Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tiny steps in a not-forward direction.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canadavotes/story/2008/09/29/harper-families.html

Okay.

So, if all Artists are 'Elitist' snobs and 'Ordinary Canadians' don't care about the Arts, then why is Harper suddenly so willing to give Canadian families a $500 a year tax credit "for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts activities"?

Suddenly NOW he cares about making sure your kids are all into the Arts and starting a life-long love affair, etc.

But I don't get it. Is he trying to breed more snobs?

Or does he know that by offering this tax credit to lower income families - who have to pay for the courses, etc. first and then claim it on their taxes - he gets to look good while having only a very few who will be able to afford taking him up on it?

With this paltry offering he gets to stand there and say 'Look! I love the Arts AND I love children! See!' as if that negates all the other damage he's done and will continue to do.

Smokescreens are fun!

Luckily no one's going to buy into this, right?

Cheers,
Brandon

EDIT:

Interesting fact:

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

That quote is from Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983)

It's also on the back of our $20 bill.

Just thought I'd mention that.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Flicker.

"So, how's your writing going?"

There was a sense of annoyance in my Dad's voice as he looked for a way to change the subject. He was trying to be nice but it was obvious that my protests had hit a nerve.

I guess there's only so much politics a person can take and I've got good lungs - let alone a big mouth.

I talk with my hands too, so... yeah, there's that.

Needless to say, the rest of that conversation was short - though, in my defense, he was the one who brought up politics.

I think I should start wearing a disclaimer on my forehead or something.

"Do not ask me about the following:"

I can't help but find it interesting though - at least in the conversations I've had, especially with my own family (and not just my dad) - how their eyes seem to glaze over when politics comes up. Especially Canadian politics.

Is it a learned response? Or something bred into us from a young age?

Sometimes I wonder.

Still, I realize that there's only so long I can stand there before the soapbox collapses around me - though, admittedly, I wouldn't feel the need to 'soapbox' if I'd had the sense that the people in my everyday goings-on, let alone the people I care about, were aware of and understood the situation we're in and the importance of our upcoming election. (October 14th!)

I mean, if they were apprised and chose to do nothing - hey, at least then they're making an informed decision. I wouldn't like it, but I'd respect it.

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Every time those conversations start I see those same glazed eyes and hear the same half-hearted answers: "meh, they're all crooks anyway" or "the system is fucked" or "my vote doesn't matter" or (and this is my favourite) "I can't be bothered".

And nothing gets under my skin like that last statement. Drives me absolutely up the fucking wall. People died for our right to vote - people are still fighting and dying the world over for our right to vote - and...

Well, it's an argument and a rant I'm sure you've heard a thousand times so I'll spare you the replay.

The worst feeling in the world is having belly full of fire and no idea how best to utilize it. I mean, sure I rant and rail, I write letters, I get out there and talk to people, I join groups and get involved.

But then I hear my own family tell me that I'm wasting my time...

And I wonder what the hell I'm doing if I can't even reach them.

I mean, boiling blood and anger aside, there's a lot of condensation to wipe off behind these eyes.

How do I fight ignorance when the defense is apathy? Even worse, when my own kin don't even understand why they're apathetic? Just the same tired, old excuses regurgitated from familiar mouths.

Yet the moment I try and change those perceptions the eyes glaze and the jaw slackens - or, if I start to make sense, annoyance kicks in. As if by telling them the facts and showing them physical data, somehow I'm the threat.

No wonder the people I look up to and respect seem weary and jaded, they've been trying to do this for years, long before it became an 'election issue'. I look at them, still fighting the fight as best they can - while trying to make a living in an industry under siege - and I feel ashamed that I ever thought their silence meant acceptance.

As Karen ever-so-patiently tried to tell me: With experience comes caution and control.

Man. No wonder it takes a special breed of person to be a mentor. It must be hard to see us all riled up having already trod that path, sending out warnings and cautions knowing they won't be listened to.

Yet no matter how hard I try to listen and hold back, sometimes I'm just reactionary like that; especially when it comes to those I'm close to.

When it feels important, like it matters - like it should matter to them - and they can't even bother to listen or take it seriously, that's when the belly flares.

And it hurts to care when it feels like the people I love don't. It makes me feel like I'm forced into action, like I need that soapbox, like I need to fight - fight for them even if they don't understand why.

Maybe that's my folly.

But if that's what it is then I accept it. For I know in my heart it's something that's unlikely to go away. Rather, it's something to harness and focus. Something I've got to get control of 'cause it's obvious that apathy and ignorance are not going anywhere any time soon.

And neither am I.

Cheers,
Brandon

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No Joy In Mudville...

"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people," Harper said in Saskatoon, where he was campaigning for the Oct. 14 election."

And the other shoe drops.

