Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Does the "B" in CBC Stand For Bias?


Just about everybody with a cause believes the media is either completely against them, casting their arguments in a negative light, or just not giving them the amount of time and serious consideration they deserve.

In the last couple of weeks alone, I've heard almost all of the FOX News meat puppets refer to the "Left wing bias of the Main Stream Media".

Within the same time frame, Michael Moore in his stirring speech in support of Unionism from the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol and Bill Maher on his HBO "Real Time" series both pointedly referred to the "Right wing bias of the Main Stream Media".

If you're media, main stream, tributary or quietly babbling blog, some among your audience are continually parsing the vocabulary and tone of what you do and coming to the conclusion that somebody's pulling a fast one -- and they're getting the short end of the deal.

I often feel that way about the CBC.

Usually it's with regard to their drama programming. I mean, I can't be the only one wondering if there's some quietly unspoken reason that "Little Mosque" keeps getting renewed -- can I?

But often I'll feel that way about CBC News programming as well.

Anybody who's been reading this blog for a while, knows I'm actually quite fond of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I don't agree with everything his party stands for and have issues with some of what he's selling. But overall, he doesn't annoy or flat out piss me off as much as the other guys.

So you can imagine my surprise after taking CBC's much vaunted and constantly hyped "Vote Compass" online test that I'm actually a Liberal supporter leaning heavily toward the NDP.


The 2011 Federal Election "Vote Compass" is an online questionnaire which contends that by taking ten minutes and answering its 30 carefully constructed questions, you'll get an accurate reading on which of our five major political parties is most closely aligned with your world view.

The CBC doesn't say that you should then go out and vote for that party. But at the same time it doesn't say the website is for "amusement purposes only". And they go to a lot of trouble to assure you that this is a completely scientific process developed by expert Political Scientists with no personal agenda whatsoever.


And maybe I'm just really hard to read.

I remember being at a New Years Eve party once where the host had hired a Tarot Card Reader to entertain the guests and forecast their coming year. The poor woman dealt my cards and became physically ill. She dealt them a second time. Then a third, each time growing more upset.

No matter how often she cast my runes, they kept telling her the same thing. I was tragically doomed. In fact, she was tearfully certain I wouldn't live out the night.

To be honest, I almost didn't. When the host found out she was so distraught she'd gone home, he blamed me, demanding I reimburse the $200 he'd paid her.

But back to the "Vote Compass".

No matter how often the CBC have investigated themselves on charges of Liberal bias and come to the conclusion that they're clean as a whistle, you can still find people harboring doubts.

I'm sure a lot of that comes from looking at the world through their own sets of biases. As Canadian playwright Carol Bolt once wisely stated, "A good book is one which confirms your own prejudices."

So I asked three Conservative friends to take the test, choosing a sample group that included an atheist and a recent immigrant since a couple of the Compass questions revolved around your affection for the Christian Right and comfort with new immigrants.

They turned out to be closet Liberals as well.


Trying hard not to fashion myself a tinfoil hat, I contacted an old friend who has spent most of his life studying Political Science and working as an organizer for the NDP. Turned out he also had taken the test.

His result said he was a perfectly aligned with the Green Party. But he saw something darker in the direction of the "Vote Compass" than even I at my conspiratorial best could have imagined.

"Please note the set up. They say you will be "surprised" by the results. That is a set up. Loads of people are looking for party affiliation and affirmation and they have a gimmick that thinks concern for the environment is LEFTIST ONLY! What a truckload of Hooey.

This  is not political science,  it's  pseudo science. When CBC pulls these head games out during an election, it makes my blood boil. CBC should be kicked in the ass for this deeply flawed computer program.

Note, anybody thinking Conservative is directed to be a Liberal or New Democrat (smell a rat here). Anyone voting NDP is told they are Green.  It is trying to peel the NDP vote off to the Green and Conservative votes to the Liberals..."

Later, he copied me an email from another student of Political Science.

"Yeah watch out for that, it's not accurate. The questionnaire has two variables:

1 - Economic position (left or right)

2 - Social (conservative or liberal)

The NDP is placed on the left of the economic axis and on the top of the social axis. If you're socially liberal and economically left, you are considered NDP.

The Greens are placed toward the left side of the economic axis but they are much closer to the centre of the social axis.

I switched my answers to make them more socially conservative and suddenly I became a Green too."

And then there's this guy…

vote compass 2

Just more CBC bashing combined with the party fervor that's always stirred up by an election?

Perhaps not.

As of this evening, another respected Political Scientist has weighed in.

Queen's University professor Kathy Brock says the CBC's "Vote Compass" is flawed and tells people they're Liberal by default. Full story here.

Perhaps somebody other than CBC's own Ombudsman needs to take a look at this whole bias question.

And while they're at it, maybe they could ask a few questions about that awfully early "Little Mosque" renewal too.


For a similar (and well reasoned) viewpoint from the political Left. Visit here.

Meanwhile, NDP Supporters have started a facebook page demanding the CBC remove the Vote Compass. Simply facebook search "bogus vote tool".

