Monthly Archives: April 2013

Why have we played Host & Mistress to so many Hollywood big boys? Why don’t Canadians watch their own films?

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Imagine if Canada created a Hollywood North. Indeed, Canada’s first response to the primacy of Hollywood was creating a Hollywood North; it’s just that Hollywood in the States received a head start. Many of us are quick to call Canadian films “amateur”, but in reality several Canadian filmmakers excel at creating incredible films. D.W. Griffith, an American director best known for the film Birth of a Nation, once said, “You in Canada should not be dependent on either the United States or Great Britain. You should have your own films and exchange them with those of other countries. You can make them just as well in Toronto as in New York.” Then why are we so quick to assume that Canadian films are amateur? Why don’t Canadians watch Canadian films?

It was with no small amount of sadness that I watched the mini drama that unfolded over Ben Affleck’s Academy Award winning speech for Argo. For those who are unaware, former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, expected and ultimately received some mention of Canada’s role in the story Affleck was telling. When Affleck did mention Canada there was a good deal of cheering on Twitter from Canadians (‘OMG, he said Canada!‘). What it all meant to me was that Canada still has little culture of our own. We are still looking outside of our borders for legitimacy. This is true to varying degrees throughout the arts, but is especially true in the case of film.

           The film industry in Canada is a multi-billion dollar industry employing more than 100,000 people, with foreign production accounting for a large part of that. Still Canada seems to have a surplus of film talent, including many Academy Award winners and we do make films domestically – quite a lot of them actually. The problem is that while Canadians cheer when Ben Affleck says Canada, they do not know or care about Canadian film.

For those of you who live in the suburbs, don’t you ever wonder why there are next to no Canadian films being screened at local movie theatres chains? Living in Mississauga myself, I have yet to see a single Canadian movie played locally. The theatres in Mississauga, as well as those in the nearby suburbs, show only those productions coming from American, and occasionally from British, studios. To see a Canadian film, people in the suburbs have to make an hour long commute to Toronto, spending even more money on bus tickets. It’s difficult enough as it is for those living in the suburbs, but I can only imagine the struggle someone in a rural area would have to go through to commute to see the work of their fellow citizens – it must be nearly impossible. As a result, young people are growing up on a foreign entertainment industry that dominates their own country. With all these problems, you’d wonder what was wrong with the Canadian film industry…

The answer is nothing. Canada’s film industry produces several fantastic films a year. However, there may be outside factors playing into the fact that not many Canadians watch their own films. Being aware of how Hollywood got a head start would probably help us understand why Canada fell behind in the production of films and why American films dominate. Canada was slow in entering the film industry for several reasons. At the time when Hollywood was rising, there were no large cities in Canada. This meant that there was no audience for their films. Then no one wanted to invest money into Canadian films. Canadians have been known to be more careful with their money; it’s the Americans who are the risk-takers. Lastly, there existed no national live theatre yet, like Stratford.

If you think about the average budget for an American film, roughly 120 to 200 million dollars, and compare it to the amount Telefilm Canada distributes amongst numerous Canadians directors annually, 110 million dollars, you can see why it’s a much harder task to create a Canadian film. On top of this, the American film studios spend several millions of dollars on advertising their films, which is a huge advantage because it gets a large amount of people to actually watch their films. Unfortunately, since Canadian movies do not have that advantage, most Canadians go simply unaware of the Canadian films that do exist so they will not go and see it.

The American film industry also received a huge head start and advantage because of the world wars – European film studios were bombed during the wars, so American films filled the gap. American film studios gain access to a lot more money, and especially in these days since they hold the reigns on these huge corporations such as Time Warner, Sony, and others controlling much of the media, they obtain the extra money needed to spend on advertising. The U.S. enjoys a huge cultural influence market and has a large population– so mass amounts of people paid to go see the American movies and that meant that the studios rained money again to make bigger movies. Their diverse culture has also always been a big advantage to them, seeing as they had to make more accessible movies with simple plots and universal themes, and this attracted a wide variety of people, especially immigrants (the magic of American films is simply that they make films that everyone can relate to). Last, and most importantly, is that the Hollywood studios were organized into the Major Motion Picture Association and that means they work together to promote their films, to set up American movie chains in other countries and to distribute their films globally.

