New Media versus the Old Regime A Changing of the Guard in Sports Broadcasting Canadian Animation
y h p a r g o e d i V board
a p f o y r t s u d An in
e c n a r e v e s r sion and pe
S S E N I S U B
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Crowdfunding The emerging film fad of the 21st Century
Deep Business and Shallow Culture The risks of creating a Canadian Hollywood
A Changing of the Guard in Sports Broadcasting Sportsnet makes a push to control the Canadian broadcasting industry How will TSN fill the NHL void?
CUL TUR E
The debate over excessive media interference
Canadian Sport Film Festival The universal language of sport
The Bloor Cinema
A Theatre Theatre for for the the People People A
Queer Film at Home
A century of adaptation
Roncesvallesâ€™ residents rally to keep the Revue thriving
An industry of passion
A deeper look into Torontoâ€™s Inside Out Festival
Y G O L O N H TEC
Fine Cut Spring 2014
A new standard for experiencing film and television?
A pillar of the industry
A Failing Medium? A
The Struggle of the VFX Artist The
Why 3D might not be on its way out
How the industry has become nomadic
Animals on Set
The Ratings Debate
New Media versus the Old Regime
Are we International Players?
Are the current regulations enough?
How a more inclusive system might affect the business
The ethics of Mansbridge and big oil The state of Canadian television
S E C N E I R E P X E 54
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The underrepresentation of female execs in the film industry Ken Scott leads the way to Hollywood
The forgotten minority in the film industry
Why getting it straight is getting it wrong
Equality on the Silver Screen The experiences of African-Canadian film professionals
Letter from the editor
hen I was five years old I wanted to be a mermaid. I thought if I stayed in the water long enough I would eventually turn into one. When this approach failed I resolved to brush my hair with a fork, memorized the words to â€œPart of Your World,â€? and embraced that since Ariel turns into a human in the end I was born one step ahead of the game. I was a Little Mermaid because I was passionately determined to be. We have chosen perseverance as the theme for this edition of Fine Cut because we wanted to recognize those in the film and television industry that are tenaciously striving to succeed in spite of ardent obstacles. While the industry is steadfast in evolving, these people, businesses and technologies have exerted effort to be equally steadfast in maintaining their presence. Some have survived, some have thrived and others are fighting to endure, but all deserve recognition not just for their perseverance but their passion. Wanting success is only half the battle. Having passion for the virtues of the industry is the heart of survival. Putting together this magazine was our teamâ€™s own test of endurance and I could not be more proud of our efforts and the outcome. I am honoured to have worked with a group of such talented and capable individuals. Together our own passion and perseverance have created a product that celebrates those qualities and emphasizes the unique gifts we all have that can contribute to a greater whole. Enjoy,
Kendra Hamilton Editor-in-Chief Fine Cut Spring 2014 Cover photo by Will Jivcoff
HUMBER SCHOOL OF MEDIA STUDIES AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
FINE Spring 2014
Celia Grimbly Kate Richards
Assistant Managing Editor
Managing Editor, Online
Assistant Managing Editor, Online
Art Director, Online
Managing Editor, Words
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School of Media Studies
and Information Technology
Cristina Pietrantonio Kate Richards
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Photo Editor Janie Ginsberg
Videographer Kheon Clarke
Politics Travis Pereira Technology Marlon Gomez Business Simon Leve Culture Danielle Lavalle Experiences Katherine George
The emerging film fad of the 21st century Story and picture by Kate Richards
ig fish eats the little fish goes the proverb. There’s never any mention of the medium fish. But a new phenomenon in social-fundraising is helping create awareness for the little fish that wants to help feed a medium fish’s big idea. The crowdfunding phenomenon helps creative people generate funds for their new projects by reaching out to the public over the Internet. Kickstarter is one of the most popular crowdfunding websites in the United States and Canada. To date, Kickstarter has raised more than one billion dollars in pledges and has successfully funded more than 57,000 projects. Technology is the most popular project category on the site, including games. The second most popular is film and video, particularly documentary film. James Cooper, a Canadian film producer, director and author has used Kickstarter to successfully raise funds for two short film projects. His ebook, Kickstarter for Filmmakers, is a guide based on his experience in successfully funding his short film on the crowdfunding website. “There’s a saying in film production that you spend the majority of your time preparing to shoot the film. The same can be said about crowdfunding,” said Cooper. “If you’re doing it right, planning and fine tuning [a crowdfunding campaign] should take a lot more time than the actual campaign itself will.” Canada lagged behind the U.S. in the trend of crowdfunding because Kickstarter was not available here until September 2013. Toronto-based Hot Docs noticed not only documentary film’s prominence within Kickstarter’s film category, but also the lack of accessibility Canada faced in the crowdfunding industry. “We were seeing a lot of projects
in the U.S. doing very well. But we weren’t really seeing that in Canada,” said Stephanie McArthur, Hot Docs’ industry programs manager. Hot Docs also became aware of the intense planning and strategy involved in creating a successful crowdfunding campaign across the border. The result of these realizations was Doc Ignite. Doc Ignite provides campaign support services for the film production team, incentives for their backers, and an immediate audience. Doc Ignite chooses up to six films per year and develops a 60-day campaign for each film. It promotes the film project and tries to raise funds to aid in its completion, sometimes even for post-production costs. Doc Ignite has helped fund a total of eight campaigns so far. Six of the campaigns reached their fundraising goal. Nicolina Lanni and John Choi were chosen by Doc Ignite to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for their film Lost & Found in February 2013. Lanni, co-director and producer of this documentary, said the campaign process was incredibly difficult. But she and Choi managed to raise enough money to reach their goal of $25,000. “I was eager and willing. I’d never done a social fundraising campaign and I didn’t know what I was actually committing John and I to,” said Lanni. “If I was ever to launch a social fundraising campaign by myself for the first time I think it would have floundered miserably.” Doc Ignite spends at least two months with the filmmakers planning the campaign before it is even launched. They want to make sure the documentarians have a thorough understanding about the process involved in creating a crowdfunding campaign, how much money they think they can make and what incentives they think they can offer.
The relationship between Hot Docs and the filmmakers remains closely tied during the campaign as well, although Hot Docs holds no rights over the film once the funding is achieved. Lanni expressed how much she learned about social fundraising through Doc Ignite and Hot Docs’ network of people. She also emphasized the value of Doc Ignite’s knowledge about how crowdfunding works and how to get attention from the public. “From the very beginning they set us up with a Public Relations group. They were invaluable to us and we couldn’t have done what we did without them. They got our name out there in a way that I don’t think John and I could have done on our own and that was all thanks to Hot Docs,” she said. Since documentaries are mostly funded through public broadcasters, a major shift has been taking place in the last ten years. Broadcasters have fewer and fewer slots on their channels and less and less money, which has been causing a huge financial barrier for documentary filmmakers, said McArthur. They are left with a big empty gap they have to fill financially. “Crowdfunding came along at the perfect time to address that gap,” McArthur said. The audience essentially becomes the most important aspect of the production process. If a filmmaker receives funds from a venture capitalist and gets a huge chunk of money at once, the filmmaker and production team work hard to keep that one investor happy, said McArthur. With crowdfunding, the filmmaker is responsible for keeping tens or hundreds, sometimes thousands of people happy and that multiplies the amount of work going into the project to an enormous extent. “When you have an entire community of people, the people you look up to and the people you work with every day, and they’ve invested in your film it’s a total-
Fine Cut Spring 2014
ly different pressure that I’m still feeling today,” said Lanni recounting the Lost & Found campaign. But the results can be incredibly positive. “It’s like the idea of taking a village to raise a child,” said Lanni. “While it puts more pressure on the filmmaker, it also puts more enthusiasm in the audience. There’s nothing bad about it. It’s just hard work,” she said. If the filmmaking team keeps their backers engaged, when their film is finally finished they will have this “band of superfans” who feel like they have a strong investment in the final product, McArthur said. “They’ll tweet when your film comes out, they’ll tell their friends about it, they’ll talk about it and that’s the most authentic kind of publicity you can have,” she said. Lanni and Choi’s backers did more than help spread the word about their film. While they were shooting in Japan, they would post requests on their Facebook page asking for help translating or transcribing information. Their backers did what they could to help with these tasks as well. “The best thing for me was creating that group of people who become invested in the film… They feel like they’re a part of it,” said Lanni. Crowdfunding has been critiqued as a system that takes advantage of the crowd: As an individual who “invests” in a project through crowdfunding, you hold no ownership over any part of the final product. But there seems to be significantly more attention placed on the benefits it offers creative people who need that bit of start-up money for their project. Especially in Canada, where the federal government has been cutting funding for arts programs consistently, there’s something about a creative person being able to actually see and gain support from many individuals who simply believe in the beauty or importance of their creative project.
deep business and
shallow culture: The risks of creating a Canadian Hollywood Story and photos by Celia Grimbly
ovie plots are scarce but movies are plentiful. The classic story archetypes have been painted in motion pictures so many different ways but Canadians usually hear and see Americans tell the story. Hollywood Blockbuster films have cast shadows on Canadian films searching for screen time for decades. It took almost three decades to make a movie in Canada more successful than 1982’s Porky’s. In 2010, Resident Evil: Afterlife grossed almost $300 million internationally, breaking Porky’s previous record for most successful Canadian production. But audiences in Canada are likely more familiar with the most successful American motion pictures that had bigger production and marketing budgets. “It’s not called ‘show culture’,” said Suzan Ayscough, director of communications for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Historically, our neighbours to the south have insisted on protecting their market shares and continue to dominate the Canadian box office. Charlie Keil, a professor at the Cinema Studies Institute and Department of History at the University of Toronto said the domestic box office for the United States includes the Canadian audience. He pointed out practical reasons for the initial spread of American films into Canada. For one, there is the fact that we speak the same language and, obviously, the close spatial proximity. “In the old days of moving prints around physically meant we were a very easy market to get films to,” said Keil. American films were also easier to screen in Canada when theatre chains, like Famous Players, were under the control of American based companies, said Keil. Titanic was produced by studios 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Lightstorm Entertainment and was distributed in North America by Paramount. At the time, Famous Players was a fully-owned subsidiary of Paramount. “Famous Players actually retained its status as a theatre chain in Canada far longer than it did in the U.S. because the United States government actually forced…Paramount to divest itself of all the theatres it owned,” said Keil.
Cineplex Galaxy, formed from a prior merger, acquired Famous Players in 2005, doubling the number of theatres under the brand and changed the company name to Cineplex Entertainment in 2006. As of Dec. 31, 2012, Cineplex Entertainment owned 70 per cent of the market share of theatre exhibitors across Canada. Since the report was released in 2013, Cineplex has acquired Empire’s Atlantic theatres. At the time of the report, Empire owned 14 per cent of the market share, the second largest share of the theatre exhibitor market. It would appear that the American Film industry isn’t the only movie business concerned with protecting its assets. Cineplex Entertainment is Canada’s largest theatre exhibitor, by far, and is the fourth largest exhibitor in North America. Its success with screening American films encourages Cineplex to continue to show those films in theatres across the country. In other words, if the business model isn’t broken, they don’t need to fix it. “Canada has had probably one of the weakest records of trying to mount any kind of resistance,” said Keil. “If you scoured the legislative books, I don’t think you would find one single successful law or amendment to pre-existing policy measures that gave Canada any kind of protection against any influx of U.S. product.” Canada’s English-language share of box office revenue is miniscule, “probably one of the lowest internationally,” Keil said. “Canada, usually, has no more than, and typically much less than five per cent of the box office revenue in the country from showing Canadian made films and virtually all of that money comes from Quebec,” he said. A survey by Telefilm Canada shows that the majority of French-speaking Quebecers, 71 per cent, watch movies in French. Arguably, one of the reasons Canada has a substantial music and television industry is that there are laws regulating Canadian content on the radio and the small screen. CRTC-type regulation does not exist for the big screen putting the onus on consumers to search for locally produced material. However, the same Telefilm Canada survey showed that Canadians struggle to identify Canadian movies. “According to the Canadians surveyed, The Whistleblower, Splice, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Eastern Promises and Goon are American movies
Fine Cut Spring 2014
(while, in fact, they are all Canadian),” Telefilm Canada. Ayscough said she personally does not think a quota system for the silver screen would work. “I think that ship sailed a long time ago. If that was going to happen it would have happened by now, I can’t imagine how it would ever be brought in at this point,” she said. The Academy for Canadian Cinema and Television supports Canadian talent in cinema, television and digital media through recognition and promotion. Cineplex is a lead partner of the ACCT and screens the Academy’s trailer for the Canadian Screen Awards in its theatres. Ayscough said the trailer, showing short clips from Canadian films and television shows, is screened on over 1,700 screens across Canada. Cineplex owns 1630. The billion-dollar question is how many of the Canadian films in the trailer actually get screened at Cineplex. Michael Langdon, Director of Communications for Cin-
We have to make people care about these [actors]. We have to make [Canadians] interested in what they have for breakfast. . Suzan Ayscough eplex Entertainment, said Cineplex is one of the largest, if not the largest, supporter of film in Canada. “We support a number of art and film focus community events, including TIFF, The Film Circuit, the Canadian Film Centre, many local film festivals,” Langdon said. “We’re the largest operator or exhibitor of film festivals across Canada and Canada’s Walk of Fame. Through our investment in those initiatives we are bringing a great deal of focus to Canadian film across the country.” But he did not answer the question. The spotlight that Cineplex shines on Canadian film, or alternative programming, still pales in comparison to that which they shine on American films. As much as Cineplex may be making efforts to support Canadian film, the producers and distributers will meet resistance trying to get equal amounts of screen time for a Canadian film.
Cineplex’s alternative programming brand, Front Row Centre Events, is available in select theatres. The movies selected for this programming are not entirely “alternative” – playing some older but once popular films. The programs are available certain days of the week and show times are much more limited than regular movie schedules. “I think the problem is that the American film making machinery is geared towards maximal profit and they have convinced themselves that maximal profit comes from investment in predictable, test driven entities,” Keil said. “That’s why adaptations etc. are by far the most popular films for them to put their money behind because there is already a pre-sold, in a sense, audience.” It is a vicious cycle rotating through the movies that are produced, the ones that are successfully distributed to a high volume of theatres and seen by large audiences. Adaptations have an incredible presence in theatres in Canada highlighting the need for original, local productions. With the advent of Cineplex’s VIP theatres, it is apparent that going to the movies is not just about what you are watching. The luxury of the VIP theatres creates the idea that a movie really is an “escape from reality”. Langdon says Cineplex Entertainment is about creating a great entertainment experience and he considers Cineplex a competitor for the money that Canadians will spend on entertainment. Ayscough suggests an interesting solution to motivate Canadians to see Canadian films. “We have to make people care about these people [actors]. We have to make them [Canadians] interested in what they have for breakfast and what shoes they’re going to wear to the show,” said Ayscough, “As trivial as that may sound to people who are really into the art of cinema, it really is part of the whole system because the more we can build that glitz and glam atmosphere that goes with the idea of a star system, in theory there will be more money and more everything to generate more films.” A “Canadian Hollywood” could mean more recognition for Canadian films but could also mean risk in losing our own identity. Canadian films should be able to thrive in their domestic market and be original pieces of work. Creating celebrity “glitz and glam” for more money and films looks like an American movie model – deep business and shallow culture.
A Changing of the Guard Sportsnet pushes for control of Canadian broadcasting industry
n a crisp November day in Toronto, the Mecca of hockey, the press gathered to report on a game-changing story that broke the night before. There was a stage built to look like an NHL hockey rink, complete with boards rimming the back of the set, a podium on the left, the Stanley Cup sitting on the stage’s “centre ice” and two media juggernauts sitting with the commissioner of the National Hockey League on the right. President of Rogers Media Keith Pelley calmly walked by hockey’s Holy Grail, and approached the microphone with a slight smile on his face. “This is definitely a day you kind of go on adrenaline, not sleep. It’s a magical day.” A magical day it was, at least for Rogers and its Sportsnet network, which had just inked the biggest broadcast rights deal in the history of Canadian television. The top seven most valuable NHL franchises in descending order according to Forbes are the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Van-
couver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. Added together, these franchises are worth an estimated 5.2 billion dollars, the same amount of money that Rogers Communications paid the NHL for the exclusive rights to all NHL games for the next 12 years. The historic deal extends beyond merely television, and the English language. Rogers now has the rights to the NHL on all platforms in all languages for all of Canada. This will be a daunting task, even for a colossal media empire. The agreement will have the youth of our nation grow up watching our beloved game on Rogers Sportsnet. This is not necessarily bad, but it is different and could be a tough pill to swallow for hockey traditionalists. Sportsnet, a name previously associated with regional deals in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, has big shoes to fill replacing TSN, which bills itself as “Canada’s sports leader”. Sportsnet will have to change. It will have to grow and must do this before the next NHL campaign kicks off in October 2014. But how?
Sportsnet 360 building in downtown Toronto (PJ Valois) Photo by PJ Valois
“We’re going to physically up and move to a new studio, just the hockey department,” said Brad Fay, veteran sportscaster on Rogers Sportsnet. The three existing studios Sportsnet has now are simply not big enough for the new task at hand, according to Fay. “We’re going to see a lot of changes with the staff,” he said. “From in front of the camera to behind the scenes.” This is something most hockey fans in Canada anticipated, if not from a sheer numbers perspective, then from a talent perspective. Canadians have gotten used to TSN’s James Duthie and Bob McKenzie to keep them company in their living rooms and local bars. To put it simply, Sportsnet needs to add more onair talent behind its NHL broadcast desk beyond the big names, which currently includes the likes of Nick Kypreos, Doug MacLean and Daren Millard. The obvious solution was to attract TSN’s top talent who would surely cross the floor over to the network with NHL rights. That is what was expected, but all of the big-name broadcasters at TSN inked new contracts, to the surprise of many. Duthie, Mackenzie, Dreger and Lebrun will all remain TSN employees for the foreseeable future. “Where the influx will probably come, is more from CBC,” said Fay. Who says there will likely be a lot of crossover between Sportsnet and the now sub-licensed Hockey Night in Canada. This means Sportsnet will have a wealth of talent to dip into including names like Elliotte Friedman, P.J. Stock, Ron MacLean, and Don Cherry. Although speculation is rampant about the eventual fate of one of Canada’s most cherished television series, the talent (possibly barring a few sour grapes) will likely land safely at Sportsnet if Hockey Night faces an eventual demise. A major selling point that had NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman siding with Rogers as a new partner, according to Fay, was Rogers Communications’ unique ability to extend NHL coverage across all platforms whether it be on TV, smartphone, computer or tablet. “The way people are, they want it instant-
in Sports Broadcasting ly,” said Fay. “And if they’re out, or if they’re working, they want to be able to watch a game on their phone.” Matt Marstrom a producer of the NHL on Sportsnet said it best. “With one of the best wireless carriers in the country, you’re going to be able to see things that you haven’t been able to see before,” he said. “You’re going to be able to get information that nobody else has the ability to get out there.” The exact details of the online packaging and pricing have not yet been released. The Sportsnet communications department stated that none of the new packaging information will come out until after July 1, the date that Sportsnet takes over the national coverage from TSN. In the meantime, Sportsnet is using the more traditional medium for watching hockey, TV, to showcase their NHL broadcast potential. Fay says that it’s not only Rogers Communications’ capacity to be able to provide games on multiple devices that was a huge selling point, the number of television channels Rogers owns was paramount as well. On a given Saturday night, fans could enjoy the Devils and the Redwings on City TV, the Penguins and the Canadiens on CBC, the Capitals and Maple Leafs on Sportsnet East,
How will TSN fill the NHL void?
sually the drive from Sudbury to Oshawa, Ontario takes just over four hours to complete. But for TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie on the night of Nov. 25, 2013, a few unscheduled stops and some disappointing news made the trip feel a little bit longer. On that night, McKenzie was in Sudbury covering an exhibition hockey game between the Russian junior hockey team and the Ontario Hockey League all-star team. Later that
West, Ontario and Pacific, the Islanders and Flyers on Sportsnet One, and the Stars and Blues on Sportsnet 360. All of these channels are owned by (or sub-licensed in the case of the CBC) by Rogers Communications. Despite the shock and hype of the new deal, Ian Mendes, former TV personality for Sportsnet and current radio-host for TSN 1200 in Ottawa, doubts there will be a big paradigm shift in the way Canadians view their hockey. “For the most part, I think die-hard hockey fans have been exposed to a ton of NHL hockey in the last eight or 10 years under the old agreement,” he said. The only change in viewing experience would come in the new Sunday night package that will be provided by Rogers that has a “sense of exclusivity,” according to Mendes. What Mendes is referring to is new programming that Rogers announced in February called “Hometown Hockey,” where at least one Canadian team will play on Sunday night and the broadcast will be hosted from a different community arena each week. It is deemed “exclusive” because it will be the only NHL hockey on TV on any given Sunday: one of the perks to owning the broadcast rights. In the same press release, Rogers announced
it will be profiling 50 of the NHL’s biggest superstars throughout the season. It is becoming clear that as next fall’s start of the new hockey season draws closer, Rogers is rolling out its best strategies to attract a hockey-hungry audience. Regardless of new viewing experiences, it will be hard for both Sportsnet and TSN to win over new audiences in their respective territories, whether it is Sportsnet on a national stage or TSN on a regional stage like Ottawa, said Mendes. “It’s a tough nut to crack– people are really loyal,” he said. One advantage TSN has in winning over new regional markets is it has “got the stable of analysts that everybody in this country trusts,” Mendes added. Bettman, a man very few people in Canada trust after shipping NHL teams out of Winnipeg and Quebec City in the ‘90s, also took the stage on that crisp November day to explain the change of scenery to Canadians. After describing how bright the NHL’s broadcast future with Rogers will be, Bettman shared a sentiment that can only be speculated upon until the puck drops in the new hockey season in October. “Most important in this deal, the fans win.”
