Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where'd everybody go?!

I enjoy my regular jaunts around the blogosphere and today I hit upon an entry by Mr. Henshaw entitled "What does it all mean?"

In his post he talks about how many of the people he's talked to - okay, pretty much everyone he's talked to - couldn't give a care about TV these days, let alone TV of the Canadian variety. At the end of it all he asks the question "Why doesn't our audience care anymore -- and how do we get them back?"

Now, this is something that's been sitting in the back of my mind for a while now, something that's been crawling under my skin - it's the fact that so many people are working so hard to create good TV and they're being let down where it really counts.

Simply put: People don't care because they're not given a reason to.

I know I've always considered myself a proud Canadian - I'm an active voter and quite intrigued by the politics that run my country.

But up until a couple years ago you couldn't PAY me to watch Canadian TV. Sure, I'd seen The Littlest Hobo and Zardip's Search for Healthy Wellness when I was growing up but as a young adult Canadian TV just looked so boring. It always seemed like a pale imitation of something that was already being done better; Like buying Nyke or Pumal in the hopes that no one would notice from a distance. It was like the shows were made not because they were good, but because they were Canadian. Now, I'm sure there was good TV in there, I'm sure there were solid stories and great character development. But no matter what, it just seemed... off.

Interestingly enough, that's one of the things that made me decide that I want to stay here to write. We shouldn't have to copy others, we can tell great stories on our own.

And we're doing it.

In recent years things have been getting better: Corner Gas, Little Mosque, JPod, BloodTies, Sophie, The Border. We're getting better.

However I think there's still a large chunk of the country that sees Canadian TV in general as, well, boring. Unfortunately a lot of that 'Canadian TV' moniker gets dumped on the CBC. "You watch CBC (read: Canadian TV) for Hockey and News and that's it". So it ends up that the 'old' people watch what they're used to watching (news, hockey) and the 'young' people watch other (American) channels.

So. How do we change that? Well, the good news is that it's easier than some might think. The sad part is it means 1) More work for the already overworked and 2) breaking some new ground.

It all begins and ends with promotion. And if you think that promotion is only what you see on TV and Radio, the internet and the ol' news paper - well, please come over so I can smack you.

See, I think that's what really bugs me. In this country Promotion is so two-dimensional. Especially for Canadian TV. My GAWD.

Just to be clear, I saw the promotions for ELIJAH and they bored the hell out of me. It did not make me want to watch that show - and I DO actually watch CTV these days. I even have access to a PVR and it didn't inspire me to tape it. Why? It didn't sell me. There was no hook that made me say 'hey, this looks interesting' - though AFTER finding out about the story from Mr. McGrath's blog (reading it after it's airing no less) and that it was about the Meech Lake accord, THEN I was interested.

What kills me about Canadian TV promotion is that it is Lazy. I'm sorry, but it is. And I'm speaking entirely as a TV watcher here - well, TV watcher with a bit of a background in Promotions. See, you gotta get out there - and not just on TV. I mean, beat the F'n streets. I mean get the main actors on prominent Canadian talk shows (other than radio!) Do live webcasts and appearances. I mean WORK.

At least until things get better.

I ran my own promotions company back in the day (promoting independant Canadian Artists, Filmmakers and Musicians, no less) and I'll tell you that one of the greatest disservices we do to our own is treat them like one of our own. We sit here and wonder why Canadians look down on our celebs until they make it elsewhere? Well, that's why. We don't give them any glory here. We don't make them feel and look like Celebrities.

We don't have a separation between our heroes and our everymen.

Why the hell would anyone feel anything but contempt for someone who's supposedly 'famous' here but unrecognized by the masses? Celebrities are made because everyone agrees that that person is someone special, someone worth knowing more about, someone worth following.

Our viewers aren't even given that option. They look down south and see people swooning over Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt - but no one cares about Natalie Brown or Adam Beech. They're beautiful people as well (as are many other fine Canadian actors and actresses) but what do we know about them?

Someone like Sonja Smits (her Imdb profile doesn't even have a picture!!) or Eric Peterson or Paul Gross (None of them have IMDB photos!! shame on them!) should be rightfully mobbed in this country. Let alone up-and-comers and established directors.

We see all these people down South getting glory and being mobbed but here, hell, I've waited behind Don McKellar in line to get to the ATM before and no one batted an eye.

We don't have a celebrity culture for our celebrities so there's no DRAW for them (or reason to follow them) when they do come to a show.

