Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Numbers Games


This time of year ratings numbers become all important to the TV industry. The Fall launch of new programming is closely scrutinized in every imaginable demographic category. American networks have invested millions in the new line-ups and they need to know who is watching.

Their Spring was spent assessing the zeitgeist in order to separate the successful pilots from the also-rans. Summer was comprised of endless days convincing countless advertisers that these were the shows that would appeal directly to their customers.

Now it's the moment of truth -- or time to launch hours of agonizingly contorted spin.

One of my shows, "Top Cops", was cancelled the morning after it debuted. The Overnights (which meter major urban markets in the US) came in and we were one million short of the number the ratings gurus at CBS had predicted. Pink slips for everybody involved were immediately dispatched. Down Tools. Go home. Don't even finish the scene you're currently shooting.

An hour later, the National ratings arrived and we were a million over the prediction. Frantic phone calls ensued to cancel the firings. By the end of the afternoon, after all the micro-demographics had been parsed we were picked up for the balance of a 26 episode season.

At that time we were running Thursday nights opposite "Cop Rock", NBC's great dramatic hope for the season. They lasted only a few weeks as we consistently improved our numbers, sometimes achieving a 25 share. Did that make us the cool new kids on the block?

Nope. A couple of weeks later, we were moved to battle "Cosby" and "The Simpsons" where our much less significant 13-15 share was considered a fair return for what the show cost to produce.

In their view, the few million viewers who weren't watching us anymore was more than offset by not having to develop shows which probably wouldn't do better against the two behemoths already dominating that timeslot. We saved money and time that could be better spent taking over the slot which the demise of "Cop Rock" had left wide open.

I've never understood the obsession the entertainment pages and gossip shows have with what numbers a specific series is getting. Nor do I understand the constant bragging that goes on in network press releases -- particularly those of the Canadian nets that don't have a damn thing to do with the creation or marketing strategy of most of the shows they're crowing about in the first place.

The fact that "Hawaii 5-0" wiped out the competition may be worthy of high-fives among the people who conceived and developed it or determined which night the bulk of its intended audience was available.  But it comes off as unseemly when all you did was outbid the competition for it. The Canadian PR process smacks of all those guys who buy a Van Gogh or Picasso and figure that proves they have sophistication and class.

You also have to be careful how soon you celebrate. I'm sure there are some anxious execs at HBO wondering if they pulled the trigger a little too soon on "Boardwalk Empire" since it was renewed for a second season after one episode and promptly lost 31% of its audience for episode two.

No. Ratings are primarily of importance to show creators and the people who buy and sell commercials. They tell the creatives what (good or bad) the audience is attracted to and advertisers how many in their desired groupings might not be skipping their commercials.

"X" Million viewers might sound impressive. But if your show's sponsor is trying to sell Mercedes SUVs and the people watching are under the age of 12, it's a complete waste of their money. And if that show was also intended to dissect the trials and tribulations of men going through mid-life crises for that demographic, the writers room might need to do some re-tooling.

To be sure, if a viewer likes a show, he might like to think his affection is shared by many others. But that isn't going to guarantee his favorite sticks around and it does nothing to enhance his viewing experience.

We all have shows we liked a lot that didn't stay around long. We all moved on -- except the fans of "Firefly" -- but that's another story.

No matter how many critics liked "Lone Star" this season, its numbers just weren't high enough for Fox to convince advertisers to cover its costs until the audience arrived in the promised numbers. US nets have to rebate their fees for audience no shows and the "Lone Star" rebate was going to be huge.

The case in favor of that show continuing gets even more untenable when some of the critics now admit it wasn't really that good, but they had to help the industry save face and couldn't say that the whole season was a write-off.

In the words of one critic who recommended "Lone Star" but then moments after it super-nova'd said…

lone review

No wonder audiences aren't paying as much attention to TV critics as they used to…

However, these days, even bad numbers don't mean a show will automatically disappear. And in some cases, you don't even have to be on the air yet to get renewed for another season.

"Friday Night Lights" struggled to find an audience from the get-go, with little more than critical acclaim to shepherd it through its first season. Most of its cast and crew probably booked stand-by tickets out of Austin for the morning each week's ratings came in. But somehow, for somebody, at some level it was worth keeping around.

So while NBC continued to axe series with much better numbers, it also kept finding ways to keep "FNL" alive. Next month it begins its fifth season on the Direct TV 101 Network, repeating later on NBC.

FNL's audience may be small but they buy tractors or satellite dishes or something and that's what really pays the freight. Or somebody at NBC just likes getting invites to the Peabody and Humanitas Award dinners.

It's not always about who or how many are watching.

And that's particularly true in Canada.

Last week, "Call Me Fitz" debuted its first episode on HBO Canada the day before it went into production on Season 2. That's right. Renewed sight unseen by an audience.

It's not that its network isn't concerned with whether or not its subscribers are entertained by the show. But that concern is weighed against the extra political points and future government fund investments that HBO Canada gains by keeping around a show that is filmed in a particular region of the country or is staffed at a certain diversity level or meets some other un-related to the product criteria.

If it keeps checking off those boxes on its government scorecard, "Call me Fitz" (or "Donnie Darko" meets "Breakfast of Champions" as its known around my house) could go on until Jason Priestley's grandchildren are featured on the virtual reality reboot of "90210".

The same story is true for a lot of Canadian series. "Little Mosque on the Prairie" was attracting 20% of its first season viewership at the end of last year. But it got one more kick at the can. And even though "Being Erica" has a continuously softening audience base, CBC still acts like it's got a massive hit on its hands.

And our own Press continues to fan the flames of non-excitement by deathlessly reporting hits and flops. "Shattered" debuts on Global to 400,000 viewers and is branded a failure. Days later, "Lost Girl" attracts an audience of 400,000 on Showcase and is declared a massive hit.

Same number of viewers, so what made the difference?

In a throwback to the days of Free-to-Air networks with massive reach and niche Cable Specialty channel offerings, Global was considered to have a much larger reach and therefore access to far more viewers than Showcase. Ergo more potential viewers not translating equals failure.

And to some degree that's still the case. Although the gap between the two broadcast groups is narrowing and the viewing habits of Canadians have already made the Specialty channels much more profitable than their larger cousins.

But 400,000 is still 400,000. Is that the new Million in Canada?

Instead of trying to view those numbers through the multiple prisms of network publicists, try thinking of them in a different context.

Think of 400,000 as the entire population of Kitchener, Ontario watching one or both of these shows -- maybe even really enjoying them -- while every other person in every other city, town and rural farmhouse across the entire length and breadth of the country is watching something else.

400,000 doesn't seem so noteworthy anymore, does it?

And that comparison makes why we put what we put on the air here make even less sense when you consider that "The George Stromboulopoulos Show" (which the CBC markets with half page color ads in all the National newspapers) often garners an audience less than the 157,000 population of Barrie, Ontario.

How many people is George really reaching if they could all live in Barrie? Would they maybe enjoy the show more if he interviewed more guys who like ice fishing and fewer politicians partial to the CBC?

But, of course George's audience is spread over millions of square miles. Makes you consider how often you run into somebody who says they're from Barrie, doesn't it?

My point is -- what's the country-wide benefit of a series seen by only a handful of people in every population center -- how can those handfuls ever hope to create a groundswell of interest in anything, no matter how many facebook friends and Tweet followers they have.

Truth be known, the lion's share of the viewers tuning in to "Republic of Doyle" on a regular basis reside in the show's home province of Newfoundland, with barely anybody West of Winnipeg giving it the time of day.

What good are the "Doyle" numbers to the national artistic health of the country, let alone anybody not selling something avidly purchased in the Maritimes? How much of those CBC budget shortfalls could be made up if the programming attracted advertisers actually able to reach a real national audience?

