Thursday, September 18, 2014

Vancouver Confidential

I spent a couple of days in Vancouver this week and on a sunny day, it’s probably the most beautiful city in the world. It ain’t half bad looking on a rainy day either. And as the locals say, “Wait twenty minutes” and you can observe it either way.

It’s hard not to like Vancouver. The setting is perfect. The architecture, even the pervasive condo towers, is impressive. There’s amazing food, designer beer, art and culture, social consciousness and environmental awareness.

But take a drive a couple of blocks past the downtown glitter and there’s something else. A sea of lost humanity the city does all it can to ignore or gentrify out of existence.

Cruise along Hastings Street on any morning and in two blocks you’ll go from the hipster minions dutifully lined up single file at the bus stops to a blocks long sidewalk flea market where the junkies, the lost and the abused spread knapsacks of old clothes, canned goods and the booty of car break-ins in hope of earning enough money for a fix, a bottle or even a hot cup of soup.

I’ve been on enough police ride-a-longs to differentiate the addicts searching for a dealer from the hookers and the runaways. And here you find them mixed in with those who have obviously just been broken and left beyond hope.

This time through I noticed one young man sitting cross-legged next to a strewn pile of clothing. Both eyes were swollen shut from a recent beating. The rest of his face was marked with cuts and bruises. He looked shell-shocked and lost. Somebody bent down, took a pair of soiled socks and tossed him a quarter.

I almost picked up my cellphone to dial 911, not to request help but ask WTF the people paid to help were doing.

I knew they wouldn’t come. And if they did, I’d probably be the one they’d want to do something about. I’m sure somebody would assure me that the problem was at least “contained” or “under control” or some other bullshit civic officials use to hide their lack of action.

As I drove away, I wondered if that young man would in the next few days become one of the bridge jumpers fashionable Vancouverites complain about at cocktail parties because they tie up traffic.

So I’d like to pass on three things from a guy who’s been embedded with drug squads and gang units all over the US of A.

Number one. The worst parts of Harlem during New York’s crack epidemic of the 1990’s and Compton when any one of the Crips and Bloods street wars raged were far more civilized than what’s going down on Vancouver’s “Lower East Side”.

Yes, it’s laudable that you have a safe place for junkies to shoot up. But that only solves a public health problem. Not the big one. And yes you have a thriving poverty industry promoting the needs of the homeless and the helpless. But from what I see on my regular visits –- they’re not accomplishing much.

The second thing I want you to know comes from a narcotics cop I spent weeks with on Chicago’s notorious South side, where every officer on the force accepted that the “War on Drugs” was mostly a war on the poor and the disadvantaged.

One night he told me that like a solid wooden stool you need three legs to support a drug problem. The drugs, obviously. But you also need crooked cops and crooked politicians.

If you don’t have a drug supply, there’s no problem.

If the politicians aren’t willing to look the other way, you’ve got no problem.

And if cops aren’t hamstrung or taking money to NOT do their job, you’ve got no problem.

Vancouver, therefore, has the Lower East Side because it has all three legs of that stool firmly in place.

Now, I know the good people of Lotus land don’t want to look at their politicians and police that way. Their city fathers entice the world to come to Olympic Games or World Fairs and organic garden and smoke salmon on the side.

The police ride bikes and watch over the nude bodies on Wreck beach without being judgemental. And they always get to the daily gang shootings minutes AFTER they happen.

Which brings me to the third thing.

I know you don’t want to believe your shining jewel of a town has a dark flaw at its center (and I don’t mean the Sedin twins) but frankly, that’s your history and your civic tradition.

If you don’t believe me, buy a terrific new book that’s being published this week by Anvil Press entitled “Vancouver Confidential”.

It features the work of a gang of your most talented writers and journalists, chronically the stories most cities would strive to live down. But decade after decade, Vancouver appears to replicate them.

Why?

Well, my personal theory is that it’s a place so smitten with its own charm and sophistication, it is wilfully blind to what any visitor with open eyes sees with frightening clarity.