So it’s not so much that Canadian films aren’t well done, or that Canadians are simply uninterested in their own films – it’s more than that. The much larger institution backing this up, making sure the American movies are globally dominating the film industry, is to blame. When it comes down to the actual films that Canada is making, they are incredibly well done. Every year, Canadian films find a spot in Oscar nominations. Not amateur at all.

“From the Americans’ perspective, this is a huge market and they don’t want to give it up,” says Lindsay Gaughn of Dynamics Professional Videosystems. The company, in which he works in the sales department, is based in Mississauga, Ontario, one of the few Canadian film distributors. Gaughn points his finger at the ownership of that industry. “It depends on the distribution systems. Right now it seems to be controlled south of the border.” In fact, he notes that American companies control 95% of film distribution in Canada. Without Canadian films being distributed to theatres, its unlikely that many will specifically request them.

Matthew Ridell, a Ryerson student like myself, says he’s never seen a Canadian movie. “I don’t think people are informed enough to think ‘I want to see this movie because it’s Canadian and it interests me.’ Ridell feels that as long as advertising and publicity of such films are low, “I don’t think it’s ever going to work.” Another Ryerson student, Sara Marks, says she can’t recall ever seeing a full length Canadian feature film either. She thinks Canada is destined to do poorly in film because the population isn’t densely concentrated. In other countries, showing movies in a few urban centres would make them available to nearly the entire population. “If we send them [Canadian movies] over to Britain, the European market is huge. With Canada, it’s a bit hard because we’re so widely spread out.” She believes that Canadian content rulings, such as those imposed on radio and television stations, might be helpful. However, Marks can’t see the industry watchdog, the CRTC (Canadian Radio and Television Commission), having the money to expand its operations. “Like the National Film Board, their funding has been going down. It’s not really fair, but with health care going down it only makes sense to cut that too.”

Gaughn reminds us that the Canadian predicament is not seen in most other nations. “In certain countries like France they have a strict policy,” Gaughn notes, in reference to national content restrictions. He also gives some support to the notion of Canadian content regulations. This might force the cinemas to do the work to pick up a greater number of Canadian films, Marks thinks.

He finds Canada’s current method of dealing with low national content federal funding for certain films ineffective. Gaughn sees Telefilm, the federal agency that dispenses funding, as a biased and exclusionary method of promoting film. “The problem with publicly funded films,” he says, “is that they are invariably safe and unchallenging. The downside is that you don’t get good films.” Gaughn believes that the industry should be more market driven, with funding incentives given to films that seem capable of making money. “I think Bruce MacDonald made his first film, Roadkill, with very little public funding,” he says.

But Gaughn can’t see a political move to improve the chances of Canadian films anytime soon. And he can’t see any American acceptance of such a move. U.S. companies make a large amount of money in Canada, and tend to consider it part of their domestic market. “They won’t give up their golden egg without a fight,” he says.

The main problem is that it’s hard to persuade Canadians to watch their own films. In Peter Howell’s Toronto Star article, he states, “We Canadians enjoy making fun of how mild and self-deprecating we are on the world stage, but it’s a pity that many of us actually believe the joke. Nowhere is this defeatist attitude more evident than in our collective approach to our country’s films.” He goes on to talk about how Martin Knelman reported the facts and arguments of Starlight seeking CRTC muscle to force big cable operators Rogers, Shaw and Bell into providing the newcomer first-tier channel status. This sought-after “mandatory carriage” ruling, which the CRTC will consider in late April, would cost each Canadian cable subscriber just 45 cents per month on his or her bill. The money would also be used to fund between eight to 12 new features per year. “I think the idea is good and necessary (so does the Star) to support, promote and develop a domestic film industry that is forever in the shadow of the Hollywood giants. Yet the cable biggies are opposing it, for reasons succinctly described as “greed and control.”

It’s rather disheartening to see these prominent Canadians having to do a sales job to convince their fellow Canucks that the country’s films are worth watching. (I should note at this point that it’s mostly English Canadians who require the persuading, since Quebecers loyally support their province’s French-language productions.)

The irony of it all is that moviegoers outside Canada don’t require arm-twisting to see our movies. Canadian productions are actually gaining in popularity in the U.S. and overseas. There’s no stigma attached to them outside our borders.