And for those who still think OJ didn't do it because there's no video…

Monday, March 28, 2011


This has probably been making the rounds for a while. But it hadn’t crossed my path until somebody decided I needed cheering up yesterday.

It brightened my day and I hope brings a smile to your own…

When you have a really bad day and you just need to take it out on someone, don't take it out on someone you know. Take it out on someone you don't know, but you know deserves it.

I was sitting at my desk when I remembered a call I'd forgotten to make.  I found the number and dialed. A man answered, saying 'Hello...'

I politely said, 'This is Rick. Could I please speak with Robyn?'

Suddenly a manic voice yelled 'Get the right fucking number!' and the phone was slammed down.  I couldn't believe anyone could be so rude.

When I tracked down Robyn's correct number, I found that I had accidentally transposed the last two digits.

After calling her, I decided to call the 'wrong' number again. 
When the same guy answered, I yelled 'You're an asshole!'  and hung up.

I wrote his number down with the word 'asshole' next to it, and put it in my desk drawer. Every time I had a really bad day, I'd call him up and yell, 'You're an ass hole!'

It always cheered me up.

When Caller ID was introduced, I thought my therapeutic 'ass hole' calling would have to stop. So, I called his number and said, 'Hi, this is John Smith from the phone company. I'm calling to see if you're familiar with our Caller ID Program?'

He yelled, 'NO!', and slammed down the phone.

I quickly called him back and said, 'That's because you're an ass hole!' And hung up.

A few days later, I was at the store, getting ready to pull into a parking spot. Some guy in a black BMW cut me off and pulled into the spot I had patiently waited for.

I hit the horn and yelled but the idiot ignored me.  Then I noticed a 'For Sale' sign in his back window with his number.

The next morning, right after calling the first asshole, I thought I'd better call the BMW asshole too.

I said, 'Is this the man with the black BMW for sale?'

He said, 'Yes, it is.'

'Can you tell me where I can see it?'

'Yes, I live at  34 Oaktree Blvd. It's a yellow ranch style house and the car's parked out front.'

'Okay, what's your name?'

'My name is Don Hansen.'

'When's a good time to catch you, Don?'

'I'm home every evening after five.'

I said, 'Don, can I tell you something? You're an asshole!' Then I hung up. Now, when I had a problem, I had two assholes to call.

Then I came up with an idea. I called asshole #1. He said, 'Hello'.

I said, 'You're an ass hole!'. But I didn't hang up this time.

He screamed, 'Who are you?'

I said, 'My name’s Don Hansen.'

'Yeah? Where do you live?'

'34 Oaktree Blvd. It's a yellow ranch style with a black Beamer in front.'

'I'm coming over right now. You better start saying your prayers!'

Then I called Asshole #2 and said, 'Hello, asshole,'

He yelled, 'If I ever find out who you are, I'll kick your ass!'.

I answered, 'Well, here's your chance. I'm coming right over.'

Then I hung up and called the police, saying that I was on my way over to 34 Oaktree Blvd, to kill my gay lover.

Then I called Channel 7 News about the gang war going down on Oaktree Blvd. I quickly got in my car and headed over.

I got there just in time to watch two assholes beating the crap out of each other in front of six cop cars, an overhead news helicopter and a TV crew.

Now I feel much better.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I made myself a personal promise at the end of last year to stop writing obituaries about my friends. I knew how I felt about them. They knew how I felt about them. Absorb the loss and move on.

It’s also hard to honestly reflect a life while you’re in the midst of grieving its passing. There are so many stories you want to share and many get forgotten in the moment.

If I were to tell stories about comedian Roger Abbott, who passed away this weekend in Toronto, we’d be here for weeks. And it wouldn’t be half as much fun without Roger to top them with his own  quirky versions.

I spent a lot of time with Roger when we served together on ACTRA’s Writer Council and he was instrumental to the founding of the Writers Guild of Canada. Most of my memories of that time are of how much we all laughed.

Roger was so quiet, unassuming and gentle in all things that you often forgot he was there. And then he’d offer a soft aside that would simply bring the house down.

Whether acting as straight man or delivering the punches, Roger’s timing was always perfect and he knew his craft backwards.

Whatever your feelings about the content and/or style of his ensemble “The Royal Canadian Air Farce”, they remained at the forefront of Canadian Comedy for more than 40 years. That only happens when you understand your audience and meet its needs.

There are thousands of video clips online featuring Roger and his writing. But I thought it might be fitting to give you the opportunity to watch him talk about his craft and offer insights into Canadian television as relevant today as they were when he was breaking into the business.

Take some time with one of those guys who knew where the funny comes from – and enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Words Fail

I think many people in the Canadian film industry felt a little snookered today. A week ago, Telefilm announced a new initiative to solve its chronic failure to find Canadian audiences for Canadian films.

While I cast a jaundiced eye on the proceedings, others felt they had some worthwhile ideas to contribute and that maybe our Cinematic Overlords were finally open to what those outside their cloistered circle had to offer.