Or maybe it’s the way so many in Vancouver think that by living there they’re somehow more special, like the film crews who differentiate between being somebody who does “Features” and would thus never deign to toil among the lower caste who does “TV”.

Whatever the real cause, you have a problem Vancouver. And you’ve had it for a long, long time. Pretty as you are, the rest of us can tell you really need to change your underwear.

Buy the book. Learn your history. And then -- Stop repeating it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 341: The Masterclass

Another Toronto International Film Festival has drawn to a close, debuting most of the films that will vie for awards during the winter to come.

Aggravating and elitist as it has become over the years, I’ve always had a soft spot for TIFF. I had a film in the very first one. Back when the biggest celebrity they could convince to attend was Wilt Chamberlain.

But from the start the festival’s true affection for films and filmmakers was obvious. And so in its early years, I always made sure I’d saved enough money to take the week days of the Festival off as well as afford one of the Industry passes that got you in to see every single film and entree to most of the parties.

When times got flush I became a patron, by then the only way to assure you could view the films really you wanted to see.

But while most now know the Fest for its red carpet mobs and glittering premieres, it has another aspect that is far more valuable to those who love or aspire to create film –- the industry seminars.

These may be the hardest tickets to get your hands on, for they offer the chance to talk movies with those either famous for or about to be recognized for making them.

This is where the great minds of cinema as well as the hucksters gather to map the coming trends in making movies and remember the great moments from its past.

And TIFF has come a long way since the year you attended the screenwriting seminar and got –- me. This year’s seminars featured in depth discussions on craft, distribution and funding as well as a litany of famous actors, writers and directors revealing their personal creative process.

And now, TIFF has put all of these seminars up on Youtube for those who couldn’t physically or financially be there in person. You can find them here.

And as a taste of what’s in store, what follows is this year’s Masterclass featuring director Barry Levinson.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing the CRTC’s Movie

Yesterday, it appeared that CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais had found himself in a socially awkward position.

The Writers Guild of Canada had presented their clear and cogent argument on the quality and appeal of Canadian made television. It wasn’t anything Blais hadn’t heard before. And maybe he was tired or maybe had just heard too much irreconcilable difference from a week’s worth of self-serving interveners. But the man knew these people had put a lot of work into their presentation and deserved at least a couple of half-hearted questions.

But somehow he asked this one –- How would the WGC as Story tellers make the people of Canada understand a complicated regulatory system involving SimSub, linkage rules and the business models that make up the Canadian television system…?

This took me somewhat aback, mostly because of what the question revealed of Blais himself and perhaps his entire Commission.

He was just like the rest of us, a guy who looks for guidance or at least some kind of plausible world view that so many glean from the stories they see in movies and on television.

Gee –– despite all those broadcaster arguments about what the audience thought was good or how commerce obviously mattered more than spending money on Art –- Blais recognized the inherent need for individual clarity and social self-examination for which the Human race created Drama in the first place.

It struck me that maybe, after all these years of CRTC hearings on Canadian television, that maybe we were getting somewhere.

My own movie about CanCon would have paralleled “Romeo and Juliet” in which the star-crossed creators of drama and those hungering for it have been kept apart by a broadcast system ruled by what keeps violence from breaking out on the streets of Hollywood.

Or it might be one in which the star-crossed find themselves aboard a doomed broadcaster ship heading straight for an iceberg labelled “Netflix”, its Captains rigid and unable to change business model course and save not only themselves but all aboard.

Either of my movies, it seems, would require Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the leads -- meaning we’re back to International Co-Pro’s or buying big budget American product, which doesn’t really help our case.

But maybe one of those in the tribe of Canadian writers can. There must be a story out there that turns all those arcane concepts from “Pick’n Pay” to “OTT” and “Cord Cutters” into relatable characters every Canadian can recognize and embrace.

If you know that story, feel free to share it here.

Or at least share it somewhere.

I think the CRTC might finally be ready to listen.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 340: Thirteen Hours

Here’s the thing about dramatic television. There’s no place in a writers room for ideologues.

Not to say you can’t hold views of any political stripe and hold them passionately. Not to say you can’t let your writing reflect that world view. Not even saying you can’t wield your point of view like a broadsword to bash those who hold an opposite vision.

