THE BLOG

Canadawood is Born for Real

03/29/2013 08:08 EDT | Updated 05/29/2013 05:12 EDT

David Rotenberg, one of Canada's most notable acting teachers and coaches, said something in class one day that has always stuck with me. It was about the idea that all artists should always live their lives and specifically arrive at every audition immersed in a state of being, "I am worthy." One deserves to be here on earth, to be in that room auditioning. Believe it, own it, and you will be in a better place to succeed. It's a simple idea that has so much truth in it. It is empowering way how to live.

Keeping that insight in mind, something changed a few weeks back at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards, and oh how many are saying, "FINALLY."

Some context as to where we have been and how far we have come in young history of the Canadian film & television industry.

Yes, we know. We are Canadian. Self-deprecating we are. Til death do we part. "That's for them, not for us." Oh, how these words and "internal mental DNA" were allowed to be said for way too long, felt by way too many, and believed by even more.

Reality check. In the film & television world, the industry in this country has too often compared itself to what else is going on elsewhere. But did it have any other choice with audiences being exposed to so many other alternatives surrounding their day to day existence? We have seen a very young Canadian industry have memorable highlights along the way, but nothing that could consistently penetrate the impact of the international fanfare of "Hollywood" content that just seemed and continues to be promoted everywhere. We cannot escape it.

Talking to Canadian audiences over the years, the feeling is that we have been inundated by content made by our Canadian peers that at times more celebrated our country and who we were as Canadians rather than focusing on storytelling that Canadians & the rest of the world would be truly interested to see. Yes, a bit of a generalization, but c'mon, time to be real and honest here. This has been a feeling that many were whispering about but there did not seem to be real traction of something being done to change things up. Let's give this sentiment a quote and let's have it from a lot of Canadians:

"Why are we not creating content that is made by Canadians that fellow citizens don't feel forced to watch because it is in fact "Canadian", but because, it's actually good, compelling, and well, you don't want to miss it and all your friends are PVR'ing it."

Add in the question of why does Canada not have a star system? And then why are so many of our talented performers, filmmakers and TV folks making a name for themselves in "LALA Land" or gaining some international acclaim elsewhere and not in Canada?

So yes, we have heard it all before. Some had tried to re-invent, innovate, inspire. But it seemed to be the same people at times talking to themselves. Not much new blood. Not too many new ways. No real sustainable models to actually change the direction of a movement.

Well, my fellow Canadians, I am pleasantly pleased to state that from what I can see, all that has changed, and to the amazement of many, how fast it did.

Let's recap.

For those of you who follow the Canadian film & television world, you know that there were two annual award shows that celebrated excellence in all performance, and production categories.

They were called The Genie Awards (formerly the Canadian Film Awards from 1949 to 1979) that took place every year from 1979 to 2012. The television awards were called The Gemini Awards which began in 1986. The last & 26th Gemini Awards were held in September 2011 and the last & 32nd Genie Awards were held in March 2012.

Context for you all. The Emmy Awards began in 1949 and The Oscars in 1929.

Now, talk to many Canadians, and frankly watching their favourite re-run of Grey's Anatomy or some big HBO show was more of interest that watching their own being celebrated annually at these shows. Harsh, but very true. Viewer numbers were quite low, and the shows bounced from network to network, format to format, length to length, and yes, host to host.

Something had to give. Something had to change. A group of people needed to rise up and say, "WE ARE WORTHY."

And they did.

Enter Helga Stephenson, CEO of The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, the member based entity that produces the annual awards and new board Chair Marty Katz. Add in a stellar group of make it happen new board members who now include Robin Mirsky, Barry Avrich, Anne Fitzgerald, Gary Slaight, Paul Bronfman and Mary Powers among other mavens & connectors and you now had the beginnings of creating something that was oh so needed to truly "re-brand" the Canadian film & television industry, not only for its own constituents, but for how all Canadians felt and responded to storytelling made my their very own.

Though many of us were not in the board rooms to hear what the discussions were, one gets the sense that there was a real movement to change things up, and fast. To do the same thing over and over again would be a misstep that could have devastating consequences. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that room.

In the end, the decision was made. Create one annual focused celebration of Canadian film, television and digital media. Establish opportunities for fans to be involved in the experiences. Throw away the "smug-insider" vibe and bring in an inclusive week of festivities that respected audiences and the people who put the shows all at once. And the name? Well, they called it Canadian Screen Week which culminated with the Canadian Screen Awards.

As the credits rolled at the close of the broadcast on CBC (kudos to Kirstine Stewart for championing the show and giving it a full 2 hour slot prime-time on a Sunday evening), it was clear there was a shift. Martin Short as the host made us celebrate who were were, yet brought a "spectacle excitement" that seemed to be reserved for those "other award shows". Yeah, that's right. Those happening south of the 49th Parallel.

It felt like the birth not of "Hollywood North", but let's call it "Canadawood". The idea that our stories, our work, our actors, our directors and everyone making it happen are indeed "sexy stars". The show felt big, and kinda "un-Canadian". But as I say that, one wonders if we or others will ever use that phrase again.

