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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)

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Canadian Screen Awards’ Beth Janson: “The television industry is turning out some of the best content that we’ve seen”

Now that those pesky Oscars are over and done with, we’re jazzed for the Canadian Screen Awards. Airing this coming Sunday on CBC—and with three non-broadcast award nights this week—the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television celebrates homegrown talent and projects on the big and small screen.

This country has a lot to celebrate. From gripping limited-run series like Alias Grace, Cardinal and The Disappearance to groundbreaking dramas in Pure, 19-2, Mary Kills People and Anne and unique comedies in Kim’s Convenience, Workin’ Moms and Letterkenny, Canada’s content creators are making truly must-see TV.

Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, thinks so too. With the CSAs just days away, we spoke to Janson about the health of the TV industry, our programming, how to get up and close and personal with your favourite stars and how you can access red carpet coverage on Sunday night.

Is this the Golden Age of Canadian television that so many talk about?
Beth Janson: Yes. The television industry is turning out some of the best content that we’ve seen. It’s extremely diverse which is, to me, reflective of a very healthy industry. We don’t just have a lot of procedurals. We don’t just have a lot of typical sitcoms. It’s really a mix. And I should say that isn’t reflected in our nominations this year just because of where the eligibility period falls, but for the first time we’re seeing a Canadian intellectual property in The Launch being developed here, repackaged and sold overseas. That, to me, is a huge shift and a validation of what we’re going here with our Canadian ideas and our Canadian voices can travel.

Where do you stand on Netflix investing $500 million into Canadian productions?
Netflix made a business decision which I think is the thing that gets lost in the conversation. They see how talented our craftspeople are here. They see how interesting the voices are here. They’re investing in that. I do believe that it’s not related to some sort of deal regarding whether they should be taxed or not. I think that separate and apart from that they see this is a business opportunity, and a way to get in on the ground level with really talented creators too. I think it’s a wakeup call for how we’re thinking about Canadian content. I think that will put some pressure on the way we’ve always done things. I’m ultimately optimistic about it.

Let’s discuss the Best Limited Series or Program at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards. All are deserving and nominees like Cardinal, The Disappearance and Alias Grace are deserving of being on a cable channel like HBO, Showtime or Starz in the U.S. How exciting is it to have projects like these made in this country?
It’s incredibly exciting. Again, I think it reiterates this idea that we create stuff that the world is interested in. It’s not just for our market. In particular, the rise of the showrunner has had a really positive impact in what we’re doing in this country. People who have a very specific point of view. The model is different in that you’re creating a six-part series. There isn’t an expectation that you have to get your second season, sort of? I don’t know if maybe that has something to do with it. It feels more contained. It feels more film-like, so artistic choices are prized in a way that might make a 13-part series producer nervous for whatever reason. I think there are a few factors contributing to the really interesting rise of this format.

The Canadian Screen Awards gala is coming this Sunday on CBC. For those that don’t know: how are the nominees in each category selected?
It depends on the category. The majority of the nominees are selected by membership vote by the branch that you’re in, like the craft categories or the television categories. The editing branch nominates the editing nominees, etc. We still have a few television categories that are selected by a jury, a jury of professionals—136 in TV and digital media and 28 in film—from across the country that come together. And then all the nominees are voted on the membership as a whole.

I’m thrilled that Jonny Harris and Emma Hunter are sharing co-hosting duties on Sunday. How did you come to the decision to have them do it?
I think it’s fun to have co-hosts because there is the opportunity for them to play off each other. There is more opportunity for comedy and they can support each other in the duties. I thought it would make for fun, spontaneous moments. I just wanted to see us shine a spotlight on some of the extremely talented comedians that we have up here. We do comedy better than most people in the world and I wanted them to show what Canada can do.

I wish no ill will on a Howie Mandel or Norm Macdonald, but I think keeping to people who are currently working in this country was the right move.
There was always a fear that you needed someone like that to drive ratings and this is the risk we’re taking. I’m very optimistic that we’ll see very positive results.

The Family Fan Day, where fans of Canadian television can meet their favourite stars this Saturday, is taking place at the Sony Centre for the second year in a row. That venue is so great because it offers fans a more personal experience than at the Eaton Centre.
Yes. The thing about the Eaton Centre is you have a lot of foot traffic and accidental engagement. Again, I said we don’t need that. What we’re doing here is worthy of the trip and it was a massive success. We have a lot of great, big names coming this year. We’re building a stage so we’re going to have performances this year. It will be really great.

You’ve said several times that this country is worthy of celebrating its talent. I agree. I’ve been on the Canadian networks to broadcast the Canadian Screen Awards red carpet to showcase our star system and I’m disappointed they still won’t do it.
The Academy hasn’t been able to sell the idea to anyone, basically. So we just decided to do it ourselves. We will have a correspondent on the red carpet and will be live-streaming that on our Facebook page. Some of the most fun at an awards show is talking to people on the red carpet.

The Canadian Screen Awards gala airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

 

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Beth Janson appointed CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television

From a media release:

Beth Janson has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, it was announced today by Academy Chair Martin Katz. A Montreal native, Janson is the former Executive Director of the Tribeca Film Institute.

Janson assumes the CEO position on June 1, 2016, succeeding outgoing CEO Helga Stephenson, who will officially step down May 31, following her resignation in February of this year.

As CEO, Janson will set and implement a strategic vision for the Academy as it continues to build upon its mandate to honour outstanding achievements in Canadian film, television, and digital media, as well as heighten public awareness and appreciation for Canadian screen productions.

The recipient of a BFA from York University in Theatre Studies, Beth Janson has nearly two decades of experience in the film, television, and cultural sectors. From 2009 to 2014 she served as executive director of the Tribeca Film Institute, where she was responsible for budget management, fundraising, public relations, human resources, and programmatic direction.

Janson joined Tribeca in 2003 and was the creative force behind the development of its signature programs, including the TFI New Media Fund, a partnership with the Ford Foundation and the first-ever fund for independent transmedia work in the U.S.; Tribeca All Access, a grant and networking program for minority filmmakers; and the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund. Previously, Janson was the programming director of the Newport International Film Festival.

Janson began her career in theatre administration, and later worked in the programming department of HBO Documentary Films. Most recently Janson was the founding director of Rent the Runway Foundation’s Project Entrepreneur program, providing women with access to the tools, training, and networks needed to build scalable, economically impactful companies. Janson’s Twitter handle is @Beth_Janson and her website is: http://www.bethjanson.com/

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