But you can’t approach anything close to truth unless you understand why and how the opposite vision exists.

On opposite ends of our current political scale we have writers like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin. And much as each cleaves to a particular Conservative or Liberal world view, each paints the other side as an adversary worthy of respect –- and perhaps even the side History will one day vindicate.

It’s like any good guy/bad guy scenario. Courageous and true as your protagonist may be, he’s nothing without his villain. And if your villain is a cartoon, your hero becomes one too.

Among the best insight’s into writing I’ve ever gained came from Steven de Souza, he of “Die Hard” fame – “Without Hans Gruber, John McClane is having a couple of drinks and going home”.

Without understanding the other side of any story –- what makes those whose values you reject or dismiss believe what they believe -- you simply don’t have the whole fully fleshed out story.

And as the man said, “Every bleach-blonde bimbo cheerleader in Georgia is gonna know it”.

In Cowboy parlance, “You can fool everybody but the bull”.

Two years ago this week, the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked. The Ambassador, an Aide and two Security contractors died. And nobody still knows exactly what happened.

More than that, those directly involved, the ones on the ground in Benghazi living that nightmare, have never publically spoken. Some were sworn to silence. Others had taken an oath of Omerta in advance. A few are still so seriously wounded they are unable to speak.

In their stead, idealogues on both ends of the political spectrum have written the narrative which best suits their world view. There have been outright lies, conspiracy theories, hypothetical scenarios, all those things a writer or a writers room encounters as it formulates a truth the audience will accept.

This week, a book written by some of those who were on the ground in Benghazi will be published. It is entitled “13 Hours”.

Last week, those authors submitted to their first public interview.

Whether you accept or reject what they have to say, what resonates throughout is authenticity. An authenticity that comes from definable character traits and a clear desire to provide clarity.

It’s the same authenticity that compelled Joseph Conrad to define his job as a story teller with the simple phrase, “My job is to make you see”.

And you cannot see the whole picture if you are blinkered in one direction.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Direct And To The Point

The primary skill in writing for television is that you need to get right to the point. There’s no time for lolly-gagging, no room for stuff that isn’t important. You only have so many minutes to set the stage, tell your story and make way for the next show.

Viewers make snap decisions about whether or not what the remote just called up is worth their time and mental energy. You don’t grab them or hold them, that button-thumb is jerking and they’re gone.

Understanding that reality better than most, simply because of who they are, the Writers Guild of Canada has produced a three minute video that says everything the soon-to-meet CRTC Commissioners need to know about building a solid future for Canadian television.

Whatever their months of surveys and upcoming days of hearings might suggest, the only element of importance is right here.

Let’s hope –- for once –- they’re paying attention.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 339: Why Writers Fail

It’s that time of the year. Okay, technically it’s all the time, but I just notice it more right after Labor Day.

The first week of September in Canada traditionally marks both the return to school and the arrival of the Toronto International Film Festival.

With school comes a new crowd of fresh faced, energetic innocents –- most of them it seems entering film school. The vast percentage of these will already have a script (if not on paper then in mind) destined to shake the cinematic firmament –- or at least land them their first industry job.

Likewise, the streets of Toronto as well as Vancouver and the other lesser city film festivals that follow will be abnormally populated with screenwriters hoping to connect with the movers and shakers of film and television at every seminar, industry forum, screening and cocktail party they can crash.

Most of these writers will fail. And the biggest reason for that is --despite their talents or abilities, they don’t have what it takes to be a writer in the first place.

It’s something those of us who make our livings at screenwriting rarely discuss, even among ourselves. And it has nothing to do with one’s skillset.

Frankly, I’ve always believed that screenwriting is a craft which can be learned as easily as welding or carpentry. That’s basically how I taught myself. Out of “How to” books, by attending lectures by the masters, the trial and error of working in the sausage factory.

But knowing how does not translate to being successful or having a career. That takes something more. Something most writers don’t confront early enough to know whether their perceived path to fame, fortune and creative realization can be travelled.