Many chose to pitch in at Will Dixon's #wantCancon Twitter hash tag, creating one of the richest film community discussions to come along in some time. Will even aggregated the submissions in his blog, assured by representatives of Telefilm and the CMF that that audience was listening.

And then today, prior to the promised nation wide canvas for strategies and prescriptions for what ails the industry, Telefilm released their own plan for the future. To be fair, it's thin on detail and could be construed as a rough blueprint in need of re-drafting once the comments are in.

But, to anyone familiar with the way government bureaucracies work, the message is clear. "Here's where we've staked out the reservation. Now do you guys want to learn to fish, hunt muskrats or just give up and cash the welfare cheques?"

This document had to have been down at the print shop at the same time as Telefilm issued their initial "We need to talk" missive. So much for truly wanting to know what you pullers of cable, script typists and thespians might wish to contribute.

I thought about firing off some kind of righteous rant, but words failed. I can't tell you how much I want to be wrong about these people, how much I'd like to be just bitter and twisted and way off the mark.

Unfortunately, they just keep proving that I'm not.

So rather than rant (which I reserve the right to do once I've thought all this through) I felt it might be helpful to remind you of some truisms I've taken to heart over the last years of bureaucratic mismanagement and incompetence.

If we can't get the government out of our business, maybe I can encourage you to exit theirs.

The following are courtesy of a wonderful new website called "Quote Vadis". Perhaps you'll find it as helpful on those days when your own words fail.

quote bureaucracy 

quote GM

quote Foreman

quote Newman

quote impossible

quote wrath

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 163: The Dark Side Of The Lens

ride the wild surf

Despite the fact that I lived in Saskatchewan, a place where it's rare to see water let alone watery vistas that stir the imagination, Surfers permeated my teen years.

Back then it was the music of "The Beach Boys" and "Jan & Dean" and Frankie and Annette at the movies. Those Surfers appealed by representing a lifestyle that was carefree, warm and sunny; the California dream of endless youth and endless Summer.

One Wintery night in University I caught a campus screening of "Endless Summer", the seminal surf documentary, and got my first glimpse of a culture that seemed to be about more than tanned golden goddesses and cruising for burgers on a Saturday night. For a brief moment, while zipping up my parka to brave the cold walk home, I wondered if there was more to all this than I'd thought.

But a summer or two later, I visited California, took one look at the two foot chop off Malibu and wrote "Surf Culture" off as being as much the product of some youth obsessed studio exec's imagination as most of the rest of Tinsel Town.

And then in my 20's, I was hired to play a Surfer in a commercial for a British sports car that was shot in California during the winter storms that bring in the big surf. A cargo jet from England flew a half dozen specially painted cars to Los Angeles while a jet from Toronto ferried in the talent.

One of the grips on our crew had worked on a couple of Frankie and Annette's "Beach Party" movies and the make-up artist who painted on my tan every morning had done the same thing countless times for Marilyn Monroe. The candy-coated fantasy machine was all around me.

The first couple of days, we bombed those cars through the canyons as cameras on cranes and jib arms and helicopters swooped around us. I watched as stunt doubles made me look like Steve McQueen in "Bullit" beginning to enjoy the taste of cotton candy.

And then we went down to the beach.

The waves were huge, crashing in so hard that we literally lost two cars. One minute they were charging through the surf, spewing fantails of seawater and sand. The next, they had disappeared under the waves and the stunt drivers were swimming for their lives.

Nearby, and just out of shot, real Surfers were riding those same breaks. You couldn't help but be impressed.

On our last night, some of those Surfers were hired to sit around a beach bonfire with the Canadian actors playing their cinematic version. When the cameras rolled, we all laughed and did our best Frankie and Annette impersonations.

Between takes, while the man with Marilyn in his past powdered my nose, I watched them staring silently at the moonlight glinting off the incoming tide and knew there was something about them that I couldn't possibly understand.

I think I'm closer to that understanding now.

I've never really learned to surf. I took lessons one weekend while I was working in Australia and it was fun. But I knew there was far more to it that I didn't have the time to commit to learning.

But in the years previous, I'd learned to scuba dive and I think those two cultures have many points of convergence.

The first time you dive, you feel you're visiting a completely different planet. And once you've gone a week or more spending 2 or 3 hours a day on that planet, it becomes as familiar as your own and your perspective alters. You never see your home planet the same way again.

I think that happens with Surfers. In fact, after seeing Mickey Smith's "The Dark Side of the Lens", I know it does.

The ocean does that to you. In fact, anything that forces you to live in the moment and roll with the overwhelming power of Nature makes you realize that what's important in Life has little to do with the things that take up the vast majority of our time and our energy.

Smith's life in the Ocean has taught him a couple of things that all Artists should take to heart.

The first is to do something every day that scares you, something that "makes your heart beat the hardest". Then look around and ask yourself what you see that you've never seen before.

The second is to step out your door in the morning vowing to notice "the subtle glimpses of magic that other people miss" and when you do, stop for a moment to feel the appreciation of that discovery.

No matter who you are or what you do, you'll soon find your life enriched and the way you look at things forever changed.

