Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pssst --- Banff?

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Sometimes, not being at the center of the action can tell you more about the industry you're in than actually rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers.

I'm not at the Banff International Television Festival this year. Actually, I've never been. Scheduled as it is, I've usually been shooting or lying face down on a remote beach recovering from a long season when it's in session.

I've heard all the stories, of course. Tales about how almost as much money changed hands on the golf course as did in development deals.

The legendary opening night BBQ (since discontinued) where who you slept with afterward determined whose "let's keep this between us" blind pilot contract you were soon also consummating.

There was even a cocktail party where a newly merged Canadian producer literally lit his cigars with hundred dollar bills to exhibit his success.

Cannes may have had naked starlets, but Banff attracted guys eager to burn money. It sounded like my kinda place.

But, sadly, Life never co-operated and now I get the impression the Golden Age has passed.

There's no doubt the Banff Festival remains a significant event on the media calendar, an opportunity for television and now Next Media innovators and visionaries to gather, share ideas and initiate projects.

But if you follow the progress of the conference on Twitter, as I did with the opening day, you begin to wonder if Banff's television icons and eager acolytes have been replaced by hucksters and wannabees.

To be sure, there has always been an endless parade of bureaucrats preaching caution or politicians pitching game changing programs. But the Festival also now seems to be home to single show promotions and media evangelists.

Through Twitter, you also get an interesting insight into one of the social media platforms often hyped as a tool to get your television "message" out there.

The first tweet that caught my attention was the following…

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Well, TV creatives don't come much better or more talented than Manos, but seriously, "What the fuck does that mean?". Are we talking about shooting styles, doing a dialogue pass on the script or where to find new talent?

Is this how Twitter can enhance my series, by confusing or even losing somebody who might have watched?

Granted, a lot of dumb stuff gets said in even the most intelligent industry confab. Speakers often haven't been briefed on who they're speaking to, what that audience needs or they're just people with an immense amount of ability when parked at their keyboard but you wouldn't ask them to toss a frisbee for your dog in the real world.

But, as anybody referencing porn knows, the reference tweaked my interest in what else was being shared online for the edification of the demographic the festival probably most wants to engage.

Instead of seeing how social media might enhance a product, however, I began to wonder why people paid a thousand dollars and up to access nuggets like…

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Um…beyond stating the obvious, isn't that the whole point of technology, Duncan? I mean, you're the expert, but do you know of any individual or corporation who has ever put together a research team to make what they're doing HARDER to accomplish?

Can you foresee a future in which people line up at the Apple store for a device that doesn't work better than the one they already own?

Another tweeter attending Duncan's lecture loved a catch phrase he'd used to describe the iPad as "A Goldilocks device".

I hope that Tweeter knows it's just a cute way of saying the iPad isn't too hot or too cold, it's just right and he doesn't go hiking up Sulphur Mountain with his new tablet in order to befriend some bears.

One of the first things you learn at these events is that there's a real desire to create a short-hand vocabulary. It makes you feel and appear to be part of a select company while possessing a greater handle on a topic when you haven't really gained any knowledge or insight at all.

Scrolling the dozens of similar catchy turns of phrase tossed out by panelists and lecturers on Day One, I started to feel like every screenwriter feels when he discovers his studio executive just spent the weekend taking a McKee course.

You begin to hate Euclid for even coming up with a word for the arc.

Yeah, this stuff is helpful when you want to look cool. But it's really just another way of describing what you should already know. And while Duncan's phrase was RT'd by many, not one of them detailed what "just right" meant either to them or to the industry.

Also in a related "didn't you know that before you came here" category, we have…

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Well, isn't that exactly what you'd expect them to say? I'm sure you could do a cut and paste using "British", "American" or "hot teenage" and be just as correct.

The whole reason conferences like Banff exist is that everybody is looking for a way to improve what's on TV, especially in the ways it impacts them directly.

Less charitable members of the Canadian talent contingent might secretly want to drape the Canwest delegation in smoked salmon and take them down the road to where the Grizzlies are fishing in order to improve the state of Canadian content. But I guess those on the panel are hoping there's still time for diplomacy.

Like catch phrases, the apple pie statement is always popular. But it never gets to the more important question of "How?".

Given all the like-minded talking that's gone on in the mountains over the years, you'd think Banff would have had some profound effect on the quality of television by now, but it hasn't. And that's because visionaries seldom concern themselves with how things really work.

I've come home with notebooks overflowing with wisdom I've gained at NATPE, AFI, AFM, TIFF, Sundance and any number of smaller fests and markets. Bubbling with new ideas, I've barged into development offices with vast plans to reshape television, only to be told "That's not what we're doing this year" while being shown a promo for a new series about dancing hamsters.