For a long time we've been wondering what was going in our Prime Minister's head as cut after cut found its way home in the Canadian Culture sector. "Does he know what he's doing? Is he aware of what this will do to us?" we whispered while under our breaths another possibility seeped out amongst the masses, something that chilled us to the bone: 'yes, he does, and he doesn't care'.

It comes to me after taking some time to recalibrate that I find myself in an interesting predicament. I find myself trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel as I learn that, hey, apparently we aren't the only ones under attack over here.

In fact, there's been a lot of interesting (in the Chinese sense) stuff going on since the Conservatives formed their minority government back in 2006.

And so, though PM Harper got me all riled up with these recent cuts and calling us artists 'elitists', I'm starting to see a bigger picture on the horizon.

It's not pretty.

As I find myself staring at page after page of the facts - what has already occurred and what was planned under his 'minority' government - I'm finding myself wondering: If he justifies it all in his head by calling us artists 'elitists' what does he and his Conservatives think of all the others?

You know, the environmental experts that've been muzzled.

Or the scientists who had essential funds cut from the already-strained CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research).

Or the women's lobby groups who've had their funding cut.

Or all the immigrants effected by the legislation his Conservatives snuck into Bill C-50.

Or all the 'ordinary Canadians' who are now doubly screwed thanks to their bungling of the Canadian Economy.

Aww shucks.

And here I was thinking we were special.

Apparently not.


Turns out PM Harper and the Conservatives have had quite the axe to grind, and maybe, like Denis McGrath says "It's just our turn".

Does that excuse him from collecting that $295,000 (plus perks) pay cheque while calling a vast swath of people who regularly make around or less than $20,000 a year 'elitist'?

I don't think so.

And though some might cry "But Stephen Harper's running our country!" to explain the massive pay-grade gap.

I can't help but retort: 'Into what?'

See, even as the second largest landmass in the world, there's only so much ground he can ram this country into.

I mean, for a guy who got into power by screaming about corruption, he's certainly no stranger to it himself.

Surely you remember the Great Election Kickback Scheme and the Cadman Affair.

The NDP's been kind enough to make up a cute (and orange) fact sheet just for all the little scandals and outrages you may have missed. (I am not advocating for the NDP, just to be clear).

And, hey, if you need something a bit more recent, let's talk about the tainted food scandal. You know, when Conservatives got together and lowered food inspection standards while deciding that the Meat Processing Industry would be just fine monitoring itself ('cause it's always a good idea to let large companies decide if they're breaking the law or not).

I wonder how all the people who picked up Listeriosis feel about that.

You see, even when his administration is not trying to get legislation made that would allow for search and seizure without a warrant or evidence.

Even when his administration is not trying to open its citizens up to poorly made copyright reforms that - in order to enforce - would open the doors for the creation of an online 'big brother'.

Even when his administration is not trying to turn our lakes into toxic waste dumps.

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are BAD for Canada. They're bad for the citizens they claim they're helping and they're bad for industries they're supposed to be protecting.

I normally abhor people who tell me how to vote, I've made a point of not doing it myself.

But I can't just sit here silent, I can't just sit here and type away hoping that we'll eke this one out.

Do not vote for the Conservatives.

Go HERE and find out if you're in one of the many Battleground ridings across Canada. You can find out which riding you fall into HERE. Whatever you do, where ever you can, if you can stop a Conservative majority, if you can cast a vote that will prevent more of this over the next 4 years - do it.

Good Luck,
Brandon

Sunday, September 21, 2008

With open arms: Welcoming the 'Lost' Generation

Last night at Denis' Birthday party I was chatting with someone (just for the record, I remember your name, I'm just not sure if these are points you want attributed publicly) about the fate of our industry and she brought up a great point.

It was something I hadn't thought of, something, I don't think I could've thought of.

With her head bowed low so as not to be heard she mentioned something to me, something that rocked me and brought that last piece of the puzzle home.

It made a connection to things I had glossed over, to things that I had not really understood until that moment.

There is a 'Lost' Generation.

Somewhere in Canada, maybe in between the ages of the 40s to 60s or so there seems to be this group of people that have lost touch with - or maybe just never felt - what it is to be Canadian, to feel intrinsically connected to their home like the generations before them.

She talked about how Canadian Culture of all kinds was once this beautiful thing, where there was this industry booming - Theatre, film, television and more - and then, somehow, it went away.

Almost as an attempt to prove her point she brought up things like how the 'older' generations are passionate about their country - you can see it in their love for the CBC and things beyond Hockey Night In Canada.

Heck, they made Paul Anka a household name.

She brought up things like Radio 2 - where you have Canadians, mostly late 50-ish and above fighting (and being passionate) about and for their Canadian Radio station. A whole group of people that made King Of Kensington a hit and the Stratford Festival, well, the Stratford Festival.

I did my own research and found things like this.