Last week, I stood on a Pacific beach and watched the Tsunami wave that devastated Japan roll in. Its power and its rage had been spent by the time it got to me. But its character was different enough that you still noticed it and got a small sense of the history it still carried and the natural forces it represented.

Down the beach, a Surfer was riding it in, transforming the experience into something that fed his own perspective on Life, helping him sort out what's meaningful or simply confirming the joy of being alive.

Take some time for one of the most beautiful short films you'll ever see. Then go out and really -- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Telefilm's Dance Of The Seven Veils

7 veils 1 

Everybody understands the concept of the "Cover Your Ass" memo.

Although the term only originated in the 1960's and wasn't in the public vernacular until NASA's "Challenger" disaster, government bureaucrats, corporate functionaries and military officers since time immemorial have tucked a little something in the files to make sure they don't take the blame for whatever disaster might befall their endeavors.

In Spanish, the term used is "Tapaculo", the name of a colorful bird which can put its tail between its legs.

The French have a wonderfully picturesque phrase, "Cherchez Les Grecs", which literally translates as "Find some Greek guy to take the fall" -- terminology also offering an interesting perspective on the current European financial crisis.

They actually teach CYA etiquette in business schools these days. The general rule is that if they're written before a policy is enacted, they're proactive, positive and ethical because they can clarify original expectations or document decisions and actions to prevent any later misunderstanding.

When they come after the fact, however, they are negative and unethical created only to justify poor decisions. And those authoring them are not really trying to make the world a better place.

Which brings us to Telefilm Canada…

Over at Canada's primary film financier and determiner of all things Cinematic, covering your ass isn't just a catch phrase, it's been the standard operating procedure of Chair of the Board, Michel Roy and now seems to have been picked up by his new boss, Executive Director Carolle Brabant.

Those who visit the Legion regularly for our always intelligent and cutting edge assessments of the film and TV scene in Canada, will recall Monsieur Roy from his recent attempt to shift the blame for Telefilm's failed feature film policies onto Canadian actors.

We all know that Telefilm's various strategies to lay claim to a mere 5% of the Canadian theatrical box-office have been an unmitigated disaster.

There are a lot of reasons for that, many of which have been discussed ad nauseum around here. Just search "Telefilm and failure" on the blog for more than enough to both fill and spoil your weekend.

But back to M. Roy who, rather than trying out any of the suggestions that have come from all manner of industry stakeholders, announced last December that the 5% Solution just wasn't the ruler we should have been using to measure success. 

Well, silly us!

All this time, poor Canadian filmmakers have been made to fumble their box-office dicks out to be compared against the overblown studio dicks imported from America. Well, of course audiences would rather pay to see what those other guys had!

And no wonder we'd develop such a terrible National Inferiority Complex in the process! I mean, who wouldn't!

And we'd be just as misguided if we thought any of our ongoing Box Office failure had anything to do with Telefilm or the kind of movies they green light.

No, no, no -- the films are great! We've just had this measuring why the audience stays away from them thing ALL WRONG!

Box office receipts aren't how you determine if a film's been successful! It's…

Well, M. Roy didn't exactly detail what the proper measurement criteria was. Because -- gee -- there are just so many we could choose!

There's foreign sales, TV, DVDs, digital platforms. Hey, how about success at festivals? A lot of our movies go to festivals. True, most of them never get picked up for distribution or even seen anywhere after that, but still…

And if that's not enough "better than Box-office" rulers for you, there's always ­-- um -- well, the man suggests…critical acclaim.


How about those little cards people fill in after screenings?

Letters from the director's mom…?



This, my friends, is Ass Covering of the highest order. Far be it that anyone connect a Telefilm Lifer like Michel Roy to a policy that has been a failure since it was first conceived in 2000, was still a failure when people reviewed it in 2005 and remains a failure six years later.

Eleven years and this bright light and his bureaucratic associates haven't been able to find one single way to meet their own modest goal.

How many of us would still have our jobs after a decade of not performing as expected?

Make that -- not performing and assessing our product's inability to attract an audience as "inexplicable".

But Michel Roy still has his job because fingering he and his Telefilm staff as the problem might be far too logical and completely explicable.

With his rant about the failure of those shitty Canadian actors and his "wrong ruler" theory, Michel Roy has inadvertently made it clear he's flailing to divert blame from where it actually belongs and maybe protecting the so-called bright lights and National treasures in the Canadian film industry as well.

To be honest, I thought we were done with this blowhard when he didn't land the top job at Telefilm last year.

It went instead to a twenty year veteran bean-counter in the organization named Carolle Brabant. And I think a lot of people in the industry felt, given we also had a Federal government staunchly advocating accountability and openness (yeah, I bought that one too) -- well, we felt Telefilm might begin to clean up its act a little.

Maybe money wouldn't so easily flow to producers and companies whose resumes are littered with Box-Office failure and film after film that nobody wants to see. Maybe some hard questions would be asked about industry accounting and audits. Perhaps there'd even be a new plan for getting Canadian audiences to come and see the movies they'd already paid for.

Such has apparently not been the case.


