Canadian, TV Reviews

Simu Liu has lots good reasons to be mad – let’s talk about them.

One of my biggest pet peeves about the Canadian media industry is that we are obsessed with Facebook. The job boards are all on Facebook groups, networking is all on Facebook, I do the majority of my casting work on Facebook… it goes on and on. I honestly don’t know how we would run as an industry if we didn’t have it. It annoys me because I wish we were more professional… but that is a whole other conversation.

I bring this up because today Simu Liu took to Facebook to lay it *all* out.

Quick background – Simu is a Canadian actor who is currently best known for his lead role on CBC’s Kim’s Convenience. He’s about to get *very* famous as he is staring in the next big Marvel blockbuster, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Plus it was just announced today that he will be a leading man in an adaption of a Taylor Jenkins-Reid romance.

However – it’s been known for a while that Simu is not happy with the way that Kim’s ended. He’s been alluding to issues for a while and now that the show is officially out on Netflix, he’s finally publically laying out the issues with clarity.

My roommate and I were talking about why he might have picked Facebook to make this statement and we both agreed that it probably has something to do with the fact that Facebook is the place the industry lives.

He posted this on his *personal* facebook – not a fan account. He knew his friends and friends of friends would see this first. The whole thing feels like he’s directly talking to the Canadian media industry in a way he would not have been able to do on Twitter thread or through an Instagram post.

This is deeply personal.

This is why it’s so fascinating/interesting/compelling.

I’ll be honest, as I read it I started getting really fired up. It really feels like a FU to the Canadian industry (which we’ll get into) and it’s written like a goodbye note to the Canadian industry. However – I’m not mad. I’m impressed. I’m fired up in a good way. I have a LOT of thoughts on his thoughts so I thought I’d do a deep dive.

I’m very much on his side and I want to talk about how this is going to (hopefully) make a dent in our overall industry.

Let’s just jump right into this.

This is the thing a lot of people don’t understand about the TV industry in Canada. I have worked on CBC shows for years – but the majority of that time I worked for production companies, not CBC. For various reasons (*cough* conservative governments cutting CBC funding *cough*) the CBC no longer produces the majority of their content in-house. Most of the shows are produced by various production companies across the country. So when I worked on Still Standing – a CBC show – I actually worked for Frantic Films. In this case – the production company that Simu worked for was Thunderbird Entertainment. Outside of Kim’s, Thunderbird is known for it’s slate of factual programming including Highway Thru Hell, Save My Reno, and Heavy Rescue: 401. We’ll come back the production company, but the point here is that the issue is not with CBC and I’m glad Simu lays that out.

HOWEVER – I have some issues with CBC. I truly believe they need to produce more in house content. Yes there are lots of production companies that make great stuff and pros for this model, but there should be more in-house shows. I am deeply jealous of the UK model. I’d love to work directly for CBC and be able to move show to show within the umbrella instead of being a freelance worker moving from company to company every time I switch a show. On top of that… CBC has lost way too many critically acclaimed show this year. Schitt’s, Kim’s, Baroness, and Trickster are all not coming back for various reasons. Plus I’m sure the Anne with an E fans have something to say about shows being canceled at CBC. It feels like an end of an era and not in a good way.

Then let’s talk about Shannon getting her own show… well that feels a bit ridiculous. There are so many wonderful new characters who would love a show. We really don’t need a spin-off in general. But if you are going to do a spin-off… why is it the white girl? One – As a white girl… I don’t get it. There are lots of white girl shows out there… we don’t really need this one. Two – this show was so proudly Korean. Why is the spin-off not about one of the Korean stars?! This is a really bad look in general and I’m a bit perplexed. I appreciate Simu for making it not about Nicole – because it’s not really a particular actor’s fault. But this is not a great look for her either. There are lots of other roles Nicole could do and that would be fantastic. Just don’t do a spin-off…

Ok so I love this. This feels very Harry Styles to me. IYKYK – he never shys away from One Direction – he knows that’s what made him. He’s a huge star now but he never diminishes the boyband years like others do. It’s an extremely smart thing to do. Don’t smack the hand that feeds you or made you. In this context – Simu is growing and getting Hollywood opportunities and he’s smart not to dump on team Canada. So off the top – I love how much he loved this show.

This dynamic of Canadian stars making it and then going to the states is complex. I get it – there are times where our industry feels small, that there isn’t enough room for everyone to grow. If you are willing to take a risk and go south, you can have a huge reward. One of my biggest frustrations with Canada is that we need the Americans to tell us that something is good before we admit it’s good. But then if those people come back, we often judge them for leaving us. They feel like traitors. It’s not a good look. This whole dynamic is a mess. I hate how being Canadian famous isn’t good enough, or being big in Canada doesn’t get you any respect anywhere else. I hate that there is this feeling that you can’t move between markets (in this example Hollywood vs Canada). I’ve always wanted to make Canadian TV, but I also want to work in other markets to grow. I also hate how we treat people who move away with disdain.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is – I get how people could have complex feelings about him being “Hollywood”.

