Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lip Service to Screenwriters

At the behest of the WGC, today I joined other screenwriters like Pete Mitchell (The Guard), Steve Lucas (Blue Murder), Peter Mohan (Blood Ties), Sarah Dodd (The Border) and Denis McGrath (The Border) to protect the interests of Canadian screenwriters in the wake of the amalgamation of the CTF and the Canadian New Media Fund into the catch all fund to finance TV and gaming (and other other online media) called the CMF or Canadian Media Fund.

What was billed as the Toronto focus group was really an unwieldy conference of at least 500 attendees in a cavernous subterranean hall in the Toronto convention centre. This "focus group" was the latest in a series of consultations across the country. (Though when the moderator announced that these consultations had had anywhere from 20 to 100 people attending in the past, I wonder how could 500 people in Toronto equal 20 people somewhere else. I guess that's what someone living in the 416 area code is worth to them?)

The whole experience reminded me why I'd rather be a writer. In fact, I wish I were home writing than attending this thing. But my ability to earn an income from screenwriting depends on how this fund gets implemented so I felt compelled to attend.

Most of the time was taken with the leaders of the fund explaining the new rules to the gathered throng in Orwellian language. Do these bureaucrats actually read what they write? They have labeled the two funding streams "Convergent" and "Experimental" but as far as I can tell the difference boils down to the first having a TV component and the second one not having a TV component. So why not call the streams, TV and Other? Or TV and Not TV? A good half an hour was spent explaining what they meant by convergent and experimental--and they admitted that experimental wasn't a good name!

Screenwriters must write so that their intentions CAN'T be misinterpreted because if it's possible to be misinterpreted, it will be. At least that's my modus operendi. And so the obfuscation in the language of todays consultation was headache inducing for me. Clarity is a screenwriter's currency but it's in short supply among bureacrats.

I'm concerned that this fund is going to get hijacked by the broadcasters/production companies who've made no secret of their desire to see public money like the CMF be siphoned off to foreign nationals to run their story departments and be the star of their show. In fact, a broadcaster went so far as to demand that at the session. And it was given as much credence as the numerous voices demanding public money support only 10 out of 10 productions, as it does currently--that is, fully Canadian on and off screen. But when the day was summarized, the multiple voices for 10 out of 10 equalled the single broadcaster demand for reducing Canadian content.

It felt like lip service was being paid to the attendees. We were pitted against each other by the CMF bureaucrats, who apparently just want us to all get along. Producers versus broadcasters versus screenwriters. Why put us all in a room and expect consensus? Why not meet with the various stakeholders separately and see what we have to say? I guess that would have been too considerate and responsible because today felt like the whole thing was a kiss off to consultation. They can say they consulted us and now do what they want.

Steve Lucas, Denis McGrath, Sarah Dodd, Peter Mohan--these writers are primarily responsible for hundreds of hours of successful television that's been exported and made money for the producers, (probably more than these writers made.) They spoke passionately and intelligently and yet were just placed on a lip service list at the end of the day.

Another day in the life of a Canadian screenwriter. How long before that becomes a contradiction in terms?

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