night, on the side of a highway, somewhere between Sudbury and his hometown of Oshawa, McKenzie broke a story that would change the face of Canadian sports broadcasting for the foreseeable future. For the last 12 years with TSN, hockey fans have flocked to McKenzie and his colleagues for NHL news and analysis. This night was no different. A tweet by McKenzie to his more than 600,000 followers described a new deal between the NHL, Rogers and CBC that would shut out TSN from hosting any nationally broadcast NHL hockey games for the next 12 years. Once he returned home safely, McKenzie reacted to the news in a series of tweets in the early hours of Nov. 26, expressing his disappointment in TSN’s exclusion from the deal. However, he assured his followers that TSN would remain committed to being the best source for all things hockey on Canadian television. This would be the last nationally broadcast season of the NHL on TSN for at least the
next 12 years and the beginning of months of speculation regarding personnel and programming at TSN moving forward without the Canadian broadcast rights to the NHL. The news was a huge blow to employees and fans alike, despite McKenzie’s initial optimism. “It’s obviously disappointing. Who’s kidding who, you can’t spin it any other way,” said McKenzie. “It’s kind of like getting a kick in the you-know-where.” “It was tough … shocking simply because of all the scenarios I had (envisioned), that really wasn’t one of them,” said James Duthie, host of TSN’s hockey coverage on the NHL on TSN. Arguably the biggest question surrounding TSN’s future was how would they replace the NHL? Would they expand on their coverage of growing fringe leagues like the National Lacrosse League and Canadian university athletics or find new properties to fill the hockey void? Based on recent events, the answer to that question seems to be more NHL hockey. TSN showed its commitment to remaining Canada’s top source for NHL coverage and be-
gan the process of re-signing their on-air hockey talent shortly after the loss of NHL rights was announced. “In the immediate wake of losing the rights this time … for the most part, the core people who are sort of the faces of TSN hockey all committed long-term to stay at TSN,” said McKenzie. “That’s a significant commitment by TSN to make sure that their people didn’t leave. “That process is ongoing,” McKenzie said. Among others, Duthie, McKenzie, NHL insider Darren Dreger, and NHL on TSN play-by-play announcer Gord Miller will be returning to the network for the foreseeable future. The signings surprised many who expected the on-air personalities connected to TSN’s hockey coverage to jump ship to join the Rogers NHL juggernaut. However, those involved with the NHL on TSN remain just as committed to TSN and TSN’s hockey coverage as they are to one another. “There’s a very strong sense of family and loyalty to TSN,” McKenzie said. “TSN has been very good to us over the years and we’ve been good to them, and people wanted to continue that. We have a really strong bond. Everybody that works there, we enjoy working there.” “(Dreger), Bob (McKenzie), (Aaron Ward), guys like that are among my best friends in the world,” said Duthie, echoing McKenzie’s sentiment. “I think that’s a big reason that we all stayed together.” With the majority of the NHL-related talent locked up for the long-term, TSN took another step towards replacing the NHL’s national broadcasting rights on Jan. 29. It was then that TSN and the Ottawa Sena-
tors announced a 12-year regional broadcast agreement that would see TSN air 52 pre-season and regular season Senators games per year between 2014 and 2026. TSN has partially replaced NHL hockey with more NHL hockey by adding the Senators to its cupboard of regional broadcasting rights. This also includes the
Honestly I’ve never really thought about (the size of) the audience when I do an event. I just enjoy doing the event.
Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and the Montreal Canadiens, paired with other hockey-related coverage like The Quiz, Insider Trading and TradeCentre.“In the end, I think with all of these regional packages we might end up doing more hockey games than we did this year,” said Duthie. “Honestly I’ve never really thought about (the size of) the audience when I do an event. I just enjoy doing the event. I enjoy watching the game and breaking it down with the panel and telling stories,” said Duthie. “So if we’re doing an Ottawa Senators regional game that’s (aired) only from Ottawa to Newfoundland, or we’re doing a Toronto Maple Leafs game that’s only (aired in) an area in Ontario, to me that’s no different.” Will replacing national NHL broadcasts
with regional games be enough? Regional broadcasts serve only a small portion of TSN’s viewership, which is why a broader solution may still be necessary. Because of this, an opportunity has arisen for TSN to shine a national light on some of the sports that currently sit on the fringe of popularity. Lacrosse is a sport that has grown in popularity over the last decade but has received limited television exposure over the last 20 years. Recently, the National Lacrosse League has benefitted from a limited broadcasting deal with TSN. Eight NLL games featuring Canadian teams will be aired between TSN and TSN2 this year. With this agreement, however limited it may be, TSN has been able to expose lacrosse to a large portion of the Canadian public. Brian Shanahan, colour commentator of TSN’s current NLL coverage not only has 15 years of broadcast experience, but he has also been involved in the lacrosse community for 40 years. He has seen the growth of the sport over the years and believes there is no doubt that the NLL earning broadcast attention has greatly benefitted the sport as a whole. “When the NLL first came to Toronto in 1999, those games were on Sportsnet at the time, and it just sort of put the game on the map,” said Shanahan. “It helped that a guy like Joe Bowen, who also did (Toronto Maple Leaf) broadcasts was doing playby-play, so hockey fans who trusted Joe Bowen were hearing him talk about what a great game this is, and it gave lacrosse some instant credibility.” With only nine teams currently
Courtesy of wikipedia
Fine Cut Spring 2014 participating annually in National Lacrosse League action, expansion is always a topic of discussion in the lacrosse community, specifically in Canada. Shanahan believes that expansion is a promising possibility for the NLL and could also attract much needed broadcast attention. “There’s no question that (the NLL is) ripe for expansion. There were times when they were up to 13 or 14 teams,” he said. “But they’ve been down to nine (teams) for a while and lacrosse has grown, yet the NLL has shrunk and there are just so many great players who can’t crack a lineup. “Even though the league offices are down in New York, I think they’re aware of how much TSN could do for the league, and how much more likely TSN is to do that if they expand more in Canada,” said Shanahan. Connor Wilson, editor of LacrosseAllstars. com and a resident of New York City, also believes a national broadcasting deal could benefit the game of lacrosse and has seen the effect television exposure has already had on lacrosse in the United States. “We’ve seen this quite a bit with college lacrosse in the United States through ESPNU. That’s still a lower tier channel for ESPN, but at the same time that alone has done a lot to elevate the sport and put it at a higher level of national consciousness within the United States,” said Wilson. “The opportunity that TSN presents, similar to what ESPN does, is you just reach this massive audience and by being on the larger channel, I think a little more validity is given to all of these sports.” For Wilson, one of the biggest roadblocks facing lacrosse is the stigma that lacrosse is a rough, dangerous sport. But he believes increased exposure can benefit lacrosse by fostering an interest in the sport and encouraging casual viewers to learn more about it. “People are still on some level kind of scared of the game because it’s fast and physical,” said Wilson. “Yes it’s rough and physical, but it’s not football and it’s no worse than hockey. “At the same time I think people are becoming more interested in the sport, and when people become more interested in it they tend to learn more about it and then they get to the point where they’ll let their kids play box lacrosse,” Wilson said. “So I think there is an educational process that needs to take place.” By no means is the NLL the only league that could benefit from expanded national
television coverage. Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) has student-athletes participating in post-secondary institutions across Canada, but unfortunately receives minimal media attention especially in comparison to college sports in the United States. However, CIS sports like football and hockey are arguably more competitive than they’ve ever been. Increased television exposure for CIS sports presents an opportunity to break the stigma that Canadian university athletics are far inferior to NCAA sports in the United States. In fact, Canadian university hockey teams often make successful trips into the U.S. for exhibition games and the same can increasingly be said for Canadian football talent. University of Regina grad and Seattle Seahawks punter, Jon Ryan, recently became the fourth CIS grad to participate in the NFL’s Super Bowl and the first ever to win. But unlike lacrosse, CIS sports are well-established, mainstream sports, and also have built-in fan bases thanks to the students and alumni of each respective school. For these reasons, CIS sports might be a more viable option for TSN to help replace NHL hockey. When push comes to shove, it is still unknown exactly what TSN will need to do to
Courtesy of Hugh Smith
fill the void left by the national NHL rights. TSN executives could not comment on the issue, but according to McKenzie, TSN’s national NHL coverage only accounts for roughly 15 per cent of its on-air content. Its regional hockey deals and new deals with the NFL and MLB are a great step forward in replacing national NHL broadcasts, but only time will tell how effectively these properties will replace the national deal and if they will look past mainstream sports to help further fill that space. However, both Duthie and McKenzie compare TSN to ESPN, which broadcasts just a single NFL football game every week in the United States, but remains America’s number one source for all things sports, including football. But the fact is hockey is still number one in Canadian sports culture and the question remains: without the national broadcast rights to the NHL, can TSN continue to call itself “Canada’s sports leader?” According to McKenzie, the answer is a resounding “yes.” “No question in my mind, and all the people that decided to stay at TSN after losing the rights believe that as well, and that’s what that commitment from TSN and to TSN is all about.”
Media Convergence The debate over excessive
favourite topic of conversation amongst some in the chattering classes is the idea of media convergence: too many media sources are concentrated in too few hands. Not since the heady days of the newspaper circulation wars between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer have there been so few media barons. “There are very serious concerns about potential dangers that can arise from media consolidation,” said Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. “…Big media companies could run their networks in a way that establishes real benefit for themselves and potential detriment to others.” In recent years, our elected officials have raised some red flags about media consolidation. The Senate Committee on Transportation and Communications released the Report on the Canadian News Media in 2006. It raised the potential of media ownership concentration to limit news diversity and reduce news quality, and the CRTC and Competition Bureau’s ineffectiveness to deal with this issue. The Canadian media landscape has gone through a significant reshaping in the eight years since the Senate report has been relegated to collecting dust. The merger between Astral Media, the largest owner of radio stations in the country, and Bell Media caught the attention of the CRTC and the smaller players in the media market who felt they could get squeezed out. In addition, the concept of “net neutrality” has become more in vogue – the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated the same, and that big companies have the potential to reduce access to some customers. Despite the concerns raised in the Senate’s report, arguments have been made that media consolidation can actually offer consumers even more choice. Technology has given rise to an abundance of media sources to get a variety of news, not only from Canada
but around the world. And, according to the same argument, the government has enough safeguards to ensure Canadian news media is protected. Convergence takes two forms: vertical and horizontal integration. According to Investopedia, in vertical integration, different business units are unified in a supply chain under common ownership to fulfill different roles, which then combine to produce a final product. Under this system, a media company, for example Bell, owns a television network, Internet and cable, and satellite television all of which combines to produce content across all platforms. This can be contrasted with horizontal inte-
We could have a situation whereby a small group of network providers that are vertically integrated have the capacity to discriminate against other content. Michael Geist gration, in which a company owns multiple units that provide a similar service. This is the more common form in media circles: for example, a media company may own a chain of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. Steve Faguy, a media blogger and freelance journalist from Montreal, said the idea of ownership was not a black-and-white issue. “There are advantages and disadvantages to concentration of ownership,” he said adding that the large companies in Canada have basically created an oligopoly of the “Big Four.” He said this vertical integration within the provision of media was not necessarily a bad thing: “These TV networks were not in the best of health when they were purchased by
their current owners.” Their deep pockets, he said, allowed the “Big Four” companies to preserve the networks as major broadcast entities – and ensure that the media didn’t become even more compacted. Faguy said Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day was an example of vertical integration. He said while the idea behind Let’s Talk – increasing awareness of mental health – was a very honourable one, he said that all of Bell’s news apparatuses were focused on this, with Bell controlling its news output. “This is not evil,” said Faguy. “But it sets a precedent of what can be covered by local outlets.” Both Faguy and Schultz note that the CRTC and, to a lesser extent, the Competition Bureau still enjoy a significant amount of power when it comes to the regulation of Canadian media as seen is the merger between Bell and Astral Media. Astral’s assets included numerous specialty television channels including the Movie Network and the cartoon channel Teletoon, and the real “jewel in the crown,” ownership of its 84 radio stations cross-country. In response to the merger proposal, several cable companies, including Cogeco and Videotron, formed a coalition called “Say No to Bell,” stating this would cripple smaller cable companies if Bell charged increased carriage rates for its assets and would harm competition. The CRTC in turn rejected the merger, saying in a statement at the time of the decision that the merger would “threaten the availability of diverse programming for Canadians and endanger the ability of distribution undertakings to deliver programming at affordable rates and on reasonable terms on multiple platforms.”It also stated that allowing the merger would have required the implementation of “extensive and intrusive safeguards” across the entire broadcasting industry. Bell then presented a reformulated plan which divested some of Astral’s assets to smaller companies such as Corus and B.C.’s Jim Pattison Group, which was approved by the CRTC and the Competition Bureau. Faguy said tighter regulations of media ownership in Canada are unnecessary because the CRTC’s influence in media mergers– as the Astral case shows. “The CRTC already has a lot of power,” said Faguy. “The conditions it set on the Bell-Astral case is a prime example.” Richard Schultz agreed. “It proves the
Fine Cut Spring 2014 CRTC works, if ownership is something you’re concerned about,” said Schultz, who is a political science professor at McGill University and an expert in Canadian regulatory institutions. He also points out that the CRTC has been exercising these powers since the 1970s, when both the CRTC and the federal Cabinet refused to allow increased ownership of New Brunswick media outlets to the powerful Irving family. “They don’t need any more powers,” He said. “They’ve already got what they need.” “We’ve had the CRTC establish some rules,” said Geist. “The question now is how the CRTC addresses these issues.” He said the CRTC has set numerous rules on net neutrality, such as the Internet traffic management rules, meant to protect against “throttling” by the big Internet service providers. Throttling is the practice when an Internet service provider deliberately slows down Internet speed for some customers. The practice has been likened to closing down lanes on a highway – the traffic is forced to go through fewer lanes, thus slowing down everybody’s “commute.” This practice violates net neutrality, but the regulators have not been absent on this issue. “The CRTC has been very aggressive on Internet traffic management rules,” said Geist. “They challenged Rogers and made them change their throttling practices.” Representatives of the media are quick to point to the advantages of having large players in the media sector. “There seems to be this huge focus in Canada in the consolidation that’s gone on,” said Kevin Assaff, Senior Vice-President of Legal and Business Affairs with Bell Media. “I look back at what was available when I was a kid – you got three channels. We have more choice than ever before.” Assaff said consolidation helps players to compete with much larger players that never had access before. “You’ve got really, really small niche players who are doing niche stuff, and big players who are vertically integrated,” he said. “I’m competing with Netflix, a $27 billion company, and Apple, a $464 billion company. Bell is only a $35 billion company through all of our properties, and Netflix only offers one product.” Assaff said media companies need to get bigger if they want to offer mainstream channels, which subsidize each other and compete with the other alternatives in the marketplace – or they’d disappear. Kevin Goldstein, vice-president of Regulatory Affairs for Bell Media, agreed. “If you want to look inwardly, consolidation has not resulted in less choice,” he said. “I know the immediate reaction is, if players consolidate, choice goes down. But in our case, con-
solidation is done so that you can use your resources to make more channels available, understanding that there are different tastes and interests out there that has resulted in big players being able to offer a multitude of channels in a multitude of genres in a multitude of languages because that’s what con-
choice – you’re not limited to traditional media sources.” However, Geist still raises some red flags on this issue. “Yes, it’s true, we have multiple platforms, but they still run through the major networks,” he said. “We could have a situation whereby a small group of network
Courtesy of Bell Media
sumers want.” Goldstein also notes that the market also has a significant influence on what media has to offer. “If there’s a market for a particular service in a particular language, it’ll get done, because there’s a market for it,” he said. “A small player may want to launch a service directed to teens, or women, and they’ll make a choice between one of those 50 options.” He said that Bell, as a large player, will address 10 or 12 of those services, and the consumer will end up with more choice. “In order to at least have your foot in the door you need to be bigger, to compete with the likes of iTunes and Netflix,” he said. “At the same time, becoming big also allows you to serve Canadians with better choice.” The rapid change in technology has rendered concerns about media mergers somewhat archaic. The availability of the Internet, Twitter, and social media, bringing together media sources from around the globe and at home, has meant that people have reams of information at their fingertips, something not prevalent when the Senate released its report. “The Internet has created such a diverse range of views, that you can get information anywhere,” said Schultz. “There’s so much
providers that are vertically integrated have the capacity to discriminate against other content.” Geist points to the example of the recent deal in the U.S. between Comcast, the largest cable provider in the United States (and soon to become even larger due to its merger with Time Warner Cable) and the streaming video service Netflix, which is paying Comcast to allow their service to be made available to Comcast customers. “That’s something that a large player like a Netflix can do, but what about smaller players that can’t afford to make those kinds of payments?” said Geist. “I think it raises some real concerns.” It’s been eight years since the Senate raised alarm about media ownership, once again clanging bells that have occasionally come to the forefront since the 1960s when television broadcasting was still in its sophomore stages. However, the CRTC still enjoys wide powers over broadcast media and cable television – and the Internet offers such a surfeit of choice that an individual can readily access information with the mere click of a mouse. However, there is a concern about the ability of large media owners to direct coverage of events and issues.
The Canadian Sports Film Festival
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The universal language of sport
orty-nine days before the Vancouver Winter Olympics Kevin Pearce suffered a brutal fall instantly ending his snowboarding career and sending him into a coma with a life-altering brain injury. The Crash Reel intimately draws you into Pierce’s unbelievable fight for recovery in a film with sport at its core, but a much deeper story of passion, commitment and hard work at its heart. The Crash Reel is scheduled to kick off the not for profit Canadian Sport Film Festival (CSFF) that began its tour in Winnipeg on Feb. 7. Ten films carry social, political and personal messages through the lens of global sport experience. This is the sixth annual showing of the event. Founder Russell Field said the idea for the festival came from a lifelong dedication to the history and sociology of sport. Field is an assistant professor of kinesiology and recreation management at the University of Manitoba. His resumé includes teaching courses such as Canadian sport and history, the Olympics and global sporting events, and sport film and society. “It came to me one night. I attend a lot of festivals out of interest and use a lot of film in my teaching. Sport themed films draw a lot of interest, I thought there could be an opportunity for a critical mass of content to showcase the way in which sports speak to interests beyond the field of play,” said Field. Unlike many professors who focus on athletics, Field said his relationship with sport is as a spectator rather than a participant. He wrote his thesis on the history of spectators at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and Madison Square Garden in New York, analyzing sport as an engaging experience for the spectator. The CSFF is built from Field’s academic achievements. The focus on sport beyond the physical is the essential core of the CSFF. Field said that the festival strives to bury the distinction between sport and film by spotlighting the two as a single entity rather than labeling sport as physical and film as art. This sets sport documentaries apart from narrative sport movies, which stage sport to create art.
Spectators gather around to watch a film at CSFF (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)
“It’s real. The aim is to provide the emotion and experience in the most real sense,” said 2010 Team Canada halfpipe snowboarder Jeff Batchelor, putting it into perspective. This authenticity is definitely apparent in The Crash Reel. It’s difficult to avoid tears in a scene where Kevin Pierce’s brother whispers, “I just don’t want you to die” after Pierce has announced he wants to snowboard again. Each film at the CSFF carries a political, social or historical message as well. The humanity of documentary film better communicates shared emotion, Field said. Cultures and communities profoundly share an understanding of sport, he said. “One of the significant things is about the language of sport, the familiarity of patterns and rhythms. It allows filmmakers to use that common language to tell common stories. There aren’t a lot of cultural practices that are as broadly accessible.” He also said that sport unavoidably bumps into gender, accessibility and disability issues. Peter Donnelly, professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto, has partnered with Field to bring the festival to its biggest audience in Toronto. He calls the CSFF a terrific celebration of sport documentary that recognizes the political and social side of sport.