Is Simu Hollywood now? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. (I love that for him). He’ll have more power and can hopefully use that to fight for more content in Canada or in an international market that represent his communities. We need to get better in Canada at leveraging our Canadians who are famous for our purposes. Like yes – he’s Hollywood – that’s GREAT for Kim’s. Stop thinking of it as a negative. Ugh. The whole thing makes me so frustrated.

There is this great interview of Chris O’Dowd and Niall Horan talking about how people back home treat them differently now that they are internationally famous – so perhaps this is a ‘small country’ complex. People always have attitude about LA.

This is highly frustrating and I can empathize with his anger here. Should all actors get to influence how the writers craft their characters… no. Writers have a job and that job needs to be respected. However – in this case, I think he’s got a strong case for it and I’d agree that the Kim’s cast should have been given the opportunity. On this show in particular, the actors should have been the stewards of their character. Especially knowing that many of the writers in the room were not Asian Canadians.

I think this is where we bring up that Kim’s was a Fringe Play. Ins Choi, the showrunner was the original Jung. The play was his story. It was deeply personal. So of any of the characters, I understand how Jung might not have been the actors, that character belonged specifically to Ins. With that, I’m extremly interested in hearing Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon’s perspectives on how their characters developed (or didn’t) and how they got to influence those developments. These two actors had been with the show since it was a Fringe play and have seen it grow over those years. I’d love to see them comment on this.

All that being said – I also agree that character growth is critical to shows. It doesn’t matter if if it’s Jung or any other character. It’s boring to see the same thing over and over. I want growth and my *favourite* characters have had huge growth. For example, I think one of the all time great shows is Friday Night Lights. It’s particularly good because we got to witness incredible character growth. Tyra, Riggins, and Landry are all great examples of characters who were given space and room to grow into beloved characters. It’s a mistake to keep characters where they started. So I appreciate Simu’s critique of this on an large scale and not just for Kim’s.

SO MUCH TO BREAK DOWN HERE. Obviously this surprises no one who works in the industry. I think as a public, we assume that everyone who works in TV/Film are all best friends. This is rarely the case. Shows where people are genuinely friends are rare to find. I get along with all my colleagues and I’ve made some great friends over the years at work, but there is always drama. We work together so closely in really intense environments and clashes are inventible. I also think you hear a lot of people talk about shows as ‘families’ and I also understand that. You love your family, but riffs are normal. Plus let’s be real here – do any of you get along with your co-workers 100% of the time? No. It doesn’t matter the industry, there are always work place conflicts.

In this case, Simu lists out a few of the reasons why he clashed with the team and I understand the issues. Let’s break them all down.

Nomination snubs hurt. There are a few things to note here:

One, I think Simu was in an interesting position – should they nominate him as a supporting actor or as a lead actor? This is a discussion that a production company would have. We will never know if he was submitted or not, and so we won’t know if the blame for the snub should be on the production company or The Academy of Canadian Film and Television.

Two, the Academy has had a lot of shows to pick from over the last few years. It has been a golden age for Canadian Comedy with shows like Letterkenny, Workin’ Moms, Schitt’s Creek, Baroness Von Sketch, and Kim’s Convenience all producing killer content. For the first time in a long time, there hasn’t been one show that is miles above the rest – all these shows are strong. Which means there is a lot of competition to get a nomination and to ultimately win.

Three – in Canada, one issue with the Canadian Screen Awards is that because our industry is so small, it can feel like everyone is getting nominated… but you. So I have a lot of empathy for Simu. It sucks that he got passed over. However, he’s not alone in this There are cast members on Schitt’s and Letterkenny that I also think have gotten snubbed over the years and don’t get me started on the politics around on reality side. The point here is that it can feel really personal and I get it.

On the topic of screen time. This can be hard – I don’t know what his contract is. But if he’s paid daily or hourly rather than a set salary per episode or per season, getting less screen time can mean less money. This can make a huge difference in someones paycheque.

Then he talks about the opportunities for particular cast members. These things are always political. I’m curious about this one and I’d love to break this down more – but I think one of the big issues is that there just aren’t enough opportunities for Canadian talent in general in this country. So when there are a limited number of opportunities… some people won’t get them. I could really go on a rant here about how this is *actually* a huge problem and one that I want to solve but I’ll save that for another day. Today, it’s just sadly the reality of the Canadian industry…

Which is why it makes so much sense he started hanging out in LA. There are lots of fun things to do down there and lots of opportunities to be had. I’m glad he found his scene.

Lastly, he talks about the lack of mentorship on the show. Sadly, this also doesn’t surprise me. I have been so lucky to have some fantastic mentors over the years, but I’ve also been on a shows where I haven’t had mentors or seen opportunities for others to have mentors. On those shows, I try my best to mentor my juniors, but it can be really hard. Those are the shows that I find myself feeling disengaged. I can’t imagine being the face of a show where you feel disengaged. It would be really hard. I hope he’s found a mentor in LA. I also can’t wait to see him be the mentor he wishes he could have had to the next generation.