A year after her appointment, addressing the CMPA 2011 Conference in Ottawa, Ms. Brabant was expected to lay out the future strategy for Telefilm.

But like Salome dancing in front of King Herod, what she revealed by peeling away the veiled policy M. Roy had hinted at was -- another veil.

To be sure, Ms. Brabant had used the interim months to cobble together a nice Powerpoint presentation (also available at the above link), albeit one which leaned heavily on references to American films, Artists who long ago abandoned the country to find work elsewhere and applauded Canada's penetration of the wine and cheese markets.

Does it strike anybody as a little Freudian that a career bureaucrat would work "wine and cheese" into a major speech?

Anyway -- the gist of Ms. Brabant's remarks was that Telefilm had been using the wrong ruler to measure success but she added "buzz" and "future opportunities" to M. Roy's previous list of success measuring options.

To be fair, she also came up with "cultural success" and "technical innovation" which are nebulous enough that it'll be another eleven years before anybody comes up with a way of accurately quantifying them.

And then she made a really BIG mistake.

One you wouldn't think somebody with an accounting background would make.

Ms. Brabant showed this slide, designed by the nice people at Scotia Capital (gratis I'm sure) to illustrate all the other ways besides Box-Office that the Canadian movies she feels deserve to be considered "successful" earn money.

telefilm pie

Now for anybody who works in the Canadian film industry there are a couple of things suggested here to give one pause.

First, at a time when the rest of the world's studios are reeling from the precipitous decline of DVD rentals and sales, are Canadian producers really earning almost 3X their box office take in those markets?

Second, are we to believe that almost twice as many people as went to see "Gunless" in a theatre rushed out to buy the DVD?

And does that mere 6% from TV licensing fees make sense -- especially if this pie is supposed to include that "Foreign Sales" ruler Michel Roy thinks we should maybe be using?

Here's a couple of other things to consider.

Let's assume that pie is an accurate representation of the earnings of a Canadian film.

That would mean that one of Telefilm's biggest bombs (made with A-list US and British actors by the way) Atom Egoyan's "Where The Truth Lies", which had a budget of $25 Million and only took in $3.4 Million at the Box Office (Worldwide) actually earned $14.8 Million from all sources.

Still a financial failure.

And "Passchendaele", with a budget of $20 Million and Box Office take of $4.4 Million, actually earned $19 Million.

Also still underwater.

But more than all that -- has Telefilm, which has long refused to release specific returns on specific productions -- finally given all those artists and artist guilds who have trouble getting financial reports that make sense a close estimate of what the films they worked on have actually earned?

In trying to make the case that more things than Box Office should go into measuring success, has Telefilm at last given us an insight into how much of our production entities' accounting may have been "creative"?

One thing many people may not know about the Canadian Film Industry is that Telefilm, as a Crown Corporation, does not have to respond to "access to information" requests that other Government agencies are required to provide.

Their standard response is that the earnings of private corporations (despite an average 71% contribution of public money) must remain confidential.

So there is no way I can double check that a financial statement I get from a Canadian producer is accurate. I have to take his or her word.

Even artist guilds, which have the right to audit built into their collective agreements, can only go by the statements supplied by the Producer. And they can't share that information even when their hyphenate members are telling them the numbers they're getting from one Guild doesn't match the earnings and sales territories being reported by another.

But now that we have this chart -- what happens when the numbers reported to a profit participant don't even come close to the totals it allows you to extrapolate?

Is the producer lying?

Or are his DVD sales just not at the level Telefilm assures us is an accurate measurement?

Since Telefilm did not utter a word when a Producer testified in court that he kept two sets of books, one for Telefilm showing profits and one for investors which showed losses; when Telefilm has never gone public on the details of its working relationship with the officers of Cinar, accused of bilking them for millions and this week charged by the RCMP in a $120 Million fraud -- the average guy begins to wonder a little.

Is Telefilm protecting the privacy of Canadian producers -- or their own shortcomings?

pink ass

But in the end, Ms. Brabant wrapped up her speech by promising that all would soon be revealed. And this week, another veil was shed.

This was a Telefilm announced plan to canvas the nation for "initiatives to enhance visibility and expand audiences for Canadian content".

In other words, despite all the fancy talk and the fact that it's their fucking job, they haven't actually thought of anything, so -- over to you.

The plan is to have Valerie Creighton of the Canadian Media Fund pack up her traditional selection of curried soups and gluten free desserts and hop-scotch the country much in the manner she did trolling for input on the "New Media Fund", which, unfortunately, some of us remember all too well.

While many jumped at the chance to kick in some ideas with the Twitter hash tag #wantCancon dutifully compiled for those Twitterless or with an actual Life on Will Dixon's eminently fair-minded blog.

But something about all this felt funny, so I went back to the text of Ms. Brabant's speech, finding this…

"We spent most of the past year consulting with the industry, researching particular topics and formulating ideas for the next four years. What we discovered was a surprising degree of consensus about where the industry is going and what kind of support it needs to succeed."

Wait a minute! Wait a minute…!