Where, in 1951, The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences warned that "the potential exists for Canada's culture to be overwhelmed by foreign influences, most notably those from the United States".

Somehow, that happened.

Somewhere along the lines, we 'lost' a generation.

And they're now the people who are voting en masse. They're the people who think 'Canadian Film and TV sucks' without being able to name the last Canadian movie they saw or a single Canadian show that's still on the air - outside of maybe Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys, and even then they can't tell you what they're about.

They're the people who are nonplussed by the concept of the collapse of the Canadian Culture Sector because - somehow - it's never quite held that same meaning for them.

I grew up watching things like The Littlest Hobo and Putnam's Prairie Emporium and Red Green and the Raccoons.

I've watched the Edison Twins and My Secret Identity.

I never knew they were 'Canadian' when I was a kid, I just knew they were shows I liked. Yet it was those postive experiences - along with learning, years later, that these were 'our' shows - that helped open my mind to new experiences; To have positive recollections of my 'culture'.

And that open mind has followed me all my days. For though I've never been a huge fan of live theatre I went to and loved Beatriz Yuste and James Gilpin's "Bride of Sasquatch" when it played at the Fringe festival. I spent my own money to see Foolproof and Bon Cop, Bad Cop and Ginger Snaps. (Hell, I dragged my friends to see that movie, twice!)

Let's not even get started on the Canadian Music Festivals and concerts.

Now, to be clear, this isn't a pissing contest to say how 'Canadian' I am, I'm just saying that I gave these things a chance - and was delightfully surprised.

I could've said "Oh, this is Canadian and it's going to suck" but I didn't - and there are a lot of people who didn't.

But, to me, it's those people who - for whatever reason - feel ostracized or disconnected from their culture that we need to reach.

The people who're in government now, who're voting now, who're working the lines now, who are ACTIVE in their own government now.

More so than any other generation these are the people we must reach, that we must educate and show - without fail - that there is not only something worth preserving but that right now it is flourishing and could very well be felled for all the wrong reasons, for nothing more than ignorance and apathy.

And that is why I say we artists, all of us, every one of us that would dare to try and make a name for ourselves in our own country - those who would balk at the idea of having to make our names somewhere else before we are recognized here - must roll up our sleeves.

We must look to and take inspiration from amazing people like Yann Martel - who I admit I've only just learned about - who are writing to Stephen Harper every 2 weeks, sending him a letter and book that promotes stillness.

People like Wajdi Mouawad who are writing passionate and beautiful letters that are not over-bearing or polemic in their nature.

Yet I've come to feel - and I apologize if I offend - that by writing the government and the Prime Minister we are targeting the wrong people. For our industry to continue to flourish we must work to inspire, with kindness and compassion, those who would believe the words that 'Canadian Culture sucks' without truly understanding what that means.

I believe, thanks to the insight of this wonderful person last night - who with such simple words offered yet another step in my struggle for clarity - that we must target these people.

This 'Lost' generation.

And we must welcome them home.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, September 19, 2008

Finding the Fire

The second assignment that was given to me as an Intern over at Ink Canada had to do with listening to this podcast from the CBC's Q Radio show with Jian Ghomeshi.

Now, I've never really listened to this show before - and I realize now that it has been to my detriment.

I'm not sure why but I've just never been a 'podcast' guy. I understand the concept and all, but it's just never been my thing. Pretty much the same thing goes for Radio in general - not that I have any personal issues against it, I just never felt that they held anything relevant to me.

Again, to my detriment.

I'm not sure where these prejudices lie or even where they began, but somewhere, somehow along the lines they became 'not for me'.

And it was in the tail end of that podcast, as Deb Beauregard talked about how Canadians don't realize how integral the arts have been in their lives, that something clicked.

Somewhere, somehow along the lines, Canadians - the hard-working, brow-sweating and pencil pushing, poor and middle-class took a look at what the 'artists' were doing and said 'This is not for me'.

Time passed and, like any good prejudice, it became re-inforced. Maybe it was through the politics of the times, maybe it was through their own experiences; Giving the arts a chance, seeing that Canadian Film or reading that Canadian book or watching that Canadian show or going to that Canadian Music festival, and being disappointed.

Maybe it was seeing those artists 'suffering' while they were out there breaking their bones to put food on the table and wondering what they'd do if their crops failed. Maybe, it was seeing those artists 'free' to do whatever while they worked the lines or found themselves chained to their desk job.

Or maybe, like any other good excuse, it was simply indifference.

I have been so angry and frustrated, but what I didn't see, what I didn't get was not that my fellow citizens don't care - they just don't see how it effects them. They have their own rent and mortgages and bills to pay, they have their kids to feed and work to stumble through. In short they have their own worries.

Why does our plight matter to them? What do 'the Arts' really offer?