And that same warped way our ratings numbers don't really reflect the audience is true on all our networks. A guy buying commercials to sell Italian sandwiches via his local TV station in Thunder Bay probably doesn't realize that the bulk of those watching that city's "A" channel actually live in Regina.

This summer in BC, I was bewildered by History channel's repeated ads for Marineland in Niagara Falls. Trust me, these guys do not need to drive 4000 clicks to see a whale!

Ratings numbers have always had a nebulous feel to them, compiled as they are by sample groups and metering devices that can't tell if you're napping or sitting with your back to the TV while you play Scrabble with the kids.

But the bigger concern for Canadian show makers and networks should be that even in that predictably unpredictable world American shows regularly garner 4 or 5 times (sometimes 10 times) larger audiences than anything we create. Okay, only 2 times if you're making "Flashpoint".

Yet, while the week three numbers of "Lost Girl" fell to less than half what they were in Week one, nobody set about reworking the show to save it. They couldn't. The entire first season had been in the can for months. It had to be to meet government funding deadlines.

And if that show should fall to five figure audiences by season's end, that might not make any difference to its future either. Their renewal will be based less on audience response than what costs still need to be amortized, or what region it can be relocated to, or something else that has nothing to do with either quantifiable success or a satisfied fan base.

Numbers here mean nothing. Except for this…

They continue to convince our audience that we can't make shows they actually want to watch and that their input is absolutely not required.

And the numbers of those people will keep building until we take their needs alone into account.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 138: The Gentlemen's Duel

Between "Worthy Causes", fond remembrances and political rants you've heard enough of me for one week. So here's a real treat.

The following was created by Vancouver Film School student Patrick Biason. One of our many talented own.

Crazed Noblemen. Giant Robots. Bodacious Ta-tas.

Perhaps apt metaphors for the CRTC Commissioners, New Tech and Cancon coming next week.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Passing on the Left

Tommy and Irma Douglas. Photo taken by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star Nov. 4, 1965. Also published 19691018 with caption: Tommy Douglas makes a triumphant entrance into a Maple Leaf Gardens rally during his 1965 rally. the New Democratic party leader will be 65 Monday.

The first politician I was ever aware of, ever met, was Tommy Douglas. My dad worked for the railroad and was on strike. It was an ugly one. The company hired scabs and roaming gangs of thugs. Union workers carried guns because they feared for the lives of the men on the line and their own families.

Tommy came around and told them not to be afraid, to be strong, because they were in the right. He barely came up to my dad's shoulders but he was the bravest man in the room.

Not long after, he became the Premier of Saskatchewan and took on the Medical establishment by creating Medicare. Doctors struck. Hospitals closed. Mothers with sickly kids like me were terrified. But Tommy had the courage of his convictions. He knew his cause was right. He stuck to his beliefs and his principles and he won.

Lately, I've been wondering why the Left in this country doesn't act like Tommy Douglas anymore.

Tommy was long gone before I was old enough to vote. But because of his courage and class and character, the first ballot I cast was for his party. The next two or three were as well.

But somewhere after that the Left seemed to change. Standing up for specific beliefs and fighting with reasoned conviction seemed to take a back seat to something else.

Today, while I understand and personally embrace a lot of what the Left says it stands for, I can't imagine myself ever voting for a party on the Left again. And I think I'm finally beginning to understand why.

I don't think they know what they stand for anymore. I don't see many of them adhering to guiding principles. And mostly, they seem to be constantly afraid.

Before Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister, much of what I heard in criticism of him was "He scares me." He's now been Canada's leader longer than three recent Prime Ministers (Joe Clark, Kim Campbell and Paul Martin) put together. But still the refrain from Left leaning friends remains "He scares me."

Has he hurt them personally? No.

Has he torpedoed their standard of living, curtailed their freedoms, launched unjust wars, stolen from the public purse? Not so far as I can tell.

But somehow he still "scares" them. He's still waiting to unleash some terrifying "secret agenda".

Since I don't have a vote in Toronto, I don't have a dog in the current hunt for the election of the city's next Mayor. But an avowed enemy of the Left, Rob Ford, seems to have a comfortable lead a month before the vote.

In the last 24 hours I've had 35 messages from friends who live in Toronto, seeking my support for various campaigns to stop Rob Ford, to find an "anybody but Rob" candidate because "He scares me".

Scares them because…?

Nobody articulates that. Somehow being scared is enough.

Like Harper, Ford is also the butt of jokes about his physical appearance and lack of social skills. With Harper it's his stuck in place hair, choice of sweaters and preference for boring policy debates. Rob Ford is dumpy, loud and dresses like a clown.

But if the Left is deathly afraid of these guys, how come they're not at all afraid of making fun of them?

If these guys are so capable of psychopathic mayhem then cracking wise is on a par with being in a Brooklyn bar with "Two-Gun" Tommy DeSimone (the character Joe Pesci played in "Goodfellas") and telling him to go home and get his shine box.

You begin to wonder if the expression of constant dread is actually a way of avoiding articulating logical concerns. Concerns that could be used to educate, confront or debate those holding an opposing position.

Maybe continuously making fun of somebody's physical appearance reveals that those on the Left don't really believe all the politically correct and high-minded sentiments they insist they hold close to their hearts.

Did everybody just forget what happened to Brian Mulroney for making fun of Jean Chretien's paralysis.

And since when did Body Mass Index determine somebody's competence? Are you incapable of leadership because your tie and jacket clash? Is being brash and boisterous proof that you have no empathy?

Imagine any of the things being said about Rob Ford or Stephen Harper being said if they were black or women. You know, the way those "racist", "misogynist" bastards on the Right talk about Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.

The level of discourse has me wondering if those on the Left are in any way "better" than those they vilify.

If I walked into a leather bar tonight and called somebody a fudge-packer, I'd rightly get my ass kicked.

But if I believe the Tweets from all those on the Left who adore Stephen Colbert, if I call the same guy a Corn-packer he'll laugh, buy me a beer and ask if I want to oil up and wear a Speedo on his Pride Week float.

Things like that have me believing that being on the Left these days does not mean having the courage of your convictions or principles you won't disdain that embodied Tommy Douglas, Harvey Milk or Martin Luther King.

It seems to mean that you don't hold many real convictions at all.

If you did, how could you set them aside, deep-sixing a candidate who believes in something as deeply as you do to favor somebody who can beat the guy you hate but won't bring about any of the change you wanted?

Either the lesser of two evils is still evil or you don't really care that much about stopping evil in the first place.

Would you think as highly of Martin Luther King if he'd settled for riding in the middle of the bus?  Would Tommy Douglas still be our Greatest Canadian if healthcare was only free until you were 21 or got a job?

Would you still respect and look for affirmation from a newspaper proven to be manipulating the truth? How could you expect anybody to trust you or take you seriously next time if you're so willing to toss your values aside to succeed this time?

Maybe you guys on the Left need to take a hard look at what you really believe in and what makes your concerns about your opponents more real than potentially irrational.

Maybe it's time to make a list of what it is you clearly want your city or your country to be, what it should stand for and what it should never stoop to doing just to win, or to be in charge or whatever it is that most matters to you.

Until I'm convinced you're more concerned with those things than what's fashionable or accepted among your peers, I'm passing on the Left.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let's See The Pink!

This final installment of "Worthy Causes Week" here at the Legion will require you to actually get up and do something -- or help out while still sitting at your computer.

pink wings

Because I'm a guy, my chances of getting Breast Cancer are infinitesimally small. But like most guys (maybe more than most) women's breasts are important to me. And the more healthy pairs of them we have bouncing, jiggling or just quietly walking around makes the world a happier place for all of us.

Sunday, October 3rd sees the official kick-off for "Breast Cancer Awareness Month" with the "Run For The Cure". In 56 communities across this country, people will run, walk, bike, board or somehow transit a couple of blocks or several clicks to raise money to fight this disease.