They've already spent a year canvassing the industry for ideas? And now they're going to spend another year canvassing the industry?

Does nobody at Telefilm have any ideas of their own?

How'd they qualify for the job?

And we pay these people six figure salaries and an indexed pension to do nothing but ask us how we'd run things -- and then ignore most (if not all) of that input?

Surely that's not the way government Arts bureaucracies work!

It can't be!

No. Something about this still wasn't right.

cowboy butt

(Y'know, these pictures stopped having much to do with the topic a while ago. I'm just finding they make the writing a little less painful)

I went back and read that Telefilm press release thinking maybe if I read between the lines a little…

"Look to Industry expertise…" Yeah, that's good. "Production, broadcast, distribution" -- whoa -- all those guys who have been lobbying for lower Cancon percentages and qualifying for grants and tax credits on films and TV shows with fewer Canadians involved in the productions?

Don't they already know that bunch don't want more Cancon and think completely aping American product (preferably with Americans) is the answer?

"…Strategy vitally grounded in the provinces and territories…" Okay, so nobody wants to rock the regional boat, so we won't be changing anything there. But we'll rack up a lot of Aeroplan miles and stock up on that great Motel 6 shampoo you can't get in Ottawa…

"Engage Telefilm staff…" They haven't done that yet? "…elected officials, community leaders and influencers…" Boy, I can't wait to hear what Rob Ford has to say to them.

"…offer alternatives to Hollywood…" What? Like Bowling?

Have you noticed something missing here -- besides a complete lack of direction and leadership?

The audience.

Y'know, the guys that have already voted to stay away from our movies? How come nobody wants to ask them why they don't go to see Canadian films? Wouldn't you think they'd be the first people you talked with?

And then -- I remembered another veil recently tossed aside…

One Telefilm didn't mention in their new press release…

The call for comments on updating Canada's co-production treaties.

Under the proposed amendments are the following:

1. Allow producers to qualify as an official co-production by only investing 10% of the budget.

If you enjoyed all the Canadian content of "The Tudors", you'll love shows with even less of it.

2. Allow a work to be produced in the territory of a non-party for storyline and/or creative reasons.

In other words, it doesn't have to be shot or even posted here. So much for those great crews we've built.

3. The proposal identifies four key positions in a fiction production: director, screenwriter, lead actor, second lead actor. Only ONE of these four has to be filled by a Canadian.

And the penny dropped.

It doesn't matter what any of us say.

They've already decided what they're going to do.

Y'know, you gotta hand it to Michel Roy. He may not have overseen any movies anybody wanted to see, but he finally found a way to get rid of those fucking Canadian actors -- and maybe the crappy screenwriters and directors too.

I'm sorry this has been so long-winded. But it had to be. And it should be obvious to anybody paying attention that we're being played here.

Played by people who couldn't give a damn about you, your work or the audience.

Telefilm has provided a good living for those within its offices while inexorably working to diminish those they supervise, the ones who might truly contribute to Canadian culture and the nation's economy and the way the rest of the world views us if they were ever given the chance.

You might want to attend one of these industry engagement sessions to offer your ideas for exciting people about Canadian film. But they're not listening to you.

They're listening to those who have failed before and are covering their own asses by blaming you (be you artist or audience) and working even harder to eliminate you from their equations and their methods of measurement.

If you make something good, people will pay to see it. If you don't or can't -- then cover your ass and make it look like somebody else is to blame.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 162: 72 Hours


I'm back from my March Break -- Geez, what did you guys do to the world while I was away?

A civil war in North Africa. Natural disasters in Japan. And the Leafs actually making a legitimate playoff run. The completely unexpected can happen anywhere and anytime, can't it?

And when it does, the sad truth is that few of us know how to respond.

Let's set aside the Leafs for the moment. Because no matter what happens with them, nobody's Life is going to be forever altered. But all of us are potential victims of all kinds of natural and man-made disasters that can arrive without warning.

But we don't have to be. And the difference between being a victim and surviving often comes down to one thing -- being prepared.

In the worlds of disaster relief and survivalists, the same rule applies, "the longer you can remain self-sufficient, the greater chance you have of making it through a catastrophic event alive".

The Survival rule of thumb is 72 hours. That's how long it usually takes from the moment something awful happens until society's emergency systems begin to get it under control. 

During those 72 hours, you're potentially on your own and being prepared to get through them without expecting any assistance is often the difference between Life and death.

Some of us live in places susceptible to earthquakes or violent storms. We've all experienced lengthy power failures. Fires, floods or epidemics can cut any of us off from the goods and services we depend upon.

And all of us have differing needs and responsibilities. We've got kids, pets, elderly relatives, medical conditions and other individual concerns that will require in-place workarounds when whatever Hell breaks around us.

Come what may, you need to be able to hang on without help for at least 72 hours.

The easiest way to do that is by building what's professionally known as an "Emergency Preparedness Kit" and known by most who have one as the "Bug Out" or "Bail Out Bag".