For surely 'The Arts' couldn't understand. Hell, the title itself - 'The Arts" - practically screams elitism, it spits in the face of the working women and men - those trying to break their bread but not their back. Those just trying to make it through the day and escape their ergo chairs and recycled air. Those wiping sweat and grease from their brows while breathing through a mask.

But what they may not understand - and what I think I didn't even understand myself - is that 'The Arts' for all that it is, is a service. It is not something holier-than-thou, it is not just upper-crust men dressed in cummerbunds and tuxedos and women singing in languages that don't make no damn sense.

It is a salve.

Your salve.

We may follow different paths, we may have different concepts of 'work'. But we artists - writers, actors, dancers, singers, directors, producers, editors, and more - stress ourselves, put ourselves through pain - emotional or otherwise - because we want to tell you stories. Stories that offer a way out from the burning pain of living - or inflame your passions - or tickle you pink. That show us the error of our ways or celebrate our foibles or piss us off.

We do our best to reserve a place for you in a different world, a world you get to call your own whenever you want.

Be they in Film or TV or on the Internet in animated graphics or podcasts or books or plays or ballet or opera. We break our own spirits, wrack our own minds because we want to usher people into another place. Offer a way out for those who suffer under the sun as those who would suffer under the pale flourescent light. A way to escape the monotany of being cooped in a cubicle or a tractor or a house with with screaming kids.

And it is in that these stories are Canadian, that they are reflections of the people of this country - reflections of the values that DO make us different than those of us down in the States.

Stories that are relevant to us, that understand having to wake up at 5am to drive 50 to 60 Kilometers to get to work on time. That understand being a single mother with 3 children and a welfare cheque. That understand growing up on a reservation and being called 'Canadian' but being treated like anything but.

We tell stories about our pain and our joy, our triumphs and our experiences. We tell stories with a perspective only we could offer ourselves, that can be self-deprecating and yet proud. That can have differing viewpoints but still have that hunger for unity. That can speak so many different languages and yet still communicate the heart that we share and the love for our home.

Stories that resonate not only here but with people all around the world, who hunger for our unique perspective and vision. A vision inspired by those around us, our parents and friends and the towns and cities we grew up in.

Inspired by those who worked so that we could dream.

And sometimes when we get caught up in the crap, in the slag, in the frustration of our lives we don't even realize it when we reach for that book or that TV remote or that Web link. When we need something to make us laugh or make the tears come out or make the pain go away or make it all make sense.

We need the Arts and we need these voices now more than ever.

And that is why I'm so passionate and why I'm so frustrated - for what do we do when that mirror to ourselves is gone? When the stories - and not just 'Canadian' stories, but all the stories - that we want to tell are being told by someone else?

Will you notice?

Will it matter?

I wonder: Are you, like me, prejudiced? Do you, perhaps, have something against this thing called 'Canadian Arts and Culture'?

I would ask you to ask yourself 'what is it, specifically, that I've seen or heard that caused me to feel this way?' and, 'Why?'

Because it's easy to say that 'all Canadian TV and Movies suck' or 'these books and plays are for other people' - but I would ask you this:

'Was the last thing you saw or heard from your fellows so bad as to taint your view on the entirety of what your country creates?'

'Was it so bad that you would allow our voices to be silenced?'

Thank you for your time,
Brandon

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

You know it's getting bad when...

So it was during my morning scanning of the intertubes that I happened upon "What's the matter with Canada?", an article originally posted and shared so very kindly by Cherelle on her Facebook page.

If you ever needed a barometer to tell us that our country's on the wrong track, look no further. We now have Slate, an American magazine, publishing a pretty insightful article about, well, how 'mean' we've become as a country.

Yes, it's written by a Canadian - Christopher Flavelle was Stephane Dion's former speechwriter no less - but it's written with the intention of showing our world to an outsider, a quasi-interested 3rd party.

And it's that tone, that sense of drawing back the curtain for someone else that struck a chord with me.

"But beneath the calm exterior, Canada's political system is in turmoil. Since 2004, a succession of unstable minority governments has led to a constant campaign frenzy, brutalizing Canada's once-broad political consensus and producing a series of policies at odds with the country's socially liberal, fiscally conservative identity. Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

Just scan the headlines. In June, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that Canada—for years the only G8 country to post regular budget surpluses—was likely to fall into deficit this year, thanks to a reckless cut to the national sales tax. In February, the government proposed denying funding to films and TV shows whose content it deemed "not in the public interest," sparking cries of censorship from a sector that has historically received public support. In 2007, a member of the governing Conservative Party proposed a bill that would reopen the debate over abortion, a topic that governments both liberal and conservative have avoided for decades."