And it's not that we don't care. It's that we're not MADE to care. Promotions for Canadian TV are a piss-poor, lackluster shade of what passes for B-Level in the States. And THAT's the problem. Our TV is growing up, we're working to move out of the US's shadow, we're telling our own stories - but our Promotions are poorly-funded carbon copies of what the US is doing. (Emphasis on 'poorly funded' - I know there are a good number of you out there working as best you can with what you got).

But the proof is in the pudding (sorry for that).

We're a smaller population with a larger geographic dispersal. Just cause you put up a 10 second promo on TV... it guarantees you nothing. We have to WORK. We have to start putting aggressive promotional clauses in Actor's contracts. We have to start building interest in people who choose to stay here and what they're doing. Why are they staying here? Why NOT hop off to the States?

We can use that 'homegrown' thing as more than just an ante chip - people are passionate about their country (Go watch a good Hockey game).

And that's what's missing. I want to connect with the people I'm supposed to connect with on TV, with the characters I'm supposed to care about. I want to know more about these people who snub their nose at the 'easy' (easier) system and fight to keep it here in their own country.

I guaran-damn-tee you that if we start seeing some actual damn passion (yes, it's bolded) from people all down the chain then you'll have people watching. You'll have people tuned in.

Promotions is NOT just the guys (or gals) in suits playing with Photoshop or their Avid rigs (though it's a large part). It's every single person along the chain being so unabashedly INTO their work that they cannot help but WANT to talk about it (uh, you know, PROMOTE IT).

It's people working their asses off against failure rates so abysmal that you're almost better off flipping burgers or sitting in a cubicle.

Yet people continue to fight to tell stories or promote stories or direct stories. Why? Because they believe. They have passion. So USE that. Every step of the damn way, all down the chain. Show the viewer why YOU ARE WORTH THEIR TIME and they will come.

I guarantee it.


EDIT: Yes, I recognize the fact that I'm giving people shit for copying American-style advertising (poorly) and then suggesting that we adopt another version of the same thing. The truth is that Americans have Promotion down to a science and their 'celebrity' system is, hands down, one of the best forms of promotion that I've ever seen.

Hey, what can I say? If you're going to copy something, copy the best and make it your own. Unfortunately while we don't have the money to make something like that happen here, we do have the Heart (which seems to connect with Canadians more anyways). Start with small, grass roots promotions - talk about shows WHILE THEY'RE BEING MADE. Build a buzz. Fan the flames. Build on it with passionate, infectious enthusiasm.

What do we really have to lose?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What?! A Sunday update?!

I have to say that I'm really enjoying my weekends these days; having the free time to just write whatever pops into my head.

Of the many little side projects I've been working on, I've also been working on coming up with other ideas - loading the arsenal so to speak. I read somewhere about the concept of an 'idea book', a small place to keep all the crazy stuff that floats around in my head. As much as I like the concept I'm not sure if it's something I'm all that willing to adopt.

All in all I think that ideas are not something meant to be contained. Call me weird but I see them somewhat as living, breathing things - if you get an idea and you don't do anything with it, it has every right to move on to someone who will. Why hoard it for a rainy day?

Right now I've got about 8 really good ones holed up in my skull and I try to do little things with them all from time to time - even if I don't actually get around to 'writing' anything, I think about them, imagine, ask questions, expand and create. Keeping them separate can be a chore, but I see it almost like running a zoo. You feed and water and care for your ideas and in the end they reward you in their own little idea-ish sort of way.

No, I'm not drunk.

Anyways, the point of all this is that I've got a new addition to the family. I was riding the subway home on Saturday morning and I must've been tired 'cause though I know I got off to transfer to the North/South line, somehow I ended up back on the East/West. It was a realization that didn't hit home until I heard the station names being called out. The creepiest thing about it was that I didn't actually REMEMBER getting off the train. I knew I'd left, I knew I'd gone down the stairs and I knew I got onto the North/South train. But I didn't remember doing it. Like a blank spot in my memory, it just wasn't there. That freaked me the fuck out.

So, I got off at the next stop, doubled back and made my way home but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it actually wasn't there. The memory. It just didn't exist. For whatever reason, my brain did not record those actions or that moment in time.

But it kick-started something else.

So, one thing lead to another as my mind started to work it out and then gave up on the process. It apparently decided that since it had no raw material to work with that it'd just run off on its own steam. And, like a newborn screeching in the night, a tiny idea slammed into me, full on. A simple, clear, crazy-assed, fantastic idea for a story. A scary story. But there's no monsters, none of my usual fare. A genuinely creepy tale. And I've been writing ever since.