“Sensitive sports films, that often deal in focused and nuanced ways with social problems in sports, or social problems in life where sport has been involved in the intervention, are really important. They sensitize viewers to issues that may otherwise remain unrecognized or unattended to,” said Donnelly. “Sport is an incredibly political endeavor that continually attempts to claim it is not. The sports films that Russell Field has collected for the festival are also an important reminder that there is an ongoing politics of sports – one that exists at all levels of the game.” Lace Bite headlined the CSFF in 2013. The Beyond Your Eye Productions team of Carmen Klotz and Sharron Bates portray a record-breaking 10day women’s hockey game played to raise money
It allows filmmakers to use that common language to tell common stories. Russell Field
and awareness for Cystic Fibrosis. The film bumps heads with issues of perseverance, gender and emotional struggle. Klotz said documentaries are so powerful because of the human aspect. For her the communicative focus of sport is most important. “I tend to personally have interest and see value in sport in the grassroots side. That’s because I like the idea of everyone being able to participate in sports, it’s more a social aspect.” She thinks documentaries are successful because they can tightly focus on a specific subject and contain a more comprehensive account of that area than Hollywood movies. The reality of the subject relates a promise of integrity. However Klotz said documentary filmmakers could never be totally objective. “If documentaries are done well, they are done as objectively as possible. But you can never be completely objective. Your bias gets in there, you can’t help it. You have to massage the material in a certain way. They (documentaries) tend to have a message because people who are going to kill themselves to get a film made, which is essentially what you have to do, have to believe in what they’re shooting and have a bit of passion for it, and that comes through. There’s generally a message that can be quite powerful.” Batchelor said that sport documentaries bring to light new and overlooked concerns for the athlete on the ground. “It’s something that just recently provided me with a whole new view about the dangers of the sport,” he said, referring to The Crash Reel. “I never dropped into the half-pipe thinking about any of the consequences. Documentaries are a great way to capture all aspects of some very controversial topics in sport.”
The CSFF’s focus on controversial and emotional subjects sets it apart from similar film festivals. For example the most widespread touring sport festival, the BANFF Mountain Film Festival, focuses less on message and organized sport and more on showcasing achievement and action itself. However, both are essentially trying to bring the work of artists to an accessible platform. Bringing compelling and narrative sport stories to a widespread viewership is the most important part of the film festival for Field. “The thing that sets the festival apart from just going to the movies is putting audiences in front of films they’ve never heard of before in the same room as the filmmakers. That connection is the most important thing,” said Field. Klotz said that the organization at the CSFF was “top notch.” She said at many festivals the filmmakers are ignored as focus is directed solely at their projects. “There was a huge respect for the filmmakers, we were treated so well. The CSFF is a thing that Canada is really lucky to have. Russell is devoted to looking at sport and viewing sport in an entertaining way that has a social message,” Klotz said. Field said that each year the festival has expanded to include more films, more cities and a greater audience. This year’s May festival in Toronto will set records for all three with more than 170 submissions. The chosen films will be shown over eight screenings at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which has hosted the festival for the three past years. He would ideally like to expand the festival to include additional satellite festivals in cities that have the population but not the festival market of Toronto, such as Vancouver and Halifax. The CSFF is adapting each year to better fill the niche it has created. Unique programs set it apart from festivals like BANFF. This year in Winnipeg,the CSFF held an outdoor showing on a screen built of snow and ice. In Toronto, two ambitious side projects will be introduced. The first is a screening on the University of Toronto campus with a pay what you can philosophy. The second is a children’s workshop through a partnership with TIFF. The three-part workshop includes a screening of child-oriented sports films, a physical activity component and a filmmaking workshop. The children’s workshop perfectly defines the festival itself. The screening, filmmaking and sport are all independently standing events when divided. The CSFF combines these three legs of film, sport and art into something that has an entirely new meaning. The essential message of each film needs all three legs to stand. The raw emotional reaction to The Crash Reel is because of how well it achieves this. It is about an athlete, filmed perfectly and weaves the rollercoaster ride of Kevin Pierce’s recovery with pure artistic talent. The tears came unexpectedly halfway through the film, along with wholehearted support for the protagonist of this incredibly real and powerful story.
The Bloor Cinema
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n o i t apta
d a f eo
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f you had walked through the doors at 506 Bloor St. W. in Toronto 100 years ago you could sit down for a unique entertainment experience. Granted, what once cost a few dimes now runs a few dollars, but what is astonishing is that the theatre has survived. The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, as we know it now, has undergone six name changes, screened hit documentaries, cult classics, blaxploitation films, pornography and more for better than 100 years. Over the past century, dozens of competing theatres have opened and closed their doors across Toronto but the Bloor Cinema has stood strong against all challenges. A number of factors have contributed to this longevity but the one that stands out most is the Bloor Cinema’s identity in the neighbourhood as “our theatre.” Paul Moore is professor of communication and culture at Ryerson University and an historian of Canadian movie theatres and film culture. Moore said the Bloor Cinema is “like a community theatre but its community isn’t just the neighbourhood ... It’s a community theatre for the entire downtown.” The theatre, however, didn’t always have such strong ties to downtown Toronto. When its doors first opened as the Madison Theatre in 1913, the area around Bloor and Bathurst Streets was considered suburbia. The theatre wasn’t always alone in its neighbourhood, either. Silent Toronto, a local film blog, lists two other film houses that were founded within a few years of the Bloor opening its doors within a stone’s throw of the Madison. Three years prior to the Madison, the King George Theatre opened at 568 Bloor St. W. until it closed its doors in 1986. Additionally, the Bloor Theatre operated from 1919 to 1957 and is now home to Lee’s Palace, a music venue located at 529 Bloor St. W. Throughout all this, the Madison-cum-Bloor has
Photo by Casey Taylor
endured while the world of theatres around it crumbled. Moore says the experience of seeing a show at the Madison was unlike anything else outside the Yonge Street strip, home to dozens of picture palaces. It was possibly the largest theatre beyond the downtown borders, Moore said. “It was particularly unique in offering a movie palace experience outside of downtown,” he said. The Madison was sold to a new operator in 1940, 20th Century Theatres. They promptly closed the place and tore out and rebuilt everything but the side walls. It was the largest renovation the theatre has ever seen and it came at a time when movie theatres were everywhere in Toronto. “You could run from Parkdale all the way over to the Beaches and not go more than a few blocks without running into a movie theatre,” Moore said, describing theatres as “the entertainment equivalent of corner stores.” It was at this time the Bloor was restructured and renamed the Midtown. Local Film Cultures is a research project by University of Toronto film students. It explores Toronto’s unique film cultures in order to account for and understand them.
One student, Amanda Clarke, wrote for the research project that “it was the Midtown that managed to obtain the community support that still exists in its current incarnation as the Bloor. The Midtown made the theatre a neighbourhood staple, a place that was familiar and comfortable to visit, while at the same time being ‘the place to be’.” By 1973, however, second-run programming wasn’t providing enough for the theatre to survive. Eric Veillette, editor of Silent Toronto, wrote that the theatre (which in 1966 had changed its name to the Capri) “ended a week-long run of The Soul of Nigger Charlie and reinvented itself as the Eden the following day” as a home for soft-core pornography. The concept proved profitable, Moore said, particularly with the young, affluent University of Toronto community mere blocks away. Pornography helped the theatre survive until 1979 when its brand was once again rebuilt, finally adopting the Bloor moniker it has held to this day. In 1980 it reverted to an art-house theatre again when it was bought by Carm Bordonaro and his partners. In the years prior to its time in Bordonaro’s hands, location was a major factor in the Bloor’s survival. Moore said that its location at Bloor and
Bathurst was neither uptown nor downtown, making it a crossroads for moviegoers. “The idea of (the theatre) at the crossroads really resonated with that idea of the movies being something that everyone was invited to,” said Moore. Moore thinks that the Bloor’s location allowed it to remain viable as a cinema because its real estate wasn’t more valuable than its role as a cinema. Indeed, as Moore said, profit hasn’t necessarily been a driving factor in the decision whether to keep the Bloor open, as a cinema or something else, or to close it outright. The Bloor was most valuable to its neighbourhood and community as a cinema and its owners knew it. That is why when the Bloor was struggling to make ends meet in 2011, the Bordonaros held out to find the perfect buyer, Chris McDonald said. He is, in fact, the president of that buyer – Hot Docs. McDonald and his partners at Blue Ice Group closed the Bloor for months as it underwent another major renovation. When it reopened in March 2012 it did so with its sixth and thus-far final name, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. The Bloor had once again been reinvented in look and concept. Second-run films weren’t working any longer, McDonald said. The community it had relied upon for decades couldn’t support it any more. So they found a new one: devoting the majority of their programming to the national and international documentaries that have made Hot Docs one of the world’s preeminent documentary festivals. But, the Bloor didn’t forget its old community, the one that kept the theatre running for so many years. “We still have some fiction programming,” McDonald said. It still puts on monthly showings, as it has for years, of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with live actors. Hot Docs has maintained ties to the theatre’s past community, while at the same time forging a new and daring future. “The very idea of the documentary cinema is such a novelty and experiment,” Moore said. And it’s an experiment that is working. The theatre cannot afford to lose money, McDonald said, “and I’m happy to say that it (hasn’t)…. Our hope is that we’re there for the next 100 years.” An admirable dream. Given the Bloor’s staying power, it would be a safe bet the theatre will still be standing a century The Bloor is fully licensed. You can buy alcohol along with your snacks which contributes to the unique cusfrom now. What form it will have taken, tomer experience (Willy Phan) however, is entirely another question.
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A Theatre for the People Roncesvalles’ residents rally to keep the Revue thriving
Story and photos by Danielle La Valle
t’s almost a little like falling in love; there is something intangible about independent cinemas. A kind of magic that can lure us away from the big box theatres like Cineplex, despite the enormous state-of-the-art screens, points incentives, flashy locations and eclectic array of overpriced junk food. The Revue cinema in Toronto’s Roncesavalles is one cinema defying their odds despite the dominance of Cineplex. A predecessor to Toronto’s art deco treasures The Kingsway and The Royal, The Revue opened its doors in 1912. In those days cinemas were referred to as “theatoriums” and the movies were silent. The Revue has the distinction of being Toronto’s oldest movie theatre still in use as a movie theatre. While that might not seem like much, Eric Veillette, a columnist for the Toronto Star and former programmer at The Revue, says the number of lost cinemas is truly staggering. “What The Revue did was reinforce the notion of the neighbourhood cinema,” Viellette said. “That’s something that we’ve really lost.”Viellette co-created an interactive Google map of Toronto’s lost cinemas. “It’s pretty overwhelming when you see (the map) because the concentration is much different now (since) you’ve got 20 screens in one multiplex. Every neighbourhood had at least one cinema if not more,” he said. Veillette brought silent cinema back to The Revue in 2009. “The first major program I put together (at The Revue) was a series called Silent Sundays, which was devoted to silent cinema. I’ve always been a big proponent of showing silent cinema, especially in a place that was an actual silent film house at one point,” Veillette said. Andy Willick, one of the managers at The Revue, said he believes that neighbourhood cinemas offer a superior experience compared to multiplexes. “Cineplex is very much a big box cinema experience and it’s really meant for a
younger audience so it’s bright, it’s loud, the food is poor quality,” Willick said. “When you go to Cineplex you’re just a number,” he said. He also expressed that quality programming enhances this experience. “For the most part you’ll find better movies here than you’ll find overall at Cineplex,” said Willick. Ellen Moorhouse knows what thoughtful, community oriented programming can do for an independent theatre. She was one of the original board members of The Revue Film Society. In those days money was a constant worry. “In order to even get the films you had to put deposits with the distributors and so on and so forth…,” she said. During her time at The Revue she experimented with various programming ideas. Two of these experiments were so successful at
generating revenue, they are still part of the regular programming today: The Epicure’s Revue and The Book Revue. “The Epicure really evolved,” said Moorhouse. It began with one participating restaurant that would collaborate with The
Revue. The restaurant would create a special menu based on the film being screened at the time, Moorhouse explained. This is only one example of The Revue’s close relationship with neighbouring businesses. The Book Revue is essentially an enhanced book club, said Moorhouse. Patrons read a specific book and follow up with a screening of a film based on that book. These screenings feature an expert guest who discusses the film adaptation and leads a post-screening talk. This dedication to programming is simply not something a multiplex can provide and people are noticing. “There have been people that have come from Richmond Hill for a specific program … You know
they wouldn’t come down from Richmond Hill to see a feature film necessarily,” Moorhouse said. When asked why she got involved with the once struggling cinema Moorhouse’s
reply was swift and simple. “I always thought that if The Revue closed it would be like a person having lost their two front teeth. It’s such an important part of the streetscape,” she said. Luckily for The Revue, Moorhouse was not the only one who felt that the loss of this cinema would spoil the charm of Roncesvalles. Mark Ellewood clearly remembers a day in late May 2006. His wife, Susan Flanagan, was taking her usual walk home through Roncesvalles when she passed by The Revue and noticed a sign on its door announcing it would close on June 30. “She came home with a tear in her eye. She started calling around and emailing (until) she ended up on the CBC afternoon show Here and Now with Matt Galloway,” recalled Ellewood, present director of The Revue Film Society. Since Flanagan’s appearance on Here and Now was well received by audiences, Ellewood suggested their next step should be to hold a neighbourhood meeting. “We (put) up some flyers, sent some emails and held the first of three big public meetings,” said Ellewood. Thus The Revue Film Society was formed. Generating attention and support was only one small part of the struggle. Ellewood said The Revue Film Society was unsure how to proceed in obtaining the building. Their first proposal to the then-owners to lease the building was rejected in favour of selling. “Seven or eight months after the start of the project, Danny Mullen came in and decided he was going to buy the building and lease it to The Revue Film Society,” Ellewood said. Mullen, a resident of Roncesvalles, did this out of a life-long love for cinema and because he wanted to take a chance on a new real estate investment. Money was another major concern. Ellewood said they began raising money in the summer of 2006 before they first
presented their lease. They managed to raise $30,000 that summer alone. The following summer they launched a second fundraising campaign that generated an additional $100,000. Ellewood attributes the second campaign’s success to the fact that Mullen was willing to lease the building to them, which made The Revue Film Society more than a concerned group of resi-
What the Revue did was reinforce the notion of the neighbourhood cinema because that’s something that we’ve really lost Eric Veillette
dents. Surprisingly, the last $25,000 was a gift from a single donor, a man involved in an online gambling business. Ellewood said The Revue Film Society has not heard from him since. “The biggest problem was an industry issue,” said Ellewood. “We had already seen a shift from going to cinemas to (watching) DVDs and, more recently, Netflix. It was a changing demographic and changing patterns in movie viewing,” he said. Despite seeing profits grow, Willick said keeping the doors open is still an ongoing struggle. “It’s a challenge. We do get a decent number of people to the theatre, our revenues are actually not bad, but we do have a lot of overhead costs. There was (a misconception) that when the theatre was reopened that it was given to us for free, that we don’t pay any rent,” he said. Another challenge to running a cinema
like The Revue, oddly enough, is obtaining films. “With Cineplex getting bigger and bigger distributors are more inclined to give products to the larger theatre chains,” Willick said.The Revue received a Trillium grant in order to convert to digital projection. This may sound like sacrilege, digital projection at a former silent movie cinema, but Veillette agrees that going digital is the only way to keep small cinemas open. “(The Revue was) really smart in doing the digital conversion quickly … Because at this point they have no choice. The major studios aren’t producing 35mm prints anymore so if you don’t convert to digital you can’t show new content and that is pretty much the bulk of your business,” Veillette said. In addition to paid staff, The Revue also relies on a number of volunteers. So many that Willick has recruited a volunteer volunteer co-ordinator. The Revue has even thought about providing profit sharing for volunteers who come up with successful programming ideas. It’s important to The Revue that the community participate in more ways than viewing films, Ellewood said. The community has the opportunity to rent the theatre, participate as entrepreneurs or volunteer in committees to brainstorm special programming ideas. “That’s what we can do that you would never get at a large chain cinema,” he said. There is no doubt that Roncesvalles without The Revue would not be the neighbourhood that we know today. The fact that Roncesvalles has something that countless Toronto neighbourhoods have lost, the once ubiquitous “nabe” (slang for neighbourhood theatre) makes it unique. “It really works well as a small village in a large city and having a cultural institution (like The Revue) helps enhance what Roncesvalles is all about,” Ellewood said.
Fine Cut Spring 2014
Photo by Janie Ginsberg
Skateboard Videography: An industry of passion
rethane wheels, riding hard on steel ball bearings, clatter against the unforgiving pavement in an urban city core. A $3,000 camera set-up comes along for the ride, held only a couple feet away from an unpredictable skater. Skateboarding subculture has a highly visual dimension, a realm in which skateboarders define themselves to the world. Documentation and action go hand in hand to create one of the most unique film industries in the modern day. A majority of skate videographers don’t rely on their films for a steady cash flow, but that’s just the nature of the industry. “I don’t even know why I do it, honestly like, skating has this draw to me that I can’t really kick. It’s because it’s a subculture, so everyone that’s in it, is a hundred per cent in it,” said Rob Mentov, the creator of Street Feet Skateboarding, a Toronto-based production company. Despite an accounting degree from George Brown, Mentov started filming seven years ago. “It’s more of a close friend collective, more about going out and skating instead of booking in a slot with a filmer,” he said. “There’s no pressure to do anything, it’s just more about the purity of going out and skating.” Mentov said he was passionate about the creative process and took joy in externalizing his thoughts and expressing them through film. “It’s cool that people get an emotional resonance to what we worked on,” he said. The skateboard film industry is far from straight forward and has attracted academic studies. In his article Skate Perception, Media Professor David Buckingham, Loughborough University in England, said, “The culture of skateboarding videomakers does not sustain a clear boundary between the amateur and the professional.” Aside from the big name brands, there are smaller productions and individuals producing, filming and distributing videos not-for-profit. This is a side of skateboarding culture that is truly unique – driven by passion, not money. Zac Elik has been skateboarding for 14 years and started filming using his parents old VHS. He has filmed skate videos for King Shit magazine, worked with Converse Skateboarding, and still helps friends to find professional sponsors. He said he wants to dispel stereotypes of this much-misunderstood practice. “It’s not just some dirty skate kid who drinks and does drugs, it’s a completely different thing. People are making a living off
skateboard videography now and it should definitely be appreciated just as much as Hollywood cinematographers shooting videos,” he said. Before the advent of video cameras the only true way to see motion was seeing it live, in person. The visual documentation of skateboarding has a history to be respected, a journey through sweat, tears and a lot of blood. A 2012, ESPN short film called “Skate on Film” explained that in earlier times the only way to go pro was to win competitions. VHS cameras became widely accessible in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, fast-forwarding the skate industry into a race for the best “video part”. Competitions were no longer the arenas of judgment – all eyes were on the screen. Then came the experimental phase – skaters, producers, and videographers were venturing into new terrain bound by no rules. Films became more structured with trick lists
People are making a living off skateboard videography now and it should definitely be appreciated just as much as Hollywood cinematographyers shooting videos Zak Elik
and everyone got in the habit of saving the best for last – and the modern day skateboard formula was born. Although we have come a long way since VHS, there are still two schools of thought alive and well – high definition DSLR cameras versus SD Sony VX1000’s. “I have a couple of (VX 1000’s) – they’re all broken and really old. The only purpose for these is that they’re really big in porno apparently. They’re good for porno and filming skateboarding,” said Dave Ehrenreich, co-founder of Vancouver-based Don’t Sleep Productions. A freelance video producer who studied film production, Ehrenreich has worked with the likes of Concrete magazine, SBC skate publication and Colour magazine. As HD cameras are becoming more common in skate filming, the disadvantages of older cameras are becoming more obvious. “The VX (tend to) glitch sometimes,” said Mentov. “But they’re kind of like the peo-
ple’s choice of cameras. They’ve been around since ’94 and people in the film industry have never heard of them because they’re so obsolete, but in skating … it’s a really good camera for sure.” The respect skateboard filmmakers have for such an archaic machine highlight the real heart and soul of the craft – keeping nostalgia alive. Ehrenreich said skate cinematography was different from regular art. With skateboarding sometimes you are filming in undesirable conditions, whereas for regular cinematography you would wait for optimal lighting and base your shot on that, he said. “I think sometimes a lot of techniques that are applied in other types of cinematography have to be thrown out the window in order to make the trick look as good as possible,” Ehrenreich said. “Everything is second to the trick.” The skateboard film industry lacks financial security, and a lot of filmmaking is done in a DIY style, according to Ehrenreich. He said a lot of other filmmakers outside of the skateboarding world tend to throw money at their problems, which for them, is not an option. “It’s a good habit, trying to find ingenious solutions instead of spending money. There isn’t a lot of money and you just have to like it, you have to like it to even bother doing it in the first place,” he said. Ben Stoddard was the other half of Don’t Sleep Productions.“I grew up in a country town with nothing to do except to learn how to skateboard,” said Stoddard. “I have everything in my life because of skateboarding and filming my friends. Without it there is a good chance I would be working at the mill or door factory in my hometown,” he said. After producing a handful of full-length skate projects and web series, Stoddard was hired by EA sports to help with the video game series “Skate.” Recently he was named editor of Toronto’s King Shit magazine. “The beauty about what drives the skateboard industry compared to any other industry is that it’s the actual act of skateboarding that motivates it. You can’t get by with just a pretty face in skateboarding, you actually have to be able to skate and the same goes for video production,” he said. “Kids aren’t interested in over-produced projects with huge budgets.They buy the films for the actual act of skateboarding in them. Skateboarders have always had high bullshit sensors – it’s a beautiful thing.” Skateboarding is raw and real, therefore, there are certain characteristics that a skateboard videographer must possess to be suc-
cessful in the industry. According to Mentov, operating the camera during a skateboard shoot is an experience different from all other types of filming. “Being able to hold a camera and have the whole person in frame without cutting them out is important,” he said. “Being able to go through the streets and just skate with the skater….” Interpersonal skills are also important because filmmakers take on a very diverse role, they have to know when to motivate and when to step back and let the skater be in control. “It’s one thing to be skating but it’s another to be filming because then it’s on someone else’s physical and mental clock,” Mentov said. Beneath the surface of finely tuned skateboard videos is a world of politics, often revolving around timeliness and being on the same page. Skate videographers have to be in line with what the skaters want to do with their footage and get it to them on time. “I’ve heard horror stories,” Mentov said, “where people go on trips with filmers … and the filmer has an agenda for the footage and the skater has an agenda for the footage and they’re not the same thing. Just establishing that first relieves heart attacks.” Scott Varney, 23, is a Toronto rider sponsored
A late night downtown Toronto session with sponsored skateboarder Scott Varney (Will Jivcoff )
by Heroin Skateboards and has lots of experience working with different videographers. He’s been doing little projects such as “Equinox” and the “Connect the Dots” skateboarding video contest. Additionally, he’s been in one full-length film called “Overture,” produced by Mentov and Street Feet Productions. Varney said it was very important for a videographer to be committed. “If a filmer doesn’t want to be there to film just as much as you want to be there to skate, it can be so painful.” Being open and listening to the opinions of the skater adds to a dynamic and successful relationship. “(They should be) open to listening to what the skater has to say, because a lot of filmers
while rolling around the streets on their boards. Elik said, “Before you get comfortable with filming, you’ve got to be comfortable on your board.” According to him, you cannot hold a camera while skateboarding one-footed, and follow a skater if you don’t have past experience skateboarding – something film schools don’t teach. Even the details of the board matter. The wheels have to be softer allowing for a shock-absorbent smoother ride, reducing camera shakes. Jai Ball of Studio Skateboards, a Vancouver-based company, made his first video in 1995. After making six films throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, Jai started his own company and co-directed their first feature
Zach Elik rolls along side a skateboarder filming his line. (Jeff Thornburn)
are very set in their ways and don’t really care what you think looks good or not, because you’re not the filmer,” he said. Skate sets are not like traditional filmmaking environments, they are not controlled, they are on the streets. This poses additional challenges unique to skateboard filming. Elik said, “Dealing with security and dealing with pedestrians who hate skateboarding and hate people roaming around the city using the city as their playground (are a problem).” Skateboard videographers have to worry about the safety of expensive equipment
film “Moodlighting”. Weighing in on the unique challenges of skateboard filming, he said injuries are a major obstacle. “A lot has to come together for a skateboard video to work … you get a guy who wants to film a two-and-a-half minute part but gets hurt, and then there are deadlines,” he said, “which is another reason why it takes so long, dealing with all these factors.” With budget concerns always looming, the skate industry is truly driven by desire. Most of the skateboarders are not making a living off skating, and it’s hard to find the money to pay filmers who put in massive amounts
of hours. “(Sometimes) they go out an entire weekend and spend all these hours doing this, and sometimes you get nothing. So there has to be a lot of love and passion for it,” he said. Stoddard of Don’t Sleep Productions said it is an art. “Filming skateboarding is different than other types of filmmaking because it is primarily a tool for capturing an action that happens to be considered an art form. That comes first,” he said. Although the main goal is documenting successful tricks, beneath the surface it’s a mixture of physical skill, strength, timing, reflexes, and aesthetic style. Stoddard said skate films have changed drastically over the last five years, and the blurred lines within the industry have become more apparent with the advent of social media. The push for more web content is growing with big skate brands putting out new videos on a weekly basis, compared to a DVD every few years when VHS was first introduced. “The classic skate video is almost dead when you look at it as a promotional piece in the industry, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Stoddard. This puts less profitable productions such as Mentov’s Street Feet in a very meaningful place. “The good part is that when full-length projects come out now, they tend to be done by an indie brand or filmmaker for the right reasons that are true to what skateboarding should be all about,” said Stoddard. “Those types of movies don’t have timelines and that’s the beauty of it. They are done when they’re done and no company is pushing them to finish for ulterior motives.” The consensus is, profit or not, the skateboard film industry is growing thanks to increasingly accessible technology. Everybody is documenting what they’re doing. “I think it’s great,” said Ehrenreich. “You never know who’s going to be good and it sucks when you have to be rich to pursue something you’re interested in.” This passion-driven industry may well survive, whether there is money in it or not. “Typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, and economy blowouts will not stop it,” said Stoddard. “There will always be spots to skate and someone wanting to film something, somewhere.”