You can see this at the Academy Awards, as mentioned above, where Canadian movies have landed a coveted Best Foreign Language Film nomination the past three years running: Rebelle this year, Monsieur Lazhar in 2012 and Incendies in 2011. This is over and above the regular love the Academy shows our NFB, which over the years has received 72 Oscar nominations, with 12 wins.

So what’s going on Canada? Everyone else is watching our films except us. Weird, eh?

hollywoodnorth

Here is a list of great films you probably thought weren’t Canadian but are:

Mama (2013) directed by Andres Muschietti

Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006) directed by Eric Canuel

Chloe (2009) directed by Atom Egoyan

One Week (2008) directed by Michael McGowan

Childstar (2004) directed by Don McKellar

Juno (2007) directed by Jason Reitman

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) directed by Edgar Wright

Passchendaele (2008) directed by Paul Gross

If you call yourself Canadian, you should go watch them.

 

PS: And isn’t it funny how so many American films are shot in Vancouver and Toronto? I’ll be writing more on this topic soon, so stay tuned…

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Artist Interview: Filmmaker & Screenwriter Cillian Daly

Cillian Daly: Filmmaker and Overall Cool Guy

Interviewer: Kimberly Viveiros

Cillian Daly is a talented director and screenwriter living in Ireland. I was incredibly excited when he agreed to an interview with me, and even more surprised to find out so much about him through so few questions. From what I got out of him, I know he is a husband and father who juggles filmmaking and screenwriting in his busy schedule, and has an amazing work ethic. He’s passionate about his projects and once he gets an idea or vision, he never stops until he makes it come to life.

Cillian first did a Model Making & Special Effects Diploma course when he went to the National Film & Television School in Dublin. His hope was to work in the film industry by way of model making and VFX, a tiny industry in Ireland at the time. He ended up getting a job working for an architectural consultancy firm making digital models and inserting them into photographs using Photoshop.

He stayed there for four years but his love of cinema got the better of him and he left to make his first ever film; “an appallingly bad horror movie – it was rubbish!” (as he puts it).

It did, however, get him into the film degree course in the National Film school where he specialized in screenwriting with a minor in directing. And his eight minute graduation film cost him more than his first ill-fated feature. His graduation film is titled This Way They Came and it’s been aired on the national broadcaster in Ireland several times.

Interviewer: How did you come to realize your love of film, and what motivated you to actually become a screenwriter/director?

Cillian: My earliest cinema memory is when Return Of The Jedi was released here [Ireland] in 1983. It was shown in a local cinema as a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back. Watching the scenes on Hoth with the AT-AT’s and Snowspeeders, sandwiched between my dad and older cousin in the 3rd row: that’s what pushed me towards movies. (My cousin is now a Production Designer for film and TV, my sister is a camera person in a national TV station — so it’s in the family!)

I wanted to do that, make those images outside my head, rather than contained in my imagination. That’s why I did model making first when I got out of school.

I had a very active imagination when I was a kid, still do! So making things up, acting out adventures on a grand scale with GI-Joe’s, and Star Wars figures, in a massive LEGO environment, during the summers after my Star Wars introduction, set me off.

My English teacher in secondary school (ages 13-18 here) always said I had a great imagination, and loved making stories up. Whenever we had to do essays, I’d be throwing in sci-fi references, weird stuff, rather than the usual everyday things. It drove him mad!

So my motivation was really a need to get these mad images out of my head, my own sort of catharsis I guess. And I’m still going!

Interviewer: When did you first start making films, and what was your first project? 

Cillian: My first major film was my horror feature. My family never had 8mm cameras, or old VHS camcorders. But my dad was very much into photography and in a way he trained my eye. The first movie camera I ever got was the DV cam that I shot my feature on. I was 21. Not like Spielberg or anything! I suppose I was always writing above all else. And I read a heck of a lot. I used to read novels cover to cover in a day. Just hide away in my room, and read. 

Interviewer: How do you overcome writer’s block when writing a screenplay?

Cillian: I don’t really get writers block. If a scene gets sticky, or I become demotivated to write it I either move onto a completely different project, or I push through. Write anything as a place holder, and go back and edit it when I feel better about it. Or go play on Twitter.

Interviewer: Has screenwriting gotten easier for you over time than it was in the beginning? Or is it “your process is still your process” and will not change?