So yes, the results you ask. (Clear throat). Get ready. Simply put, Canada spoke loud and clear. The Canadian Screen Awards first ever CBC gala broadcast reached 2.9 million Canadians; won approximately 800,000 viewers and reached more than 52 million Twitter users over the course of the campaign this year. No typos here. In terms of viewership, this more than doubles last year's numbers, and represents the highest ratings in over 15 years.

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Media coverage was also unprecedented. The Canadian Screen Awards made headlines in leading dailies from Halifax's The Chronicle Herald to the Toronto Star to Le Journal de Montréal, to Saskatchewan's Leader-Post to Alberta's Calgary Herald to the Vancouver Province to Nunavut's EIN News, as well as national publications such as The Globe and Mail and The National Post. Events were also widely covered on national television and radio shows as well as specialty programs on CBC Live,CBC TV news, CTV's eTalk and Global's Entertainment Tonight Canada, which all provided insightful comprehensive coverage.

So it can't be all rosy. Yes, room to grow for sure. Here are few suggestions.

Music--There was no "best song" performance of any kind. Canadians are all about music as we know. Be great if there were some notable bands that had songs on soundtracks that could of played. Could have been a further draw.

Pre-Show--Love, love Shaun Majumder. He is one of Canada's treasured comedic minds. Felt he was all alone out there. He needs someone to play off of. And maybe more pre-taped skits could be looked at.

Audience Award--Be great if there was an audience award for best television show & film, and maybe a "fan" wins a chance to actually present it to the winners. True fan respect. Make them feel part of the process. Canada's Screen Star was a good start. Board Chair Marty Katz said:

"The response from fans to vote for the Academy's first ever Canada's Screen Star was surprisingly broad, with thousands of votes from across the country and around the world. As we start to plan next year's show, I do anticipate that we will maintain and broaden the public role."

Breakout Awards--Think it's something to consider. Building young audiences who gravitate to these things and finding the next big thing. Katz shared his thoughts here.

"The Academy exists to celebrate our in-front and behind-the camera talent, so while we are not looking to add additional categories of awards, each year our Governance Committees review the numbers and categories and makes refinements and changes. That will continue."

24 Hour Film Challenge--You have a bunch of notables in town. Put together a scenario where they partner with film schools and they create something that is shown during broadcast.

Dream Host-- Martin Short worked well. Well, what about Ryan Gosling? Will Arnett? Rachel McAdams? Please tell us that the Academy will leverage their success to keep building on bringing Canadian's home. Well, we are Canadawood now (or as indicated in this piece, "will it stick?" this writer wonders) so there should be no excuse.

"The Next" Represented on the Board-- Ok, this is not some campaign ploy for me. For real. But, feel there is a missed opportunity here. Feel the Board still represents "the establishment." Casting the net wider with representation that accesses talented young/younger minds who are truly the future and bring current relevance is a step to consider.

And did you hear? The Academy is very much interested what you all think. They would love to hear from you about suggestions you may have to assist them to shape the future Canadian Screen Awards. No typo. No joke. Email them here: info@academy.ca. As well, they are looking for a nickname to um, name the actual awards. You can find out more about that here.

So lots of good stuff here. No more are Canadians feeling "loservilleish" about its Canadian film & television industry compared to our south of the border cousin. No more should our industry feel that there is an inferiority to anyone. To go back to Rotenberg's insight, we must continue to live in that state of being, "we are worthy." We have arrived here. There is no turning back. So don't, um..."Excuse me, um, um, sir, SIR, madam, MADAM, DO NOT TURN BACK. Come, come back, come back here."(Regrets, internal conversation with imaginary, kinda real people) We all made the first step, and Canada listened. And the world saw it happen as well.

Let's keep building. When I first left the advertising business to enter the world of arts & culture, a wise man told me:

"In this business especially, the best schmooze is the work. You do good work and people will come."

Well, they have. Canada did and Canada will if we all continue to believe we are worthy.

This all did not happen overnight. And there are many people to shout out and thank. They know who they are and should be pleased to see where this story is going. One person that should be mentioned is the incomparable uber agent and deal maker Michael Levine, Chairman of Westwood Creative Artist & Bravofact as well as the Trustee of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation. He has incubated and inspired many success stories, including CBC's recent smash hit The Republic of Doyle starring Allan Hawco, which all started from a grant from the above mentioned Linehan Foundation. I remember our conversations over the years of his desire to assist in building a sustainable Canadian star system which he felt was essential for our industry to flourish.

His take on where we are at is here:

"Clearly attitudes amongst some of the cultural leaders are changing...but the battle is not easily won against the American Dream Machine. Progress is being made slowly."

Cautiously optimistic. But he does see what seems to be necessary change happening and the results that have and will ensue.

Arts & Crafts' Jeffrey Remedios recently was quoted on where the music industry is at. Feel his insights could easily be applicable in what has been discussed in this piece.

"Canada is starting to look at itself and promote from within, as opposed to requiring an external validation."

Welcome to Canadawood. A new way. Fact. A new chapter. Fact. Are you in?

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