Tag Archives: Writer’s Guild of Canada

Interview: WGC’s Maureen Parker to government: “Let us grow our craft”

Maureen Parker is frustrated with the way the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV campaign rolled out.

As executive director at the Writers Guild of Canada, Parker made a presentation to the CRTC as part of the Let’s Talk TV public hearings late last month. There she–along with WGC members and screenwriters Cal Coons and Andrew Wreggit, and Guild director of policy Neal McDougall–championed the Canadian television industry, the entertainment it provides and the quality content being made here.

Her frustration was the result of an overall negative tone to the hearings. As she says, Canadians are making consistently good television at home that results in fantastic ratings for a country with a small television market. It’s a success story she wishes would be discussed more often. So we did.

How do you feel your presentation went to the CRTC? Do you feel like yourself, Andrew Wreggit, Cal Coons and Neal McDougall got your message across?
Maureen Parker: Yes, I do. I think our presentation went very well. It’s very tough to address any of these very big issues in a 10-minute oral presentation, so we decided that we would focus on one or two of the issues at the hearing that were very distinctly writer related, and that was the issue of how do you make quality programming and we talked a lot about our audience and the success of Canadian programming. I think that message was really getting lost at the hearings.

It was a very negative hearing. No one is talking about the good things out there and the great accomplishments in Canadian television and those that work in the Canadian television industry. It felt like drudgery. Nobody wanted to do it, Netflix didn’t want to contribute … it’s disheartening to be honest.

Cal and Andrew’s part of the presentation was enlightening. How important was it for them to stress that good TV writers are choosing to stay in Canada and create?
MP: First of all, they’re volunteers and they feel very passionately about their career choice and they get very tired of defending that career choice because they are both very successful. Again, every time we are in a hearing we are forced to defend Canadian content and the focus really should be elsewhere.

Do you think that will ever change?
MP: You make me laugh! No, but it should.

I thought the Canadian TV Delivers video was very effective in getting the message across.
MP: That was something we did in conjuction with the hearings because I think the message is getting lost. Canadians watch Canadian programming, and they like it. You can talk about unbundling, you can talk about packaging, you can talk about the vertical integration code, but we’re really getting lost in all of the details. The main priority is making Canadian programming for Canadians and we make very good programs. I’ve used a couple of stats to back that up. The CRTC Profile Report, for example, said that in 2013, 46.1 per cent of viewers of English language programming were watching Canadian programs. They have all of their American shows to choose from, but 46 per cent of them are watching Canadian programs. That’s pretty darned good.

We’re getting programs that are coming in at over 2 million viewers per week. That is a huge number in a small market like Canada.

Those numbers would indicate a growth then, in Canadian programming?
MP: I would say yes, we are growing the business as everybody is. We’ve always underrated ourselves and we’re getting better. That was our message. Let us grow our craft; that’s how you build quality.

Everyone is so concerned with cutting the cost of their cable bill they’re not considering the fact that it means less channels, less timeslots and less work for Canadians in this industry.
MP: The CRTC has been directed by the government to address the unbundling issue and they are doing that. So we can waste energy fighting that or we can look for ways to enhance our business models within that structure. The Harper government has told the CRTC to address this. I don’t think Canadians want this. I need to be very clear about that. We’re now looking at either the skinny basic or enhanced basic setup and we have faith in our programming. Look, this will mean that some channels with disappear.  The one thing that was very important to us to obtain was an expenditure requirement on Canadian programming. They’ll still have to spend the same amount of money. That’s why we’re in favour of the enhanced basic. That means Bell Media could decide to include Space, Shaw could include Showcase.

I do want to say this about the presentation. At the end, the chair thanked us and asked us to help the CRTC to get the message out about Canadian programming. We took heart from that.

It freaks me out a bit that until this year I never really paid much attention to this and I’ve been in the business for over 15 years. The focus is being put on cable prices.
MP: And that’s a fair discussion, but it’s the way they’re going about it with the unbundling. They don’t unbundle in the States. That’s the market system. The bigger channels have to support the smaller channels. Really, this is about the Harper government inserting its opinion into our business and the broadcasting business.