Now the thing I find interesting - and this is something I hadn't considered - is that while Christopher put some of the 'blame' on the Conservative Party, he also put brought up another good point: The Conservatives are getting away with this kind of behaviour because the Liberal Party - the once-proud stronghold of Canadian politics is in utter shambles.

"But the Conservative Party wouldn't be in power, let alone willing to risk such divisive policies, were it not for the collapse of the country's most formidable political institution, the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberals have been Canada's left-wing standard-bearers since the country's independence in 1867. And just as Canada's right-wing parties were coming together, the Liberal Party was coming apart.

In early 2004, Canada's auditor-general found that under the Liberal government, public funds intended to promote the federal government in the province of Quebec had been diverted toward advertising companies connected to the Liberal Party in the form of inflated payments. In response, the prime minister called a public inquiry, which only prolonged the controversy.

In the 2004 election, the Liberal government was reduced from a majority to a minority. Nineteen months later, it lost power entirely, and the party's leader resigned. The Liberals then embarked on a long, fractious leadership campaign—leaving the party exhausted and broke, and tempting the governing Conservatives to introduce ever more draconian policies with little fear of the consequences."

And there it is. Like that bolt from the blue.

As our political parties were left scrambling for scraps in the power vacuum left in the Liberal Party's wake, the path was opened, the way made clear for the Conservatives to claw their way through the morass and rise to the top.

It all makes sense.

But now that we know how they got here, now that we know how the Conservatives came into power (let alone what they've been working towards with the limited amount we allowed them) .

I ask you this, as election day draws near: what can we do about it?

Cheers,
Brandon

EDIT: I also want to point you to some very interesting views that I found in the comments section of this article. Some of them get pretty technical and go a bit over my head, but - from both sides - there's an interesting take.

Here are a few:

"A cursory glance at Canada's plight leads me to believe that it has fallen to the same global movement that has impacted much of the world:" (Continue)

"I cannot believe the obtuseness of this piece..." (Continue)

"Only in a country as skewed to the far right as the USA would the Liberals be considered on the Left of the political spectrum." (Continue)

"Actually, it's doing very well. The current minority government could well be headed for a majority; most folks are relatively pleased with the performance of the Conservative Party, as well as its leader, Stephen Harper." (Continue)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Conservative Strategy: Beating Canadian Politics With The Ugly Stick.

We all know that American Politics is sexy.

We all know that the heated contest between Barack Obama and John McCain has the world holding its collective breath.

And no one knows this better than Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party.

You see, sometimes being the quiet, ugly wallflower works in your favour.

Sometimes sitting off in a dark corner while those with bigger voices and flashier smiles take the stage is all part of your plan.

It is no coincidence that our first major English Debate falls on the exact same night and the exact same time as the American Vice-Presidential debate.

I mean, really, stop and think about this for a moment: Out of all the possible times available during the course of that week (let alone all the others), no one looked at their calendar and thought 'hey, maybe we should have this the night after the American debate? Or move the French Language debate back a day and have the English one the night before? Or - hey - even start it an hour before the American debate gets up and running (they both air on October 2nd, at 9pm EST)'.

Are we supposed to believe that it just happened to fall on this day and time?

No. This was planned very carefully knowing that most Canadians will choose not to turn in; that they will watch something far more interesting.

And that's the way the Conservatives want it.

Our politics is BOOORING.

The Americans? They've got it down to a science. They have pageantry and Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z. Hell, they spend large amounts of money just to make it LOOK good.

What do we have? A bunch of people standing around answering questions in long-winded, dispassionate form as cameras cut from one talking head to the other.

Now, not that our politicians aren't passionate, but the world's been watching Barack Obama for the last what, 8 months?

Not exactly a fair comparison and one hell of a tough act to follow for most of the party leaders (yes, even Jack Layton - who is apparently pretty popular these days, even though Bob Rae is not a fan).

Meanwhile Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been telling his people to stay out of the media, don't talk, don't do anything stupid. Keep your voice down and your hands to yourself - We've almost got this.

And he's right.

The Conservatives are a hair's breath away from a Majority in this country and if you think that what they've managed to accomplish (with a MINORITY Government) is scary, maybe now is the time to turn our attention back to the country that is our home - who's leader we are about to elect; Who's decisions will effect each and every one of our lives far more intimately than Governor Palin or Senator Biden.

There's still time to get informed and get involved. PM Harper and his people have been silent but their actions have not.