Of all the script Gurus I’ve met along my own path, which has included such renowned names as Syd Field and Robert McKee, the one I’ve respected most is John Truby.

John has a way of cutting through it all and speaking simple, understandable truths. Basically, exactly what you expect of any kind of Guru.

And today, I want you to listen to what he says about why writers fail. Because I can tell you from experience and from watching dozens of writers far more intelligent and talented than I’ll ever be fall away, that he is speaking the truth.

If you are not the person John Truby describes, save yourself while there is still time.

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lazy Sunday #338: Shake It Off

The theme of last week’s world news seemed to be Genocide, both real and perceived.

In the Middle East the slaughter of innocents reached inconceivable proportions, with people in no manner capable of influencing events being beheaded, crucified and buried alive by those who can only be described as deluded, deranged fanatics.

In the United States, riots and protests erupted over the death of a young Black man, although no one yet fully knows the circumstances that led to his death.

Perhaps he was, as some claimed, executed by a Racist cop. Perhaps not. However, to many in the social media sphere his death was proof of everything from white privilege to over-militarized police forces or a “war on young Black males”.

At times there seemed, among some of the media and more than a few self-appointed pundits, a desire to ignite the powder keg and start some kind of race war.

I don’t like dealing with Racial issues in America. Mostly because I’m White and don’t live there. So I don’t have a lot of first hand, daily experience.

And yet, unlike most of the loudest talkers, I do.

I spent several years writing and producing a TV series about cops. And in the process I spent countless hours working alongside American cops in dozens of Major cities. White cops. Black Cops. Hispanic Cops. Asian Cops. Women cops.

They worked in communities that both reflected or were the polar opposite of their own social or racial status. Yet, not once did I encounter a single officer who based arrests or conducted encounters with the public in a manner that suggested he or she would be just as happy to take one of those different somebodies out.

I spent a couple of hours one night with a young black cop who had just shot a man, a man his own age and of the same ethnic background. He was completely justified in discharging his weapon. And yet he was utterly inconsolable.

Those who choose law enforcement as a career are rarely those who can easily take another life. And most take it as a mark of professional pride that they never had to draw their weapon on duty, let alone open fire.

Yet when they do their training requires two things. When their finger touches the trigger, they must have exhausted all other options and they keep firing until the threat no longer exists.

At the time I was shadowing cops in the US, something like 83% of violent crimes were being committed by young Black men. And the reasons for that were easy to see on the streets but far more complicated to solve. They included poverty, drugs, unemployment, lack of education, broken homes and lack of hope.

Last week while so many were screaming that White cops (or even all cops) were conducting a war of Genocide, FBI Homicide stats showed that 91% of all the young Black men murdered in the United States were killed by other Black men.

But solving the problems that led to those deaths still took a backseat to widening the racial divide, for slights real and imagined.

The low point for me was the online magazine Salon, of which I was in its earliest incarnation a paid subscriber, calling Pop singer Taylor Swift a racist because of her latest video “Shake It Off”.

What became clear almost immediately is that those pillorying Ms. Swift hadn’t even seen the video. They had become just that caught up in their own need to get something going or be part of the story that the facts didn’t matter.

But facts and being honest do matter. It’s myths and conspiracies and outright falsehoods that those who conduct Genocide depend on to justify their crimes.

You can’t let your life and emotions be directed by those who are so without purpose in their own lives, they just gotta find somebody else to blame for their situation.

The Cheerleaders of Doom had a banner week spilling their venom. It’s time we all start  to “Shake It Off”.

Taylor Swift is as good a place as any to start.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Death Goes North

Hard as it may be to believe, the original “Hollywood North” was located on Vancouver Island. And like most of the Canadian film booms that followed, Canadians had little to do with it.

Oh, we had made films long before Hollywood discovered us. And many of them were quite successful.

The first Canadian film was shot in the fall of 1897, by a Manitoba farmer named James Freer. Freer basically chronicled life on the Prairies, drawing crowds with catchy titles like “Six Binders at Work in a Hundred Acre Wheatfield.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad liked what he did so much they sent him on a European tour to show his movies.  Not wanting to be left out of the limelight, the Government stepped up to sponsor a second tour in 1902, believing it would encourage immigration.