Let’s switch gears a bit. I’m interested in the fact that here in Canada it is the television stars who tend to be promoted to viewers and less the writers or showrunners, which is something they do in the U.S. In the U.S. there is a focus on Greg Berlanti’s next project or what Aaron Sorkin is up to. Should we be focusing on longtime Canadian showrunners and championing them in the pitch a little more?
MP: Absolutely, and I think that’s changing. One of the things we started about 10 years ago was the Showrunner Awards. This isn’t a new position in the industry, but it’s more quiet and behind the scenes. Writers are not lead performers and they don’t get the lead spot in the promotion machine. Does there need to be more talk about that? Sure. The showrunner model works, but it’s a little different up here because we have independent producers who have always thought of themselves as part of the creative vision. It’s not like working for a U.S. studio. U.S. studios are not giving endless notes like they do in our system. There are too many cooks in the kitchen. Broadcasters, broadcast executives, producers … let us do our business. It’s a win for everybody. Butt out!

What’s next for the WGC?
MP: We’re working on collective bargaining. Our primary mandate is to negotiate the compensation and provisions around writers’ work. It’s very complicated. The one message I want to get across about that is: no more free work. No free rides. Writers have families, mortgages and rent as well and we cannot prop up the industry. That is not our role. Our role is to create content. It’s up to the producer and the broadcast to pay for that content.

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Bomb Girls’ Michael MacLennan on his WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination

MichaelMacLennan

This year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. Bomb Girls‘ Michael MacLennan was nominated for his episode “Jumping Tracks.”

Can you describe the episode “Jumping Tracks” and how it fit into the Bomb Girls season?

“Jumping Tracks” is the first episode of the series, establishing the “world” of the show, setting up the central characters and their various interconnections, and beginning the major themes, conflicts and storylines that launch the show, garner an audience, and serve as a blueprint for the episodes to come.  In other words, there’s a lot that goes into those 50 pages!

What was the biggest triumph in this particular episode?

Triumph?  Hm, I’d have to say two: when Lorna, a modestly educated, working-class woman, finds the courage to stand up to a doctor in order to protect one of her girls (Vera) and give her top-tier medical treatment reserved for soldiers.  And in a different light, I’d say the moment when Gladys decides to accept a marriage proposal from Lewis, a man she barely met, before he goes overseas, likely never to be seen again.  There’s something about how she elects to boldly give comfort and bolstering to this fellow — and in so doing, offers us — and herself — an inkling of just what she’s capable of.

What does this recognition mean to you?

It’s huge.  It’s the one opportunity for the script to be recognized AS a script, and given all the thinking and writing that’s gone into it, it means a great deal, especially since it is, as they say, a jury of one’s peers.

Bomb Girls is airing its second season on Global on Monday nights. 

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Denis McGrath on his WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination for Less Than Kind

DenisMcGrathThis year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. Denis McGrath was nominated for his episode of Less Than Kind, “Danger, Wrestling.”

Can you describe the episode “Danger, Wrestling” and how it fit into the Less Than Kind season?

It’s actually part of the “lost” 3rd season. As most people know, our beloved Sam Blecher, the great Maury Chaykin, passed away while we were writing Season 3. I wrote the first draft of “Danger, Wrestling” with a B-Plot featuring Sam. That had to be rewritten by the room eventually — and by that point I was on another show.  I went with my draft, which had some elegiac stuff with Sam that obviously, we weren’t able to use.

Other than that there’s fun stuff of Josh auditioning talent for his acting school — and Sheldon discovers the joys of wrestling.

What was the biggest triumph in this particular episode?

Well there’s two answers to that. Obviously for the show, the fact that they rallied and got the whole season made as a tribute to Maury and wound up with a beautiful exploration of how a family moves through grief — that’s so much greater than any individual contribution, and a testimony to the talent of Mark McKinney, the creators Marvin (Kaye) & Chris (Sheasgreen), and the team they put together.

But personally? I don’t write a lot of comedy … I’m mostly a drama writer. When I was considering whether to enter the script — I have to thank Karen Hill for that — I reread it for the first time in two years and really laughed. There’s  a wonderful subplot about Sam tracing the ups and downs of a piece of stock — and him coming to terms with selling it (for the same amount he bought it for 30 years ago) — but it’s really about him coming to terms with feeling his sons will be okay without him. I’d like to think that my strength as a drama writer is a light touch, and as a comedy writer, I go for the big cry. That’s a little messed up, isn’t it?