Anyways, all dark rooms and bright computer screens aside, I hope you're out there enjoying the beautiful day that Firefox insists is happening.

Me? Well, I've got another mouth to feed.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Okay, that took longer than I thought.

So, I figured that after all the hardcore writing and brain spasms that I'd take a bit of a break. You know, say 'adios' to the writing bug for a week or so, sit back, chill out - live a bit of la vida normale.

Only I forgot how seductive that way of life is. A week turned into a week and a half, almost 2 (entirely possible). I put the ol' laptop away, broke out my Wii and almost managed to finish Resident Evil 4 - One of like 15 games I've managed to accumulate over time under the guise of 'I'll get to these eventually'.

I also got medieval on my TV watching. I've decided to spend as much time as possible this summer surrounding myself with good, solid TV with the idea of following it up with some, um, not as good TV. The idea being that I hope I can kind of see where the idea faltered, or 'what went wrong'.

On the good end of the spectrum I've spent the last week and change watching: The entire first season of Mad Men, Jekyll (or GeeKill if you wanna get phonetic) and Durham County. I've also been watching my Battlestar Galactica (oh, poor Gaeta... what a great singing voice though) and re-watching the 1st season of 24.

Now there's a show that's become eerily relevant.

Yesterday I decided that it was time for me to break out of the grunge life and hit the keyboard again. Turns out it was a good idea 'cause I pumped out 15 pages for one of my other pet-projects. 15 pages. Wow. I think my record is 17 but most of those don't count 'cause I was drunk and most of them ended up being babble. Incidentally, one of the drunken ramblings on those pages ended up being the seed for my Battlestar Galactica story - so I guess that worked out all right in the end.

Anyways, it was nice to just turn off the creative flow for a bit - let the well fill up a tad. You know, get outside and let life inspire me some.

Okay, I didn't manage to get outside much, but I did get to shoot a lot of monsters.

Hey, I guess we all find our inspiration in different places.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Mission Accomplished! (3 Days early!)

I could've sat on it a bit longer, I could've poured over it some more - but I'm done. I'm done and I know I'm done.

Time to move on. As my grandpa would say: "It's all over but the cryin'."

Well, hopefully there's no crying involved.

As of 4:30pm my CFC Prime Time program application is out of my hands. I skipped out of work a tad early (I have to go back to finish some things...) and hopped on the TTC. What I would've thought'd take an hour or more ended up being around 40 mins and as I walked down the horseshoe driveway I kept thinking to myself 'remember to get a shot of this'. Of course, in the moment, I totally forgot (that figures).

Close to 5 months of work condensed into less than 500 pages (remember, the application, in triplicate...) - a package weighing less than 5lbs. As I walked up to the door, entered the building and handed the package off to the smiling receptionist I found myself pausing. Not because I had actually remembered to take the stupid photograph (wouldn't that've been nice) but because of how... anti-climactic... it felt. All that work, all that effort and *poof* "Thank you, have a nice day."

Welcome to the real world, Brandon.

I'm thinking that this is a feeling that I'll have to get used to - I have a sense this is the writer's bane, pouring ourselves onto the page and in return (if lucky) recieving a smile as it's handed off. I know I wasn't expecting trumpets and the like but still...

Oh well.

I ended up deciding against the cover art. If I can't get in on my writing skills alone then that's how it'll have to work. I can package it later should I end up pitching it to someone. Hopefully that'll happen after getting into and completing the program.

I've also decided to avoid going over the digital files now that it's handed in, I know that somehow I'll find a spelling error that I'd missed or a phrase that could be said better or shorter; And I know it'll drive me absolutely bonkers. It's done, it's put away - for the moment, at least.

So, what now?

Now begins phase 2 or II if you prefer. Research. R&D. I've got my Border spec to follow up on - so I'll probably watch the season a couple times. And take notes. Lots and lots of notes.

Maybe I'll see about enjoying my summer a bit. I'm not sure how the selection process is going to go, I'll be trying to figure out that balance of waiting by the phone and having a bit of fun. It's a delicate balance, to be sure - especially considering the finances - but I'm sure I can work something out.

Other than that, well, I'll be here - Bill C-10's still slithering around out there and the CTF thing should be coming to a head soon. Hopefully we'll be able to kick those suckers back to the curb.

Either way, I've got lots to do and lots to learn.

Might as well get to it.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Single digits... (5 Days remaining...)

The days are winding down, the finish line's in sight. I've been pouring over every aspect of my application - spelling, grammar, you name it. I don't think I've put so much work into any single thing in my whole life. I started printing things out last night, started to see how all the pieces fit and... well, it was really intense.