There comes a point when you realize talk is cheap (unless you're affiliated with a good booking agent) and what you hear needs to be implemented and given some substance for it to be of any real value whatsoever.

And, by late afternoon, there seemed to be a deepening sense that there wasn't even a lot being said to get too excited about. That was exemplified by a tweet that must have been repeated or sent as new information more than 50 times as the day wore on.

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Cute, whether or not it's true. But sadly just another Twitter viral.

Yet it's constant repetition among the conference participants indicated a desperation to use this Next Media platform in some way, in any way, to do some good or make something happen.

That's when I started thinking the glory that was once Banff had begun to fade. Maybe, like NATPE, it's reached a point where it needs to reinvent itself in order move on.

And when a member of the upper echelons sends a tweet like this…

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…you can't help but get the impression that somebody didn't get the "how social media can enhance your brand" memo.

At the very least, what appears clear from a distance is that the people at the forefront of Next Media have yet to communicate its possibilities to the rest of the television community. What's more, nobody seems aware of what kind of impression is being made on those using a hash tag to eavesdrop their activities.

So far, there is little new and nothing to imply a brave new future is close at hand.

But maybe I'm just being contrary. Because as the sun set, somebody tweeted this…

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Ahhhh! Somebody who gets how Canadian showbiz works. Maybe the old Banff isn't as lost as it might appear. Maybe next year, I should check it out.


Owen said...

Great overview. This is my first time and I have to admit that I keep hearing the same things being said over and over. It seems that traditional media players are like mules. They really don't want to change or adapt. We need some clever innovation in Canada for traditional media. I am interested in helping with that in some way. That's why I came out.

Diane Kristine Wild said...

Some of the issue you're pointing out is that Twitter banal-izes most things. Most people here aren't talking in sound bites. The homegrown talent panel had a diversity of opinions that, sure, could be boiled down to "we need better Canadian content" but they had a lot more to say on what that would look like and why we don't have it. I can't say it was revolutionary but it wasn't as duh as a tweet makes it sound.

DMc said...

Yet not a single article about that panel in the paper today. The failure at every level of the media biz in Canada is breathtaking.

jimhenshaw said...

But that's part of the point, Diane.

Twitter does eventually render everything banal. Yet the CMF now requires using it or other social media platforms if you want funding for your TV project.

Yet none of the supposedly TV smart people at Banff seem able to use it to build interest or excitement.

Maybe, as Owen suggests, nobody's listening to the Next Media Noobs.

Or maybe we've all been sold a bill of goods on how members of social networks will distinguish programming tweets from the mostly mundane stuff they get from the rest of their connections.

If I'm not seeing anybody from Banff cut through the sound bites and get my attention, how can I be confident it can be done to find an audience for some cop show stuck in a wasteland timeslot?

The White Wolf said...

You can't throw a rock in Montreal without hitting a troupe of comedy kids with pretty good ideas (and a half-dozen written eps!), but they never get a shot.

Is it possible to produce one's own pilot and 'sell' it to a broadcaster in Canada?

Do the broadcasters frown on that?

I have a pretty great Rockmentelevision script, but unfortunately the dudes I wrote it for and I had a falling out after last years X-Mas party. I did something bad <:(

creeboy said...

I think you should go check out the conference next year Mr. Henshaw.

When you go, draft all of your tweets in advance so that they do everything you find missing in this year's stream. Make them relevant. Make them informative. Make them engaging and exciting.

Someone who has mastered the form would control the stream by preprogramming the bullet points of their presentation into timed tweets. Effectively communicating their message and insuring they, and their brand, are not misrepresented.

Given your experience and tenure I would be very interested to follow along as you share your insightful commentary.

I definitely appreciate the points you are making and would be thrilled to see the conference function at a level you suggest. However, it's not fair to rip on noobs who are simply trying to find their legs and fit in to their community. Even if they don't manage to put quotes in context.

As a senior designer with 26 years of tv production experience it would be very easy to poke at the talent coming up the ropes. "Masking with the lasso tool? You idiot, why aren't you using the pen tool?" Better for me to congratulate them on getting that far, "now let me show you something else that will blow your mind."

Perhaps I'm wrong, maybe you aren't "ripping" on the tweeters you make examples of.

I do wonder why you chose to expose the noobs' identities and protect the writing vet you commend for truly "getting it." If those eager souls somehow stumble over here I can imagine they'll only feel belittled and a little red in the face. And why? when, you know, if they keep at it, they may well be future media executives.

Hope to see you in Banff doing it the right way someday.

Michael F said...

2.5 hours of new Canadian programming next year. I don't know why we even need a conference. Couldn't we meet on a patio?