Some will be wearing something pink. Most will pin the name of someone they know who is fighting or once fought the illness on their bodies. All will carry the love for someone they lost to or prays will never have to deal with Breast Cancer.

And they could use your help in one of two ways.

You can either visit the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation here and sign up to participate by running. Or you can click another button on the same site and either donate to the cause or make a pledge to one of the several thousand runners funding their own contributions.

Will Pascoe, a frequent contributor around here will accept your pledge for his run here. Last I checked he was only a few bucks shy of his goal, so you can either set his bar a little higher or link to somebody else who could use a donation.

Since I'm a producer and Will's a writer I should point out that it's always good to push a writer to achieve a little more.

But whether you choose to walk or to click you'll be making a difference.

A good portion of the money raised by this initiative goes toward early detection of the disease because a regular mammogram reduces the Breast Cancer mortality rate by 35%.

A Canada with 35% fewer programming options because the CRTC caves to a Cable monolith that wants to program the same show across all its assets or 35% fewer Canadian films being made might be the kind of bleak future we're looking at here.  But let's not make Life infinitely worse by also having a country where a third of the women fighting Breast Cancer didn't have to be.

Run or click, but do something. As with all worthy causes, taking action might not solve the problem. But it's a start.

Thursday, September 23, 2010



I did my second movie sex scene with Jackie Burroughs in a movie called "Monkies in the Attic".

I'd done my first movie sex scene about a week earlier on the same film with Jess Walton (later of "The Young & The Restless"). Actually, I think I did a sex scene with everybody in that picture except Victor Garber.

Although, Jackie did a sex scene with him in that movie too, one from which the film's title was derived and perhaps among the weirdest ever captured on celluloid.

Hey, we were all young and eager. The 60's were barely gone and nobody really made a big deal out of stuff like that. The movie was about a bunch of imploding relationships and I don't think the word "gratuitous" had been invented yet.

My sex scene with Jess had been goofy and playful. It was the first scene we'd shot that included nudity and several of the crew offered to disrobe as well if it would make us feel more comfortable. Like I said, the 60's were barely gone.

But the scene with Jackie was different. It was desperate and intense and a little terrifying -- especially for me.

Because Jackie was an actress with a ferocity in performance and demand for revealing the truth of a dramatic moment that left you nowhere to hide. I was less concerned with the exposure of my body than what she would demand be revealed of my soul.

We shot the whole thing in one long, relentless shot that left both of us wrung out and exhausted after each take.

But after the director called "Cut!" Jackie always looked me right in the eye and said, "Was it good for you too?"

A casual observer might have thought she was riffing on the age old post-coital question. But any actor who ever worked with Jackie quickly learned that her incredible intensity was accompanied by an equal generosity. As high as she demanded the bar be set, she needed to know that what you wanted from the scene had been achieved as well.

Actresses like Jackie Burroughs are rare. Her looks weren't classic. She wasn't the type casting directors thought of beyond a certain limited range. Yet give her any role and she owned it and forced everybody else in her scenes to rise to her level.

Yet all of those demands for perfection were accompanied by limitless warmth and caring. From Jackie you learned that it was important to be good, but it was equally important that everybody go home happy.

We worked together a few times after that, mostly after I'd moved to the other side of the camera. And like most people in the business it might be years between the times we ran into one another. But whenever we did, her face would light up and she'd throw her arms around me and the questions were always rich with honest concern for how I was doing.

I don't doubt that anybody who ever knew or worked with Jackie felt the same way about her. She had her quirks and peccadilloes but they only added to what made her a joy to have around.

The world is a little colder today with her passing. And I hope I don't dishonor her memory by feeling that somebody has been taking away some of Canada's finest actors this summer.

It's as if there just isn't as much demand for the gifts they possessed anymore; that the hustlers and the imitators and their government enablers have finally created a business that can get by without people who are unique or don't fit a prescribed mode but still manage to shine so brightly.

Somewhere I can hear Jackie's throaty chuckle at such thoughts as she lights a cigarette she can finally smoke again with impunity; knowing there's an actress somewhere enough inspired by her courage and her accomplishments to pick up where she left off.

I hope that's true. We really needed Jackie Burroughs during the time she spent with us. And we'll need many more like her in the future.

That Thing They Never Talk About

As "Worthy Causes Week" continues at the Legion…


The youngest of the four men is 82 years old. But they giggle like schoolboys because the cute blonde at the McDonald's register had warned them not to get rowdy like last time or she'd have to toss them out.

She was kidding of course. But she'd used the same tone to chastise the skateboarders in front of them in the line, so it made them feel like outlaws on the loose once again.

There had been a flicker of that outlaw spirit as they greeted each other in the parking lot. Hugs and high fives like guys sixty years younger hooking up outside a strip joint. Men never change. The only thing that alters is the reason for their gatherings.

Boys being boys and pleased in the breaking dawn that all of them were still on the right side of the grass.

They carry their early morning dollar coffees to their regular table next to the ball pit. There are no noisy kids to annoy them at this hour as they each slide into their places in stages to accommodate joints and muscles that don't work the way they used to.

A couple of canes are leaned against the next table. One oxygen bottle is slid out of place under the owner's chair.

For the most part, they're new to their infirmities. All four were once young and straight and strong. One flew a Spitfire at the Battle of Britain. Another was shot down over Korea and fought his way home through enemy lines.

One played football for the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup game that made the league famous. The other was poised to pitch for the White Sox, but too many of their players got back from WW2 before he did so he fought fires instead; once saving five children by making three trips into a burning house, returning from the last with a kid under each arm as the roof collapsed in flames behind them.

They all once cut handsome figures and still have pictures somewhere with kids perched on their shoulders at the beach or a Santa Claus parade. That was before the thing they never talk about came into all their lives.

Two of them had never even heard of the body part the doctor told them was the problem.

None of them knew how to break the news to their wives.

Not one told a single friend.

That thing they never talk about was never talked about for a reason. It made them feel like they weren't really men anymore.

But they'd all survived the radiation or the chemo or the surgery. They'd all dealt with the pain and the incontinence and the embarrassment the first time they had to buy "Gentlemen's pads" as one of them had dubbed the diapers.

Every 17 minutes a man dies of Prostate Cancer. And men are a third more likely to contract it than women will contract Breast Cancer. It is an epidemic rarely discussed by men because… well, it's just that thing we never talk about.

We'll happily walk or bike to raise money for Breast Cancer research. We'll cheer our favorite NHL team for sewing its almost holy logo on a bright pink jersey and play with pink sticks to increase Breast Cancer awareness.

We'll joke about valuing breasts as much as any woman.

But Prostate Cancer remains that thing we never talk about it.

And the silence is killing us.

The four men in that McDonald's are all Prostate Cancer survivors. All were diagnosed early enough to go on to live long and happy lives. Their diagnosis was quick and painless. Well -- mostly painless…

blink 182

And the aches and indignities time inflicts on them now would be gratefully traded for by the millions of men who didn't seek treatment out of fear, or embarrassment or some false belief in what made them male and now reside on the other side of the grass.

Those four old guys by the ball pit sharing jokes that were old when vaudeville was young don't mention the "P" word in their weekly get-togethers. But when they'd survived the worst they made sure they said it to their sons and brothers and closest friend.

Nobody needs to die because of silence.

This is Prostate Cancer Awareness Week in Canada. This weekend in malls and public places across the country you'll find local health care professionals eager to provide all the information you need to know about the disease. In some places, you can even get a free PSA test to determine if you're at risk.

If you're a guy, go.

If you have a guy in your life you care about, take him, or pick up the literature for him.

It's still that thing we don't talk about.

But facing it means we've got a better chance of living well into our 80's and talking about everything else under the sun with our friends.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let's Ice Granny!