By then Freer was toting around a feature length collection of shorts entitled “Ten Years in Manitoba” –- or – what we would refer to today as “What a weekend in Winnipeg feels like”.

Things in the Great White North really got cooking in 1919, however, when a promoter named Ernie Shipman talked a bunch of Calgary Cattlemen into financing a romance entitled “Back to God’s Country” starring his wife.

It won worldwide distribution and returned a 300% profit to its investors, largely due to the fact that some of Mrs. Shipman’s scenes were performed in the nude.

But Hollywood still ruled. And while Canadians seemed okay with that, a lot of European countries weren’t and threw up trade barriers to protect their own burgeoning film studios.

Among these was Great Britain, which passed a law requiring 15% of the films shown on their screens to be “of British or Commonwealth origin”.

Worried about losing market share, Hollywood suddenly noticed that the USA shared a long undefended border with one member of said Commonwealth and rapidly launched a genre known as “The Quota Quickies”.

These were basically B-movies that could’ve easily been lensed on the backlot at Universal. But instead they were transported to Toronto, Montreal and Calgary where they could be quickly shot with virtual unknowns and sent back to Hollywood for editing.

The most successful of these ventures, however, was established in Victoria, BC by a producer named Ken Bishop, who would shoot a total of 14 films on Vancouver Island between 1932 and 1937.

The last of these was a ripping yarn entitled “Death Goes North” featuring one of the biggest stars of the time – Rin Tin Tin Jr.

“Rinty”, as he was known to his friends, was certifiable Hollywood royalty, son of the far more famous Rin Tin Tin, who had received the most votes for the first Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929. But at the last minute, the Academy decided it might be better for the industry if a human received the prize, so it went to Emil Jannings instead.

Kinda gives you a new perspective on Award shows, doesn’t it…

Anyway, although most people didn’t think Rin Tin Tin Jr. was as talented as his dad, he could still draw a crowd and the movie was a huge hit.

It might’ve also been the film that made the British rethink their quota system. For following its release they changed their quota law to exclude movies made in Canada.

And just like that -- an industry about to take root immediately withered. Eager to assure Canadians that while there was no longer a reason to shoot here Hollywood had not abandoned us, producer Lewis Selznick promised, “If Canadian stories are worth making into films, American companies will be sent into Canada to make them.”

A sentiment that still resonates today –- and won Ben Affleck an Oscar

But for those who would like to relive a moment of Canadian Hollywood history –- on Saturday night, the Victoria “Free-B Film Festival” will be screening “Death Goes North” at the Broadmead Village Shopping Centre –- which now stands on the site where the film was originally shot.

And as is fitting for any B movie, it’s part of a bill that includes cartoons and a chapter of the Republic Serial “Canadian Mounties vs Atomic Invaders”.

We just don’t make ‘em like we used to, do we?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 337: The Fart Car

Although we’re clearly a society in transition from fossil fuels, governments seem intent on steering us back to them –- and for no other reason than to cover their own butts.

Drive across Canada these days and you won’t find a province that doesn’t have giant windmills dotting the horizon. And walk down virtually any urban street and you’ll spot rooftops glittering under a covering of solar panels.

I have friends who now meet their energy needs, if not “off the grid”, then close to it. And while a future completely free of coal fired power plants is still a distance away, it’s clearly coming with the cost of solar panels dropping between 40-50% per year.

The same is true of the automobile, still among our leading polluters. The electric car has arrived, with models like the Tesla now boasting 400 km ranges before recharging and said recharging accomplished by most owners with a home unit powered by a couple of solar panels.

Our governments have long insisted that we need to drive cleaner and, for a time, encouraged us to switch to electric vehicles, especially those with a daily commute.

But now, several provinces are finding themselves flush with Natural gas and they’ve changed their tune, hoping we’ll swap to that as our road fuel of choice.

Of course it means installing a home NG pump (average cost $5000) and encouraging gas stations to install the same –- both of which Consumer Reports says will require of drivers a special instructional course to learn how to use correctly.