Fine Cut Spring 2014
A TRUE FESTIVAL A Deeper Look into Inside Out
he northwest corner of College Street and Euclid Avenue is home to one of dozens of Starbucks in Toronto. Passersby would hardly find this a culturally significant site. But Scott Ferguson knows that this Starbucks rests on the foundation of the Euclid Theatre, birthplace to one of Toronto’s most liberating celebrations of diversity and acceptance: the Inside Out film festival. Ferguson is the executive director of Inside Out, a not-for-profit registered charity that puts on an 11-day celebration each spring, designed to showcase cinema made by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community about and for the LGBT community. Inside Out has a unique edge that sets it apart from other Toronto film festivals. Since its creation, Inside Out has never been just a series of screenings to provide entertainment, but has been a sociopolitical movement. Inside Out provides the LGBT community with a platform to share its stories in order to raise awareness for its struggles and forge bonds to celebrate its population. “(Inside Out) gives the audience more of an opportunity to engage,” said Ferguson. “You’re not going to get the same experience lying on your couch watching a queer film at home. You’re not going to get it at Scotiabank (Theatre), you’re not going to get it at Hot Docs. It’s a very unique experience you have here, our audience recognizes that.” Next year Inside Out celebrates its 25th anniversary and organizers are planning to take audience engagement to the next level. Diana Khong, marketing and community manager for Inside Out, said they want to have more events and screenings during the festival off-season leading up to and following its anniversary. Inside Out announced in January 2014 that it would be partnering with TIFF to do a series of outdoor screenings and art exhibits during World Pride this coming June.
py Bir d director of “Hap t) is the writer an lef on ten bit ing an be ide Out) Jason Sharman (m t. (Courtesy of Ins g Canadian Artis and won Emergin
“We’re going to try to have a bit of a twist to each screening,” she said. “We’re looking at outdoor options, sing-alongs, throwing in dance numbers and shadow play, just to add a bit of extra fun to it.” Khong also said Inside Out is looking to introduce a web series program this year. With the rise in the popularity of the Internet and improvements in streaming video technology, producing and distributing a web series is a relatively cheap medium to reach a global audience. There are about a half-dozen LGBT web series currently running in Toronto, including Leslieville, Gay Nerds and Out With Dad. “I love what they’re doing and I want to bring that to the traditional film audience because this is something that they can access year-round,” said Khong. “Our program would be to screen one episode from each series as an intro for the audience and open it up for discussion.” Khong said the web series program will be a wonderful avenue for small filmmakers to show their work and encourage
viewers, particularly youth, to participate in panel discussion and perhaps inspire them to make their own films. Inside Out held bi-monthly screenings at TIFF Bell Lightbox from October to March over the last three years and hosted a curated shorts tour across southern Ontario this past February. Inside Out’s dedication to expanding its reach within and beyond the LGBT community forecasts a future of continued growth and success for an organization that started as a mere collective of filmmakers, arts administrators and community activists. The festival premiered in 1991 at the Euclid Theatre attracting about 4,000 people. Ferguson attended that first year and remembers perfectly what it was like to be squished into the tiny theatre. “You walked up the stairs and there were all these people just sitting in foldup chairs, and when the chairs were all full you sat on the floor,” he said. “And that was the festival. “The first five years … there was no paid staff and next to no support outside of the community,” said Ferguson. From its humble beginnings, Inside Out has grown to be Toronto’s third-largest
film festival, each year attracting up to 40,000 people to watch over 170 films made by more than 75 filmmakers. The festival’s growth was largely a product of the social movements in the mid to late ‘90s, which saw legalization of gay rights and pride brought to the forefront of mainstream news. “In the early 1990s, the queer community was moving away from a period where queer identity had let itself become defined and united by disease and discrimination, and was returning as a civil rights movement that separated political from medical concerns,” said Joceline Andersen in an article published in the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, From the Ground Up: Transforming the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival and Video Festival of Toronto. Inside Out was able to capitalize on this social wave and use film as a platform to communicate what people in the LGBT community were really like and the hardships they face. “There’s more of an authenticity in Inside Out’s films, where it’s made by queer filmmakers for queer filmmakers and the performers are often as such too,” said Jason Sharman, a Toronto filmmaker.
Fine Cut Spring 2014 Even today with the rise of queer film in “To come together and interact and talk fully recalls his experience at Inside Out. mainstream cinema, Inside Out prides itself about what they’re seeing on screen and in“They have a filmmakers brunch that was on depicting the lives and struggles of the teract with film talent.” a great event for all the filmmakers to go LGBT community in a raw and honest way. Ferguson said one of Inside Out’s main and just meet each other and chat about “When you look at television and movies, initiatives over the last few years has been to their work,” he said. “And then I kept seeit’s still very much a toned-down, bring filmmakers to the festival for panel ing those filmmakers at other events and hetero look at what they think gay discussions, other screenings and I felt a part of this people, gay situations are like,” community that I wasn’t a said Khong. “It’s great to have Will and Grace or Glee, but it’s still not exactly accurate most of the time,” she said. “Other festivals have different agendas,” said Khong. “Because they’re not LGBT focused it might be more about the biggest names, the biggest filmmakers, the biggest stars, and just happen to have queer content.” Ferguson said a lot of the programing at Inside Out is art house film and European film due to the fact that he feels Toronto audiences are more open in their film tastes. By screening quality cinema with an authentic glimpse into the lives and struggles of people in the Staff at last year’s Insid LGBT community, Inside e Out festiv Sheen Star al. From le r, Debbie R Out is an excellent socioft ead and Sc ott Ferguso to right, Anuja Varg hese, Dian n, Inside O political platform for raisa Khong, W ut staff (Co innie Luk, urtesy of In ing awareness of LGBT side Out) livelihood and struggles. “It’s just trying to reach out and show people we do exist, we’re out there,” said parties and interactions. Khong explained that for filmmakers, the part of before.” Khong. Ashley Psaila, a woman who modeled in festival is not just about coming to show One of Inside Out’s biggest strengths is the festival advertisements in 2013, also their film and then hopping on the plane balancing its emphasis on community with recognizes the strength of film to communi- back home. embracing new ideologies and wider range “It’s the whole experience of it. A lot of cate with those who may have little underof people into its midst. our filmmakers will come and stay for at standing of the LGBT community. “In recent years we are definitely trying “I can tell five million people my story least half the festival,” she said. to break away from that black and white of Fostering a sense of community is not only about how I came out and how I got so being gay or straight and adopt more of a much homophobia and it’s just a story,” she a goal of organizers but an outcome felt by queer sensibility about things and more of said. “Put that on a film and you see the festival attendees and filmmakers alike. “I love movies or entertainment that are on an exploration of sexuality,” said Khong. detail, you see the expression, you see the B. Ruby Rich is a professor and Direcgay culture. There’s not enough of that stuff hurt.” tor at the University of California, Santa “They can have more empathy for (a per- out there,” said RZ, a 26-year-old Studio son) because they’ve actually seen it . . . It’s Manager at an ad agency, who attended the Cruz, teaching documentary and film studies. Rich suggests in her book, New Queer very educational in that sense,” said Psaila. festival for the first time in 2013. “Because, in reality, we do go through a “It brings people together and makes Cinema: The Director’s Cut,that queer film lot just because we love somebody of the people think about the issues that we (the festivals are festivals in the oldest sense of same gender,” she said. LGBT community) might be going through the word. They instill faith, inspire agenEven more important than its ability to or still might be having,” she said. cy, create bonds and put audiences back raise awareness, Inside Out sets itself apart Sharman has been attending Inside Out as in touch with shared experiences. In this by emphasizing the audience experience of an audience member since 2001, but last regard, Inside Out is not only an asset to a queer screening space, said Anderson. year enjoyed the festival as a participant. Toronto’s diverse cultural landscape but it “What is most important about film fes- Sharman won Emerging Canadian Artist also is and continuously strives to be a true tivals is that social aspect,” said Ferguson. for his short Happy Birthday Chad and joy- festival of festivals.
Fine Cut Spring 2014
A new standard for experiencing film and TV?
our thousand pixels across a television screen in your living room set could be the next move in the evolution of TV and film viewership. This ridiculous number of pixels on a TV takes realism to a whole new level and can make people feel as if they are at the scene capturing every movement as it happens. As industry giants like Sony, LG and Samsung try to make 4K technology available for consumers to watch the biggest events of the year and TV shows, time, costs and replacement of current infrastructures are the roadblocks standing in the way of this technology from becoming a reality. Stewart Aziz from the Toronto branch of Claremont Canada said the costs are a barrier to early adoption of 4K. It wasn’t too long ago when people couldn’t imagine buying high definition flat screens because of how expensive they were. The same story is playing out now with 4K televisions. Sony’s 4K TV series known as the “X Reality Pro” is scheduled to launch this spring. At the time of launch the X Reality pro was more than $4000. LG offered two choices of Ultra High Definition 4K TVs (UHD TV) to consumers, including an 85-inch UHD TV with a price tag of about $20,000 at the time of launch. These prices may appear a bit high for an average consumer looking to buy a television. So why on earth would someone spend thousands of dollars on a 4K TV? Brent de Waal, the Regional Manager of Product Training for Sony Canada said, “In terms of 4K, that immersion and that realism is really what is exciting about this technology.” For those who already own a High Definition TV and can’t imagine the image getting any clearer when watching favourite teams battle it out, De Waal said, “So when you’re watching sports on a 4K Sony, it’s easier to read the back of the sweaters and the jerseys on the players. It’s easier to see the faces of the people in the crowd. And it doesn’t have an artificial sharpness to it, it’s just easier to look at.” With Sony already in the midst of launching its new line-up of 4K TVs it may
be just a matter of time before prices begin to drop. The company unveiled the upcoming models, the X 900 A and the X 900 B at the Consumer Electronics show early this year. There is not a lot of true 4K content available to watch, even if a consumer purchases these premium products. What to watch and what network to watch it on is still a question awaiting answer. While it is possible to upscale resolution from a lower format to 4K, no network in Canada offers content in this higher resolution. There appears to be reluctance to invest in the equipment unless major cable TV providers like Bell and Rogers see enough demand for 4K content. According to Tom Bradbury, a former senior director of Production Engineering at CTV, many broadcasters in Canada are not ready to make the switch over to 4K yet. In fact, Bradbury said many haven’t even had the chance to complete the switch to High Definition. He said, “There certainly would be a few broadcasters that are experimenting with 4K. But from the broadcast point of view the big question is going to be the expense of it.” Investing in 4K for networks has its own challenges. In the case of 4K, Bradbury said it was expensive due to the larger data and bandwidth required to transmit the signal to homes. Upgrading the current infrastructure was not just a matter of buying 4K TVs and cameras, as networks would also need to purchase additional equipment to be able to broadcast. “So you need equipment that can handle that, right from the camera through the transmission chain you’d find in a broadcast place.” In the meantime, 4K resolution may be able to succeed on the Internet as Netflix and YouTube announced recently that they have begun streaming 4K content. Netflix in particular worked with UHD sets from Sony, LG, Samsung and Vizio. All the UHD TVs from these makers include a Netflix app and chip that decodes signals, which then allows Netflix to compress the data by over 100 times and stream it through the internet. De Waal believes this is where most of the industry seems to be headed. He said, “That’s been the preference for consumers. It’s quite clear that they want to have On Demand. They don’t want to worry that the store doesn’t have the disc. They
want to decide at the last minute that they want to watch something.” “So I think the streaming services are going to be one of the primary delivery methods.” De Waal’s predictions tie in with Netflix’s CPO Neil Hunt who in an interview with the Globe and Mail said, “People are recognizing that disc formats are yesterday’s solution.” However, 4K streaming over the Internet may not be just around the corner. Once again, the factors of time and cost come into play. In Canada 4K streaming is not yet feasible. De Waal said a movie in 4K format takes about six to eight Gigabytes of data. While Internet packages with data downloads of 200 GB and over are starting to launch, most people still have an average of 80 to 100 GB a month. According to Courtesy of Canon Canada
De Wa a l , the infrastructure is definitely there, but it may take some time for consumers to adjust. So, as to when 4K’s realism will become the standard for TV and film viewership, the answer is possibly in the near future, provided the roadblocks are worked out. Aziz said he believes “the issue will be time, whether it’s in two or ten years.” His prediction is also echoed by Bradbury who said “the time will come, it will work out. Today is it practical and is it realistic? Not today. But within three years or five years that could very well be.” With that in mind, it’s safe to say 4K is not exactly a bust but there remains lots of work to be done.
Canadian Animation A pillar of the industry Story and photos by Vick Karunakaran
A sketch by Matthew Lyon (Vick Karunakaran)
Fine Cut Spring 2014
Once upon an idea
pencil hovers briefly, inches above a clean sheet of paper before creating a flicker of lines and the journey begins... The artist alone encounters the rough texture of the canvas as the art unravels to the onlooker. It is the same with the animation industry. The average audience watching a work of animation doesn’t realise the bumps and jolts professionals experience in this industry. Animation can trace its lineage to a time way before humans chose to start civilization. The human urge to express thought in images is evident in art in the form of 35,000-year-old cave paintings. That is a remarkable 25,000 years of artistic angst before the earliest documented origins of agriculture. Art, and by extension animation, is no longer an abstract pursuit of a few individuals in the periphery of a broader society. It is now the front and centre of humankind’s engagement with the world. Every thought, every idea seeks the mind’s attention in an age of oversaturated information and the visual medium grabs the mind’s attention in ways other forms barely touch. Norman McLaren once said, “Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn.” Animation in Canada cannot pass without a mention of the Scottish-born industry veteran, McLaren, who has been considered a pioneer of animation in Canada. He helped the National Film Board (NFB) in 1941 set up a centre to train young Canadians to become animators. The NFB, in its 75-year existence, is Canada’s public film producer and distributor, and has promoted Canadian content creators to an international audience.
Creating worlds unknown
Michael Fukushima said animation combines many art disciplines into one form. He is the executive producer of the NFB’s acclaimed English Program Animation Studio in Montreal. “Nothing exists until the animator starts creating it into worlds and realities unknown to anyone else,” said Fukushima. “It epitomises the renaissance art form ... many genre, many disciplines in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts.”
Fukushima said that while influenced by Canadian myths, there is no specific style that can be called Canadian. He said filmmakers are influenced by their own upbringing. “If you grew up next to the Rocky Mountains, your film ... will reflect that kind of landscape.” Fukushima adds that he doesn’t mean literally, but more in the sense of the artist’s place in the world. He likened this to being hemmed in amidst the gigantic mountains of the Canadian Rockies or stretching out to the endless possibilities in the vast horizons of the prairies. Vice president of development at DHX Media Ltd., Stephanie Betts finds animation to be an amazing medium. “It is very effective as an evolving creative process ... in a way that you can
Nothing exists until the animator starts creating it into worlds and realities unknown to anyone else. Michael Fukushima shape it as it goes,” she said, describing the ease of making changes while in the process compared to the cost of doing so in live action. “If it is bringing a drawing to life ... if it’s adding a dinosaur to a movie or visualizing blood cells ... that’s animation. It’s basically bringing to life what we imagine but we can’t see,” said Ben McEvoy, co-founder and executive director of Toronto Animation Arts Festival International (TAAFI). First launched in 2012, TAAFI has become a must-see event, showcasing animation talent for studios from Canada and beyond.
“Kid-targeted animation is easier to sell internationally than an adult series,” Betts said. She said primetime hits like The Simpsons are hard to come by. Animator Matthew Lyon is the creative director of 3D Evolution Systems, which is a subsidiary of AIC Films. He said, “It depends on how the culture sees
animation.” Lyon grew up drawing and doodling like many kids, but unlike most, he never stopped. He has been working in the animation industry for more than 12 years now. Lyon said animation evolved in North America by focussing on kids, which is why it’s still associated with children’s cartoons and movies. “The first thing that parents do when they take their kids to the movies is look at what animated movies are playing,” said Lyon. In some Asian cultures, like India and China, there are cartoons made for adult audiences. Instead of our entrenched idea of the genre as juvenile, he favoured looking at animation as a viable medium of storytelling, regardless of age. Marty Knox, who has been working in the Visual Effects and Animation industry for almost 19 years, said any business is about profitability. “Kids’ programming is a money-maker, and animation is a business ... a big one.” Knox worked in a variety of roles with Gallus Entertainment Inc. Toronto including production manager and operations manager. He recently moved to Bangkok and currently works as head of production for Picture This Studio in Thailand. Content creation, production service and distribution are key areas in the business of animation with merchandise and licensing as the cherry on top, said Betts. “There is a little bit of magic dust that must happen to launch [a kids’] program when you are not backed by a toy company.” DHX Media recently acquired the Family Channel along with Disney Junior and Disney XD for US$170 million, which is expected to improve their net revenue by 70 per cent. Advertisements during kids’ programming tend to target parents and children who are willing to buy toys, cereal and other items that are showcased, according to Knox. In comparison, the demographic for adult-oriented animation is mostly teenagers and young adults who tend to be more selective of their purchasing power. Lyon said from a business perspective it is easier to sell children’s programming and its merchandise to a younger
Pictured: in left sequence Stephanie Betts, in right sequence Ben McEvoy. Sketches by Matthew Lyon
Matthew Lyon shows off his subway sketches
demographic. McEvoy said Canada is one of the major playe r s in the global market for children’s programming. He said adult content has seen a huge rise and interest online but the traditional 22-minute format and broadcast space is still predominantly kids’ programming. Lyon said generations that grew up watching cartoons may be receptive to animation like never before. “The people that are now making cartoons ... grew up loving cartoons,” Lyon said. “I think, absolutely, it is a generational thing.”