Given we're in the midst of a very telling hearing on the future of Canadian television (Shaw v. CRTC et al) while a massive number of new (albeit primarily American) series are launching, I've decided to prorogue the Canadian industry portion of the blog until next week.

And based on the wonderful response I got to yesterday's post. I've decided to make this "Good Causes Week" here at the Legion. A chance to introduce you to things worth supporting before we get back to the usual whining and bitching and career suicide cunningly disguised as incisive insight.

For Day #2 of what might become an annual event, I offer the case of Betty Krawczyk, who, at the age of 82, is about to feel the full force of Canadian Justice and be tossed in the slammer to serve the rest of her natural life as an unrepentant career criminal.

Why does the state want to lock Betty away and lose the key? Is she a baby raper? A serial killer? A violent bank robber?


But she sure annoys the hell out of some people.

A mother, grandmother, author and Green Party political candidate, Betty first crossed the Law at the age of 65, busted in 1993 for attempting to stop the logging of old growth forest in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island.

Midnight Oil did a historic concert during that protest to garner world support for Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and others aligned against the governments of the time.  

Seven years later, their work saw Clayoquot Sound designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

In the interim, Betty and 849 others did jail time and earned criminal records.

And apparently, she didn't learn her lesson, because in 2006, now 78 years of age, she was slapped in cuffs for blocking a bulldozer ripping up another swatch of pristine forest to build infrastructure for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Betty went to jail a second time. Not for anything violent or damaging. But for defying a court order by showing up where she wasn't wanted.

Now she was a two time loser.

Strike Three came not long after, followed by prison sentences 4 through 8. Again, not a single one of her arrests involved hurting anyone or a single dollar of property damage.

She had simply exercised her right to dissent.

And for that the Attorney General of British Columbia intends to make an example of her.

Sick and tired of Betty embarrassing successive governments of differing political stripes and inconveniencing multi-national corporations, BC's lead lawyer has asked the Courts to rule that she is a chronic offender and put her away -- for life!

This is how bizarre the system gets in Canada. A government more than happy to trumpet its environmental achievements with one of its forked tongues, uses the other to condemn a woman who went to jail to make that achievement come true.

And oddly, for those who expect such things from the scary, hidden-agenda, law-and-order, gun-lovin', environment hatin', Harper Conservatives, this is happening at the hands of a Liberal Provincial government and the same gang of legal insiders who provided the white-wash expert to save former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Michael Bryant's hot-rodding ass!

Maybe Harper hatchet man, John Baird, was out of line blaming recent problems on the "Liberal elites of Toronto", but from where I sit, all he got wrong was the geography.

And CBC News endlessly wonders what gives rise to a Rob Ford or the Tea Party Movement…

In British Columbia (and pretty much the rest of Canada) you'll do less time for molesting children, drugging and raping a woman, gang-banging or peddling the West Coast's major cash crop than trying to stop somebody from chopping down a tree.

We're a country based on the edict of "Peace, Order and Good Government" with an emphasis on learning that you don't question the reasons why those in the latter category dole out their own versions of the first two.

Betty Krawczyk gets her day in court today, September 22nd, in Vancouver. Maybe you think that means it's too late to do anything to help. Her fate is in the hands of a Judge where no amount of protesting or outing of political scumbags can make a difference.

But it's not.

You can contact the BC Attorney General's Office at to tell them what a shameful bunch they are and what a good idea it would be not to embarrass their children with their childish behavior.

I mean, what's the point of telling your kids to "Go Green" while putting grandparents behind bars for practicing what you preach?

You can also call up any Liberal representing any Federal or Provincial Riding and ask if this is the sort of "progressive" justice they're describing whenever they criticize the brand offered by one of their political opponents.

They may tell you what they think you want to hear, so ask for proof that they've contacted BC Premier Gordon (DUI) Campbell to ask him to show Betty the same mercy another court once showed him.

You're allowed to voice your disagreement with something in this country. Honest, you really are.

Maybe if you stand up for somebody who is having that right taken away, somebody else will be there for you when "they" come to take away your own.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Each One Teach One

each one

Today this blog accomplishes something. Something insignificant to most but of life-changing importance to a few.

The phrase "Each One Teach One" originated during the era of slavery in the American South. In order to better control their slaves, plantation owners denied them access to education and even the right to read because ignorance reduced the captive's options, making them feel even more unworthy of a life beyond subservience.

But those who did learn to read or mastered a skill realized the strength and broader horizons that came with that knowledge and knew that they had to pass it on. Each one taught one. And little by little the chains binding them all were broken.

Enough of the best lessons I've learned in life have come from dogs for me to recommend dog ownership as a solution to a lot of the ills modern life visits upon the rest of us.

A dog doesn't allow you to live in the past or the future. It's only aware of the present and keeps tugging you back to live in the moment.  It forces you to pull your head out of your ass on a daily basis to think of somebody else's needs. It shows you the restoration that can be found merely by going outside.

Dogs teach you to notice the world around you in a way you don't do on your own. They uplift you with a cold nose that says "I'm here" and humble you when you bend to scoop what they've left behind.

They are a constant reminder that despite all the special things you can accomplish, including working a can opener and turning a door handle, there is more to the world than you'll ever understand.

And if everybody you meet in that world dumps on, diminishes or marginalizes you -- a dog lets you know you still have value.

I've always been partial to big dogs. At the moment, my world includes a dumpy Old English Sheepdog I loved beyond all explanation ten minutes after she walked into my life. But because of her, I regularly find myself kneeling to meet a Pug or a Chihuahua and get a glimpse of the completely different way they see the world too.

And like any other part of life, seeing it from several perspectives gives you a better idea of where its truth really lies.

Which brings me to suggesting that if you don't own a dog, you need to go right out and adopt one.

One of the best places to learn how you do that is run by the people who make Pedigree dog food. I want to point out that my dog doesn't eat Pedigree. But a lot of healthy and happy dogs do. And a lot more will because of this blog post.

Right now, for every blog written about the Pedigree Adoption Program, the company will donate a 20 lb. bag of their new product "Healthy Longevity Food for Dogs" to an animal shelter. That's enough to feed a single dog for a month.

If you don't write a blog but still want to help, just search out their facebook page where a single click will send a bowl of food to a shelter dog.

So far, that initiative alone has provided 1.1 Million meals for shelter dogs. And that part of the campaign will continue until Pedigree has donated 4 million bowls of food – one for every dog that will end up in an American animal shelter this year.

But by far the best option, is to adopt a dog and feed it yourself, because what you'll also be feeding is your soul.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 137: The Craftsmen

It's said that if you want to know what a city used to look like simply "Look up". Most urban change comes at the street level and often the second floor and above do not alter for decades, sometimes even centuries.

Oh there are cosmetic changes to be sure. But often just lifting your eyes a little will give you a glimpse of how the world looked in a bygone era.

A couple of years ago, while shooting a series pilot in Paris, it struck me that virtually every one of our locations was surrounded by a landscape of incredible craftsmanship.

Classical statuary adorned ordinary apartment blocks. There were oak staircases with flowers and cherubs carved into every foot of the banisters. Windows were etched or gilded and signage bore the unmistakable trademarks of the Art Nouveaux or Deco periods.


You quickly realized that there was a time when the city was teeming with artists and artisans skilled at sculpture and stone-cutting. There were carpenters, metal workers and glaziers who not only embodied the skills of their present day descendants but practiced a level of craftsmanship seldom seen anymore. And many painters whose masterpieces now fill museums paid the rent by painting signs.

I began to wonder what happened to them all. Did the need for what they did gradually decline as economies or public taste demanded leaner, more functional construction? Or did some societal version of Photoshop transform work that required time and talent into something virtually anybody could do?