Cillian: I guess with the continued practice of writing, writing, WRITING! it has gotten easier, at least as far as formatting because that has now become somewhat second nature. The main issue I have is putting cohesive ideas together so that they make for a compelling story, at least in my mind. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from feedback, mostly from my college peers and people I’ve met via Twitter. The thing with screenwriting, for me anyway, is that different movies can be tackled in many different ways. For the spec market, you can write in a specific style, quick, succinct, sparse with lots of white on the page, etc. But if you’re writing to direct, which my short scripts are, I can indulge myself, since I’m most likely to be the only one worrying about the description being right and clear. I’ve found it easier to differentiate between these types and edit my scripts accordingly.

To be honest, it has gotten easier. I’ve found a rhythm that I enjoy. Now I can write 18 page shorts in a few days, and get a few drafts of a feature turned over in a couple of months. Also, being married with a 2 year old son means I have to make time to write and just write in that time. So life experiences have honed my writing management 

So yes, it has gotten easier as I’ve matured, but whether it’s gotten any better content wise, is another thing entirely!

Interviewer: When you’re in-between projects, or coming up with your next idea, what are the things in life that inspire you or just kind of keep you turned on as an artist?

Cillian: I’ve usually got a few ideas going at the same time, I’m lucky in that I’ve yet to be short of any! I read a lot – history, especially to research and develop a seed of an idea that I get, or a scene I imagine. I have a passion for science, specifically astrophysics. I was this close to doing a science degree instead of model making all those years ago!

So I read that kind of stuff, novels of all sorts. I get lots of inspiration through that, and observing life around me. I usually carry a notebook, and when I’m out shopping, in malls, in work (part time consulting) I’m writing notes and ideas, lines of dialogue, that sort of thing. I go to the cinema as much as I can too, and I’m lucky to have many good friends here in the Irish film and media industry whose work inspires me to improve and do better. And I get a lot of imagery and some crazy ideas from my dreams. I’m lucky (maybe!) that I remember pretty much all of my dreams. So I pull stuff from them. My parents and what they’ve had to deal with in life have inspired me too. And dealing with loss – grandparents and pets, affects perspective, and I’ve used that grief and channeled it into my work, in a good way, hopefully. (I’m naturally dark when it comes to drama, I’m not content with the Hollywood happy ending, I like to keep a bit of an edge to it, keep it somewhat realistic. So life has informed that to some extent.)

Ideas are everywhere – it’s how your voice explains them that makes you out as special I guess!

Interviewer: Do outlines play a big part in your process in the beginning of your script? Do you beat out the whole story, or just dive in after page 1?

Cillian: What I’ve done on the last few features I’m working on, and all the ones that are still in the development stage, is to start a word file that I just throw anything I come up with that might be relevant to that story into. They usually start with one scene that has no story. I’ve yet to start with a character. I don’t think I ever will. I find the images I get first are what dictates the story that comes from that. That eventually becomes big enough to construct a basic story from.

Obviously not everything I put in there makes it out, but it’s good to just free flow ideas. And they sometimes jump to other stories. Within that doc are the character description, traits, the world they inhabit etc.

From there, I print that doc, highlight the scenes, lines, dialogue I want to keep and then write them out onto index cards. Then I arrange them into story order, and number them. I’ve yet to keep the numbers in the same order – everything changes! Then, I start with FADE IN. And then it all goes to hell in a handcart! 

But that’s the fun part.

Interviewer: Directing. Screenwriting. If you could only do one for the rest of your life, which would you choose to do? 

Cillian: Screenwriting. I have to write. Can’t help it. It’s a primal need with me. It’s a solitary thing too, an escape sometimes and I like that. I do love directing, but that only happens after the writing. And knowing I could write, but have to wait around for someone else to do it, that’d wreck my head!

If I got a spec sale or a few jobs from my spec writing, I’d keep writing. In reality, it might lead to a chance to direct professionally. As it is now, I’m prepping that feature to direct my self, and a I’ve a few spec adverts I’m going to make this year, all self financed and/or crowd funded. And with every favour I’m owed cashed in!!!

So, yes, screenwriting, no doubt. It’s what I am, and I’m okay with that. For now…!

 

To find out more about Cillian Daly’s film work and to follow his growing success check out his website http://www.cilliandaly.com.

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