Filling out forms in triplicate - instead of photocopying - and fussing over fonts is a new thing for me. I usually let little details like that sort themselves out, but there I am trying to decide if I'm going with serif or sans-serif and if italics are simply TOO much. I have a pretty strong design background (a few years of art college doesn't hurt) and I think I've got a pretty good eye, but for the first time I'm finding myself unsure; re-thinking simple decisions that I normally wouldn't give a second thought. Hell, even back in art school I never obsessed over things like I am now.

My biggest challenge of the moment is that I'm trying to decide if I should include some of the Savage Knights character art that I've done. The guidelines don't ask for frills like that, but I was thinking about going that extra mile and printing them on the individual application folders. I mean, I've got to submit 3 copies of the same information so I was thinking that I might, you know, change it up a bit - give it that visual punch.

It's a risk because, really, my writing should stand out for itself - but on the other side of the coin, if I have put extra thought into things, if I have already done the work, why not show it? Am I straying into 'printing-your-resume-on-coloured-paper-and-spraying-it-with-perfume' territory?

I dunno.

I've still got a bit of time to figure things out, it's an agonizing decision for me because now that the writing's done I'm all about trying to SELL the package; trying to make it as visually interesting as possible (I think that's my promotions background kicking in...).

Maybe I just need to relax and put the faith in what I've done.

Realistically, if I do get in it won't be because I put some cool art on the folder covers, it'll be because they liked what I have floating around in my head. But still... the art is pretty cool.

Does it hurt to dress the windows a bit? Or should I stick with the crowd on this one?


Friday, May 02, 2008

A Dividing Line (10 Days Remaining...)

I've been an off-and-on consumer of Jill Golick's Story2Oh story/experiment over the last while. It was a fun diversion when I was bored, at the very least.

Well, apparently someone decided that they didn't like the story she was trying to tell because after an appearance at CaseCamp (a New Media industry shindig) many of her fictional characters' Facebook profiles were summarily deleted - apparently she breached the site's TOS by having 'fictional' characters.

Now there's been a lot of finger-pointing and gnashing-of-teeth yet the official excuse, to me, just comes off like a childish attempt at spin. "You broke Facebook's TOS" might as well be: "You broke my dolly!" "Yeah, well, it was in my way - you should know better!"

I mean, really... "breach of TOS"? It's not like she was using Fictional characters to spout Hate speech.

Anyways, I digress...

This shitstorm has been going on for a while - Mr. McGrath has a great summation of it on his site - but I've been sitting on it. Thinking. There's something missing in all this, something I don't think people are getting. I want to say it's just the 'new media types' but there's a wide variety of people that just don't seem to understand what all the fuss is about.

Allow me to break it down a bit - play it from another angle for you:

How would these new media types (or anyone, for that matter) feel if someone - someone who they didn't know - showed up out of nowhere and had a huge chunk of their work destroyed on a simple technicality? What if it was destroyed without their knowledge and they had no way of getting it back? Work that they had put hours or days or months into just... gone... with a little message saying "Oh, yeah, by the way, you broke Rule 432 of Article" in its place?

They'd be pretty rightfully pissed off. At least I would be.

After careful consideration, I think what bugs me the most about this whole thing is the lack of basic decency and understanding in the matter.

I mean, hey, if Jill broke a site's TOS, that's fine - but there was no consideration given at any step along the way. Especially knowing what she was trying to accomplish.

No one saying 'hey, you broke the TOS we're going to have your accounts deleted'. No warning, no chance for her to at least back up parts of her story that are now irrevocably deleted.

Someone was sneaky, went behind her back and had her creation destroyed.

Simple as that.

There could've been an open dialogue. There could've been pleasantries and warnings, there could've been time and accomodations made through the use of 'communication' (that wonderful word that seems to be thrown around but seldom acted upon) so that she would not lose vital information.

All of those things COULD have happened.

But someone chose not to.

And THAT is what gets under my skin. It was unnecessarily destructive. It was an action that served no purpose other than to create harm.

We can talk about sitting around in circles and singing kumbayah all day and dreaming of the wonderful world we want to 'create together' but until people start acting with basic Human decency you can kiss that dream goodbye.

What's most troubling to me is that it's such a simple thing - a courtesy, if you need the label - and it was missed (or ignored). Frankly, it all seems very cold to me.

In the end someone's need to be destructive overruled someone's intent to be creative.

And that, perhaps, is the greatest shame of it all.