You could ask similar questions about the film business and any new TV season. To be sure there are always fine examples of originality and well conceived and executed projects. But there's also a creeping sameness. Reboots and sequels in film. Revivals of old concepts as well as continued incarnations of doctors, lawyers, cops and dysfunctional comedic families on TV.

60 or 100

Often original ideas are disguised as familiar products merely because that makes them easier for somebody to sell. Maybe it does. But you have to wonder if greater success might have come to those willing to stand slightly apart from the crowd.

One afternoon last summer, I glanced at a multiplex marquee advertising "Sex and the City 2", "Toy Story 3", "The A-Team" and "The Last Airbender". The last had been savaged by critics pointing out that M. Night Shamalan had once again failed to live up to his initial creative promise. I recall thinking, "Well, at least he's TRYING."

The realities of the business and our own desires to make sure the mortgage gets paid mean that fewer of us than might wish are building pre-fab shows instead of using our craftsmanship to create something unique and original and perhaps lasting.

I'm not sure if that's just the way things are or the way we allow them to be because it's easier to follow the path of least resistance. Carving little cherubs in granite is really hard work that might never get noticed.

But taking the easy road didn't result in "The Sopranos", "Deadwood", "The Wire" or "Breaking Bad". The craftsmanship of "Mad Men", "Terriers" or "Sherlock" is visible in virtually every moment of their running times.

So you know we haven't lost the skill. But somehow many of us seem to have lost the desire.

Maybe what follows will inspire you to change that.

Lift up your eyes. And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Pied Piper of Tucson

One of the ways you know summer is over and it's time to get serious again is when the Main Stream Media kick off yet another campaign to blame everything evil on the Internet.

Yesterday, Globe and Mail Columnist Bruce Dowbiggin, one of the country's best sports writers, had a major whinefest about bloggers wanting access to team locker rooms and the same journalistic privileges in the sports world that the big boys (like Bruce) enjoy.

Aware of how much these bloggers have eroded his own ability to be first with the news or mold public opinion, Dowbiggin suggested "if a blogger wants a place in a press box or dressing room environment there should be something more tangible at stake - say, a bond of $10,000 that a blogger would lose should a court or arbitrator find he or she broke professional standards or libel laws."


Dowbiggin made it clear that bloggers, who he calls "the gypsy cabs of journalism" just don't know how to behave at the big people's table, and then went on to relate the story of TV Azteca reporter Inez Sainz (pictured above) and her inappropriate dress issues with the NY Jets, in the process getting his own facts wrong by stating she had turned up at a Superbowl presser to interview Tom Brady while wearing a wedding dress.

His confusion between Senorita Sainz and the other bride Brady left at the altar, one Inez Gomez, had a number of commenters asking when the Globe would cough up ten grand for their own lack of fact checking.

Luckily, the immediacy of the Internet allowed the paper to pull the embarrassing gaffe from their online site. No word on whether anybody ran around taking back all the print editions.

In a less humorous example, media across the country today relayed the tragic story of young woman who had been gang raped in Pitt Meadows, BC with photos of the attack posted on facebook. The TV coverage featured an RCMP Officer choking back tears as she said she couldn't imagine what this young woman now had to deal with and cautioned about the dangers of cyberspace.

It was the second time in a week I'd watched a Mountie tear up, the first in a news report on the dangers of back to school parties advertised on social networks.

When exactly did crying become an essential tool in policing? Or is this how the RCMP convince soccer moms they're really not as heartless as those taser videos made them appear?

On the other hand, such emotional presentations and the sympathetic responses evoked might be what the Mounties have been told best gets the message across by the media they most often encounter.

A media that values the quick sound bite and drive-by hit of blame which absolves them of having to go deeper with a story and maybe get in the way of "Access Hollywood" starting on time.

But I digress.

The point is that once again activities such as social networking which counter what the powers-that-be can control are being falsely blamed for society's ills.

In the 1920's that led to prohibition. In the 1930's it forced Hollywood to enact the Hayes Code.


By the 1940's it was decided comic books were causing all the harm. It was Rock and Roll's turn in the 50's and Television pretty much ever since.

A couple of years back, a college massacre was blamed on video games and before that one at a high school was connected to bowling. Finding a whipping boy is always easier than admitting the problem is more human in nature and perhaps much harder to eliminate.

And God forbid that anybody might want to tamper with the Young Offender's Act.

In 1975, I appeared in a play at the Toronto Free Theatre called "Heat", playing the lead character in a story based on the life and crimes of Charles Howard Schmid Jr. who had been dubbed "The Pied Piper of Tucson".


A popular high school gymnast with Hollywood good looks, Schmid had murdered three young women in Tucson, Arizona; killings that local teens were widely aware of but never reported to police.

Some had even attended parties with Schmid on the promise of being able to witness a murder first hand.

He had a hypnotic attraction to those around him, convincing friends to hand over their girlfriends to be slain and then help him bury them in the desert.

Schmid was finally convicted of the murders in 1966 and sentenced to Death.  And the play examined many of the same questions people in 1975 were still asking about how well bred kids had evolved into the Manson family.

So, as part of my preparation for the role I wrote a letter to "Smitty". And he wrote back.

He was very open about what he'd done, the pages he sent filled with the bravado of somebody whose charisma had blinded him to the damage he had brought upon so many others. He detailed how he felt he should be portrayed and even applied to the prison Warden for permission to come see the show.

When that was obviously declined, he vowed to escape and come see it anyway. Unfortunately, his travel plans were interrupted by two other inmates who stuck a shiv in him 47 times. He died in a prison hospital a few days before we opened.

At the time of his trial, Life Magazine, Time and Playboy all ran stories about the Tucson murders, each coming up with their own theories on why so many local kids had admired Schmid and enjoyed the vicarious thrill of his handiwork.

A lot of people in Pitt Meadows and elsewhere are probably trying to get their heads around the same questions today. But implying that facebook is any part of the problem serves no other purpose but giving the established media an opportunity to kick around some of their competition.

In the early 1960's, those following the Pied Piper of Tucson passed notes in class and whispered over chocolate shakes in the burger joints along Speedway Boulevard. Today they pass the same notes on Twitter and upload photos from the camera in their phones.

The method of communication may be different. But what motivates it is the same. It's a need to be part of something more exciting than what you've got, a desire to have or share in a persona that's recognizable and apart from the sameness that's all around you.

Life magazine described Charles Schmid this way…

"He was different. He was Smitty, with mean "beautiful" eyes and an interesting way of talking, and if he sometimes did weird things, at least he wasn't dull."

…at least he wasn't dull.

The power of most social networking sites is their ability to give users an opportunity to transform. They can populate their pages with what matters to them instead of what permeates their lives and reconfigure their social circle into the group of "friends" they'd really rather have.

Most of them do that in a manner reflecting their hopes and aspirations and unspoken or still unfocused desires. 99.9% will never harm anyone or anything except maybe their own future employment by posting a picture of the first time they got drunk or pulled up their shirt.

Judging by the popularity of the inane games on facebook, many are there because they're just bored or lonely.

But the human animal is not perfect and some of us are downright evil little fucks. They're the other .1%.

Those guys don't make "mistakes" or behave "inappropriately". There is real malice in the world and they embrace it. And they know how to use digital cameras and wi-fi too.

A smart lawyer might wring some sympathy from their juries by blaming splatter movies, too many Twinkies or facebook. But they either knew full well what they were doing was wrong or were already so far gone the difference between right and wrong didn't even register anymore.

It's too easy to believe that by reining in facebook we control the rage or venom that powers those people or that a crying policeman sharing our pain is helpful. What solves the problem is simply making sure the .1% in this case never have the opportunity to be alone with a 16 year old girl again.