Here's a brief look at some of what they've managed to accomplish (or worked towards) while you may not have been looking:

- The gutting of the Canadian Film and Television Industry - Cutting $60 Million in programs and funding meant to help create and promote Canadians and our interests around the world.
(http://www.wgc.ca/files/What%27s%20at%20Stake2.Sept%2008.pdf)

- Bill C-61: a stricter, Canadian version of the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would put your personal data and money in the hands and pockets of Americans. (Let alone opening you up to being sued like you've never been sued before).
(http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2008-07-29/news/bill-c-61-goes-beyond-downloading/)

- Bill C-51: a bill that threatened to make illegal many common forms of common naturopathic health products - including sinister things like, oh, Raw Garlic. This bill would've also opened the door for the government to all Search and Seizures without warrants and without evidence.
(http://www.stopc51.com/)

- And while you're here, pop by PM Harper's entry in the Scandalpedia:
(http://www.scandalpedia.ca/Bios/Stephen%20Harper_en.html)

Many of these bills have been killed due to the election but that does not mean they cannot be re-submitted again (with even less fanfare). If the Conservatives get a Majority government, you watch and see your country taken from you - one tiny piece of hidden legislation at a time.

The election is just over a month away - you've still got time.

Let's get to it.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, September 12, 2008

Welcome To The Welfare State

I wrote last time about how I wanted to see this community of ours - this brilliant, special thing that seems to have arisen - flourish and prosper.

Sometimes in order to do that - to see something that you love grow safely - you have to make choices that aren't always easy. Sometimes you have to stand up for and defend the things you love no matter the consequences.

You have to protect them.

This is, quite honestly, one of the easiest decisions I've ever had to make. And I do it because I cannot, in good conscience stand by, silent, as this next election threatens everything my life has been about for the last year - let alone the future potential for literally hundreds of thousands of my fellow Canadians.

Now I've written my fair share of letters to the Government over my short period of being involved with the Canadian Film and Television Industry and I feel that there really isn't much left for me to say that I haven't already said.

And so, rather than focusing on contacting the Government, I want to focus on contacting my fellow writers - apprising them of the situation we're up against.

You see, we Canadians love to downplay things - to shrug them off. It's something that seems bred into us - it's how we cope - but I believe that the current climate and the current situation is one that we would do so at our own peril.

Now, more than ever, we have to mobilize and educate ourselves because time and time again it's been shown that if we don't no one is going to force us. And it is only our own apathy and ignorance of these situations that allow them to fester and bloom into full-blown nightmares.

Together 50,000+ Canadians managed to stall Bill C-10, an omnibus bill in which the Conservative Government had slipped amendments that would've given one person (in this case, the Heritage Minister) the ability to allow or disallow Canadian Tax credits for films based off of 'public policy' (whatever that is). It also would've granted them the ability to retroactively pull the credits from films that they believe do not fit 'public policy'. This was accomplished due to the tireless efforts of people writing letters and being in contact with the people who run our country - in this case the opposition and the Senate.

An event like this is one that must call every single able writer, director, editor, actor, producer and more to the forefront. I believe as writers, that is what we must do, because that is WHAT we do. We are the ones with the mastery of language and cadence and tone. It is us who must make the battle cry and inspire others to rise to the cause.

And I know it's a hell of a lot to ask for those of us who are new, who may not know where to begin, but hey, you gotta start somewhere - might as well start by defending your right to have an industry to break in to.

If it seems that my language is heavy-handed and all doom and gloom; if it seems like I'm taking this far too seriously - it's because I am. And hopefully you and others will too.

I have written a letter - again, I would direct it toward my fellows, the amazing writers I've met and the many, many more that I haven't - I would ask that you all, please, take 5-10 minutes out of your time and write to your Member of Parliament, to your Senate, and to your friends who may not have an idea of the threat that stands before us.

You can find a handy mailing list here (compiled by the great people at the 'Keep your censoring hands off of Canadian film and TV! No to Bill C-10!' Facebook group).

And you can also get involved at the "Say No To Stephen Harper and His Cuts to Arts and Culture" Facebook group.

Cheers,
Brandon

Welcome to the Welfare State
By Brandon Laraby


"Canada is a northern european welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.' - Stephen Harper (http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes/leadersparties/harper_speech.html)

Now, I could begin this letter by saying something snide. I could say all the things that are rumbling around in my mind – they’re not very nice.

But I won’t.

Instead I will let Prime Minister Harper’s words speak for themselves.

I will do so because I believe that this is an essential look into the mind of the man running our country. And I use the word 'running' in the scariest sense as his first run at a 'minority' government played out much like the majority government he craves (and hopes to secure by this snap election).

Backroom deals, wanton funding cuts and secret legislation slipped - unread - into omnibus bills - this behaviour and more has gone on around us while most Canadians slept, content with their paltry tax cuts.

And yet to those of us who were forced awake by these slaps in the face, a certain clarity has been bestowed: if you are not PM Harper's vision of a 'worker' in this country then you are a part of the problem.

It seems like some sort of unspoken policy – or perhaps something far worse - as right from the beginning and on a consistent basis, we have been under assault from our own Government: The Canadian Television Fund, Bill C-10, Bill C-61, The recent slashing of NSI Funding, the Canada New Media Fund, PromArt, Trade Routes, the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, the Canadian Memory Fund, Canadian Culture Online.