OKKK. So let’s talk about what a horsepoop rate could be. Kim’s is a union show – which means there is a bottom rate. They cannot make less than a specific amount. I don’t normally deal with ACTRA rates but if I read their production agreement right – the least you could make as a principal actor is $3,431.25 a week. Let’s say production runs for 3 months… (13 episodes, a week to film each)… that’s $45000ish. Which is fine. Lots of people make that in a year. But in TV that is terrible rate. You should be making WAY more than that. I don’t know what his specific contract is but they all need to be making at least double this. Let’s be honest, they could be making 45k an episode easy. To give you context, the cast of Friends in it’s first season (when it wasn’t a big show and the actors were nobodies) made $22,500 per episode each.

There are a few things to consider here. I could get into film/tv financing and it’s complications – but budgets in Canada are tied tightly to tax credits and public funds. Plus this show is a CBC show (aka gov’t budget). The budget for this project is not going to be massive. Especially knowing that Schitt’s premiered a year before and probably took up a HUGE % of CBC’s budget with the American names etc… it’s going to be tight.

The way to make money is to sell it to places like Netflix. So the issue really is that Simu and his cast should have asked for a % of profits. Again – do they have this I don’t know. But this is my suspicion. They really needed producer titles to make the $$$. Hopefully Simu has learned this lesson and will always be a producer or at least demand a % moving forward.

I also know that you build up your rate – the first show you’re on you make no money (legitimately no money, you often intern for free). Then you go up and up and up. Because of the success of Kim’s, he can now demand a high rate. It’s too bad that you didn’t get it this time, but you know you’ll be FINE in the future.

So two thoughts on this one.

1 – From my perspective, it seems like the show runner on this project seems overwhelmed. Everything points to them being burnt out, overwhelmed, and just generally exhausted. That’s hard for the cast, production, and show. But it’s obviously a personal issue and I really hope they get to go away and recharge the battery. So there’s that. Its hard. But perhaps leaving without a note was not personal. I think there are other issues at play here.

2- In TV there is a hierarchy and a really strong tradition of paying your dues. I think there could have been an attitude that he had not yet paid his dues. In my opinion he grew his credibility over the years, but I could see there being this attitude that this was his first major role and lots of people have many roles before they start getting opportunities in the writers room or directing etc. So if a showrunner is burnt out and a production company sucks (which again all signs point to some problems there), yeah it makes sense that no one would be able to help you.

Here’s where I get fired up. Young people with ambition in this country are not given opportunities to level up. The only way you level up is to leave. The people who I see in this country having success, have had a win in the states. That honestly is the way you get your “I’m Legit” card stamped. It’s ridiculous.

Flip of that – if he with all his Hollywood clout, star power, and lead actor energy could not get anyone to listen to him and let him write or director… think about all of us in the industry without any clout. You can’t even get in the door. There are so many aspiring writers, directors, actors who have turned out short film after short film and haven’t gotten anything from it. So if Simu is having a hard time… then that looks really bad for everyone.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the crew on this show. My friend Joy worked on this show and she’s a 10/10 person so obviously the crew was great. If there rest of the crew is like Joy – they would have the best crew in the biz. I LOVE that he acknowledges the people that made the show. The people with the clip boards and walkie talkies really do make things happen and I’m glad he acknowledged their contributions to the success of the show.

I’m also sad that the show isn’t continuing. It’s a real shame.

I think it was just starting to pick up the international acclaim it deserved and it’s really unfortunate how it all ended.

Overall the real story in this post is that the Canadian industry is failing ambitious Canadians. We should have created a culture where he doesn’t feel like he needs to leave to grow. We should also have a culture where being famous here is equal to being famous else where. That having a hit show in Canada is a big deal. I want more opportunities, more money, more growth here for anyone who wants it.

If I think about it, Simu is two years older than I am. He got into the industry two years before me. I see this big wall coming up. I want to grow and I’m ambitious. Will I hit the wall? Is there a limit to my dreams that I can build in this country? Will there be enough room for all of my peers to also chase their dreams? I don’t know. It makes me nervous that someone like Simu is experiencing these issues when he does have power. Someone like me could be screwed.

However – I’m actually curious about solutions and I wonder if Simu could the person who sees the issues and activity tries to fix it.

He’s launching a production company that will focus on Asian Canadian stories. He’s doing some money making projects (rom-coms, superhero movies etc) and I think he will be able to walk into rooms and get the project he wants made. How will he use that power? I hope that he mentors up and coming actors.

If anything I hope he doesn’t completely walk away from Canada. We need people like him in our biz and I’m actively watching what he does next.

p.s. Simu – if you ever read this. Let’s get a coffee. I have more ideas for world domination 🙂

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