And all to burn a fuel which, while less polluting, still holds the consumer at the mercy of corporations with a profit motive.

I’ve always looked at governments as being mostly populated by bureaucrats with either skillsets that just wouldn’t allow them to succeed in the real world or an inability to embrace independent thought.

I’ve also never felt they actually have our best interests at heart. If you don’t truly believe that, talk to anybody undergoing Cancer treatment or dealing with a chronic illness in our already overburdened and government managed medical system.

Given all they try to do and the bills that process generates, our governments are stretched and therefore cling to the desperate need to sell off the vast oceans of Natural gas they’re sitting on as fast as they can.

If you want hospitals, educated children and jobs, they insist it’s your only option. And that’s an argument that smells a little like the product they’re peddling.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Hemingway Hamburger

Ernest Hemingway having diner with a cat

While not every writer is a great cook, all of us know how to eat.

I believe that comes from the tradition of other people buying writers breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Whether you are meeting with a publisher or a producer, the unspoken rule is the guy who wants the book, TV show or movie pays.

They usually get to pick the restaurant too, so you can find yourself in a lot of trendy, nouvelle places, where the cuisine often takes a backseat to being seen. But hey –- if they’re buying, what the heck.

Writers are also pretty good at writing about eating. One of my favorites in this regard is Jim Harrison, author of “Legends of the Fall” as well as the screenplays for “Revenge” and “Wolf”.

Harrison used to write a food column for Esquire magazine which became about the best book about eating ever written – “The Raw and the Cooked”.

It was through Harrison’s columns that I also found Bob Sloan’s astonishing “Dad’s Own Cookbook” which has the power to turn any writer into a remarkably accomplished chef.

Among the writers who were apparently exceptional cooks was Ernest Hemingway. And while you’d expect Hemingway to excel at Tuna steaks or “Criadillas de la Corrida” he apparently specialized  at grilling –- hamburger.

Ernest Hemingway Original Copy of his Burger Recipe

Above we have Hemingway’s original recipe, with his own hand written notes. But it includes items common in his era that are hard to find today, so I’ve simplified it for you below.

1 lb. ground lean beef

2 cloves minced garlic

2 little green onions finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon Chutney

2 tablespoons capers

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1 egg (beaten)

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Once you’ve gathered all that:

Crumble the meat and add the garlic, onion and dry seasonings, mixing it all together by hand.

Let the mixture sit fifteen minutes while you fire up the BBQ and dump tequila and lime juice in the blender.

Add everything else (except the cooking oil) work it into the meat and let it sit for another fifteen minutes while you have your first Margarita. 

Make the patties. At least one inch thick.

Brush the patties with cooking oil.

Cook on high heat –- no more than four minutes per side.

Consume.

Write something macho.

And stay away from shotguns.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin

robin

My heart is broken.

Somewhere in the mists of time, I had a magical Summer in Los Angeles, spending time watching Gary Marshall work on the set and writing rooms of “Happy Days”. Not really a writer yet, but trying.

The proximity allowed me the gift of watching Robin Williams shoot the first few episodes of “Mork & Mindy”, months before it would debut and catapult him to stardom.

We never spoke. He was so stunningly talented I honestly felt I’d catch fire if I got too close. He burned that brightly.

It’s hard to fathom how his world got as dark as it did early today. I’ve had the misfortune of knowing a few who’ve taken their own lives. It never makes sense, no matter how much you knew or thought you knew of what tormented their existence.

Even the most wise and experienced can’t stretch past what it might take to get them to reach out of the darkness for a hand. It’s a constant lesson in humility.

Most will remember Robin Williams for the laughs. But I’ll always recall the depth that lay behind the fun. He accessed levels most of us cannot even imagine are there.

It’s said that acting is about honesty and once you can fake that you’ve got it made. For him the honesty was real.

My heart is broken.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Cable Cuts Its Own Cord

For the longest time, TV specialty channels have been the success story of our industry. As traditional networks struggled with the problems of trying to satisfy a vast number of demographic and regional viewing habits, the specialties have been able to establish goldmines in their individual niches.