Within the body of its story on Charles Schmid, Life magazine detailed all sorts of vague teenage angst and alienation in searching for an explanation of what happened in Tucson. They also included the lyrics of a song that had been popular at the time of the killings, Crispian St. Peters' "The Pied Piper".

"Hey, c'mon babe, follow me,

I'm the Pied Piper, trust in me,

I'm the Pied Piper

And I'll show you where it's at."

Evil always knows "where it's at" and we need to be there waiting to kill it instead of following where some Main Stream Media Pied Piper would rather lead us.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Open-ed E-Mail to Piers Handling

-----Original Message-----
From:  []
Sent: Monday, September 13, 2010 10:04
To: Piers Handling

Subject: Did We Run Out Of Kool-Aid?

First, congrats on the successful launch of both the 35th Annual TIFF and the opening of your shining new jewel box theatre(s). Significant accomplishments both as well as stressful and time consuming I'm sure. Some of us over here are suspecting the added work and pressure are what caused you to slip off your meds last week.

How else do we explain what we heard from your own lips courtesy Peter Howell at the Toronto Star on the Eve of the Festival, linked here if your busy social schedule hasn't allowed you to keep up with all the press clippings. 

To condense, the salient quotes concerning us this morning are:

“We shouldn’t be making 250 feature films in this country. I don’t think it can sustain. Where are those films going? I mean, are they just home movie productions done on credit cards? For what audience?"


“I’m happy that people are making films and all that kind of stuff, but what kind of resources have been taken away from filmmakers who perhaps needed those resources, that could have used those resources? Are there significant filmmakers with things to say?”

Our concern, basically is, how did you allow you inside voice to become your outside voice -- and in front of the press?

God knows we all agree that we shouldn't have to put up with these upstarts pandering to an audience. And the handful that do get their work released accomplish little more than reducing the overall access to foreign Art films and Paul Gross which is annoying enough. 

But the sad fact is that unless we keep implying a need for this drivel, we can't continue justifying the funding of culture. And then you, I and everybody else in the service of government sponsored art is out of a job.

Are you aware of the Public Relations nightmare you might have created had any member of the Lame Stream Media connected your words with Sunday's announcement of $9 Million in new funding to the Canadian Film Centre for training?

Luckily, the open bar at the CFC BBQ distracted any of them from asking why we needed more money to train more filmmakers if we already had too many movies!

Please give some thought to the fiefdoms you are endangering by such flip remarks.

Must I point out that 30% of TIFF funding comes from government? Last year we sent you almost $7 Million. What kind of film festival would you have with a third less money? I'll tell you what kind, one where the only celebrity you can attract is Harry Dean Stanton!

Because Hollywood sure as shit isn't going to send planeloads of glitterati up here on their own dime. And without the endless parade of those vapid freaks can you conceive of how difficult it would be to convince your subscribers that it doesn't matter if they can't get tickets to a George Clooney movie because one more coming of age story set among the Tibetan diaspora of Smithers, BC is what real Cinema is all about.

And that serves a double purpose with our political masters.

Most of them come from such out of the way places that they think Olivia Newton John is still a star. And luckily, we've got a Culture Minister who doesn't know anybody who isn't a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. So dangling a Bruce Springsteen Red Carpet Photo Op in front of them combined with a packed house for Don McKellar's "Look Upon My Navel" convinces them he's an artist worth supporting too.

God knows we don't expect you to show all 250 Canadian features, Piers.

And especially not the ones somebody made with their own money and out of some kind of burning passion to entertain an audience. We've got to save most of those for Calgary and Vancouver and Montreal to justify the millions we plow into their festivals. Not to mention all the new ones we've got coming on line in every town that'll never get within a hundred miles of an NHL franchise let alone Werner Herzog.

Nobody will believe they've got a real film festival if there isn't at least one World or Canadian Premiere and even better if said premiere is directed by somebody local whose IOU they're holding.

"Look, that pushy little buggar from the Blockbuster made his movie. And we can see it if we also buy a ten pack of tickets to some short films from Baffin Island."

It's all about keeping the public dollar wheel turning, Piers. Movies with no viable audience begat festivals which begat the need for more movies with no viable audience.

Please think of our poor colleagues stuck in such film Siberias as Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. They need all those movies. Because they too need to justify the extraction of tax dollars for cultural purposes and without a good festival, they're not seeing the latest existential masterpiece from Vanuatu and are also in danger of justifying their jobs by partnering with Hollywood hustlers on co-productions where the financing falls through and leaves the crews hanging.

Must I remind you of the core directive of what we do?

Secure a comfortable living for ourselves while insuring that nothing gets made which could become successful enough to make people ask why the industry can't survive on its own. Then use our positions to denigrate any attempts at popular cinema while ensuring we have posh settings in which to view the extended version of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" while dreaming of the day Atom Egoyan gets to remake it!

BTW, our thanks for turning up the spotlight on "Score". We thought tossing a little funding into that pandering little turkey would go a long way in undermining any groundswell to make entertaining films here and you certainly gave them the "push" off the pedestal we had hoped for. No late Wednesday Canadian Perspectives slot to hide the beginners' warts for those suckers.

I felt certain we would have sapped the will of Canadian creatives not wanting to make our kind of movies by now. But perhaps that little disaster will teach them we mean business and chase them all to Santa Monica or wherever it is they go.

In closing, do know that we appreciate the agony of feigning interest in those Canadian submissions that might have challenged a Hollywood Blockbuster. Assuage those hurts with thoughts of how much we're all going to enjoy the LGBT retrospective from Singapore next year. We discussed it at last week's retreat in Montebello and I can confirm that we all agree "Pacific Rim" is a fitting title for the programme.

I must go now and let your sponsor friends at the Royal Bank know that the Finance Minister has been all over us about their commercials for TIFF. Apparently, the bank's affection for the Ed Harris narration on their Winter Olympics commercials led them to forget in which country TIFF takes place.

Note the currency.

Another thing you should have noticed. Maybe it's time for Cameron to take a little more of the load. Hmmm?  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 136: Pride & Prejudice & Gym, Tan, Laundry

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?
-- Jane Austen

Stuck at my Grandma's house one summer, I pawed through her piles of Ladies Home Journal and "Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii" novels for something to read and happened on a cover featuring a shirtless cowboy. To a nine year old smitten with Westerns, this at least had potential.

An hour later I'd come to the conclusion that proper ladies like my granny liked the same sort of stuff the older boys snuck into the hot-stove hut by the outdoor rink on slow nights and read aloud to each other while us littler kids laced up our skates and pretended we weren't listening.

The language of my Granny's book was a little prettier and less to the point. But the basic idea was the same.

By the time I was introduced to Jane Austen in University, I'd been in a rock and roll band long enough to know women liked to get it on just as much as guys did. I sort of got that women liked being more discreet about it all. And I sort of didn't.

Years later, when I was writing and producing Harlequin Romance novels for television, I wrestled with how you made the conceits of those books play within the logic of contemporary drama.

I remember sitting in a boardroom with a couple of female development execs, trying to get my head around one particular moment.

Me: "Okay, she's attracted to this guy but she's also convinced he murdered her brother so she hates him."

Exec #1: "Right."

Me: "She's following him and falls into a mountain stream and he has to rescue her."

Exec #2: "That's going to be so symbolic when she clings to him as they swirl through the rapids."

Me: "Uh, yeah. But here's the part that doesn't track. He pulls her out of the river and carries her back to his cabin."

Exec #1: "Can that look like one of those Fabio covers?"

Me: "Okay, but she still thinks he's a killer. Yet the first thing that happens when they get to the cabin is he takes all her clothes off and makes her take a hot bath."

Exec #2: "Mmmmmm."

Me: "And then he makes a pass at her and she's totally into it."

Exec #1: "So?"

Me: "It doesn't make any sense."

Exec #2: "Which part?"

