Fake CanCon

by Jaime Weinman

I was glad to see the Globe and Mail‘s Kate Taylor run a piece about an issue that is becoming more and more important in Canadian TV: shows that are, technically, Canadian Content, therefore fulfilling CanCon quotas, but aren’t actually Canadian in any meaningful sense. I’m not talking about point of view or perspective or any of those subjective things; shows like The Borgias (which was just renewed for another season) and The Tudors are not Canadian because the creative people on them are not Canadians; Canadian involvement is financial, plus a certain number of Canadian actors. But by that standard, Star Wars is an English film.

Granted, it’s sometimes hard to define the exact nationality of a production. The international co-production is not new to television (though co-pros like The Borgias are bigger productions than most co-pros of the past), and even older in film: directors would get financing for their films from all over the world, maybe even shoot in multiple languages the way Jean Renoir did with The Golden Coach, and you couldn’t say whether this was a French or Italian or English picture.

But suppose Italy didn’t have much of a functioning Italian-language film industry, and tried to pass off films by French or American directors as examples of the health of Italian film? That’s the issue that lingers when it comes to Canadian co-pros. It’s not that these shouldn’t be made, and they certainly do a good thing by employing Canadian actors. They’re just mostly not relevant to the future of the English-language Canadian TV industry, any more than U.S. shows shot in Vancouver or Toronto – at best they show that our investors and (for the ones shot in Canada) technicians can compete on an international level. The situation remains that our English-language writers have to go to the U.S. to be taken seriously.

Whether CanCon quotas need to be changed to reflect this is something I don’t feel qualified to comment on; in any case, I don’t think our networks would be jumping to make genuine CanCon in any case. We always come back to the same old problem: a healthy film or TV industry comes about because studios/networks think it’s worth their while financially, or at least that it could be. The real question is why they think a show by Canadian writers in Canada won’t sell – and whether they’re right (I don’t think they are, but who knows, the way things are set up?).

It might be better, though, if shows like The Tudors were not eligible for awards here. Canadian awards don’t mean a huge amount to the country as a whole, but when a British series wins the Canadian award for best TV series, it can’t help the perception of actual Canadian TV.




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Fake CanCon

  1. Canada has had 50 years in which to create a home-grown Hollywood, and shown not the slightest interest in doing so.

    In fact, without the 'Canadian content' rules we probably wouldn't have seen any of our own stories and creations.

    So I think the time has come to toss them as a non-starter.

  2. Real CanCon

    Are Canucks going to win tonight?

    • Yeah, watching other people play a game. Spectators.

  3. One must note that the employment of Canadians in the arts is the principal defence usually cited for government support, so maybe calling these projects Canadian isn't so bad, if jobs and other economic results are really the primary goal. Few would even pretend that we want to have a Canadian film industry because we're keen to watch Canadian stories on screen.

    • As we learn from Economics resources are scarce and that applies to film technicians and other people working in the industry.

      If they are always employed in co-pros or "runaway productions" then they aren't available to work on local productions.

      So while enticing those sorts of productions up here through tax breaks and other stuff helps create jobs and given them experience they can't then use that experience Canadian stories.

    • The Tudors & The Borgias aren't filmed here and at best have provided employment to a couple of dozen people. A Canadian producer having a financial interest in this type of show does not make the show Canadian & they should not be eligible for Canadian awards.

  4. "The situation remains that our English-language writers have to go to the U.S. to be taken seriously."

    I would argue that Rookie Blue & Flashpoint are two Canadian shows that have not only been written & produced in Canada, but have also been picked up by American networks. So we CAN actually produce decent TV.

    Personally, I think the best show the CBC produced was "This is Wonderland" and why they canned it, I will never know.

  5. In 1984, Baron Moran, the British High Commissioner to Canada, stated that, in his opinion, Canadians have limited talents and are "deeply unimpressive." Adding "Anyone who is even moderately good at what they do – in literature, the theater, skiing of whatever – tends to become a national figure. And anyone who stands out at all from the crowd tends to be praised to the skies and given the Order of Canada at once."

    CanCon does little more than support opinion of this order; it was a sham when created and remains so to this day. Modern technology has now made it completely redundant. It was, and is, a national embarrassment.

  6. A friend of mine said to me once, when I recommended "Corner Gas" as a terribly amusing way to spend half an hour: "But it's Canadian. It looks really crappy. You know, all Canadian shows have that look." And she genuinely feels that way (though she does confess to enjoying "Flashpoint"). Canadians themselves are at fault for giving Canadian television and film short shrift.

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