If you think that the worst is over, do not kid yourself. This is what they were able to accomplish with their 'minority' grip on this country.

In funding cuts alone over $60 million has been taken from us and not replaced - with no mention or hint of new programs. Where has the money gone? Where was it moved to? Certainly $60 million is a lot of money to miss and there may be even more to come. If the CRTC accepts the CTF Taskforce's recommendations the Canadian Television Fund will be split, further limiting the monies available - monies that were already far beyond strained.

Now I could stray into the economics - the fact that we're the second largest landmass in the world housing the population of the State of California; That we simply do not have the kind of free range capital necessary to support this market by ourselves; That without Government support our industry and infrastructure will crumble even more than it already has.

I could bring up other points and say that comparing ourselves to the American market - a population of 300+ million to 33+ million - is easy without an understanding of what that entails. That even in a best-case scenario with one half of their richest 1% feeding and supporting the industry that still leaves 1.5 million people who are easily clearing the $250,000 a year mark in the US. In Canada we're talking 150,000-ish people - people who, to me, seem far more likely to have their money invested in other markets.

But again, I won’t. Instead I will say to you simply this: beware the fate that would befall us. Beware the apathy that would betray us; Us artists who some would call 'lazy' or say that we're 'looking for handouts' or would 'bleed the system dry'. Us artists who would dare to use our own Tax money to create and drive an entire industry that entertains and serves Canadians and their interests around the world; Who employs Canadians and pays Canadians and supports Canadians.

Because, make no mistake, this is our election to lose. For, like no other time in our lives we face a threat of the most massive of proportions, one that has turned its disdainful gaze upon us and decided that we are not 'necessary'; One that would endanger not only our livelihoods but the entire Canadian Cultural Sector.

I will not tell you how to vote. That is not my wish or intent.

But I will tell you this:

If you work or hope to work in the Canadian Film and Television Industry, if you work in the Canadian Cultural Sector period - as David Cronenberg once wrote, back in a movie called The Fly:

'Be afraid. Be very afraid.'

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Aftermath

There's a growing mass of terror and excitement in the pit of my stomach.

Apparently I'm 'infamous'.

Now don't get me wrong, that's not the 'terror' part - in fact I'm absolutely gobsmacked that people remember my name let alone have nice things to say to me, people who are actually 'someone' in the business. Real writers - working writers - have smiles and genuine, good things to say to me; well-wishes and even warm hugs (Karen, I'm not ashamed to say it, you are the best hugger in the world).

But it's in those moments that the terror stirs and that little voice in the back of my head asks that question I dread:

"Why do I feel like a total fraud?"

There in a room, packed with hundreds of scribes I realize just how much I don't know - literally every person I meet seems to know, seems to understand so much more than me; about the business, about the craft, about the world - and yet here are these amazing people shaking my hand. I sit there trying to soak it all in, hoping it'll rub off, trying to keep up and learn what I can.

Still it sits there in the back of my mind, that nagging sense and all I can do is keep on keepin' on and hope I don't screw it up somehow.

In the span of two social gatherings - Karen Walton's Ink Canada party last Thursday and Denis McGrath's Writer Mafia shindig last night - I've had my mind blown, reformed, blown and smushed again. The conversations, the perspectives are unlike anything I've ever encountered - refined through years of experience, heartache and triumph, everyone has their own take on the world and how and why it matters to them.

I'm at a loss to even do it justice but it's created a sense of excitement, of purpose in me that I'm not really sure I could articulate before.

There is a community.

I am becoming a part of that.

And now, more than ever, I want to see it grow and flourish.

Someone said to me last night that events like these, on this scale, just didn't happen before. Writers flocking together to shoot the shit and relax and just be.

To me it seems a natural thing, to want to meet others 'of my kind', to talk with them and listen to them. To share with them (in whatever limited capacity I can at this point).

I don't know why it didn't happen before - probably the technology didn't exist to make large gatherings 'easier' - but I'm so glad that is now.

It's like a whole new world has opened up before me.

As I made my way around the rooms on those nights, meeting others, seeing the smiles on their faces - this wasn't a business meeting, these people weren't trying to score their next gig, they were just pleased as punch to talk to one another.

The more I talked, the more people I met, the more I realized that there was something palpable in the air, an ecosystem created by the accumulated good will.

A safe zone.

A place where none of the kicking at doors for funding or bashing our heads against the keyboard could reach us.

And so, immersed in that environment, I felt empowered. Emboldened (though that may have been the booze). I began asking questions - some of them dumb, some inspired (again, alcohol) but every one of them honest. I asked the little things that were making my gut all squirrel-ly and the big things that were making it hard to sleep at night.

"Am I doing this right? Am I on the right path?"

"Will there be an industry for me to break in to?"