In Ontario and Manitoba, animation companies can claim a cumulative 40 per cent through the provinces’ Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit. Betts said DHX Media has its largest studios in Vancouver and Halifax, which employ more than 250 people. She said the two locations were chosen over others because of the subsidies and the local talent pool. While Toronto has good artists, the higher tax incentive from other provinces tips the scale away from the city. More countries can do co-productions with Canadian companies. The combined effect of the federal level benefits and the provincial tax credits
make Canadian companies compete better in the international market, said McEvoy. However, co-production is not limited to the U.S. McEvoy said Canadian companies have been partnering and co-producing projects from the United Kingdom and France. The Chinese and Indian markets have recently become very attractive for new works. Betts said tax incentives play a very important role in the global market for Canadian companies competing with the U.S. “Having treaties with other countries is the other big factor allowing us to be able to compete against the U.S. system,” she says.
Sharing with the lion
Canada has been a cross-border beneficiary to the multi-billion dollar U.S. animation industry. This arrangement has all the security and the perils of sitting on a temperamental behemoth. The global attention is invariably drawn toward the much larger U.S. animation. McEvoy feels that most people in the industry want to work for productions across the border. He calls the U.S. “the biggest marketplace in the region” with ten times the budget and volume of work compared to Canada. He said the advantage Canadians have over other contenders for the pie is that there is almost no difference culturally, so Canadian content works well in the U.S.
Lyon compares the boom, bust and recovery cycle of the animation industry to a phoenix burning and being reborn. “A well-animated feature movie consistently turns a beautiful profit,” he said. A recent example is Disney’s Frozen which was made at an estimated budget of $150 million, but grossed the same amount within three weeks at the box-office. McEvoy said that much like most developed markets, the animation industry is over-saturating. This means there are a lot of studios and a lot of talent, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As production budgets across the border have become squeezed, he said a lot of studios face the challenge of finding ways to make it work.
Painting a pretty future
The recent announcement by DreamWorks to produce an original animation series direct to Netflix is seen by industry watchers as a big deal. It is for the first time that DreamWorks, best known for Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, has gotten into inter-
Matthew Lyons’ animations come to life in the later creative stages.
net-only streaming. This also an important move from Netflix as they commit to original kids’ programming after the success of its adult originals like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Handheld devices have transcended the traditional barrier separating the content and the viewer, pushing the envelope of interactive engagement for consumers. A recent report from Cisco Systems predicts the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth by the end of 2014. The idea of passive audience is passé and animation has found itself an unexpected beneficiary capable of adapting to the new demand. Interactive games have always relied on animation to automate user commands, allowing the genre to easily fit into this new world. Lyon thinks the mobile gaming industry is going to be the next boom. He expects it to take off in the next few years as companies target an audience using handheld devices. “It’s an exciting convergence for us here at the NFB,” says Fukushima. He says he hopes to bring NFB’s skill and expertise in storytelling and filmmaking sensibilities into Interactive production. Canada is famous for its quality work, said Lyon. “So long as studios keep on being innovative and keep their overhead low, we can keep the jobs here and maintain a sustainable industry.” Betts said Canada’s talent pool of great writers, actors and producers has fostered a system for companies to produce animation that work great internationally. “It’s a constantly changing industry,” she said. Lyon is currently working on a 2D animated feature for European adult audiences. The show, which is in Italian, will also be dubbed in English. He always carries a sketchbook handy. He can be found sometimes sitting in a Toronto subway train, intently drawing caricatures of his fellow commuters.
A Failing Medium? Why 3D might not be on its way out
espite mixed reviews of recent stereoscopic 3D movies, most major film studios continue to release new movies in 3D because the technique still has potential for critical and financial success. Many film exhibitors and 3D filmmakers remain optimistic and some believe the most successful 3D films, not to be confused with 3D animated films, are the ones that use the medium as a way to tell the story and connect to the audience. “Feedback has been quite positive (from the audience),” said Mike Langdon, director of communications for Cineplex Entertainment. “It used to be that you would receive more complaints about 3D films being too dark. That’s no longer the case. In fact, we’ve received very few, if any, complaints about that.” “This whole idea of 3D as a visual effect … is the wrong way to think about it,” said Eric Kurland, president of the Los Angeles 3D Club and director of the Los Angeles 3D Movie Festival. “I don’t think 3D is nec-
Courtesy of Jodi Kurland
essarily on a decline but it’s sort of riding a roller coaster.” Although it might seem that 3D films have only emerged in the past decade, 3D films have been around since the early 1920s. Kurland listed 1950s classics Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space as his favourite 3D films while growing up. “And then in the 1980s, there was this wave of 3D movies for a short period,” recalled Kurland. “Jaws 3D, Friday the 13th 3D, so really kind of schlock B-movies but it was something of a 3D comeback.” Kurland was also the lead stereographer for the Oscar-nominated short film Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare. He believes better 3D films use the technique to enhance the storytelling process to the audience. “3D is part of the storytelling pallet, just like colour and sound and the other elements that a director can use to draw the audience into their storytelling,” said Kurland. “I see two kinds of 3D happening in studio movies these days and I like to call it intentional 3D and afterthought 3D,” said Kurland. “Essentially, you get (intentional 3D) like Gravity (and) The Hobbit films. From the outset, (the filmmakers) planned it to be 3D, they’ve designed the camerawork to work within that 3D,” he said. “And then there’s (afterthought 3D) movies where they just want to increase the box office revenues.” “It’s kind of a shame that they’ve put a premium price on the 3D because that gives audiences the opportunity to single that out as the reason they’re paying more,” continued Kurland. “Unfortunately, in a film that is afterthought 3D, audiences don’t feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.” 3D film producer Buzz Hays expressed similar sentiments about the proper use of 3D. He was the senior visual effects producer for 3D in Beowulf, Monster House, and Disney’s G-Force before becoming senior vice president of 3D production at Sony Corporation and oversaw 3D development at the Sony 3D Technology Centre. Hays was also responsible for any 3D content released from Sony’s film studio. He worked on The Green Hornet, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Men in Black 3. Hays said he collaborated with established film directors who saw the potential in 3D to enhance the overall experience for the audience. After leaving Sony, Hays worked as a 3D advisor to critically acclaimed directors Baz Luhrmann, Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, and Tim Burton for their respective blockbusters The Great Gatsby, Hugo, Life of Pi, and Alice in Wonderland. “(3D) wasn’t a technology (to the directors), it was a new way to approach a story and to create a connection with an audience in a way you can’t with 2D,” said Hays. “(3D ticket surcharges) also set up a false expectation – because it costs more, it’s going to be better... the problem is if the movie’s not good, 3D gets blamed because that’s the ‘reason’ why you paid more,” explained Hays. “The audience doesn’t put two and two together to realize it was a bad
story or it wasn’t well executed in 3D.” “3D can’t make a bad movie good but it can make a good movie more interesting,” added Kurland. The remake of Clash of the Titans is a prominent example of a movie that was received poorly by critics and was critically panned for its post-conversion 3D. The film was nominated for worst eye-gouging misuse of 3D at the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards. “Guest feedback and even some of the critic feedback regarding (converted 3D) films like Clash of the Titans…was that (the 3D effects) seemed kind of tacked on,” said Scott Hildebrandt, a Cineplex operations executive. “The problem is the thought process of the filmmaker, (which) is basically not considering the advantages of working in 3D when you’re going to convert because your directing style doesn’t change, your editing style doesn’t change…everything is handled in post (production),” said Hays. “What I really appreciate is when a movie uses 3D to create a heightened level of intimacy with the audience and Gravity (was) very successful at that,” explained Kurland. “(Gravity director) Alfonso Cuaron, right from the outset, intended this (film) to be 3D and wrote the script thinking ‘how is this going to work as a 3D movie?’” The success of Gravity could be measured financially and critically; it grossed more than US$700 million with a $100 million budget and was nominated for 10 awards at the Academy Awards held in February of 2014. The post-converted 3D blockbuster took home seven Oscars, including best director, best cinematography, best visual effects, and best film editing. Kurland also referred to the concert film U2 3D as a great example of 3D filmmaking that connects with the audience at an intimate level similar to Gravity. “There’s a moment where (U2 frontman) Bono comes to the foot of the stage and reaches out towards the camera,” explained Kurland. “Seeing that in a 3D IMAX theatre … each person in the audience feels like they’re the one person Bono just chose to sing to.” Although Gravity has set the new standards for a great post-converted 3D flick, Kurland acknowledged some other films were converted well with the stereographic technique. Kurland praised another sci-fi film, Pacific Rim, for its effective use of 3D to enhance the viewer’s experience.
“(Director) Guillermo Del Toro was perhaps a little resistant to 3D, but once he accepted it as something he could use for his storytelling he found ways to use 3D to create a sense of scale,” said Kurland. “And particularly in (Pacific Rim) because you’re dealing with giant robots fighting giant monsters. You have to create this sense of the cities being normal-sized cities and these fighting monsters being huge.” “Had (Pacific Rim) been poorly converted, it could very easily have given everyone the sense that everything’s miniaturized,” continued Kurland. “They did an excellent job at creating that scale with 3D.” Although the post-conversion process has become more common in 3D films, Kurland remains optimistic about the future of the method. “The companies that are doing it have gotten considerably better at it. Much of the studio conversion work that you see now is almost as good as native-capture would be,” said Kurland. “At this point it’s a question of personal preference whether you want to see a film in 2D or 3D, and we’re still seeing very strong attendance in our 3D films (at Cineplex theatres),” noted Langdon. However, both Kurland and Hays acknowledged that 3D has struggled to gain momentum in home entertainment. “In the consumer electronics market, they’ve pretty much put a two-year marketing cycle on every product,” said Kurland. “Now they’re trying to push a new TV every two years.” “Television has been the stumbling block (in 3D) for a number of reasons,” said Hays. “TV is a different medium (than cinema) and they never really spent time or budgets to do it (properly).” “Three years ago, the big marketing thing for TV was 3D,” said Kurland. “They kind of put the cart before the horse because they put out 3D TVs before there was any 3D content to watch on
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Photo by Willy Phan
them.” Kurland also attributed the lacklustre success of 3D TV to the new market focus in home entertainment for 4K display systems, which boast horizontal resolution of 4,000 pixels. He also compared the market situations between 3D and 4K TVs. “(4K TV) is almost the same situation (as 3D). They’re selling 4K TVs, (but) there is no 4K content,” continued Kurland. “In fact, there isn’t even an agreed upon 4K delivery system. You can’t go to the store and buy a disc with a 4K movie on it.” Nonetheless, both 3D and 4K TV systems aren’t necessarily doomed. In fact, both mediums have been combined for newer TVs on the market. Kurland noted that most 4K TVs that he’s come across already have 3D as a feature, but not as a selling point to consumers. “Which is interesting, because they’re not promoting (3D in TV anymore), but they’re also not dropping 3D,” said Kurland. Overall, the positive reaction and financial success of recent 3D blockbusters such as Gravity and Pacific Rim show that 3D filmmaking is certainly on the road to recovery. “It feels like there’s always new things to learn in 3D, so it feels like the journey is just beginning,” concluded Hays. “Hollywood still has a ways to go to making great films (in 3D).”
The Struggle of a VFX Artist How the industry has become nomadic Story and photos by Sarah MacNeil
he Battle of Hoth in Star Wars Episode V: TheEmpire Strikes Back. The tyrannosaurus rex chasing a jeep in Jurassic Park. Forrest Gump shaking hands with John F. Kennedy. A party at Jay Gatsby’s house. Visual effects give life to film. The artists behind such famous scenes use sophisticated technology to produce on-screen imagery that becomes believable and strikingly realistic. But it is not all fun and green screens behind the scene. The Canadian VFX industry faces financial difficulties, as does Hollywood. Studios in Vancouver are forced to keep costs down to avoid bankruptcy and they underbid for work. Warren Franklin, the chair of the Vancouver chapter of the Visual Effects Society, said visual effects experts are more sought after now than before but businesses have to adapt to demand and pressures of cost. Rob Tasker, a digital compositor at Rocket Science VFX in Toronto, said the demand for VFX work continues to grow. “The film industry relies on VFX more than the general public thinks. Almost every movie released has some VFX work.” It can be as small as removing a blemish on an actor’s face to as big as creating an entire world like in Avatar, said Tasker. “What you see in a film is what a compositor creates. We take every element and assemble it together so it looks as real as possible.” The VFX industry is evolving and experiencing growing pains, said senior compositor Colin Riley, who has worked in the film industry for seven years. “You see
these kids in their bedrooms that can create very sophisticated images for no cost at all. It became hard to justify the guy asking for a quarter million dollar salary. The producers don’t really care where the work comes from, as long as it makes it in their movie. It’s no different than cars being manufactured in China rather than in Detroit,” he said. Riley has seen cutbacks on smaller perks to combat the competitive pricing market since he started working in the industry. “It was common to have snacks and drinks waiting for you in the office. A lot of that has been cut,” he said. Jordan Soles is the chief technology officer (CTO) and executive producer at Rodeo VFX in Montreal. He left Sony Pictures Imageworks in Los Angeles and moved to Montreal to work. Soles said the industry has changed in terms of location within the last five years. “The tax incentives various countries offer entice work outside of what used to be a very Los Angeles-centric landscape. Canada has always been a major player in this bid because of both financial attractions and the convenience of Vancouver’s time zone [in relation to Los Angeles],” he said. Soles said the tax incentives have forced artists to go where the work is. He added that tax incentives are a “giant carrot” in the film industry and artists have become nomadic gypsies in response. He said communication is of chief concern when it comes to VFX globalization. Differences in language and time zone create barriers.
“A director cannot come to the studio and have a review session and talk one-on-one with the artists to ensure his vision is being fulfilled,” he said. At the Academy Awards held in February of 2013, Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer accepted an award for his work on Life of Pi. When Westenhofer began to give credit to the the VFX company that worked on the movie, the microphone was cut off. Rhythm & Hues, the company Westenhofer worked for, where Colin Riley had also worked in the past, filed for bankruptcy in February of 2013. R&H was largely responsible for the visual effects in Life of Pi. A CG supervisor at Rhythm & Hues, Walt Jones, said in a documentary called Life After Pi, that the incident “jelled the entire VFX community into being horrifically pissed off.” Westenhofer was cut off by the Jaws theme at fourty-four seconds but the winner of Best Cinematography for Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda, spoke for almost sixty seconds. Director Ang Lee did not mention the company in his acceptance speech for Best Director, creating even more controversy and dissatisfaction within the VFX industry. Industry professionals responded by changing their profile pictures to solid green squares on sites like Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to express their frustration with the current state of affairs. Life of Pi was a huge box office success, yet the company that gave it life went bankrupt. “We aren’t technicians. Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by
Fine Cut Spring 2014 people pushing buttons. We are artists and if March of 2013. Lee Berger, a senior execuwe don’t find a way to fix the business model, tive for R&H said in a press release, “This is we start to lose the artistry. Life of Pi shows a positive outcome to a difficult situation, and that we’re artists and not just technicians,” we are thrilled to be able to put this process said Westenhofer in support of the protests at behind us. We are grateful for Prana’s support the Academy Awards held in 2013. as well as the support of their investor group, Tasker said he preferred the term artist to and are excited to begin the next chapter of technician. “I find it is a closer representation R&H’s history.” of what I do, which is create imagery,” he On Feb. 25, 2014, a website called Hollysaid. Riley said the protests made the acade- wood Ending Movie published a YouTube my nervous and more political. “I think that’s video titled Life After Pi. The short docuwhy Ang Lee and his director of photography mentary was directed by Scott Leberecht, a did not thank us during their speeches, and Visual Effects Art Director whose credits why Bill’s speech was interrupted,” he said. include The Green Mile and The Legend of Riley worked as a compositor on Life of Pi. Sleepy Hollow. The video highlighted the Scott Ross, founder of Digital Domain Inc., story surrounding the troubles faced by R&H said in a tweet on the day of theAcademy Awards, “I had a dream, 500 VFX artists near the Dolby (Kodak) theater on Oscar day were waving signs that say ‘I want a piece of the Pi too’.”. Life of Pi had a gross domestic total of $125 million, while the company responsible for its artistry went bankrupt just months after its release. The protests did not stop there. This year’s Oscars in March was met with opposition from VFX artists who worked on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The artists are reluctant to move to British Columbia for work, according to a NPR News Report released on March 1, 2014. The hash tag #OccupyOscars was trending on Twitter during the awards. Rhythm & Hues, which opened a Vancouver office in 2011, has been in the business since 1987. The studio has enjoyed a prestigious and successful past, winning Academy Awards for Visual Effects in 1996 for Babe and in 2008 for The Golden Compass. In recent years the company has contributed VFX work to not only Life of Pi, but also Django Unchained and the first installment of The A Durham College VFX student works on her final project, organizing and editing video footage. Hunger Games trilogy. Riley saw the recent ups and downs of the company first hand, and has almost one million views so far. In when he was employed with the studio from the documentary, Rhythm and Hues founder September 2011 to December 2012, before John Hughes said, “I was prepared to sell my they filed for bankruptcy. “It was a fun place shares for a dollar if someone was willing to to work with really talented people,” he said. invest … Our choices were to cut salaries, lay The problem with companies like R&H is off a significant number of people, or make they operate at ridiculous overhead, he said. overtime unpaid. I felt that any one of those “We need a fast computer and what is called choices would have altered the culture of the render farms. Basically, stacks and stacks of company and in turn destroyed it. Instead, we processors that compute data for us to gener- are in bankruptcy … We ended up destroying ate. Software licenses are also really expen- it [the company] anyways.” Hughes appeared sive, a few hundred thousand annually,” he visibly shaken throughout the piece. said. “It’s hard to explain, but we contribute Rhythm & Hues is not the only compaa lot and never receive the points. If a mov- ny to face financial difficulty. Several other ie breaks the box office we don’t see a dime. companies, such as Digital Domain Media Just because a movie makes billions we still Group Inc., Boss Film Studios, Apogee, lose jobs and companies go broke because we CaféFX and Dream Quest Images, have want everything to look amazing,” Riley said. all closed their doors because of increasThe American company Prana Studios, Inc. ingly problematic global market trends. acquired Rhythm & Hues Los Angeles in This side of the border, the Canadian VFX in-
dustry continues to heavily rely on subsidies. According to Daniel Lay, who blogs under the name the VFX Soldier, Canada introduced tax credits in 1997 for production studios. Prior to December 2013, Lay blogged anonymously, stating “My anonymity was an attempt to make this an egoless mission. It’s not perfect at times, but my goal is to make people not focus on who I am or what I do but to focus on the message.” “Canada works hard to attract studios to open up here by offering attractive tax credits,” said Tasker in response to the VFX Soldier’s post. In the Journal of Canadian Public Policy, John Lester, a research fellow for the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, notedthat the Canadian government spent $635 million on film tax credits in 2010 in an attempt to increase the amount of studios bidding for VFX work in the country. The economic returns for the country thus far have been appalling. In 2010 for example there was a net negative return of $450 million. More competition, larger companies and increased subsidies allude to the fact that tax revenue loss could be even worse now, Lay said. “It is a competitive industry for sure,” Tasker said. If and when taxes go up, directors look for studios in places like India and China because of cheap labour incentives. “Film producers get rebates for doing work outside of L.A. and locals receive a fraction of our salaries. Studios do not charge as much because they’re not sitting on expensive real estate,” said Riley. “It is a tough situation for sure,” said Soles. A report published by the Visual Effects Society in 2013 revealed that studios fear the tax game. According to it, visual effects artists see the benefit of subsidized work, but remain aware of the fact that they are constantly in flux with market trends. As of right now, there is an effort in the United States to limit the amount of tax credits studios can take advantage under countervailing duty law. This law is designed to protect domestic business and limit subsidization, according to the Government of Canada Foreign Affairs website. In Canada, VFX companies will continue to look for tax incentives. However this strategy may only last a more financially attractive country underbids them. Despite the hardships, artists remain resilient. “The visual effects world is really fun. You get to work on really cool things and share them with family and friends. It is extremely satisfying,” Soles said. Tasker said, “It is hard to imagine a better job. The work is constantly different and provides challenges to overcome. There is never a dull moment.”
