark where they were intended to govern the game.

At its base, we are an industry that was constructed over the centuries to make the human condition more bearable. We serve by helping people inhabit worlds they haven’t personally experienced. Our other services include making them laugh, assuaging their guilt, creating empathy, revealing the consequences of actions and providing catharsis.

But the system that evolved and thrives in Canada has become about doing the least that’s expected as cheaply as possible while maximizing access to as much Public funding as can be had.

All those services the audience comes to us to receive are not part of our delivery system’s inventory.

Today, over at “TV Feeds My Family”, Bill Brioux offers a definitive example of all that. And it’s further proof of why we can’t waste any more time or energy hoping Canadian TV Execs, politicians, CRTC Commissioners or funding bureaucrats will eventually want to make television better.

A decade of regulatory mismanagement, skewed funding priorities and broadcaster myopia have pretty much decimated the industry we used to have. So…

We need to build a new one.

That means we have to let the old models go and create new ones that deliver what the audience craves from us.

I’m not talking about all that online, cross-platform, trans-media stuff. Because it is, as you’ve probably noticed, already being sucked into the bureaucratic “We’ll decide what gets made and dole out the funding” maw.

Recently, even some among the industry’s chosen have begun to recognize the game is rigged against them. That would include the hierarchy at the CBC and TVA, one of whom recently penned a guest editorial on realizing that money collected from Cable fees to fund new programming is now distributed using a weighted system where 45% of your score depends on your “historical access to funding”.

Them that already have continue to get. Those with new ideas get a smaller shot at being included.

But even though they can see their demise is closer than they had thought, most of the TV people concerned continue to spin ratings to try and stave off the inevitable.

The system takes care of its own needs first. And by not rocking their own leaky lifeboat, some may have a future with the networks that survive.

So if we want to have a real industry that actually does what it was intended to do, it’s up to us.

Scary?

You bet.

Impossible?

Not at all.

In fact, all it will take is going back to the principles that brought most of you to this business. That, and starting to put your own production model in place.

Let me tell you about the most rewarding moment of my professional career.

It didn’t have anything to do with cashing big cheques, getting appreciative calls from network presidents or being handed an award.

It came the afternoon before shooting commenced on the first feature film I’d written.

The producer hosted a get together for the cast and crew. And as I floated in the pool, exhausted from the months it had taken to write the script and get the project together and knowing I still needed to turn up the dial a notch in the morning, one overwhelmingly feeling held sway --- all these people were making a movie because I’d had the courage to face a blank page and type “Fade In:”.

Last weekend a former Canadian network exec confirmed one unspoken reality of the business. If it’s already made or comes in financed, they’ll probably buy it.

All those point charts, regional directives and resumes of the principals which are endlessly debated during their development processes don’t matter a bit when they are holding ready to broadcast material.

They’re as tightly squeezed as the rest of the economy. And when MGM can’t raise all it needs to make the next James Bond film and “Avatar” is being released on DVD while it’s still making a millions a week in theatres, it indicates that any content available to be exploited will find favor somewhere.

All the talk of demographics and their “brand” disappears when all they need to do is write a cheque. They do it in Hollywood all the time and they’ll do it for you as well.

So just make something. Something of your own.

Don’t try to figure out what “they” want or what might advance a career in that world.

Do something that matters to you.

Honestly, could it be any worse than waiting a year to hear if they liked the pitch or if it meets some government social agenda?

If your passion lies in the direction of that series of detective novels the publisher will only sell to a US studio, go tell them that call isn’t coming in this year and maybe not the next. So they can do a deal with you or pray the remainder bin returns are healthy.

If you’ve got a script, go find your own crew and the best cast you can get to return your calls.

Surround yourself with like minded Creatives. Offer to help with their project if they’ll help with yours --- and mean that.

Do one thing. Give it all your energy. Don’t compromise on the promise that giving away power to someone else will make it easier for you.

You know that saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? There is some truth in it. There will never be enough money and it may not arrive when you most need it. But it eventually materializes.

Stop playing the “Find a local broadcaster to trigger funding” game. Stop giving the time of day to producers juggling 20 other projects. They sap your time and your resolve. Their world is collapsing.

But the audience need for the services we provide is stronger than ever. In fact, it’s growing.

If you build it. And it’s made with honest intent. They will come.

Not right to your door. Never as many as you hoped. But you will find your audience.

You may have to go searching for them. But they are not a myth or a mystery. They’re out there and they’re not much different from you.

Go where you are needed. Go where your work can be realized. There is no future in a place where you are not wanted or appreciated.

In closing, let me leave you with a parable…

hopi-symbols

THE MESSAGE OF THE HOPI ELDERS

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this IS the Hour.  And there are things to be considered:  Where are you living?  What are you doing?  What are your relationships?  Are you in right relation?

“Where is your water?  Know your garden. It is time to speak your Truth.  Create your community.  Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore.  They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.

“And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history we are to take nothing personally, least of all, ourselves.  For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time of the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!!  Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

“This could be a good time!”

5 comments:

The White Wolf said...

I'll be taking a workshop Saturday on Writing for New Media put on by the Quebec Writers Federation (QWF.org).

My balls shrink when I think of producing myself, but this is one step in seeing if I can git 'r done.

Anyone have any question they'd want me to ask the instructor, contact me, and I'll jot 'em down.

Steve said...

We start shooting in 19 days...

MarkCF said...

Another great post Jim. Thanks.

I stumbled on this the other day and, honestly, I couldn't wait to share it with you and your readership:

http://fora.tv/2010/01/07/Whats_Next_with_the_Internet_Vint_Cerf_Looks_Ahead

Maybe it will brighten some outlooks as it did mine.

MarkCF said...

Hmmm, here it is again (modified.)

http://fora.tv/2010/01/07/Whats_Next_with_the
_Internet_Vint_Cerf_Looks_Ahead

Brandon Laraby said...

Thanks for this, Jim.

I've been developing a show now for a little while and have happened upon a producer - thanks to some good friends who thought we might click - who's just as excited about it as I am.

Every time we meet it's a brilliant and exciting experience... and each time all I can do is hope that somehow a fraction of our love for this concept makes it to the screen.

Will my show be a success? Will it get made? Will it bring in millions of dollars in advertiser product placement or catch the nation by storm?

Honestly, at this moment, I don't care. I just want this feeling to last.