"Why do I feel like a fraud? What is that voice in the back of my head? Am I crazy?"

And people answered them - as best they could.

Simply put, no one's got it figured out. Many wish they did (myself included) but the common thread I've found is that, essentially, we're all striving to make our own sort of sense of the world and how we're supposed to fit in it or fix it or change it.

I'm learning that in many ways a lot of the fears I have are just as (if not more) present in the people I look up to and respect.

And somehow that's comforted me.

I know there's a lot I don't know and that bit of self-awareness is terrifying.

But knowing that there is an amazing community of interesting people out there - knowing that I have time to get there. It's a feeling I can live with, something I can strive toward, something I can smother that little voice in the back of my head with.

I can never know 'everything' but as long as I'm not afraid to ask an honest question, from an honest place, I know that somewhere, somehow, I'll find the answer.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, September 05, 2008

And a fine party it was too!

Okay, time for a break from the script for a bit of an update.

I managed to drag myself out from my dark, cozy room long enough to attend Karen Walton's Ink Canada Screenwriter's Party last night.

And man am I ever glad I did.

Over 130 writers, directors and producers all packed into a small, confined space, filled with alcohol and set loose upon one another to just chill the hell out and have fun.

Who says Canadian Writers are boring and anti-social?! Everywhere I looked there were hands flailing and conversations in progress. It would seem that there's a lot to talk about when you fill a room with industry peeps.

I had the great pleasure of meeting many very cool people last night, but standing out amongst the coolest were fellow newbies (and friends of the blog) Peter Rowley and Elize Morgan. Together with Cherelle Higgins - who introduced me to my current writing group - we scoured the floor and chatted up a storm (when we weren't harassing Denis McGrath and company, that is - Okay, more like I was doing the harassing...)

In a fit of small-world syndrome I managed to bump into Jennifer Liao who, if you're not aware, recently finished this great, dark short film called 'What you eat'.

It was one of those rare little moments where my job had provided me with a bit of perk in that I got to proudly exclaim 'Oh, wow! I've seen that!' as she detailed the last project she'd been working on. Of course as her face fell into the depths of confusion and I had to explain exactly how that came to pass. See, her film travelled through my department at work a few weeks ago and I'd seen it, thinking to myself 'wow, that was creepy and damn fun', not knowing that I would be standing (er, sitting) before the director/producer/writer (adapter?) only a short time later.

A very fun moment to say the least.

As I waded through the partying masses, I was absolutely stunned and humbled (still am) by how many people not only knew my name, but wanted to say hello. There were well-wishes and warm handshakes, funny anecdotes and drink tickets (so many drink tickets! lol... I felt like I had the word 'lush' stamped on my forehead - not that I'm complaining, but when someone walks up to you and says 'you look like you need a drink ticket'... well... hehehe).

It has been a very long time indeed since I've been surrounded by so much positive energy and so many smiling faces.

And it's experiences like that - learning the counter-balances to the horror stories - that fill me with hope for the industry I want to be a part of.

There are good people out there and they are legion.

Thank you all so much for an amazing night! Especially to Karen and Kerry who worked so hard to bring so many together. You guys bring new meaning to the words 'Bad Ass'.

Can't wait to see you all again soon!

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, September 01, 2008

100 Posts...?!

This is it. Number 100.

Talk about your milestones.

Okay, I never really thought about it as a 'milestone' until I saw that I was at 99 posts this morning, but yeah, that kind of shook me.

Wow.

That's a lot of words.

And so, to those of you who've been reading since the beginning - what, nine months ago? - thank you for popping on by and, well, being interested (and interesting).

To those who're just finding your way here now-ish, thanks for coming.

One hundred posts.

It's a neat little accomplishment that I find myself somewhat surprised to be proud of. It may have less to do with the postings and more to do with all the 'memories', but I'm pretty proud of it just the same.

A lot has happened since the day I started this blog with my bold (if naive) proclamation:

"Stated as simply as possible my Goal is this: To break into the Canadian TV writing biz. More specifically, breaking into said business as a show runner on my very own show. Even more specifically, to have said show produced and on the air for the Fall 2010 season."

Yeah, that was a delusion that didn't last long thanks to a gentle ribbing by some nice gentlemen with battle scars and industry tales that nightmares are made of.

Great guys, all of 'em - and their candor helped to set the tone for what's been a whirlwind of a ride so far.

Over the last 9 months I've gone from chasing goals and finishing my first-ever spec script to telling off troublemakers and writing the CRTC; From getting my first (and second, and third) rejection letter to earning a coveted interview at the CFC.

Through it all, I've had the wondrous good fortune to have learned so much from so many people; every one of them a class act, every step of the way.

It's been an adventure.

And I hope you'll all stick with me for a hundred more.

Cheers!
Brandon