BOB is usually a knapsack, duffle or Cooler crammed with what you and your family need to last 72 hours. It sits close to one of the exits to your home in case the disaster scenario requires you to get out in a hurry. The truly prepared (or terminally paranoid) have a second BOB in the car and another at the Office.

Type "Bug Out Bag" into Google or Youtube and you'll find thousands of kits designed by everybody from dour Red Cross instructors to guys who can already hear the Black Helicopters thudding in the distance.

The best place to get the advice that applies to you, however, can be found at where you can design both an Emergency Kit and a Disaster Plan based on your own particular situation.

Once you've got your kit and your plan, you'll immediately notice that the tone of TV newscasters grimly relishing some calamity while the text crawl predicts even worse scenarios just won't bother you as much.

And then maybe you can take the subject of survival about as seriously as this guy -- and -- Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 161: March Break

beach cowgirl

We didn't have Spring Break, or March Break as it's known in Canada, when I was in school. I think it might've had something to do with dinosaur mating season, though I don't really remember. But I gotta say it's one of the best inventions ever invented so kudos to whoever came up with it.

The British claim that April is the cruelest month, and maybe since that's when your taxes are due, there's some truth to that. But I have the hardest time getting through March.

By this point in the year I have had my fill of grey skies, cold and whatever form of precipitation is falling from them. Even when I've manage to escape somewhere warm or warmer earlier in the winter it makes no difference. For whatever reason I was born in Canada, I was clearly designed and built for sunnier climes.

Depending on where you live in this country, this week or next or the one after will be the one where kids get off school, university students get a "reading week" and a lot of people with regular jobs and no vacation time just book off with the flu.

Many will fly South for some sun and sand and all-inclusive rum punch. Others will order up a dog and a beer and park their butts to watch Spring training baseball. A few will just burrow under the duvet to await the morning that the sun gets up before the alarm goes off.

Which brings me to Country and Western music.

Despite what you might expect, there's a long tradition of beach related Country music. Even though it doesn't snow much in most of the places where it gets written or composed, those folks still enjoy getting a sunburn on their already red necks.

Part of that's related to the whole "Carolina Shag" school of beach party music that evolved along the Carolina beaches in the 1940's. It spread across the South in the 1950's and 60's as local radio stations began broadcasting R&B and Rock 'n Roll into traditional Country markets where Jim Crow laws prevented most local teens from hearing "race music".

One of the first times I visited a Caribbean island I discovered a state of the art recording studio that might've recorded some Calypso or Reggae on a slow day, but was mostly booked by Nashville stars either on a working vacation or doing a little offshore banking disguised as a business trip.

Every major Country artist from Garth Brooks ("Tropical Depression") to Alabama ("Shagging on the Boulevard") to Kenny Chesney (pick any album) has a beach music connection. So here's a triple shot from new wave Country to the traditional to warm you up and get you ready for either escaping to the Sun or hanging on until it arrives.

Here come the gentle breezes. Enjoy your Sunday.



Friday, March 04, 2011

Brain Damage

charlie sheen

The Charlie Sheen Meltdown/Kamikaze Mission has been at the top of everybody's entertainment news watch list this week. Now, don't fret, I'm not going to offer my own opinions on Mr. Sheen's underlying issues because they wouldn't have any basis in personal knowledge.

As Sheen himself pointed out in an entirely engaging interview with CNN's Piers Morgan after listening to "Celebrity Rehab" guru Dr. Drew Pinsky diagnose him as "acutely manic" and/or "Bi-Polar" -- "I'm being diagnosed by a man who's never even been in the same room with me -- how professional!"

And how unethical! You'd think an eminent psychiatrist like Dr. Pinsky would know he's violating American Psychiatric Association rules by offering a diagnosis of a patient he has never personally treated.

But in many ways, I'm familiar with what Charlie is exhibiting. And not just because I'm married to Show Business. But because of what's come to light over at the mistress with whom I most often cheat on her -- hockey.


This week, Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy released a study concluding that hockey enforcer Bob Probert, who died last summer at the ridiculously young age of 45, was suffering from CTE, a degenerative brain disorder likely caused by the repeated concussions and blows to the head he took in literally hundreds of hockey fights.

The study of Probert's brain took place because, in his final years, he requested it, already experiencing the symptoms of Dementia at an age when most men haven't even started to go grey.

I once saw Bob Probert rag-doll Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Tie Domi twice in one game for injuring a rookie teammate. They were brutal beat-downs still ranked among the great moments of the game.

And the crowd goes wild!

Viewed amid the heat of competition, it's exciting and entertaining.

But in real life -- real damage has been done to a couple of terribly fragile human beings.

I lost a younger brother at the even more ridiculous age of 27 to a head injury of which no one (including he) barely took note. Afterward, I spent a lot of time with various Brain Injury organizations studying the causes and prevention of similar tragedies.

As a result, as much as I love hockey, I long ago lost my appreciation for both the moments where guys drop the gloves and pummel one another and those who manage the game and champion the practice.

Yes, I understand its historic purpose in making players live up to "the code" and exciting the crowd and "sending a message" and motivating the team. But just playing better would do all of that. And then no once revered sports hero would be found in his later years fumbling with his keys in a supermarket parking lot because he not only can't find his car but doesn't remember where he lives.

