So here’s what I think Canadian film and TV needs.
Well, maybe not needs…but would be helpful.
A website that could act as a kind of community get together for people in the biz, from indie filmmakers and Art House directors to those churning out sci-fi TV series, from workers, to critics and observers, to just those who count themselves the audience and fans. A place to exchange ideas, toss out thoughts, and occasionally shick a little kit.
Think of it as the Huffington Post of Canadian film & TV.
Indeed, Huffngton Post Canada could very easily serve this function, but I don’t think it has any intention of doing so. Ever noticed how in the entertainment section of Huffington Post Canada next to none of the posts are actually about, y’know, Canadian entertainment…or even written by Canadians? Talk about mislabelling, eh? Granted, I’m not sure you’d want to trust the voice of the biz to a website that regards celebrity “nip slips” as cutting edge journalism (and, besides, those pictures are always so blurry!)
There are a few websites devoted to talking about Canadian entertainment, but too often they seem to exist in isolation from each other. And they tend to be blogs, like mine, which are basically just an airing house for one person’s opinion (with occasional comments from others). Or there are “industry” forums that more act as cheerleaders, promoting films and TV shows without really offering constructive criticism, or challenges to the status quo. I mean, I’m over simplifying. There have always been worthy efforts — including print magazines like Cinema Canada and Take One (neither of which I think are still going). But, again, as I say: maybe too narrow in their focus. Telling people what they want to hear, or directed mainly at industry insiders rather than general folk (and I suspect even a lot of industry workers aren’t that interested in Playback pieces about corporate takeovers and re-shufflings)…or, conversely, they are directed at general folk and ignored by industry insiders.
I’m not talking about a site to replace the other sites, whether it be blogs like mine, or industry round-ups like TV, eh? or other sites (some that I have links to on your right). Not at all. Indeed, there could be a bit more cross-referencing, and linking back and forth — with some of those self-posters contributing pieces to this other site. Creating a genuine on-line community of sites. Rather than a sense that too many sites kind of exist isolated from each other, unaware — or deliberately ignoring — each other.
As well, a problem I perceive (or at least as has been mentioned by those in the biz over the years) is the country is just too spread out and hived off into various fiefdoms. Unlike, say, America, where film & TV is largely centred in Los Angeles, Canada has major production centres from sea to sea, from Vancouver to Halifax, and people in one centre are often only vaguely aware of what’s going on in the other, and the “serious” filmmakers rarely break bread with B-movie crowd, or the TV folk. And then there’s the biggest division of all — language! With Quebec filmmakers rarely seeming to know, or care, what’s going on in the rest of the country…and vice versa.
So maybe what’s needed is a place to just, well, communicate. Not just for puff pieces, and not just to criticize everything you don’t like. But a place where views can be expressed…and countered, and industry folk from one end of the country to the other can basically hang out and trade stories. Contributors could range from industry “names” who don’t usually get to do more than answer Q&As, to professionally published reviewers who don’t usually get to expand on their opinions much beyond how many stars they’re giving a film, to gadflies and bloggers. From the light and frivolous to the incisive and informative to the controversial and challenging.
David Cronenberg could write 800-1000 words about an amusing anecdote at some film festival party where maybe (hypothetically) Viggo Mortensen spilled wine on Diane Kruger and Joshua Jackson threatened to punch his lights put…and they all finished the evening by getting happily drunk together and making prank phone calls at 4 AM to Atom Egoyan (and Egoyan could write a piece about the dangers of an open bar at film festival parties).
While Sudz Sutherland could contrast the creative plus and minuses in making a TV movie like The Phantoms versus a feature film like Home Again.
Deepa Mehta could offer advice on how to navigate the tricky waters of making an international co-production while Kevin Tierney could explain just why the f**k no one ever made a Bon Cop, Bad Cop Part Deux.
While professional commentators like John Doyle, Bill Brioux and others could all chime in with op ed pieces.
Someone else could write about just why they hate movies by Mehta, Cronenberg, and others and why they are killing the Canadian film biz (and someone else could counter why they love their films).