(Jeff Weddell / Shaftesbury)
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Are the current regulations enough?
roken neck. Impalement. Rope burn. These are just three injuries that resulted in the deaths of horses used on film sets from 2001 to 2006, according to a leaked internal report from the American Humane Association. The use of live animals on set reached a controversial peak when the magazine ran an exposé on the American Humane Association. The AHA is responsible for the “No Animals Were Harmed” seal at the end of many movies. Many allegations were made in the Dec 6, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter (THR). The American weekly entertainment publication claims that AHA is too close to the industry for its monitoring to be impartial and effective at ensuring the well being of animals on set. An even more shocking claim put forth is that the AHA covered up many animal injuries and deaths on movies it was monitoring. The AHA does have jurisdiction in Canada for films that employ actors signed to the Screen Actors’ Guild. The Screen Actors’ Guild is an American labour union that represents film and television performers. Additionally, there are municipal, provincial and federal laws in Canada in place for the protection of animals used on set. But are they enough? “Here’s the thing about the American Humane Association – that seal only means that no animals were harmed within plain sight of a representative,” said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson Kenneth Montville. “While on set and while there’s a rep there nothing happened, and then they give them the seal.” PETA has been one of the most vocal critics of using live animals on set and of the AHA. Just like the Hollywood Reporter, PETA has scrutinized the close ties between AHA and the Screen Actors’ Guild. “The worst of it is, even if the AHA gives the movie an unacceptable rating the public may never even know about it,” said Montville. He was referring to the fact that movies that do not receive the AHA seal are under no obligation to mention when
the AHA monitoring them does not give them the seal. It’s important to note that the AHA is paid by SAG, which is the exact organization it is monitoring. “Really what the AHA is is another PR firm to give the public a warm fuzzy feeling about how the animals were treated, when really it’s a meaningless label,” said Montville The AHA guidelines are 127 pages long. These guidelines are very comprehensive and include different sections for a wide variety of animals. On paper the guidelines for animal use on set seem comprehensive, in reality the application of those guidelines is not always seamless: April 7, 2011- A leaked email from an AHA official on the set of the film, Life of Pi, showed her revealing to a co-worker that the Bengal tiger featured in the film almost drowned in a scene. She wrote “DON’T MENTION THIS TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE. I down-played the f--- out of (the incident).” March 21 2005 – In an internal report also obtained by Hollywood Reporter, the AHA reported that during the shooting of Eight Below, much of which was shot in British Columbia, a dog fight broke out. The report reads, “The hero dog seriously got into a fight with two other dogs. The trainer beat the dog harshly which included five punches to the diaphragm… Our Rep spoke to him about this, and he expressed that he had no choice. The Office instructed her (the
Rep) to pull the dog.” Under Chapter 1 Section 10 of the AHA guidelines it states, “Nothing shall be done to an animal that will cause harm or permanently alter its physical characteristics.” Despite the incident, the AHA awarded the movie the end credit. These are but a few of many other allegations made in the Hollywood Reporter exposé. The OSPCA (Ontario Services for the Protection of Animals) monitors animals on Ontario sets. They are a not-for-profit organization which func-
Illustrations by Brianne Whinfield
tions in a similar way as AHA in that they also provide movies with end credits if no animals were harmed on set. OSPCA agent Brad Dewar talked about the purpose and aim of the OSPCA when on a set. “Our goal when we are on set is to ensure that the animals are safe, that they’re being provided appropriately, that they’re not being stressed by the situation,” he said. Just like the AHA, the OSPCA is monitoring the very agency that is paying them. “(Film productions) would actually have to pay for an agent to be on site to do the inspection and to watch the entire time that an animal is there,” said Dewar. However, having an animal on a film or television set does not guarantee the presence of an OSPCA agent. “It’s only if we receive that request to attend. I would say, for the most part, we receive a lot of requests to have an agent on site. I mean that’s for their own protection too, they want t o make sure that the animals are safe during the time that they’re using them,” said Dewar. Ontario entertainment and media lawyer Bob Tarantino, said there are a wide range of laws filmmakers and animal wranglers must follow in Canada to ensure that training is as safe as possible. “They have to follow all of them (the federal, provincial, and municipal laws),” he said. “So then it becomes a question of what happens if the municipal law says one thing and the provincial law says a totally different thing and the federal says a third thing. It’s hard to say in the abstract, you’d have to look at each individual example of where there’s a conflict and try to figure out what the way forward is, but that’s why people hire lawyers.” Provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario, where most Canadian filming takes place, have used the AHA guidelines as the basis for their own policies on using animals on set. But guidelines are not always followed, and even when they are loopholes can be found. Tarantino also explained how much jurisdiction the AHA has in Canada. “If (film sets breach AHA guidelines) and they are employing SAG actors, then they can be subject to sanctions by the SAG and
declared an unfit employer. Then on future shows or future films Screen Actors’ Guild actors would be prohibited from working for them,” he said. Dan Patterson, an animal wrangler and owner of Chaotic Exotics based out of Georgina, Ont., has started doing movie shoots with his animals. He has become familiar with the Canadian laws on proper use of animals on set. “For animal handling on the (Ontario) government labour site, it’s guideline 40,” he said. “They basically go with the same guidelines as the U.S.” Patterson said, “It’s just basically common knowledge. Like you know, not to abuse the animals, to make sure they’re healthy, safe and if they’re hungry feed them, that type of thing.” Tarantino said British Columbia came up with a code to ensure safety on set. “The British Columbia Film Commission has issued what they call the Animals in Films Guidelines which is very similar to the AHA guide-
The worst of it is, even if the AHA gives the movie an unacceptable rating the public may never even know about it. Kenneth Montville lines. I don’t know the history of why that transpired. I suspect that it was partly due to the fact that there were so many U.S. television shows and U.S. movies that were filmed in British Columbia over the last 25 years, and so animal protection industry and interest groups in the province became aware of the increased use of live animals on film and TV sets,” he said. Tarantino said from a legal standpoint animals are well protected on Canadian sets. “Especially in Ontario and British Columbia, where most of the work is done, there is fairly stringent guidelines in place which are enforced either through the OSPCA, the film commission or the labour ministry,” he said. “So on a production it’s going to be difficult for somebody to act inappropriately towards animals without somebody finding out about it.” He added, “Another thing to keep in mind is in this industry peoples’ reputations are extremely important, and nobody wants to get a reputation for abusing animals or treating animals inappropriately.” Patterson has some ground rules of his own. “If it’s a stunt that’s going to harm the animal, don’t do it. We’ve got to treat them like they’re one of us,” he said.
Dr. Gary Wobeser, a retired Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre veterinary pathologist, said that while it depends on the type of training, most of it is not damaging to the animals. “These animals are probably captive animals anyways, they’re unlikely to use free ranging individual animals for that sort of thing. I don’t think the training itself should be harmful to their health, in the sense that they’re captive animals to begin with,” he said. “It’s about the individual situation and the degree of risk both to the animal and to whoever’s working with them,” Wobeser said “I don’t think there’s any sharp cutoff that you can say you should never work with an animal this size, or you can safely work with an animal of a different type. Individual animals are quite different in their response.” Patterson does have a sharp cutoff when it comes to wild animal such as great apes.“I just don’t think they were made for that… There’s enough animatronics out there now that we can make them, make them into robots and make them look real. We made dinosaurs come back with Jurassic Park right, we can make an ape move around and walk around. There’s no need to bring real animals in anymore.” Tarantino mentioned that computer-generated animals were a favorite among producers. “Animals tend to be difficult to work with, and there are a lot of rules and regulations around the use of live animals. To the extent possible, particularly nowadays, producers will try to use computer-generated effects as opposed to actual live animals,” he said. There are many divergent views within the discussion of animals on set. One side of the debate grapples with the idea of how they should be handled and what kind of animals should be used. Others suggest they should not even be used at all. In the end, the various incidents that have recently popped up in the media involving animals being harmed on set does point to one undeniable fact: laws and regulations can only protect an animal so much. It’s the care and passion of those humans who act within those laws that make the difference between a healthy animal and a dead one.
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The Ratings Debate How a more inclusive system might affect the business
ost people are familiar with the expression that when it comes to entertainment “sex sells”. That may hold true for most forms of entertainment – but when it comes to movies – violence is what sells. “A mobster is holding a gun and then a shot is heard. Afterward, a body is on the ground with a little bit of blood around the wound…” This is classified as PG said Chair of the Ontario Film Review Board (OFRB) Donald Duprey. “A gang member shoots an opposing gang member, we see bullet holes and blood dripping from the victim’s clothing. He staggers backward under the impact of the shot and falls to the ground…” This scene gets a 14A rating. The definition of violence in the rating system for movies in Canada remains the subject of debate. If the selling of violence was a conventional “transaction”, the film industry would be the seller and Canadian audiences would be the buyers. It seems to be a very lucrative business arrangement. How would this “business” relationship be altered if
Infographic by Travis Pereira
significant changes occurred to the classification criteria for identifying violence? “Film distributors must classify their movies before they can be released in cinemas,” said Duprey. In Canada, the classification of films releasing in theatres falls under provincial jurisdiction. Simply put, before a movie is shown in a local cinema it must be given a film rating by a provincial or territorial classification board. “We are very careful in the construct of our board members. Our panelists are diverse in terms of their cultural backgrounds, age, gender so that we really try to reflect current community standards,” Duprey said this allows the board to be responsive to emerging and changing standards. Duprey provided an excerpt from the OFRB website to cement this point: The OFRB is structured specifically to address issues relating to the community’s perceptions of appropriate viewing. OFRB members are appointed by the government from different parts of the province. We vary in age,
gender vocation, diverse work histories, cultural backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientation to ensure that there is collective input respecting community standards. The OFRB is structured this way so that its decisions will reflect Ontario’s diverse communities. Duprey said the assessment of violence plays an equal role, among other categories such as language or nudity or horror, in determining the rating of a film. He said it’s up to the panel to determine the degree of violence in the entirety of the film. “It’s incumbent on them to make that kind of determination, and they need consensus. There’s significant debate around the issue of violence, among panel members, as to how detailed the violence is that they’re seeing,” he said.
Critics don’t always agree with the decisions reached by the board or in the role it plays in the entire classification process. “The whole classification system is, for the most part, a ruse and ‘a fig leaf’ for the industry that something useful is actually being done,” said Dr. Rose Dyson president of Canadians Concerned about Violence (C-CAVE) and a member of the executive committee of the Canadian Peace Research Association. As an external research associate at the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution at York University, Dyson is a heralded consultant in the field of media education and chair of the independent national non-profit organization C-CAVE, which prides itself on addressing the harmful effects of media violence. Dyson said reflecting community standards is a great concept in theory, but what is equally important is ensuring the board members have the proper credentials to accurately assess the nature of the violence they observe. She said her experience observing the operations of the OFRB over the years have shown that a background in the cognitive development of youth has not been as important a requirement for appointment to the board as it should be. Dyson has worked towards spreading awareness about the damaging effects of cultural violence on society to both those who create cultural products – industry – and those who govern the permissible content in those cultural products – government. When it comes to the ratings classification system for films in Canada she said it’s the lack of agreement between these two entities that’s problematic. “There are some of us that believe that a lot of these so-called community standards are kind of pushed and established by industry more than the community at large,” she said. Dyson said a major concern associated with having an arms-length government organization govern the classification system in Ontario, and for that matter all provinces that have a board, is that there isn’t enough “arm’s length” from industry pressures. “I believe in some cases it does more harm than good because they’re putting a community stamp of approval on something that’s harmful, and saying it’s a reflection of community standards,” she said. Dyson said this creates a conundrum because if the classification system is said to “reflect” community standards it insulates itself from criticism and scrutiny. She referred to the old methodology of “if this is what they want, this is what we’ll give them”. But she said she’s an advocate of the notion that people are often conditioned to want those exact things that are most harmful to them. Dyson said the burning question when it
comes to films becomes whether provincial film boards do more to shape cultural values than reflect them? “It’s both,” said Matthew Johnson director of education for Media Smarts. “It’s intended to be a reflection of community standards about all kinds of content but over time these can change.” MediaSmarts organization provides media education to all authoritative figures that play a prominent role in raising children. MediaSmarts is a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy that looks to ensure that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens. They help parents and teachers with information to understand the media landscape of today. Johnson said the classification system doesn’t always show if the content in a movie
The whole classification system is, for the most part, a ruse and a ‘fig leaf’ for the industry that something useful is actually being done. Dr. Rose Dyson is appropriate for the age group the rating suggests it is. Duprey said it’s the mandate of the OFRB to reflect community standards in the composition of its members and in the way it functions, but making value judgments isn’t part of that role. “We use the elements that we have, to make a determination as to what advisory we’re providing,” he said. Duprey said that with the exception of an R-rating, these age-based restrictions only apply when someone who falls under the permitted age isn’t accompanied by an adult. “You can bring a three-year-old to an 18A movie if you’re over 18. That offends some people because they think that’s not appropriate, but the law allows that to happen,” said Duprey. He said they don’t make cultural determinations as to whether the movie is generally appropriate or not. Their task is to determine classification based on the elements. Dyson understands the provincial film review boards cannot “supervise” or dictate what types of movies children ought to be allowed to see. But she believes the OFRB
should set out criteria that help parents, and to some extent teachers, make informed decisions about what is suitable for children. Dyson said the existing system of leaving the onus entirely on parents is not acceptable, because it’s the collective job of the society to be the guardians and determine what is beneficial to young people and children. Johnson said ratings should be used as a starting point or a guide, but that’s about it. “If a film is rated for an age older than a child, it’s a safe bet that the child is probably not ready to see it,” he said. Johnson said review sites like commonsensemedia.org provide much more detailed information about the appropriateness of a film than provincial ratings, and these are tools that should be used by parents. As far as Dyson is concerned, “Nobody should take the OFRB’s ratings too seriously.” Duprey said the elements of violence in a film are judged based on the actual occurrence of violence, and not the implication of such violence. “It’s quantified based on what we see. What’s important in the classification process is to recognize that we determine the visual elements in relation to the degree and the nature of what you’re actually seeing (not what’s implied),” he said. Duprey said this inference or implication of violence is more evident in current films. “Filmmakers, when they’re making the movies, are being very judicious in terms of what kinds of violence they’re exhibiting,” he said. The practice of setting up the “before and after” of a violent element is a common method used to reduce the potentially damaging visual effects. “The James Bond films are a really good example of lots of bodies flying, but you actually never see anyone dead. You never see tissue damage, and you never see lots of gore. It almost becomes fantasy,” said Duprey. “A lot of this has to be taken in context and evaluated for what it may mean, and discuss the overall effects,” Dyson said. “There has to be a more holistic or cultural ecological approach to the storyline itself and what audience is being targeted.” She said the implication of violence shouldn’t be considered less impactful than the actual occurrence of violence. Dyson said one of this year’s blockbuster movies The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which received a PG rating, was an example of how the context of the film is just as important as the content. “As a society, it’s safe to say we’re appalled by the notion of child soldiers and yet we don’t think there’s anything wrong with kids seeing a film like Hunger Games where kids are killing kids. That is problematic,” she said. According to Dyson, it exemplifies the classification system’s inability to consider
Photo by Kheon Clarke
the wider social and mental health issues attached to a film. “A lot of the violence being observed in films can be classified as ‘fantasy’. Violence that’s being generated by computer graphics or generated in a variety of different ways, and you kind of have to stand back and say ‘OK’ are we witnessing violence or a psychological drama,” said Duprey. Duprey said when violence is clearly more than just implied, the degree and nature are key factors in determining a rating. He said there are plenty of ambiguous scenarios that make it challenging to determine a classification. “There’s no question that they will look at all the elements, but if you’re looking at 120-minute movie and there’s a 15-second scene in it that may be a little more graphic and really belongs in a higher element. They’ll have a significant discussion,” he said. Duprey said OFRB’s guidelines that determine criteria for the classification system comes from the provincial legislature. He said individuals can make representation through their members of the legislature, or directly to the government, and ask for these things to be reviewed. The OFRB, he said, is receptive and responsive to concerns from the community.
“If the public is upset by a movie they can ask for the movie to be reclassified, and there have been a few instances of that.” “There has been an increasing tendency towards leniency in the way these classifications have been developed,” Dyson said. She referred to this as addressing the effect without looking at the cause. She said if the criterion within the ratings doesn’t accurately represent material that is suitable for the age groups prescribed then the movie being rated can’t be given the appropriate rating. “If the mandate of the film review boards was tightened up, a lot (of the films) would be simply rejected and not allowed for distribution,” said Dyson. She said this would be one of the main methods to bring about significant change, but it wouldn’t be without some resistance from the industry. “You could imagine what an outcry regarding censorship that would precipitate,” she said. Duprey said the increasing access of media in other forms like the internet has affected the process of rating because it continuously changes the type of violent visual content people experience. “We do see that there’s a change in terms of what might’ve been a classification 10 years ago in relation to what it is today, in terms of
some of the elements that we’re witnessing,” he said. Dyson said in its current format the classification system can continue to do more harm than good. Before movies arrive at the “box office” of provincial film board offices Dyson said laws should be passed to restrict funding Canadian companies that create cultural products deemed harmful to the public good. “This is something that has been recommended a long time ago and it’s certainly one that I focus on,” she said. “If we pass that kind of law, which has come before the House of Commons as recently as 2008, that would help along way.” Regarding the accepted role violence plays in movies, Dyson said, “It needs to be better recognized, addressed and eliminated.” She said real change has to start by abolishing the level of indifference the Canadian public has towards organizations like the OFRB and the way they’re predisposed to operate. Dyson said what is required is a board that is more transparent and genuinely reflective of community standards. “It has to have the children and parents and teachers best interest at heart, and I don’t think that’s the case now.” This ongoing debate certainly has the potential to be a great…script.
The ethics of Mansbridge and big oil
new scandal with serious implications about the integrity of television news in Canada has been brought to light. It’s a David and Goliath story involving some of the biggest players in the game, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars and one of the most contentious issues in Canadian politics. With it comes a host of controversies concerning journalistic ethics, conflicts-of-interest and transparency.. A handful of new media journalists have been taking the CBC to task over two of its biggest figures. Freelance commentator Rex Murphy and The National host Peter Mansbridge for taking money from big oil producers in exchange for paid speaking gigs. This isn’t chump change either. According to sources both Murphy and Mansbridge can command upwards of $30,000 per speech. Mansbridge has done four known speaking gigs, Murphy over 25. Although no exact figure has been released, it looks as though close to $1 million could have exchanged hands in total. This story first went viral from the political news website ipolitics.ca by award winning investigative reporter Andrew Mitrovica. After seeing a particularly rousing speech by Murphy to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Mitrovica did some research. He tried to navigate the Byzantine bureaucracy that is the CBC, coming up comically short. As he notes in his article, Rex Murphy, the Oilsands and the Cone of Silence, published on Feb. 10, he couldn’t even get confirmation or denial from the CBC that Rex Murphy appears regularly as a commentator on The National. “I think there is kind of a hypocrisy at play,” Mitrovica said in a telephone interview. “There are lots of examples of this where we demand transparency and openness from lots of
powerful institutions but we don’t demand it of ourselves. And then, when we do demand it, we adopt the very tactics that we deplore in other institutions when they decline or they refuse to be open and transparent,” he said. The Canadian Association of Journalists includes the following items among its long list of journalistic standards and practices: “We generally do not accept payment for speaking to groups we report on or comment on.” “We do not report about subjects in which we have financial or other interests, and we do not use our positions to obtain business or other advantages not available to the general public.” “We disclose to our audiences any
I think there is a broader question with the CBC around its journalists being paid by an industry and then expected to be critical or unbiased about that industry that’s paying part of their paycheck Wayne McPhail
biases that could be perceived to influence our reporting.” We openly tell our audiences when another organization pays our expenses, or conversely, when we have made payments for information.” This is only one school of thought regarding journalistic ethics. But what does the CBC think? A few short days before Mitrovica’s piece ran on ipolitics.ca, Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor in chief of CBC News, knowing full well of Mitrovica’s investigation, ran a defensive blog post titled A Question of Conflict? In her exculpatory post, McGuire defended Mr. Murphy saying, “As much as Rex is identified with the CBC, he is not a full-time employee of the CBC. We have a wonderful freelance relationship that allows him to appear on The National and host CBC Radio One’s Cross-Country Checkup. As a freelancer, Rex has the ability to do other
work. So yes, he writes opinion pieces for The National Post. And yes, he does speaking engagements.” So, in her estimation it is not relevant that Rex Murphy has been paid possibly upwards of $750,000 to speak to the CAPP while at the same time criticizing Neil Young for his anti-oil sands view on The National because he is technically a freelancer. Unfortunately for McGuire, the CBC’s own code of ethics regarding expression of opinion says “It is important to mention any association, affiliation or special interest a guest or commentator may have so that the public can fully understand that person’s perspective.” This is a clearcut breach of the CBC’s own journalistic ethics and a conflict of interest. But what of Mansbridge? Surely the CBC’s chief correspondent is not a freelancer. On Thursday, Feb. 27 a blog post under Peter Mansbridge’s byline showed up on the CBC website. Several paragraphs of his piece is almost word for word what Chuck Thompson, head of media relations for the CBC, said in a statement to Vice regarding the issue. The only difference is the pronouns have been changed from third to first person. In his – or Thompson’s – defence, Mansbridge claims that while he did speak to the CAPP, he did not advocate for oil, only spoke about journalism and said it was one of many CBC approved speaking gigs. But does it matter? How can viewers expect impartial reporting on the CBC, especially on big issues like the Alberta tar sands or the Keystone XL pipeline, when a broadcaster has accepted money from an organization like the CAPP. One of the most interesting things about this story is how it gained traction. This story didn’t break on a rival network or in the Toronto Star. It started and spread online. This is a very problematic fact for some. While it does say a lot about the power of new media like blogs, podcasts and social media, it also brings up a lot of important questions about why there is a lack of serious media criticism in Canada. Mitrovica said that due to the small size of the mainstream landscape, it can be a risky career move to speak up when you think something is wrong from within so most stay silent. “It’s a parochial environment,” he said. “The mafia used the term omertà. There’s a sort of code that exists in the Canadian media that you’re not supposed to point an accusatory finger at
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How much were they paid? Number of speeches:
Number of speeches:
Source: Toronto Life
Total amount paid:
Total amount paid: up to:
$862,000 Infographic by Adam Stroud
your brethren because it’s so small and you might bump into them at a cocktail party or at a book launch or some media gathering. Heaven forbid it might mean not working, particularly if you’re critical of powerful ‘mainstream media’.” Jesse Brown is one person who has felt the cold shoulder from speaking out against the CBC. Brown is a former writer for Maclean’s and Toronto Life. He even worked for the CBC. After cutbacks at MacLean’s left him without a steady paycheck, Brown started Canadaland, a podcast and YouTube channel that focuses on media criticism. The pantheon of guests on his podcast has included such people as Michael Enright, Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice magazine, and Andrew Mitrovica. “The credibility of the media has never been lower,” Brown said. “We’re being forced to ask ourselves in the most dire and stark terms possible ‘why are we doing this work and what good is it? What do we exist for? What can we do that some guy with an iPhone with no journalism degree or idea about journalism can’t do?’ ” Brown’s recent interview with Mitrovica isn’t his first run-in with the CBC about similar issues. Shortly after the launch of Canadaland last fall, Brown posted a YouTube video titled The CBC’s Secret Deal with the Harper Government, in which he brings to light a contract between The National and Parks Canada. The contract states that $65,000 was exchanged for a segment that amounted to little more than a propaganda piece for Canadian arctic sovereignty. According to Brown, it’s reporting like this that resulted in him being banned from the CBC where he used to do punditry on a regular basis. “There’s no official blacklist,” Brown said.“But Canadaland has some real talk on it … so any chase producer or show producer who is looking for somebody to come and talk about a topic has to
consider in the back of their head, ‘do we want to welcome in here somebody who has made enemies of the highest levels of this organization?’ And that’s exactly the kind of mentality I’m trying to challenge.” “I think that Jesse’s doing serious journalism,” Mitrovica said. “And he’s doing it in a provocative way, he’s doing it independently.” Mitrovica did emphasize that both mainstream and independent forms of media can and do co-exist. But when it comes to real content, viewers need to look beyond the television screen. About the Murphy/ Mansbridge affair he said, “You haven’t seen anything in the Toronto Star, you haven’t seen anything in The Globe and Mail, you saw something in the National Post but that was self-serving, clearly the CBC hasn’t touched it? Why haven’t they touched it? But even the fact that they haven’t touched it, didn’t extinguish it. And this is, I think, to some extent, they are no longer the sole gatekeepers of what becomes of public interest or import.” The CBC has since addressed the issue on the radio, but nobody from CBC TV or The National has made comment on the air. Esther Enkin, the CBC’s ombudsman, has also released a ruling that urges CBC management to reconsider their position on allowing Murphy, Mansbridge and
others to do paid speaking engagements. When Mitrovica mentions the National Post in his statement he’s referring to Murphy’s defense of himself, which appeared on Saturday, Feb. 22 in the Post. The column titled Rex Murphy: Speaking My Mind, No Matter the Issue makes no mention of the specific charges against Mr. Murphy, nor does it bring forth the issues around transparency or conflicts of interest. Instead, back firmly against the ropes, Rex lashes out at “some bloggers” who, he says, are trying to destroy his reputation. “I think that it’s a little tired and a little stale to use bloggers as a pejorative term and to dismiss journalists,” said Wayne MacPhail, director of Emerging Media at rabble.ca. MacPhail has taught online journalism at Ryerson University and the University of Western Ontario. Rabble, where MacPhail volunteers his time, has been in the new media game since 2001. They have also covered the ongoing investigation into Murphy and Mansbridge. “I think there is a broader question with the CBC around its journalists being paid by an industry and then being expected to be critical or unbiased about that industry that’s paying part of its paycheck,” MacPhail said.