Somewhere in the process of trying to figure out what women want, I came to the conclusion that most romance novels are just "Beauty and the Beast" with slightly less hairy guys and that kinda got me through.

And if you think about hit "reality" series like "The Bachelorette", "The Hills" or "Jersey Shore" as a Jane Austen novel for people who don't or maybe can't read, it helps explain a lot about why they've been so successful.

We all want a little romance in our lives, even when the best we can hope for is "Snookie" or "The Situation".

Enter -- Canadian actress Ceciley Jenkins with the brilliant idea of taking Jersey Shore back to its Regency Romance roots.

Ceciley and her equally inspired cohort of actors and director/editor Michael Livingstone simply lift some of the more quotable or outrageous moments from "Jersey Shore" and transpose it to a period and presentation style that would probably make it almost palatable for my dear departed Granny while sending the rest of us into fits of laughter.

As one of her fans succinctly puts it: "If Jersey Shore was this funny, I'd watch it!"

There are five episodes of "Mashterpiece Theatre presents Jersey Shore" so far with more to come. A remarkably entertaining web series that features exemplary Canadian content and likely didn't ask for or receive a dime in CMF funding.

Prepare to have your bodice wonderfully ripped. And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


OR: An Analysis of the Canadian Cultural Dilemma

To mark the opening of the 35th Toronto International Film Festival, I am deferring to guest blogger Nick Mancuso.

Nick and I have been friends since we both had to learn Kazak dancing for the original stage production of Carol Bolt's "Red Emma". We worked together several times on stage before he broke into films, won a Best Actor Genie Award in "Ticket To Heaven" and became a Canadian star in Hollywood.

In the intervening decades, we've crossed paths repeatedly, working in films or series I've written or produced, living in each other's homes and shepherding one another in and out of various marriages. I also have the great honor of being Godfather to his son Sasha, named after the character he played in "Red Emma".

Nick has always been a passionate advocate for the rights of Canadian performers and creative artists, often making his case in personal one-on-one meetings with everybody from industry players to Prime Ministers. This is a guy who has never shrugged off the mantle success granted him or forgotten either where he came from or where he was heading.

Like Nick, I have concerns about what the Toronto International Film Festival has become and how it has warped the path and perception of Canadian films in my country. But he makes the case much more eloquently than I ever will.

The following was written pretty much stream of consciousness a couple of years ago as he and his friend Ed observed the Festival from a cafe patio overlooking the scene…

In the I Ching the Chinese Book of Changes, a book that traces its origins into the mists of time, the Oracle talks about the theatre and therefore by extension the cinema in the following manner:

“Music and pantomime (the theatre) exists to create a bridge to the world of the unseen…. He who could wholly comprehend this could rule the world as though it were spinning in his hand.... True fellowship with men must be based upon a concern that is universal.”

A concern that is universal, and ruling the world as though it were spinning in his hands. A strong brew indeed...

In these two ideas, the massing together of people to view and experience the theatre and cinema, there is the recognition that what we call the Culture of a nation at one time was regarded as supremely important human activity. The collection of people within a community to experience something together was not only an opportunity for the community to experience itself but in this enthusiastic gathering of individuals a group understanding was revealed and re-enacted and thus the; “most sacred of human feelings-reverence for the ancestors” and “religious feelings for the Creator" were united.

Reverence for the Ancestors...? Religious feelings? A far cry from chomping popcorn on a Saturday night at the movies. And yet the operating principles, the gist of undercurrent of these ideas remain the same.

The theatre and movies, cinema and performance bring people together under the roof of a common humanity, and by doing so serve an important purpose. They provide purpose and direction.

You don’t know where you are going until you know where you come from and to know something is to have memory. And a society without memory, like a person, is insane.

The movies remind us of who are and who and what we should be. Art, un-interfered with is one of the great goods of a nation. Interfered with it is a disaster.

tiff 2

Aristotle points out that the Theatre, and specifically Tragedy (what we today call Drama or Action-Adventure) is the imitation of an action but it is one in which the imitation elicits in the viewer the purgation of terror (fear) and the creation of pity (compassion for others) and as such Art serves a moral purpose.

There is an ethical undercurrent in operation in all Art and, defining Ethics as Reason, it is always an attempt to restore balance to disharmony. It provides hope for the future. It does not fragment, it unites.

The movies tell us that the universe we live in is all right in the end. And when they’re done right they make us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in.

These ideas vaguely percolate under my Actor's skull as next to me a couple of autograph hounds, backs to me and my pal Ed, eagerly exchange information about which American star was where and who had been sighted. There is a high pitched thrill in their voices, like people undergoing a powerful transformative experience, an excitement that is almost repellent. It irritates me.

“Robert Altman’s in that limo. Look he’s coming out now!

“Look its Pam Drexel and I can see Kim Cattrall!”

A big to-do in the side entrance of the hotel as various American movie stars are hustled through. I can vaguely see protective bodyguards talking into their collars. It’s like an entrance of the President of these here United States.

There is something nauseating about the experience. And I start to feel internally irritated, then angry and finally –- hateful.

“I hate the fucking Toronto International Film Festival!” I blurt out to Ed who is slurping his tall decaf regular. Ed seems surprised, almost as if I had committed a sacrilege of some kind. “It’s not just the sea of backs and traffic jams and crazy pointless flurry of activity. I find it insulting. Personally so! What’s it about?”

“You're just upset cause you weren’t invited.”

“Maybe. But there’s something more that really bothers me." Ed rolls his eyes upwards in a 'here we go again' kind of look. He is used to my rants.


“It’s all this Britney Spears generational thing. This constant blare of activity and screaming over the void. What’s this got to do with Canada? All of it funded by your and my tax dollars. This is the Canadian agenda?” Ed’s eyes glaze over.

“The what? I like Britney Spears. And Paris Hilton…what a babe! Those lips…”

A dreamy far away look overcomes Ed as the ice cream slowly melts on his chin.

“You’ve got chocolate sauce on your face.” I state flatly ,wondering if I will ever get through to this idiot.

“You ever think about what the Festival means, what it originally meant and what it originally represented?"

“Sure.” Ed says, “They show a lot of movies and a lot of movie stars show up and there’s a lot of parties. Good for business.It's made us a world-class city”

I feel a jolt in my stomach.

tiff 3

“What about the Canadian movies? Since the Canadian taxpayer is paying for these cultural events, 15 cents on the dollar. Where are the Canadian movie stars, writers, directors? How come there’s no hoopla for them, unless they’re coming in from Hollywood like a Keanu Reeves or a Jim Carrey? Why is the Canadian taxpayer paying to advertise Hollywood product? Make sense to you?”

“Oh grow up!” Ed licks his cone.

In the early 80’s, Ed had been a gold patron of the festival but quit in disgust as he watched the hustlers and the sleazy operators take over.

“Let me ask you something, Ed. What would Plato have asked 2400 years ago about its nature?"

“Plato would have lined up for popcorn just like every other teenie bopper.” He stares longingly as a couple of Britney Spears type’s stroll by eating gelatos. “Wish I could eat those gelatos “ He mutters.

“The 60’s are long gone, Ed. So are the dreams of a nation that has sold its birthright. We had a Prime Minister taking cash in suitcases in a hotel room, like an episode of "The Sopranos". Canada was sold to the lowest bidder. It's a dead issue!”

The girls rush by excited and squealing. They have spotted a Brad Pitt look-a-like and pandemonium breaks out. I stare flatly into the hot night, getting a headache and wondering what flavor of gelato I would have to eat to wake up.

In his Poetics, Aristotle, (the very first Syd Field) points out very accurately that there were two approaches to the idea of the theatre and by extension the cinema. He understood that the theatre existed to elicit pleasure but that it could also act as instruction for the mature mind. And that it was through this union of the terrible and the pitiable that pleasure was created and information transmitted.