But fighting brings in the crowds so the sport is slow to change. Even when its biggest stars (and perhaps most valuable assets) like Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard are lost for most of a season to head injuries, the NHL pays little more than lip service to fixing the problem.

As I write this, New York Islander tough guy Trevor Gilles awaits a hearing on another multi-game suspension for a hit to the head of another player on his first game back after serving a nine game suspension for doing the same thing.

Yet whatever happens to Gilles, this weekend will see dozens of NHL fights where repeated and intense hits to the head will take place with the blessing and perhaps secret glee of all concerned.

And what does Bob Probert have to do with Charlie Sheen or prime time television with hockey?

Well, at the base of it, both men are involved in careers where the risks and the rewards are extreme. In both hockey and show business, incredible physical and emotional demands are made on those who participate, demands which sometimes seriously damage those involved.

One of the first things anybody working on a television series learns is -- "Pace Yourself". The hours are long, with nobody working less than a 60 hour week and many on the job much, much longer.

I've seen more than one lead actor get 3 or 4 episodes into a run and start to break down physically from the stress, the pressure and the lack of down time. Tempers become frayed if scripts are late or technical issues extend an already long shoot day. Creative disagreements which don't really make a damn bit of difference evolve into major issues because everybody is being pushed beyond their personal endurance levels by the need to feed the machine.

Eventually, many self medicate, over caffeinate or, in some cases, just fall victim to the easy forms of release from feeling overwhelmed, depressed or unworthy of the task.

The rigors of production or a pro hockey career also lead to a fortress mentality and the adoption of a warrior code among those on each individual team.

That's clearly visible in any competitive sport, but it happens in TV too, where Writers rooms and on-set producers align against distant network execs whose notes don't consider those just trying to survive the shoot day or stay on time and budget.

The stress and sleep deprivation of a screenwriter mean as much to one intent on wringing the last possible dollar of profit out of a series as a League executive cares about the frontal lobe lesions on some kid who would have probably ended up on the line at General Motors if he couldn't play hockey.

And just as that kid whose fists earn him millions will stand up for a rookie he barely knows but who wears the same sweater, most people on a film crew will stand up for somebody on their own show -- even though they barely cross paths on a daily basis. The fortress mentality takes over.

And often, those at the top use it to their advantage.

charlie sheen card

While Charlie Sheen has been talking to just about anybody who'll take his calls, the most insightful interviews have been done by Piers Morgan and Howard Stern.

And while a friend of mine commented that Sheen's cogency on CNN was proof that any actor can pull out a good take now and then; for me, those interviews exhibited the professional skill of media stars who, when compared with the vast herd out there, actually know what they're doing.

Being able to wrangle somebody as off his leash and over the fence as Charlie Sheen and come away with so much revealing insight is all the evidence you need why Morgan beat out all contestants for Larry King's chair and Stern remains "The King of All Media".

Within both interviews (and Stern's in particular) there are flashes of insight into what's really going on in Charlie's head -- and maybe in real life as well.

Buried in many of Sheen's statements are the traditional series actor grievances that endure no matter how large the paycheck. Late scripts. Repetitive or uninspired material. Lack of appreciation. Lack of respect for one's co-workers.

Those whose worlds are consumed by money believe that money solves such problems. Charlie's making a million dollars a week for having to do little more than show up on time and tell the same jokes a slightly different way. What's he got to complain about? He could be working on a General Motors line somewhere himself.

They don't understand the camaraderie of a film set, much as those outside of hockey don't understand the necessary dynamic of the dressing room. What goes on "in the room" or on-set has a value beyond calculation in building allegiances and purpose.

Yes, Charlie's been a very bad boy away from the set, lived and partied hard with little apparent regard for those around him. And while all of us know a lot about that courtesy the National Enquirer and TMZ, we probably know a whole lot less than those closest to the action, namely "2.5 Men" showrunner Chuck Lorre and CBS President Leslie Moonves.

Frankly, if they only know the same details the rest of us do, they weren't doing their jobs.

Sure, some would argue that a more important part of their jobs has been to (like the NHL Commissioner's Office) protect the game and grow its profits. But protecting their assets is part of the job too.

Was Charlie's bad behavior enabled or ignored on some level because it created the crush at the gate that hockey arenas encountered whenever Bob Probert came to town? Were his arrests and hospitalizations of no more consequence than game suspensions which could be counted on to create even more publicity?

The message being sent by the executive offices of the NHL and CBS are the same. "Stars are dime a dozen and should just be happy to have a job".

Nobody is irreplaceable in any human endeavor. Life and the games go on with or without whoever once shone in their midst. The powers that be will always find somebody to take their place -- and so will we.

Bob Probert is dead and Charlie Sheen seems to be careening to his own early grave, both broken by the game they loved and what was required of them to maintain their place in it.

Other people got rich because of them.

But WE watched and maybe were even the ones who demanded their sacrifices to keep our attention.

Maybe they're not the only ones with the brain damage.