What’s more, unencumbered by the content controls that “censor” network programming, they’ve been able to launch the widely recognized “New Golden Age” of TV programming.

But a few weeks ago, an American study on television revealed the one potentially life-threatening chink in Specialty TV’s armor-plated business model. It relies on repeats.

Now repeats have always been a reality in television. They’ve meant that no broadcaster needs to program original content all year round or 24 hours a day.

Even such Blue Chip Specialties as HBO spend most of their broadcast hours re-running the shows people paid hefty subscriber fees to see in Prime Time as long as a decade ago.

The Canadian Specialty model is even more repeat heavy with the same shows running on tier after tier of every conglomerate’s myriad of channels until their cost has been amortized more often that a one bedroom bungalow in Vancouver.

But this study found that we’re now living in a world with so much new and “Original” programming that nobody has to settle for repeats anymore, so viewership in repeat hours is plummeting.

It’s plummeting further among those who’ve opted for a set-top box like AppleTV and Roku, where new content libraries (many of them free) seem to appear on a monthly basis.

Studios, recognizing that trend, are already licensing their product for Netflix, Amazon Prime and the like, making the viewing windows for their content either limited or completely unavailable to cable channels.

As a result of all this, in the last US Quarter alone, 305,000 Americans cancelled their cable subscriptions, cutting the cord and most likely saving a ton of money without losing either couch time in front of their screen of choice or entertaining content to fill that time.

And now it seems, even cable companies are beginning to free themselves from the bundled world of repeat programming that no longer meets the needs of their customers.

Opting for something they’ve dubbed “Virtual Cable”, DISH Network will begin providing channels via the Internet by the Fall of this year.

Deals already done with major content providers mean that DISH will offer Internet subscribers channels like Disney, ESPN and History without all the lesser (and most repeat heavy) channels they are normally bundled with.

Viewers will no longer have to purchase Fox to view CNN or vice versa; or pay for a bunch of reality channels in order to get TCM or AMC.

It all indicates that the age of Bundling is quickly coming to an end, and maybe even the age of Specialty channels and Networks.

While the CRTC will gather in its windowless rooms next month to contemplate saving our broadcast entities and production finance models in an unbundled future, we’re at the point where you can pay for only what you actually watch and not to finance all those channels that you don’t.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Reversing The Commercial Paradigm

Everyone who works in television understands the Faustian bargain. Your show is only there because somebody needs to sell something.

There’s a guy with a brewery and the people most likely to buy his brew like to flop on the couch after a hard day and look at some cleavage and dinosaurs. You have a show featuring cleavage and dinosaurs. You get green-lit.

If he sells a lot of beer, you get to make more episodes with cleavage and dinosaurs. His beer doesn’t sell, you’re done and pitching an anti-fracking Lesbian time travel show to the CBC.

For as long as there has been television, the “make the advertisers happy to have a successful career” model has been what drives the industry.

And advertisers can be tough. Not only on showrunners but with networks. If the promised audience for their product doesn’t show up, networks have to make up the difference, either by giving the sponsor some of his money back or cramming his ads into every gap in the schedule.

And you wondered why there were ads for adult diapers on kids shows.

But what if the sponsor didn’t care who was watching what?

What if he couldn’t care less about the show he sponsored because he was making money no matter what was on?

What if you could watch anything you wanted just because you’d purchased his beer in the first place?

Carlsberg Breweries is currently testing a product called “Movie Unblock”. The way it works is –- you buy a Carlsberg and pop the top next to the device on which you wish to view something.

A Bluetooth beacon under the cap releases a code the device verifies and unlocks the content you want to see.

Simple.

And nobody needs to sit through a commercial.

Or even make one.

Is the day coming when you don’t need to buy a specialty channel just to see the one show they make that everybody is talking about?

Will there come a time when you don’t need that special sports package to catch your team’s distant road game?

Could we be on the verge of an era where creatives create what they think an audience wants and that audience accesses them directly?

That moment may already have arrived.

GROLSCH BEER - THE MOVIE UNLOCKER BOTTLE from The Bench Cinema on Vimeo.