What does this recognition mean to you?

So much. I love LTK. It’s employed some of my best friends. Working on the show brought my fiancee and I together. I came from a family that yelled, with love … so I recognize those characters. I’ve had an incredibly lucky career and after winning a WGC Award for writing a drama show, it’s humbling and exciting to get nominated for comedy. And it’s a recognition by my writer peers, and that is incredibly important to me.

If there is one Canadian show that is no longer on the air that you could see honoured at this year’s awards, what would it be? (If you have a specific episode, even better).   

For the love of God, why has CBC not done a Street Legal reunion/reboot movie? I miss Chuck and Olivia. I can’t be alone on that one. But the truth is — they ALL should be honoured. From Wojeck to DaVinci to Intelligence to the first 30 years of Citytv we have made, and continued to make, wonderful TV in Canada. I think it’s sad that we only note that when the New York Times or some American publication says so.

There are such strong nominees this year. So many great scripts. I am so jazzed to be among that talent. Maybe I can make a go of this writing thing.

Less Than Kind is entering into its fourth and final season on The Movie Network/Movie Central in 2013. 

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Esta Spalding on her WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination for Saving Hope

Esta SpaldingThis year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. Saving Hope‘s Esta Spalding was nominated for her episode “Bea, Again”.

Can you describe the episode “Bea, Again” and how it fit into the Saving Hope season?

The episode “Bea, Again” was the episode of Saving Hope that came after the three week break the series had taken so that CTV could air the Olympics.  Right before the break, in episode 8, there was a very big cliffhanger:  Charlie (a lead character who has been in a coma since the first episode and has been walking around the hospital as a ghost) is unplugged from life support.  Alex, his fiancee, is devastated.  In my episode, Charlie has to survive this process.  The plug is pulled in episode 8, but he needs to be hanging between life and death and only declared alive at the end of episode 9.  Now, in real life, once the plug is pulled you either live or die.  So the challenge was to make that process last for a TV-hour without having it last for an actual hour.  I also knew that dramatically Alex needed to be with Charlie, at his bedside, but that the show’s mandate was for her to have a high-stakes medical case each week. How could I do both things?  It was such a strange, challenging crossword puzzle.  Maybe because of my background as a poet, I found all of the limitations really energizing and I came up with a very fun structure and story.

What does this recognition mean to you?

This recognition means so much to me.  There’s no higher honor than to be honored by your peers — your fellow writers in the trenches. I am thrilled to have been nominated.

If there was one Canadian show that is no longer on the air that you could see honored at this year’s awards, what would it be? (If you have a specific episode, even better).

I’ve been watching Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom show on HBO and thinking how much better Semi Chellas’s Eleventh Hour was.  There was always great critical acclaim for that show, but I wish that show had found a larger audience while it was on the air.  It’s a show I’d still be happy to be writing for, all these years later.

Saving Hope season one airs Saturday nights on CTV Two. Season two is slated to air this summer.

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Continuum’s Simon Barry on his WGC Screenwriting Award Nomination

SimonBarry

This year’s Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award winners will be announced on April 22. We’ve been catching up with many of the writers nominated in the comedy and drama categories. First up, Continuum‘s Simon Barry, nominated for his episode “End Times.”

Can you describe the episode “End Times” and how it fit into the Continuum season?

“End Times” brings together many of the threads we set up in season one and resolves them while also setting up new questions and threads that carry over into season two. It also sets up some new characters and some new dynamics for established characters.

What was the biggest triumph in this particular episode?

I’m not sure there was anything worthy of the description “triumph.” I could say that one of the goals was to find the balance between a satisfying finale and an intriguing tease. I think we accomplished that goal and challenged ourselves to make an entertaining episode.

What does this recognition mean to you?

It’s great to be recognized by fellow writers who appreciate how difficult it is to get ideas from your imagination onto the page and then on screen intact. It’s great that a new show has found support in the first year and I hope we can live up to the expectations of the audience and my fellow Guild brothers and sisters.

If there was one Canadian show that is no longer on the air that you could see honoured at this year’s awards, what would it be? (If you have a specific episode, even better).

SCTV – one of my favorite all time shows. The episode where they parodied Ingmar Bergman was sublime brilliance.

Continuum is currently in production on season two, which will premiere on Showcase on April 21, 2013.

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