How To Save Canadian Film and TV (Still)


Thanks for Will Dixon for pointing to this 1995 article by the late John Harkness, where he suggests three things that might help the English-Canadian movie industry (or “industry” as it’s called in the piece, and the use of scare quotes is understandable). The suggestions are to place less emphasis on film schools, film festivals, and government funding, and most of the piece reads as relevantly now as it did then. Particularly the concluding section, which talks about how the funding of Canadian film is approached from the wrong end: we help movies get made, but we don’t help them actually find a place for people to pay to see them.

Some of these things are applicable to television as well; we have more ways to get shows made than actually get them shown. I’m not convinced that government funding is a net negative — there has been plenty of wonderful film and TV that got made with government subsidies. (Even more if you count tax breaks.) What we still don’t have is a positive incentive for English-Canadian networks to make, promote and schedule shows effectively. Having to make something to keep your license rarely produces the best results. Look at the decline in the quality of broadcast TV kids’ shows in the late ’90s, after the FCC mandated a certain amount of “educational” programming as part of the license requirements.

What we would like English-Canadian TV networks to do is what cable networks did in the States: create original programming, improve the quality of that programming over time through trial and error, and learn to schedule those shows in such a way as to call attention to them — all because they felt it was worth their while, in a business sense, to have something more than reruns (the cable equivalent of the U.S. simulcast). It seems to me that it should be worth our while to make films and TV shows and put them in front of a wide audience, if only because of the financial rewards of a hit, but it’s pretty clear that much content is only aired and distributed out of a sense of duty. A sense of duty does not produce the most sparkling entertainment.

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How To Save Canadian Film and TV (Still)

  1. Here I'll agree. There are thousands of stories in Canada that haven't been told….and they're far more interesting than something thrown together at the last minute to meet legal requirements.

  2. Maybe we should find an effective, consumer-friendly way of making Canadian entertainment available online (with effective marketing so that people want to download it). Instead of trailing behind Hollywood, which is already backwards, we should leapfrog them.

    • The problem with this is that we're still in the mindset that foriegn sales need to happen in our walled garden world before we can take advantage of new tools to reach the masses. The best example of this from recent history would be Re/genesis: a TMN/Global series with lots of buzz and hype after what was considered to be an excellent first season that wouldn't make its way to DVD in North America for close to 5 years, after they'd conveniently piled up enough episodes for a post-midnight Syndication run in the US, and lost public momentum because of it.

      What's needed is someone willing to go all in on Netflix/iTunes/etc as an immediate distribution model and, if they can get TV, bonus. But, that requires attacking financing from a whole other angle than: "get network to foot X% of bill, make the rest off postgame sales". The closest we've come to anyone moving in that direction, Netflix's recent signing NWS, is Crunchyroll picking up on Fansubbing and cutting deals with producers to subtile and stream Anime within 24 hours of air in Japan to put an end to year long waits for shows to get dubbed/subtitled and released on DVD over here.

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