Canadian Screen Awards’ Beth Janson: “There’s discovery, there’s a celebration and just pride in being Canadian and in our industry”

It would have been easy for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television to take the easier route to hand out this year’s pandemic restricted Canadian Screen Awards by doing it all virtually with pre-taped acceptance speeches. But that’s not the Academy’s style.

Though there is no live audience dressed to the nines in a ballroom or theatre, the Academy will be handing out a plethora of hardware over the next week, capped off by a gala on CBC and CBC Gem on Sunday night.

We spoke to Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, ahead of the festivities.

Beth, you announced that Catherine O’Hara, Tatiana Maslany, Arissa Cox, Andrew Phung, Ron MacLean and others are participating this week. Are you able to give any details on their roles?
Beth Janson: We’re trying to think of the big show on CBC as a television show that has a cast. Those people are what we would consider our featured players or the people who are sort of making up the cast of this show. There’s a variety of ways that they’re involved. Some are presenting different categories. Some are a part of vignettes that we’re making around different sort of milestone moments. And some are animating the show in different ways.

Kudos to everybody on the team for being able to put out award shows in the first place, no matter what kind of form they’re in.
BJ: That’s something that we don’t really talk about a lot, but our staff here at the Academy have been going through the same things that everyone in the world has been going through to different degrees and struggling with COVID, and mental health and family members that have to be cared for and that sort of thing.

We’re no different from other people, but we are also in the business of celebrating, so it takes that extra lift of emotional energy to put yourself in that mind frame when you feel like the world around you is crumbling. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the whole team for keeping it together. And really, I feel like our work is getting better and better each year in COVID, like nobody is just sitting back and being like, ‘Ah, I don’t have to do it as well because…’ It’s really been phenomenal and epic, I think.

Tallboyz couldn’t be better for being the hosts of Sunday’s gala. Are they the ring leaders of this whole thing?
BJ: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. We work in a very different context from something like the Oscars or the Emmys. I’m always excited when we can just take the talent that is doing really world-class work and give them a platform. That’s how I feel about Tallboyz. I think their brand of comedy is really unique. It’s very strong and hilarious. They just signed a deal with Fuse TV in the U.S. I hope that even more people will be able to discover them that way.

Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television

Canada has always really kind of punched above its weight when it comes to its films and its television shows. I feel like there’s never been more people around the world seeing Canadian TV than right now.
BJ: That’s a really strong point. There is a big part that the streamers play because they have a very different business model. Network television has to market to a very specific demographic. They make lots of assumptions about what that demographic wants to see. And streamers are serving a much wider audience and you can go deep into a niche audience on a streamer. I think that’s been a huge game-changer for a lot of our creators that have really expanded their audiences.

You’ve got nine awards ceremonies that are going to be rolling out during Canadian Screen Week. Remind me of how that’s going to work?
BJ: All of our winners will be accepting live, so they are nine live shows. We’ll have a host who’s in a studio in Etobicoke and we have done an insane amount of work sort of editing all of the nominee packs and those sorts of things, but ultimately, each winner will be able to accept live. It’s an enormous amount of computer superpower that goes on behind the scenes.

Let’s say we have 16 categories in one program. Let’s say you have an average of five nominees, so you basically have to set up 80 calls and coordinate all that per show. It is a huge amount of coordination and work. We have some amazing producers who have produced live off-air shows before and they transitioned to doing these on-air shows.

When people tune in and watch the broadcast, what do you want them to get out of it? A celebration of Canadian TV and Canadian film, and embracing it and getting out there and watching it?
BJ: It is a celebration and I hope that people learn something too. Not everyone is familiar with our Canadian talent and actually what is being made here. So, I think there’s discovery, there’s a celebration and pride in being Canadian and in our industry because I think there is a lot to be proud of.

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

Check out the list of nominees.

The Canadian Screen Awards gala airs Sunday, April 10, at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.