Hence action movies and love stories, in our age.

But the theatre also served the purpose of purgation, cleansing the community of its invisible demons and eliciting the angels.

Catharsis, in which the hidden and unconscious fears of a society are brought to the surface and thereby vanquished. Pity or Compassion was the end product of this process. Humanization. Music that hath the power to sooth the savage breast. "No buziness like show buziness" etc.

“Like nooooo buzinazzzz ahhhh knowwww, everything about it is aaapeealllling....”

It is for this reason the ancient Athenians had a theatre tax for those who did not attend plays. It was a duty, a civic act of responsibility. Perhaps those Greeks knew a thing of two. Canada, in that sense, is very ancient Athenian. It is taxing people for not going to see Canadian film.


tiff 4

If the Canadian government was authentically serious about so-called Canadian Culture it might consider such genuine an option. And take that money and feed its own artists.

But it should not be funding Miami CSI (Alliance Atlantis) or the Toronto International Film Festival. Or accepting the Superbowl as Canadian Content because of “Canadian interest”. Fact.

If the Canadian taxpayer is forced on paying his tax dollars into a cultural agenda, amounting to almost 15 percent, the average Canadian deserves to have that money used for Canadian cultural workers. And no restrictions of any kind should be held over those artists as a kind of bureaucratic sword of Damocles. No mandates, no demand for “commercial product.”

Or cut it all off.

In the current situation, Canadian performers receive about 2 cents on the film dollar, with writers receiving about 3. Crews working on film sets in what was at one time a 4 billion dollar industry get 4 times what the Canadian actor gets. In the end about 70 percent supports a bureaucracy and the erstwhile “management teams".

In effect, one man sweeps the floor and 9 men manage his sweeping and receive 10 to 1 what the sweeper gets. How in any way can a system this idiotic pretend that it supports the Arts?

If the Canadian Film industry were a painting on a wall, the size of the frame holding the canvas would be on a 7 to 3 ratio. Some painting.

But then what is to be expected of a nation that forces the Ross Rifle on its soldiers, ensuring their deaths in the trenches of WW1, then dishonors and forgets its heroes?

Canadian governments have never been representatives of the people and by the people. Their orders have always come from the outside. England. France. The USA. So why would Government support the arts, except in name only?

Why should the average Canadian foot the bill so that the children of the ruling class can play dress up for their relatives and friends?

And why should universites, colleges and schools pump out a stream of acting, film and TV graduates with no place to go? Except for Hollywood, which is no longer what it used to be.

Especially since every actor crossing the border is immediately an “illegal alien” if he has “intention to work”, a situation created by Canadian unions when they, under nationalist fervor, separated from their American brothers. SAG and American Equity immediately pushed regulations to prevent Canadian “acting” competition from entering the USA.

The end result,thanks to Mulrooney’s “Free Trade” agreement with Washington, in which no change can be made to the Canadian Cultural mandate without approval from Washington, was the creation of cultural apartheid.

“So you see, Ed, the Canadian artist is a 3rd class citizen and he is the “excuse” for the downloading of his parents and his own tax dollars to which he has little no access, thanks to to his own government."

Ed is distracted by the excitement as yet another 'Star sighting' takes place. 

"The artist in Canada is a scapegoat, a “patsy”used as a method by unscrupulous and ignorant producers and bureaucrats to leverage Canadian tax payer dollars. It does NOT support the artist; in fact, it oppresses him and he foots the bill for the jackboot pushing in his face."

The girls squeal. Flashbulbs flash. Ed's ice cream cone melts.

“The trouble with the movies is..that it is an art form disguised as a business and a business disguised as an art form”

Charlton Heston  - Spoken to me during the shooting of "MotherLode"

All comments to this post will be moderated by Nick Mancuso.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

That's Not What I Mentored


Will Dixon and I had similar reactions to Episode 7 of this "Mad Men" season, "The Suitcase", wondering if Matthew Weiner was writing not about the 1960's and Advertising but about his own relationship with the show's writing staff.

Certainly the parallels between Sterling Cooper Draper Price and your average television production office are all there. The mix of creativity and commerce, the clash of egos and artistic differences, the collaboration and the very long nights.

The sex and drinking too, but from my experience they're pretty much the norm in any work place.

If we're correct in our assessment and Art ultimately imitates Life, then it seems likely the Season will end with Peggy eclipsing Don, perhaps sharing his next Cleo and departing in the manner Weiner split with his personal assistant turned writer turned Emmy winner Kater Gordon.

I don't know anything about the personal dealings between those two or whether Weiner pulled Gordon into the epicenter of his show out of some level of physical or platonic attraction or simply because he recognized her talent and abilities.

But it got me wondering about the whole nature of Mentorship in our business and what each side of those relationships actually provides the other.

I used to think that young writers sought out the more experienced to get an assessment of their craft from one who's been successful at doing what they want to do. "Read my script. Tell me what isn't working. Show me how to make it better."

And I think most mature writers faced with those requests and knowing they were once in the same position try to respond appropriately. "The inciting incident is weak. Don't fall in love with your dialogue. etc."

But looking back at my own times on both sides of the equation, I realize that each is really after what's mostly unsaid in those story conferences but more often shared in the drinks and anecdotes that usually follow.

Like Don and Peggy in "The Suitcase", we all need reassurance that the work matters and that the sacrifices we've made in our personal lives will ultimately be rewarded. Writers young and old share the same passion for good writing yet are aware that just because something is good doesn't mean it gets made.

I think the young writer I once was had more interest in the inside scoop on how Producers went about screwing you than what was not working in the second act. I knew sticking to craft would fix the script. What I really needed to know was how to make sure the vision survived to execution.

And those characterized as Mentors also know a writer with talent will eventually figure out his script issues and our only contribution comes in shortening the process and lessening the pain by drawing lots of red ink stars and circles on the page he or she most needs to look at.

At some level we know that it's our anecdotes and insights born of experience that are more important. And bleeding off the pitfalls, blindsides and encounters with certifiable buffoons that have checkered our own careers is also helping us maintain the belief that good writing and the best idea ultimately do win in the end.

We know the young writer will likely never encounter the exact brands of imbecility and malice that have occasionally beset us, because imbecility and malice have a way of evolving at studios, networks and government agencies like bacteria mutate to overcome penicillin.

So we try to teach them to be true to themselves, loyal to their material and as honest in both work and Life as they can possibly be. If you do all of that you can at least depart any eventual train wreck intact enough to carry on.

But we also know the most helpful wisdom we can instill is that it's all a fucking crapshoot so don't take it personal and we really don't know why we were successful and others more talented weren't beyond maybe being able to sense one of those predators in the underbrush before he pounced.

Like hoary old cavemen we try to teach the young the moves they never thought the wily Mammoth had in him.

tab hunter

Somebody once asked Tab Hunter how he'd managed to elevate himself above the crowd of pretty boy actors who populated Hollywood in the 1950's and become a major movie star. He attributed his success not to hard work, luck or talent but to the mentorship of an agent who taught him how to dress.

The agent called Tab one day with very specific instructions on what to wear to an upcoming audition, insisting the actor put on a white T-shirt, pressed chinos, penny loafers and two pairs of athletic sox.

After the audition, Tab called the agent and said his reading had gone well enough to get him a call back but wearing those two pairs of socks had pinched his feet and made it hard to walk.

"You idiot!", the agent snapped, "You wear one pair, roll up the other one and stuff it down the front of your pants!"

Tab followed the advice on the call back, got the part and the rest, as they say, is Hollywood history.

No matter how much you might think your talent got you where you get, more often than not it's just what keeps you there once you've arrived.

So, whatever happens between Peggy and Don or wherever she goes from here, I know she's going to be okay. Because she's got a Mentor who's teaching her what she really needs to know.