Canadian Screen Awards’ Beth Janson: “We are focusing on the content”

Last year, the pandemic played havoc with the Canadian Screen Awards. Originally scheduled for the last week of March in Toronto with the usual in-person fan and industry events capped off by a gala, it was all delayed, ultimately going virtual last May.

Now the Canadian Screen Awards are back and, once again, being handed out virtually. But, with a year of experience at this sort of thing, Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, says the Academy is ready to deliver.

Congratulations on another Canadian Screen Awards. You all have become veterans now because you’ve had a year of the pandemic under your belt to pull this off again.
Beth Janson: Yes. I know. It’s not really an expertise I would have chosen. But we are excited that we have done everything, start to finish, virtually, this year. So it’s been very, very strange, but successful. So, we’re happy about that.

In all seriousness you have had more than a year to plan for this, whereas, last year, you had moving targets all the time. How did you tackle things this year? Did things go more smoothly, what were some things that you decided you wanted to do this year that maybe you weren’t able to do last year?
Yes, last year was very much, a not ideal scenario. This year, we really were able to take more time to think about the creative behind the shows. We hired a creative producer. It’s all original music in our shows. I think it allowed us to take more care with the details. We’re still not having a Zoom acceptance speech award show because, despite everything we’ve seen this whole quarantine or pandemic, we don’t feel like that makes for a very exciting viewing experience.

We still are focusing on the content, so we’re taking more time. We’re playing clips. So much of our awards is about discoverability. And even people who are in our industry sometimes don’t realize the breadth of what’s out there. We’re able to sort of let them breathe more and sort of have it be more of a creative exercise, than a panic exercise.

Is focusing on the creative side of it maybe one of the positives of this situation?
I certainly think that it will change the way we do our shows once we’re back in person because it really is something that resonates. Our model before this was huge events. I mean, we had four galas before and the broadcast was 1,500 people. The galas before were up to 1,000 people. It’s going to be different when we’re able to gather again, and I think that’s going to be OK. I think it’s made us better and stronger for sure.

I was talking to someone recently who complained about the length of the U.S. awards shows. I said, ‘Folks could take a note from the Canadian Screen Awards,’ because you run a tight ship for that gala. It’s an hour long, in the traditional sense when it was on TV, giving out the top awards, and get in and get out.
Well, thank you for saying that, first of all. That’s really, really nice to hear. I think that when you do confine yourself, you have to get creative about how you’re doing things, and every single moment counts. Right?

I think award shows are going to get better after this pandemic, just in general. I know that ratings have been going down, and everyone’s questioning award shows in general in the industry. It’s got some new, fresh energy into the production. Even though the Oscars were not successful, in the viewership it certainly was a completely different show than what we’re used to. And I think that’s good, because you had to make these massive changes, and now you can take what worked there and take the best parts of the big, live show and combine them.

Let’s get into some of the trends. Blood Quantum, 10 nominations. Only in a country like Canada, can you have a zombie horror movie, starring an Indigenous cast and written by someone who is Indigenous, can you have that. I love that about this country.
Yes, me too. You’ll also see that Possessor was also in the mix there. And it’s nice that our members are honouring genre film because we have a huge, long, successful history in that genre. I thought it was really, really great that it was being acknowledged. It’s really exciting that the work that’s nominated this year is probably the most audience-friendly fare that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s good to see because I want as many people to see these films as possible, so I get excited when it’s mixed up, and you have very different films in the mix. It’s not all sort of similar stories.

Looking at the television categories, and Schitt’s Creek with 21 nominations, Canada’s Drag Race has seven nominations. You can’t help but be proud of the storytelling.
Our industry really has a responsibility, a unique responsibility, and an opportunity to contribute to diversity and equity. And I think the direction is really positive. I think there’s a lot more work to do.

But, especially when we’re talking about our industry, what we produce and who we empower to tell the story shape the way so much of the country and the general public perceives experience. It’s really important. You can see it, even in the time that I’ve been here, these programs that seek to fund gender parity. Now we’re moving into funding more diverse creators. It has an impact. I hope that it’s systemic, but I think we’re sort of looking at the right ways to change.

What do you want people to experience during this week of celebrations for the Canadian Screen Awards?
I want everyone to have at least one moment of discovery when they’re watching the show, like, ‘Huh, that looks really interesting,’ and to seek it out.

Stream the Canadian Screen Awards on the Academy website, Twitter and YouTube.

Check out the list of nominees.

Monday, May 17, 2021
7 p.m. ET: Canadian Screen Awards – News & Documentary, Presented by CBC (Narrator: Ginella Massa)

8 p.m. ET: CTV presents the Canadian Screen Awards – Lifestyle & Reality (Narrator: Priyanka)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021
7 p.m. ET: Canadian Screen Awards – Children’s & Animation, Presented by Shaw Rocket Fund (Narrator: Eric Bauza)

8 p.m. ET: Canadian Screen Awards РDigital & Immersive, Presented with the participation of the Independent Production Fund (Narrator: Dont̩ Colley)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021
7 p.m. ET: CTV presents the Canadian Screen Awards – Creative Arts & Performance (Narrator: Tyrone Edwards)

Thursday, May 20, 2021
7 p.m. ET: Canadian Screen Awards РCinematic Arts, Presented by Telefilm Canada, Supported by Cineplex (Narrator: Nah̩ma Ricci)

8 p.m. ET: 2021 Canadian Screen Awards (Narrators: Stephan James and Karine Vanasse)