Maybe someone could post a piece asking why Muse Entertainment invests in critically acclaimed, well regarded productions…and also makes terrible little sci-fi quickies for Space (Being Human an exception, of course). Don’t the sci-fi geeks deserve the same respect and quality productions? And, see, that’s the point: no one would write an essay like that for a major newspaper because their editor would say “Who cares? Most of our readers have never heard of Muse Entertainment, and don’t really know anything about its different production wings.” But a site specifically dedicated to talking about Canadian film & TV? That’s another matter.
Plus you could have Canadian celebrities sometimes writing about non-entertainment topics: their favourite charity or weighing in on the latest political scandal. I’m sure Eric Peterson could easily be Canada’s Alec Baldwin — uh, I mean in terms of posting political musings, not in terms of anger management problems.
TV writers could write about writing for TV, and actors could offer advice on how to snag the freshest donuts off the catering table without looking like a pig.
And, yes, a few fingers could be pointed and names named.
And the comments sections would be open to any and all (well, maybe monitored for profanity and character assassinations…but still a venue for legitimate counter arguments).
Oh…and it would all be bilingual!
French posters would have their stuff translated into English, and English into French…in same day postings. Think of it as being like those VIA Rail magazines you get on the train. But it would be literal translations — no fair a Francophone filmmaker writing in English how much he loves his Anglophone brethren while in French says they all suck! (Or an Anglophone writing the reverse). Not like how politicians notoriously exploit the two solitudes.
The name of the game is communication, making sure people hear what everyone else is saying.
Plus, in addition to the op ed stuff, there could be some articles (or maybe just links to articles at other sites) and maybe a few gossipy and celebrity bits. And, okay, sure, maybe even the occasional nip slip — what? does nothing scandalous ever happen at the Canadian Film Awards?
And there could be pieces with a more global perspective just to spice things up, but you wouldn’t want them to dominate and so lose the whole point of the site. Patrick Huard could write about who’s his favourite James Bond. Or maybe a successful Hollywood TV producer (with knowledge of the Canadian biz) could offer an outsider’s perspective on how to improve the Canadian industry. Perhaps an American actor working in Canada could opine on the difference between the two industries.
Looking at Huffington Post as a model, I’ll admit…I have no idea if Huffington Post (Canada) is a “professional” site, or largely volunteer (that is: whether the posters are actually paid, or whether the payment is simply having a forum to express themselves — certainly the lack of proof reading kind of makes you suspect the latter). So whether a Canadian film site like the one I’m proposing could function as a largely volunteer site, or whether it would have to generate revenue (or at least a funding grant) I’m not sure. Certainly the people running and maintaining it would probably need some compensation, if only to justify the time. But knowing how people like to sound off, I bet you could certainly get a few high profile film folk to contribute op ed pieces for free if they thought people were actually reading.
I’ve long suspected the biggest hurdle in Canada…is that most of those making Canadian films and TV shows don’t actually care about Canadian film & TV. They care about their own project, their own career…and that’s about it. That’s why I suspect that, despite past magazines like Cinema Canada, I’m not sure the Canadian biz has ever successfully produced its equivalent of Variety — an industry sheet that’s kind of a “must read” by folks in the business. So, sure, at first a site like the one I’m envisioning might not get much notice, but over time it might build up a presence, as word trickled through the biz (maybe with a few ads in industry papers and on other blogs to draw attention to it). Maybe over time it would become something industry folk would regularly glance over during breakfast just to see if there was anything likely to be the topic of conversation on that day’s set. (“Mary Walsh wrote what about Allan Hawco?!?”)
So…a workable idea? Is it do-able? And, more to the point: is it worth doing? Maybe not. But as is a recurring theme with me, I think communication is important — and some central site, where various contributors from sea to sea could express various (and varied) opinions might be a good step in that direction.
I ain’t the guy to do it, sadly. But I bet there’s someone (or someones) out there, with the mix of tech and internet savvy combined with industry connections who could maybe get something like that up and running. Maybe even the folks at Huffington Post Canada.
But I ain’t holding my breath.
(Post-script, Jan. 30, 2013: As the comments below indicate, Huffington Post Canada didn’t feel I was being entirely fair in my assessment and, to make a long story short, I’m posting a few pieces there — just thought I’d mention it in the name of “full disclosure”).