Let’s talk about CanCon

I’m a Canadian TV producer and we’re in the middle of a big debate about Bill C-10. It’s time to talk about CanCon.

Before we get started, let’s set out the terms here. These are word for word from the CRTC website:

CanCon: Content Made by Canadians
The goal is to ensure that Canadian broadcasting content meets the needs and interests of Canadians by delivering compelling, high-quality Canadian-made creative content from diverse sources on a variety of platforms.

What Makes it CanCon:
TV programs and films are recognized as “Canadian” based on criteria that have been around in some form or another since the 1920s. The CRTC certifies a Canadian television program or series that meets the following criteria:

So how do you get 6 out of 10 points? You collect them from these categories:

The 6/10 points system is the standard that has been utilized by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO) since 1995 for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit.

With me? Great.

CAVCO is critical for our industry. I have a CAVCO number that proves that I’m a Canadian who works in this industry. Productions often request CAVCO numbers right off the top. You don’t need one when you are a PA (production assistant) but as you rise in the industry it’s important. Whenever I join a production I’m asked for my CAVCO number and where I file taxes (because provinces want you to hire people from their province AND they care what region you come from).

However – there are a lot of people who think there is too much regulation in Can-Con. The Conservative Party for example thinks that regulations could be seen as censorship. They created a narrative when Stephen Harper was PM that a Netflix tax would be bad. They generally favour a free market and think that regulation stifles the industry rather than protects it. (They also have a large issue with the CBC in general but that’s a post for another time…).

I disagree. We need protection and we need Can-Con.

We get smothered by American content and this hurts our national identity.

There are few reasons why this happens.

Obviously, first off – there is also just so much more American Content and they have much more money to make content. According to PWC, Canadian film and TV productions account for $5 billion in revenue. Compare that to the Global revenue of $101 billion in 2019. We are *small* fish. This makes a difference. If you watch enough big-budget shows you come to expect a certain calibre of production and in Canada, we’re constantly disappointed. Budgets here for shows are so much smaller and because of that, they aren’t going to be able to compete in the same way. So Canadians turn off Canadian TV and turn on American TV because it’s ‘better’.

Second, unlike the Brits, Irish, Kiwis, and Australians, South Africans etc – we don’t have a distinct enough accent when we speak English. We sound like the Americans we hear on TV. So many of our fantastic Canadian actors have thriving careers in the states because they can be ‘American much more authenticity than they can be ‘British’. We just sound the same and don’t need Canadian TV to hear our own accents, like Australians need Australian TV to hear their accent. Is this a chicken and egg situation – maybe? I think we sound more like the Americans because we hear it on TV all the time but we also sound like Americans for a thousand other reasons. The Canadian accent is only on TV when there is a concerted effort to sound Canadian (ie Letterkenny) and on those shows, it’s more stereotypical and over-emphasized.

This is a uniquely English-Canada problem. Quebec doesn’t have this problem. They are watching Canadian-made TV because their French is so unique and they don’t want to watch dubbed American TV. They get great numbers, so they get decent budgets and so Quebec has a thriving TV market.

The other issue that the Canadian industry is facing is the change in how we watch TV. Very few of us watch TV on traditional TV networks anymore. It’s all streaming. We are lucky to have Crave and Gem that are attached to CTV and CBC respectively, but they can’t compete with the big American services.

What annoys me is is that services like Netflix, Apple TV, and Disney+ stream in Canada and they don’t contribute to Canadian TV budgets. They take our money and use it on American TV shows. That’s not cool. If these companies are going to stream here a certain % of their content should be Canadian and if there isn’t enough content to license fulfill that, then they can pay to make original Canadian content for their services.

The Canadian industry employs more than 117,000 people on a full-time basis. We are very good at making TV here. This is where that point system comes back into play.

We are very good at being the worker bees. We have the crews to make massive hits and award-winning projects. A Canadian crew made Shape of Water, we are currently filming Handmaid’s Tale, Star Trek is filmed in Toronto. All the CW teen shows are filmed out in Vancouver: The Flash, Riverdale, etc. The issue – these are all made by Canadians but how many Canadians are in positions of power?

Do they have 6 out of 10 points? Often the directors are flown up from the US, the writer’s room is all Americans, the cast is all American, post is all done in LA… the list goes on. It employs a lot of people but it doesn’t contribute to Canadian culture.

Ok so why does this matter and how does this hurt our identity?

Canadian identity is intrinsically linked to our Canadian values. Our values are influenced by multiple factors but TV and Movies can have a lasting impact on what we care about.