For MacPhail, scandals like the one around Rex Murphy and Peter Mansbridge confirm his view that for Canada to have a successful news industry it needs a strong alternative voice. “I think what we’re starting to see with organizations like rabble,” he said, “Is that there is value in alternative media by being a media critic, by providing a diversity of voices and points of view that aren’t being expressed in the mainstream media and doing serious investigative work and uncovering stuff that mainstream media isn’t paying attention to because of the frame and the lens through which they see the issues we think are important in Canada.” This story continues to unfold and the CBC remains largely silent while the chatter goes on all around them. There was a time when television news was the largest gatekeeper of information and public opinion in Canada and the world. But the emperor has no clothes and a few bloggers are opening up the dialogue. As we go deeper into the 21st century, transparency becomes more important from all public institutions if they want to retain the public trust. And if this trend continues, more and more people may start turning off their TVs and opening their laptops.
As this is a developping story, please visit our website finecut2014.com for more details.
Mansbridge photo courtesy of Bart Cummins, Thompson Rivers University
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Are we international players?
by Hollywood casts a large shadow on Canada’s domestic industry. Some might argue this makes it impossible for a Canadian series to be successful. It can’t strike the necessary balance to simultaneously be “Canadian” enough to attract a national audience and still seem profitable enough to attract the interest of Canadian broadcasters. Any Canadian series has a daunting task but how can you explain the success of shows like The Listener and Murdoch Mysteries?
sniper is perched on the rooftop of a city hall. The city is held hostage and team one, a police force, is called to handle the sniper. Team member, Jules, is caught in the line of fire and taken to hospital where she lies unconscious in her bed. In this scene from Flashpoint, the sniper is at Toronto City Hall and Jules is taken to St. Michael’s Hospital. There’s no question that the scene is shot in downtown Toronto. Yet the finale of season one is being viewed on TV screens by fans across Brazil. Flashpoint has found life not only at home but in the international market as well. It is also the first Canadian series set entirely in Canada and aired by a major U.S. broadcast network, CBS. Flashpoint has found success but the road for many Canadian television series isn’t easy. “It is a really tough combination to hit,” said Elana Levine, who studied Degrassi: The Next Generation closely. “It needs to be Canadian enough to get funding but global and Hollywood enough to pay for the expense.” Levine is an associate professor and graduate director of journalism, advertising and media studies at the University of Wisconsin, UWMilwaukee. She analyzed Degrassi: The Next Generation and said the Canadian television industry needs to service both national and global ends. Like Flashpoint, The Listener has ventured into the international market. Shaftesbury, an award-winning creator, producer and distributor of original content for television and digital platforms, sold The Listener to NBC but the U.S. broadcaster decided not to continue the show past season one. Currently, the series is in production shooting season five. It has done well internationally despite being dropped by a U.S. broadcaster. One of their production partners is FOX International Channels, a unit of 21st Century FOX. It distributes channels across Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Both shows have enjoyed popularity at home and abroad. However, the standard set
Canadian production needs to retain its “Canadianness” in terms of content and meet the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO) standards. A Canadian series can accrue funding from two outlets: organizations like Telefilm and the Canada Media Fund (CMF) or private domestic broadcasters. In order to get funding, a homegrown production must meet the criteria set out by CAVCO. To be recognized as a Canadian production a minimum of six out of ten possible points must be met. These points are awarded on the basis of certain positions being performed by Canadian employees. “A production company must provide proof that individuals for whom key creative points are being requested, as well as individuals occupying producer-related positions, are Canadian,” as stated in CAVCO. Once these requirements are met a production can be granted funding. This can be a burden when a series is trying to appeal to a global, wider audience. “Canadian-produced programming is sort of (at) a disadvantage because the broadcasters (assume) that these programs won’t draw as well,” said Levine. Canadian broadcasters often point to the challenging economics of Canadian television programming as the primary disincentive to acquire homegrown productions. According to a Nordicity report from 2013, broadcasters contend that they lose money on Canadian programming because it doesn’t draw large enough audiences to cover licensing fees. This is the other side of the issue regarding exposure. “A lot of programs are being produced without the intention for domestic sales but for international sales,” said Levine. “It’s the only way they would be able to exist financially.” Homegrown production is expensive and licensing fees are high as a result. The cost to produce a Canadian drama program ranges in
The state of Canadian television
Struggle for exposure
the millions per episode. “Making something Canadian that can compete with the U.S. is just not an economically viable proposition,” said Jim Thompson from Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. “It’s much cheaper to assemble an audience of Canadians watching American shows during primetime because private broadcasters can buy the rights to U.S. shows and wrap Canadian ads around them to make a profit.” Shaftesbury’s vice president of sales and business development, Ryan St. Peters, implements distribution strategies and has placed content in markets worldwide. “It’s difficult to build a Canadian business around U.S. pick-up because they can be so tricky,” said St. Peters. “Every year hundreds of pilots are produced in the U.S. and for us
Behind the scenes of the Listener season 4 set with Craig Olejnik (Stephen Scott / Shaftesbury)
to compete with that is a challenge. We can build a business by relying on international pick-ups as opposed to U.S.”
Side-stepping U.S. market dependency
Any affiliation with a U.S. network obviously helps a show find solid footing in terms of exposure. “Luck has struck when a television series finds a Canadian home, American home and a significant international home ahead of
time,” said Michael MacMillan, CEO of Blue Ant Media, a privately held Canadian media company that creates and distributes content. “When that happens you pop open the champagne,” he said. After 36 years in the business, one thing MacMillan has noticed is that the nationality of a television series, where it originates, has no value in terms of exposure. “The rest of the world wouldn’t give two toots whether it’s Canadian content,” said MacMillan. “It’s neither a positive or negative, it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter where it’s from as long as it appeals to the audience.” George McNeillie from the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) points to Flashpoint as an example. “Flashpoint was one of the first domestic TV series to portray Toronto as Toronto and it sold in markets around the world due to its high production values and compelling plots,” said McNeillie. “It’s not an issue of being Canadi-
30 years has changed and certainly evolved. “Getting a clearance in the U.S. market was like (striking) gold. Producers and distributors have realized that it’s okay to get silver and bronze by selling shows around the globe,” said O’Brien-Sokic. A domestic industry that isn’t as hung up as it once was on getting U.S. clearance can create many opportunities around the globe for the work that is being created and produced in Canada, she said. The area of youth programming is a great example of how Canadian producers can work around dependency on U.S. markets. St. Peters said there are about 23 different children’s channels in the U.K. alone and they are all competitors. They all need to fill their grid each and every day. “There’s a wealth of broadcasters that need good quality content,” said St. Peters. As long as the production value is comparable to the U.S., the look and feel is similar, a TV series can find a home anywhere in the world.
Remaining Canadian with international appeal
Michael MacMillan, CEO of Blue Ant Media (Keith Penner photography)
an enough but of being high-quality enough to appeal universally and Ontario TV productions meet that standard.” A show can find its footing in the international market and not be dependent on the U.S. for success. Humber College’s film and television production professor, Donna O’Brien-Sokic, has noticed the development of a new trend in television production. “The appetite for the solely American fare is not as rampant as it once was and other countries have come in and said ‘we can do that and we can do it for a bit less’,” said O’Brien-Sokic. If it’s good acting and equal production value the series can be sold for less. Before becoming a professor at Humber, O’Brien-Sokic worked in television distribution. She worked for Walt Disney Television International and sold various Disney branded television series around the globe. Her territory was Canada with a specific focus on the Canadian market. She explained that the evolution of prime-time programming in the last
The tax credit system for films is valued at more than $200 million annually. The government provides it through the OMDC. It creates a business model that allows for Canada/U.S. co-production. McNeillie explained that Ontario producers are international players thanks to the OMDC Export Fund for film and television. “Ontario has a $1.3 billion film and TV production industry supported by all kinds of advantages,” said McNeillie. “Proximity to the U.S. market combined with access to over 50 co-production treaties and substantial government support makes Ontario producers attractive international partners,” he said. Ontario’s co-production business model brings great exposure for Canadian talent. In a co-production system, the Canadian production company still retains some of the rights to the material. This can be differentiated from a service production in which all the money comes from the U.S. and the Canadian company retains none of the rights, said O’Brien-Sokic. “It’s very attractive for U.S. producers to come here and say ‘I got $10 million to make this budget in L.A.’ But if they come to Ontario that $10 million suddenly becomes $12 million once the U.S. producer hooks up with the Canadian producer,” said O’Brien-Sokic. U.S. producers come to Canada to take advantage of the tax credit system and it keeps our industry functioning at the level it does, she said. Recently, DHX Media, a Canadian media production company, has acquired the Family Channel, Disney Junior and Disney DX channels. It is still pending Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approval. “It’s a natural fit for them because they al-
ready specialize in children’s programming,” said O’Brien-Sokic. “They can feed their production through these channels.” By owning these two channels DHX Media will be able to further expose Canadian content in terms of youth programming. O’Brien-Sokic explained that, from her experience, the CRTC guidelines around the production of youth and children’s programming has helped. “The educational component of production has always been a big draw for international buyers,” said O’Brien-Sokic. Youth programming is definitely one area where exposure has been successful. “Canada is one of the highest regarded producers of kid’s and family content,” said Josh Scherba, senior vice president of sales and distribution at DHX Media in Toronto. Family and children’s programming is not the only format of television where success has been witnessed. The 2013 Nordicity profile of the economic report on the screen-based media production industry in Canada shows several Canadian English-language television series that have assembled average minute audiences (AMAs) of at least one million people in the 2013 broadcast year. Among those, five series in particular all surpassed the one million mark: Saving Hope, Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, The Listener and Motive. Interestingly their success is not contingent on U.S. acceptance. Most of these series have found life in the international market.
Unregulated services: future problem?
The future of the Canadian television industry seems uncertain as it faces the new challenge of unregulated services like Netflix where the CRTC has no mandate. The CRTC enforces its mandate on Canadian content on private domestic broadcasters but it has no jurisdiction on Netflix. “As soon as Netflix Canada gets caught up with its counterpart in the U.S., in terms of a robust library, and people stop investing in cable services, we are screwed,” said St. Peters. From a distribution standpoint, however, it may not be a problem. “Netflix is fantastic for our business because it gives us a lot more places to sell our content on a global basis,” said Scherba. “Now you have Netflix and it creates a healthy competition.” Although the opinions vary regarding these unregulated services, a solution needs to be acknowledged. “I would not put an ownership requirement on them nor a Canadian content requirement but I would tax them, like five per cent of their gross Canadian revenue and have that percentage go into the CMF,” said MacMillan. A solution that might actually work to ensure Canadian content remains available and properly exposed.
Gender Distortions The underrepresentation of female executives When it comes to the film industry in Canada, women are cast to one side of the screen. An alternative view through the camera lens reveals immense gender distortions in terms of women in high-ranking and decision-making positions. The lens of the Canadian film industry needs to be refocused on an “image” that shows greater opportunities for women. Creating change is like pushing a rock uphill. “We govern our work places very similar to the way they were governed in the 19th century at the beginning of the industrial revolution,” said Women in View executive director, Rina Fraticelli. Women in View on Screen released an annual report in October 2013 on the patterns in Canadian cinema. Out of 78 fiction directors who received investment from Telefilm Canada in 2012, only 17 were women. In addition, there were only 22 female screenwriters out of 108 funded by Telefilm in 2012. It is undeniable women have made advances, but not enough. “About a third of the Writers Guild of Canada is women. We are disproportionate in terms of women in the screenwriting profession,” said Jill Golick, president of the Writers Guild of Canada. “In the ‘60s we had a wave of feminism that shook things up and made people more aware. Women moved into the workforce and television industry. We need to shake things up every once in a while to remind people that we need advancements in the roles of women. I think we are at one of these periods,” she said. The average Canadian production film set and its apparent women are highly concentrated in roles that are more feminized in terms of gender stereotypes, such as costume,
in the film industry
Story and graphic by Katherine George makeup and hair, said Marit Stiles, the national director of public policy and communications at Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. “Women still represent only 10 per cent of the Directors Guild of America. And that includes women directors, first and second assistant directors, stage managers as well as other positions like unit production manager,” said Debra Zimmerman in the article From A to Z: A Conversation on Women’s Filmmaking. The lack of women in high ranking and decision-making roles contributes to a larger systemic problem. “People are influenced by what they see on television, and so, when we see that pattern of gender and equity within film, we carry that through into our lives and it feeds our expectations of what’s normal and it reproduces old patterns,” said Fraticelli. “Women are underrepresented in almost every category of employment in film production, and the more senior positions in creative decision-making,” Stiles said. “The positions that impact hiring decisions or the focus of a film are … overwhelmingly male.” This gender imbalance behind the scenes has a tendency to be shown on the big screen as well. Stiles said male creative decision-makers are more likely to hire other males and fix story lines that are masculine. These are the depictions of women that will sell the best, said Golick.
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The filmmaking industry is difficult. There is a lack of screens to view Canadian films and little change to spare in the financial department, Golick said. These barriers leave no room for risk-taking. “I think in those cases there hasn’t been a lot of encouragement for women to be writing. Somebody comes up with a great idea, but who is going to finance it?” said Stiles. “You are encouraged to create content that is going to get financed.” This can be discouraging for women. “I teach screenwriting at York University and there are fewer women in (her own) screen writing classes,” said Golick. The studio funding a production often has a biased opinion on what should be produced, she said. “There is absolutely an ‘old boys network’ which is less about somebody saying ‘no I won’t hire a woman’ and more about somebody really quickly saying, ‘who do you know?’” said Fraticelli. At the end of the day it comes down to reaping the benefits. What goes out must come in. Studios tend to make films that are “safe” and guaranteed to make a profit, Stiles said. “The problem with the business of film is that it’s an art and the problem with the art of film is that it’s a business,” said Fraticelli. Fraticelli said women excel in terms of receiving grants awarded on the basis of cultural innovation, talent, Director and quality, but it is only a small minority. However, the business aspect of film involving distribution to the Writer general public and wholesale is selective. Many of these female produced films never make it to the big screen. And it doesn’t get better as women age in the business. According to the Writers Guild of Canada, equal wage earning between males and females drops as females move further into their career
and older in age. The amount of top female income earners between the ages of 45 and 55 drops to 24 per cent from 48 per cent, said Stiles. “It is ironic as soon as women are at the top of their game, have their craft, experience and stories to tell, they no longer find meaningful employment in film,” said Golick. It is time to shift the focus of the Canadian film industry onto a larger problem, one that occurs behind the lights, camera and action. There are women working their way out of the typecast and the world needs to meet them halfway. “I think there is hope,” said Stiles. “Generally, within the industry people are looking for opportunities. Women want to make their own stories and put them on the screens. They will change things.”