It’s the classic saying ‘If you can see it, you can be it’. I’d take that farther and say if you can see it you can empathize with it. I truly believe that as a society we became open to LGBTQ+ rights because we had lots of LGBTQ+ characters on our screens in the 90s and early 00s. For many people, Cam and Mitch from Modern Family normalized what a gay relationship could look like.

I’ll flip that in another direction – I think society has traditionally respected the police because we all love people like Olivia Benson (Law and Order). For decades, TV has made cops the good guys.

So in Canada, we value things like hockey… because we see it on our TVs every single Saturday night. We value Nature… because David Suzuki told us to. We value multiculturalism… because of shows like Little Mosque on the Prairie.

The Americans value things like the military (see shows like Seal Team, MAS*H, Homeland), The American Dream (see things like The Apprentice, Mad Men, The Social Network), and competition (see every reality show ever).

If we want to protect the things that make us unique, that we value, we need to put that in front of people and not have other people (aka Americans) tell us what we should care about it.

So it’s interesting to me to look at the list of shows that were nominated for Canadian Screen Awards this year to see what we currently value.

Last night Transplant won best Drama TV Show. Makes sense in 2021, we value immigrants, dads, and medical professionals. It beat two legal shows Cardinal and Burden of Truth, Vikings, and Departure. It was the obvious winner for many reasons – I’m a huge fan of the show. I’m glad it won. If you haven’t seen it – make it your weekend watch. You can watch it on Crave.

Schitt’s Creek obviously won best comedy. It’s had an incredible awards season but the other four shows up for consideration were all phenomenal: Letterkenny, Workin’ Moms, Baroness Von Sketch, and Kim’s Convenience. It’s an interesting time in Canadian comedy with three of those five shows wrapping this year. Again – what do these shows say about us? We love small towns, women, and working people? I don’t know but I think it’s interesting to consider.

On the reality front, Canada’s Drag Race won best Best Reality/Competition Program or Series and again – it reflects our countries liberal values. It also reflects our desire to be cool like the US (cough we all just love RuPaul cough). It’s a format that we copied and in this country, there is nothing we like more than being *just like* the US. It was up against two British formats, Dragon Den, and The Great Canadian Baking Show, and two originals Battle of the Blades and Wall of Chefs. It’s interesting to me that the American format beat the British. Interesting that in terms of culture, we respect the American ideas more than the British – I think 50+ years ago that would have been reversed.

Lastly, I want to talk about the best picture category. First, it’s dominated by French movies. See Quebec having a thriving culture. But importantly it was won by Tracey Deer’s Beans. I think this is a great movie for a thousand reasons. It’s getting attention because Ava DuVernay has been a vocal supporter of it. People in the film industry have been supportive of this movie, but the general public got on board only when an American icon validated it. This is fascinating/infuriating to me. I’m so glad she is bringing attention to this movie – but I wish Canadians would just care in general. We shall see what happens when it gets a full release.

I could legitimately go on about this forever but I think it’s so critical to protect our shows, to produce more, to celebrate achievements in Canadian film and TV.

It’s why I want to one day produce a talk show. I want a place to talk about Canadian pop culture, politics, and feature Canadian talent. It’s critical for us.

However – we can’t just make TV for us. Not in 2021. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

We need to make global TV with a Canadian perspective. Shows that folks around the world want to watch. I don’t want to hide our Canadian-isms. It’s what makes us unique. Our lead characters should get Tim’s coffee on the way to work, Toronto can be Toronto, and we can see characters pouring milk from bags. I watch Irish TV because I like learning about Irish culture but I end up sticking around and becoming a fan of the programming because it’s good.

Take Elite – it’s a fancy Spanish teen show. It’s very clearly Spanish and I love it. I also love Lupin – a very specific French show. I love Derry Girls – a show about a specific group of Irish girls. I think people internationally would love our Canadian shows.

We need services like Netflix, Disney+, and Apple to commit to sharing them. We need strong digital teams that can get the world out on social. The framework I would use – we launch in Canada and then go live internationally.

It’s important for us – and good for the global community.

Bill C-10 is trying to bring in some more protections for Canadian media companies so we can compete on a global scale and protect our culture.

It’s a good thing. We need this legislation badly.

If you want to learn more about it I’ve got a few resources to share.

CBC’s Front Burner has a great podcast about this bill and looks at the pros and cons with it.

If you want to learn more about the business and economics of Canadian Media check out the CMPA. They just (like yesterday) released their economic report.

One of the major issues with this Bill is how it will or won’t impact Independent creators (ie TikTokers or Youtubers). The Washington Post has an op-ed about that today. I say if you’re making a significant amount of money from your production then you should be under the same production rules…

Or if you’re a HUGE nerd you can read the whole bill yourself here.

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