Gender inequality by the numbers 18%
80 % Writer
Ken Scott leads the way to Hollywood
he story was clear, the comedic message universal, the differences subtle and cultural when Canadian screenwriter and director Ken Scott transformed his acclaimed movie Starbuck from French to English. When Starbuck became Delivery Man, the rural Quebec setting gave way to a more urban backdrop and so did the reference to Starbuck, a prized bull whose progeny numbered in the thousands. But making the transition south of the border, while remarkable, was not difficult. According to an article on cbc.ca, Scott and co-writer Martin Petit received the Genie Award for best original screenplay, as well as the Guichet d”Or , a Telefilm prize for the highest grossing francophone film in 2011. Soon, Hollywood came knocking. Scott , who grew up in Laval, a suburb of Montreal, was named by Montreal newspaper La Presse as “one of the most influential people on the Quebec culture scene.” Scott came out of college to form the comedy troupe “Le Bizzaroides” and wrote a screenplay called La vie après l’amour (Life after love), which turned into a movie. Next came a sitcom called Le Plateau for Radio Canada followed by several screenplays including a drama on the life of hockey icon Maurice Richard called The Rocket. “Even before getting into a comedy troupe, I always wanted to be a director. But I guess life took me into a different direction for a few years,” Scott said. While he found success writing screenplays, he eventually got back to his first love, directing movies. Aspiring filmmaker Jake Thompson was not surprised about the need to start small. The Orangeville, Ontario native and Cornell University graduate said, “I always had a passion for film from when I was younger, but actually choosing to study it and pursue a career in it didn’t come up until later.” He was recruited by the Cornell University lacrosse team and while there, took several screenwriting classes and wrote a short script that won a dramatic writing contest. Thompson has been working since then on some spec scripts for various TV sitcoms including Parks and Recreation. “I've been considering pursuing a career as a TV comedy writer, and the way to get
started is to write episodes for current sitcoms and send them around, so I'm working on building my portfolio,” Thompson said. Scott said his big move came after he “wrote and directed a movie called Sticky Fingers and then co-wrote and directed Starbuck.” He credits co-writer Martin Pettit who was also in Scott’s comedy troupe for the concept. “He had the Ken Scott is part of a new wave of Canadian directors in idea of this sperm donor Hollywood. ( Stéphane Najman) that would end up with many, many children and change) what made them so popular in the we thought it was a great premise to explore what fatherhood is all first place,” Thompson said. For Scott, the difference between shooting about, and also to have some great comedy,” a movie in Quebec and shooting in the studio Scott said. “Producer Andre Rouleau and I set out to system can come down to dollars and cents. Delivery Man was a small budget for the find the right partners to make” the movie in English, he said. “We met with different pos- studio at $20-millions but it is considerably sible producers and different studios but it’s more than the type of budget you can get in only when we sat down with Steven Spiel- Quebec. For comparison Starbuck had a $5.6-milberg, Stacey Snider and Holly Bario from DreamWorks that we felt we had the right lion budget. Scott said, “I didn’t feel that I had a difpartners to make this movie in English.” “After doing the original I always felt there ferent approach. For me it is always about was a great possibility of reaching out to a storytelling… trying to tell the story in the non-French speaking audience with an En- best way.” “The number of trucks around the set does glish remake,” said Scott. He laughed at the idea that his previous not have that big an influence when you are work would be classified Indie because it actually there with the actors trying to tell the was a Canadian production. “I wouldn’t say story. You do have a few more cameras and the movies that I did before Delivery Man a few more gadgets, but it still comes down were Indie, I’ve always wanted to reach out to storytelling.” Thompson said that’s an important to a fairly broad audience,” Scott said. “They were smaller budgets – I guess in Quebec we distinction. “Canadian directors don't have smaller budgets than movies produced have access to the big money… when working here in Canada, but the money in the studio system.” But Thompson said he thought “it's great doesn't always make the movies any better.” Thompson said Canadian filmmakers can that independent Canadian directors are startgo as big or small as they want to. “I've ing to get some attention in Hollywood.” Thompson, who is familiar with Scott’s found that when making a film you can make work, said he is more impressed with fel- it as difficult or as simple as you want. If you low Canadian director Denis Villeneuve for have the money and time and equipment you his work on Hollywood blockbuster Prison- can go big and get fancy, but if you don't, you ers. He said Villeneuve “maintained artis- can still make a great film. “You just have to be smart about it and base tic integrity and his style.“The downside of these filmmakers moving to Hollywood is your films around things you already have.” that sometimes they lose (or are forced to
Asian Representation The forgotten minority in the film industry
he lowered her gaze then quickly looked up again with a steel-eyed expression. Lifting her chin, she spoke in a challenging voice, a voice most befitting a princess of a conquered tribe. Not even three words into her sentence, the young Chinese actress fumbled her lines. She exhaled slowly and repositioned herself to try again. Leanne Wang is a Chinese-Canadian actress working in Toronto. She practiced her lines fervently hoping to land a lead role as a Chinese-Mongolian princess in an upcoming TV series. Wang explained her excitement about this role simply. “There aren’t many roles out there for Asian actors to begin with,” she said. “Lead roles are even more rare.” Underrepresentation of Asians in the Canadian film and television industry is a major concern for Asian-Canadians, especially in a country that prides itself on celebrating multiculturalism. According to Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, one in five Canadians identify themselves as a visible minority. Thirty-five per cent of them include Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and Southeast Asian, making this the largest group of visible minorities. For the purposes of this article, this group will be referred to as Asian. Wang has encountered difficulties working as a Chinese-Canadian actress in Toronto. “Before I got into the industry I thought being a minority would be a good thing because you don’t see a lot of Asians on TV, in Hollywood or in movies,” said Wang. She said she thought being Asian might give her an edge. “It was naïve of me to think that because I soon realized there’s a reason why I don’t see any Asian people (on screen). It’s not like they’re not out there. There just aren’t any roles available,” she said. She expressed her belief that most roles written for TV or film are designated for Caucasians, sometimes African-Canadian actors. “You rarely see any Asian roles. For a Caucasian actor, they can have two to three auditions per day, Monday to Friday. I might be lucky to get two or three auditions a month,” she said. The rarity of roles available to Asian actors in North America, let alone Canada, might explain why so many North American bred Asian
talents head over to Asia to pursue their careers. Even with language as a barrier, they’re still more in demand in Asia than in the country they call home. Hubert Tran is a Chinese-Canadian actor who recently made the move to Hong Kong in order to pursue his acting career. Formally trained in Canada, Tran graduated from the acting for film and television program at Humber College. “Being the only Asian in the program, I’ve had my share of difficulties,” Tran said. Tran heard many stereotypical remarks, almost every day. “I would get things like ‘I didn’t know Asians could be so tall’ or ‘Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re pretty good looking for an Asian’.” He remembers his first day at school. “This guy came up to me and asked if I knew Kung Fu. It’s not because they were racist,” he said. “A lot of people in my program came from small Canadian towns where there weren’t any Asians so the few things they knew about Asians was what was stereotypically portrayed on television.” Upon graduating, Tran worked as an actor in Toronto for a couple of years before moving to Hong Kong in 2013. “Language is a barrier for me (in Hong Kong). I’m still improving my Cantonese. But now whenever I do go out for a role, it’s for a main role and not supporting. It’s a good change,” he said. Tran decided to move to Hong Kong when he auditioned for a role in The Immortal Instruments, the 2013 film based on the first book, by Cassandra Clare, in a series by the same name. “They ended up casting Godfrey Gao, a pretty famous guy in Taiwan and China,” said Tran. “I realized it’s all a business, and to appeal to the (Chinese) market they had to cast a (big) name to star in the production,” he said. This gave Tran an idea. “I (thought) that if I made a name for myself in Asia it would be easier to be cast in productions in North America,” he said. Godfrey Gao plays Magnus Bane in The Immortal Instruments and also happens to be Chinese-Canadian. He and his family immigrated to Vancouver during his childhood and he later
moved back to Taiwan to pursue his modeling career. Gao is known as the world’s first male Asian supermodel and gained this title when he became the first male Asian to be the face of Louis Vuitton. Andrew Chung is a director and screenwriter. He’s the creator of Millions, an upcoming web series that features an all-Asian lead cast. “I’ve always felt that Asian-Canadian representation was forgotten,” he said. “We’re the forgotten minority in this country when in reality you look around and we’re probably the largest population in the country.” Chung, who goes by Andrew C., says lack of representation in media is something he feels strongly about and is what inspired him to create Millions. “As a filmmaker I make a concerted effort to cast Asian leads,” he said. “There’s not enough of them so I feel like it’s my responsibility, as (an) Asian filmmaker, to put our faces on the screen and to create role models for young Asian kids.” Millions is about a group of friends who decide to become millionaires before they turn 30, a pact they make in high school. They decide to take action and embark on this goal after a tragedy occurs within their friend group. Chung wrote Millions in film school when he studied screenwriting at the Vancouver Film School. It was his TV pilot project and received positive feedback from a lot of people. “(The response) gave me confidence,” said Chung. He decided to produce Millions as a web series himself because he felt it was the only way to execute his vision without depending on another production company or network. “No network was going to pick up a TV show with Asian faces on screen,” said Chung. “It’s not a racist thing, or a discrimination thing, it’s a money thing … From a financial perspective there’s more risk in taking on a show that has been untested with Asian faces on screen. I knew I had to do it myself,” he said. Chung says the situation in Canada is slightly different than the U.S. because actors of ethnic descent are more represented in the U.S. than their Canadian counterparts. He says he believes this is partially because Canada is still a young country and while it does have a largely diverse
d 5 an ges 5 a p er os on Phot Omar Sa y b 58 6-57 ges 5 a p o on Phot nny Loh h by Jo
population, it is mostly of first generation immigrants. America, on the other hand, has more history and the immigrant generations have older roots and are more established. However, Chung admits positive changes are happening in Canada. Part of the credit for this change goes to the members of the Asian film and television community taking action. “The community is very supportive of itself. If it weren’t for a lot of Asian film festivals and organizations, projects like mine wouldn’t be given the time of day,” said Chung. “A lot of festivals and organizations will support your project because of what you stand for. It’s about supporting your community,” he said. Richard Young is a Canadian actor, writer, and producer of South Asian descent. His acting credits include Saving Hope, Degrassi, Mayday, and King. He also plays the lead role in the feature film English Butler Masala Chai. He, like Chung, says the industry is experiencing positive change. Young gives two recent examples of this change in North American media. First, The Fantastic Four, set for theatrical release in 2015, stars Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, traditionally a Caucasian character. He is also brother to the Invisible Woman. Jordan is African-American, while Kate Mara, set to play the Invisible Woman, is Caucasian. The second example Young provided is in the new Marvel comic book, Miss Marvel. The newest Marvel title features a 16-year-old Muslim Pakistani girl raised in New Jersey as the main character. Young said visible minorities can be represented at different levels. “It’s like the levels of representation go from no representation at all to the most offensive ethnic stereotypes there are,” he said. There are several different levels of representation, Young said. Sometimes a person can be cast based purely on their race, or that sometimes there’s a
sense of “colourblindness,” he said: A minority is cast but their race is never acknowledged. Last is when a minority is cast and their racial identity is partially acknowledged in a way that doesn’t single them out. “Some shows actually do this,” Young said. “But I think we’re often lost in the stage (where) the character is only there (because of) their (racial) identity.” Young also produces his own comedy web series, Off2Kali. In the second season of the series he made sure to cast a multitude of races. “I am more than just my race. That being said, I still am my race. So I think the fact that I can talk about being a guy or a comic book geek or a brown guy or a guy from Toronto or a Canadian contributes to the multiple aspects of me as a person,” he said. Young is also a member of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) diversity committee. “(ACTRA) and these committees make sure that we have proper representation in the industry,” said Young. “Because (many) actors have different concerns, we try to make sure we address them.” As frustrating as the lack of representation of visible minority actors can be, it’s better to use that frustration to take action, said Young. ACTRA’S diversity committee allows him to “be part of a whole bunch of filmmakers who are just as frustrated, but turn that into action by writing stories and celebrating each other’s stories,” he said. Young says he’s built a strong network through the ACTRA diversity committee. “We struggle together but we also celebrate each other’s successes and we all end up working together,” he said. Offering some encouraging words to actors of visible minority, Young said, “(Even though) there’s a lot of negative stuff …, ask yourselves, ‘What am I going to do to contribute?’ ”
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LGBT Actors Stepping straight into queer roles Christina Succi
it doesn’t matter if I’m going for a gay or straight part.” Canadian actor Jade Hassouné, who has acted in Heartcting is not about being someone different; it’s land and Cyberbully, has a similar view. about finding the similarity in what is apparently “Love and sexual energy are universal,” he said. “A hudifferent and then finding yourself there. This is a man is a human. Any aligned, connected human or actor quote by Meryl Streep and it’s safe to say, after winning can access whatever energy is required for the role.” three Academy Awards and being nominated for 18, she Benson worked with Hassouné in season seven of Heartknows a thing or two about acting. land and agrees that it’s never been remotely relevant when An actor is required to find a way to relate to the character auditioning for a role because it’s his job as an actor to in order to successfully portray him or her. But using this “transfer those human elements to my own experience or concept can be a struggle, espeimaginative version.” cially when it comes to lesbian, At one point in film it was a gay, bisexual and/or transgender struggle for women and visible roles. minorities to break into the indusGreat acting is in some ways try. There is no doubt that today, about finding that medium which the LGBT community has entered makes the actor and the character the public sphere and has a presone and the same. If this is the forence in film and television. And mula for successful acting, can it that presence is one that’s growing be assumed it is the same when it every day. However, just because comes to sexual orientation? the roles exist, this does not legitiActor Shaun Benson, who’s had mize or validate gays and lesbians roles in General Hospital, K-19, in the industry. The Widowmaker and HeartFor example, many box office land, said it doesn’t matter to him hits from the last 20 years, such whether it’s a different race, a as My Best Friend’s Wedding, The different age, a different job or a Next Best Thing and Friends with different sexuality. Benefits, use lead straight roles “I don’t really care if it’s me fallwith supporting gay roles. This ing in love with a guy or with a duet of roles is constantly seen in girl as long as it’s a good story or comedic films, in which the supa good script,” he said. porting character is limited to the For Benson, all that matters Shaun Benson self-portrait “gay best friend” who lends advice when taking on a role with an to the straight main character. LGBT element in the relationship While there have been many is acknowledging the constant variable in the equation: the films and television series with LGBT characters, the roles feeling of love, the feeling of sex. Benson said these feel- we’ve seen on camera are still stereotypical of what popings are what motivates his acting, regardless of the actor ular culture believes to be a “gay” person. Often, gay men opposite him. are represented in comic roles with a lisp and extremely “If I have to play a love scene with a girl or guy I might flamboyant attitudes, which only reinforces stereotypes not be acting as though I’m in love with that girl, I might be and harmful clichés about the LGBT community. using something else to motivate me,” he said. “Similarly, Benson related this idea back to strong female lead roles
Jade Hassouné as Prince Ahmed Al Saeed on set for the TV series Heartland (cbc.ca)
in film. “I think the next point we need to get to is the ‘who cares?’ And it’s the same thing with women. There needs to be more characters who are leads. But it isn’t about them being women, they just happen to be women.” “Who cares whether the actor is gay, whether the role is gay, or if the character is gay,” he said. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported that of 101 releases from major studios in 2012 only 14 included lesbian, gay or bisexual roles. Most of these roles were no more than a cameo or minor role, and none were transgender. Major studios appear reluctant to include LGBT characters in significant roles or franchises. The 2013 Studio Responsibility Index¬ report examined six studios by the LGBT-inclusive films they produced. The worst contenders were 20th Century Fox and Disney. Both failed the grade completely. Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner
Brothers didn’t fare as poorly, receiving only an adequate grade. Canadian actress Candice Mausner, who has had roles on Surviving Crooked Lake and Hunting Season, said an actor’s job is to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” according to famed acting teacher Sanford Meisner. She said the prospect of a challenging role, for instance an LGBT character, is exciting. “To find out that you’re auditioning for a gay character is just one exciting building block to the complex human that you’re going to bring to life,” says Mausner. “So I don’t think playing a gay character is any different than playing a character with any other prominent characteristics that differ from my own.” So, it may be a simple decision for heterosexual actors to decide on LGBT roles, but if there are talented gay actors available, should they be given preference in casting? Jian Ghomeshi, author and CBC radio host, asked director of Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallée, if he considered a trans-
gender actor for Leto’s Oscar-winning role. “Never,” he said. “Is there any transgender actor? To my knowledge, I don’t know one.” Mausner said, in her opinion, being openly LGBT may lead to difficulties in landing a straight role. “There is definitely a stigma around openly gay actors who wish to play gay roles,” she said. Why does it matter? Hassouné said he strongly believes it should never matter in the film industry or in any industry. “I see no difference. I think (an) actor’s sexuality is irrelevant, and it should not matter at all in any field,” said Hassouné. “We are actors. We play characters. There’s no difference between a straight person playing an LGBT person, or an LGBT person playing a straight person.” Breaking down these barriers is difficult, but not impossible. Just like the journey women once embarked on in fighting for lead roles in film. Perhaps this too will be a successful journey over time.
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EQUALITY ON THE SILVER SCREEN The experience of African-American film professionals Shoynear Morrison
stablishing yourself as a filmmaker is always ongoing. It’s a tough business, but if I think about how difficult it is the thought becomes very discouraging. It’s more inspirational to think of the film industry as a business where there are lots of opportunities out there and it’s about you finding your way in this scope of opportunity,” said filmmaker Alison Duke Duke and Dawn Wilkinson are two notable African-Canadian filmmakers. Together they represent a small minority of the Canadian population. The film industry allows them to be the voice that they do not hear and to be the visuals that they do not see. Directors and producers are able to implement a transformation within society that can only be attained through the media. Duke believes with movies like 12 Years a Slave, which won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this is the time for black Canadian filmmakers to become more present. Duke is a director and producer of independent films and formed Goldelox Production in 2001. Her films usually focus on marginalized demographic groups such as black, female, and queer. “I like directing more” she said. “I love producing but I feel like my voice is getting stronger through directing. I feel like there is a certain vision that might be missing from the market place and I can fill a calling that way.” Duke has a graduate degree in kinesiology, but found her niche in filmmaking. “I had a whole other life besides making films,” she said with a smile. “I was an athlete, I played basketball, I played in Europe for a little bit. I was inducted to the Sports of Hall of Fame in 2009 for the University
of Windsor. I thought I would either be a doctor or be an artist and I feel like I’m an artist now after all these years.” Duke decided she wanted to become a filmmaker in her early thirties. “I was very interested in writing,” she said. “I was writing about entertainment, culture and the arts in the black community specially the urban community.” She wrote primar-
artist. We made over 100 music videos and were nominated for nine Much Music video awards.” Raje was in operation for roughly four and a half years. The company was a launching pad for several black Canadian filmmakers. Wilkinson has recently directed four episodes of the hit television show Degrassi the Next Generation. She also directed episodes of the prime-time CBC dramas Murdoch Mysteries and Republic of Doyle. Wilkinson began her career majoring in Women and African Studies at the University of Toronto. After watching films by Maya Deren in a Women and Films course she was inspired to create her first film Dandelions. Raisin’ Kane a Rapumentary was Duke’s first film. “It was a film made with the National Film Board of Canada,” she said. “It was about my brother’s band Citizen Kane trying to release their first album in the music industry as independents. It was looking at black men as entrepreneurs, like a David and Goliath story.” The film won a HBO award and launched Duke’s career as a documentarian. Duke believes that the mindset of an African-Canadian filmmaker should be one of resilience. “When I think about racism, sexism and homophobia, I think about it in terms of privilege and oppresDirector and producer Alison Duke focuses her films on sion. I think of it in the ways black, female queer archetypes. (Shoynear Morrison) of what are the opportunities I can give myself so I can emily about social issues. “I was very inter- power myself instead of letting a system, ested in my voice, the community voice that is no different than the larger society, and having a critical voice out there in the overwhelm me.” Duke’s stories display socommunity.” cietal injustice through the oppression of She was approached by a friend to help sexism, racism and homophobia. him produce a music video and used her Through cinema, Duke claims her agenorganizational skills to accept the chal- cy and is not a victim to the prejudice that lenge. In the 1990s, Duke started making she may endure. These are the stories that music videos and later formed the film she is interested in and by no means does company Raje Film House “it was a bou- Duke feels a sense of obligation to produce tique film company,” she said. “We came these contents. These are the films that she together to make music videos for urban is passionate about, but she is not a martyr.
Dawn Wikinson on the set of Degrassi (Stephen Scott/ Epitome Pictures Inc.)
These are the stories she loves and has a large international audience for. “As a filmmaker you need to figure out very quickly who is your audience, that’s the way to survive in this industry. Don’t be concerned so much with who is oppressing you, find out who can empower you.” Wilkinson further advises to “find your voice, tell your story and make the work however you can.” Wilkinson believes that more stories that can be depicted with diversity need to come forward. “I need to encourage that,” Dawn said. “If you want to see something on TV that you are not seeing then create it.” University of Toronto Cinema Studies Professor Kass Banning wrote an article called Conjugating The Three Moments in Black Canadian Cinema. In the article she states “black film production in the West, be it British, American and Canadian, could be characterized as roughly following a similar trajectory over the past 30 years. It is greatly acknowledged that emerging black cinema from the 1960s through the 1980s was a response to the systemic exclusion and marginalization from film production, as well as misrepresentation and racist depiction in the mass media. While this phase of black imagining could be identified as corrective imaging, self-representation also served as a central conduct for agency and transformation.” Professor Banning is depicting a driving force behind the black Cana-
dian film industry. The camera is Duke and Wilkinson’s weapon and the content is their voice against discrimination. Duke’s creative process is to tell stories that change and inspire her. One of Duke’s most recent works, Positive Woman Exposing Injustice, is a documentary about women who are HIV positive. “It was a 45 minute film,” she said. One woman lived in Montreal, one was in Saskatchewan, and two were in Toronto. I had to show the story of women living with HIV in Canada and how the law criminalizes them.” The documentary completed a tour across North America with 70 screenings within Canada. “Every story I learn something because every story I go into it not knowing as much,” Duke said. “I try to choose stories that challenge me on all levels.” Wilkinson has learned the most from her film Devotion, which she wrote, directed, and produced. “It was my first feature,” she said. “It was the first time that I was telling a story in a longer format. So I had more time to work with the actors and you shoot more days.” Duke believes colaberation between African-Canadian filmmakers is very important and is lacking in the industry. African-Canadian filmmakers need to make more opportunities to come together and promote their work with each other, she added. “I try to go to everybody’s films.
I want to see what everyone is doing and I want to support that.” “Alison was the producer for the first music video I ever worked on as a production assistant, she’s wonderful,” Wilkinson said. “That’s more of what we have to do. We have to open doors for each other because we have some shared experiences,” she said. Wilkinson believes perseverance is essential to a successful filmmaking career. “It’s ground breaking work for all of us who are doing it. So you can’t take no for an answer” she said. She suggests young black filmmakers “have something to say” in order to be successful. “There is an onslaught between YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and cable it’s endless. So if you’re going to contribute to that, have something to say.” Duke, who was recently accepted into York University’s MFA in film production program, believes that a filmmaker needs to recognize how they measure success. “My measure of success is when I’m satisfied with the work,” she said. Duke explains that it’s a tough business for everyone. “Every film brings its own challenges but I like to be challenged, I welcome that,” she said. When you factor in race, gender and sexuality it becomes more challenging. “Think of yourself as being on a journey to becoming the best filmmaker you can be.”
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Published on May 1, 2014
Published on May 1, 2014
Fine Cut is a magazine for the film and television industry in Canada. Created by post grad journalism students in the Humber College Schoo...