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Thursday, January 25, 2007
The brain drain to the U.S. has slowed in recent years, but Canada still has a trade deficit where feature films are concerned. That's one of the messages brought by Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, in a recent whirlwind trip to Vancouver.

"Last year, English Canada made 16 feature films with public funding," said Parker, enjoying a sunny respite in Robson Square, "and 10 more without help from Telefilm." That's as opposed to 135 features churned out in the U.S.A. during the same period and-get this-37 in Mexico.

The long-time WGC head wasn't here from Toronto to boost Canadian movies per se, but to make sure that writers get a juicier slice of the ever-shrinking pie.

"I'm trying to draw attention to how we use our limited resources, especially in the West. We have to start focusing on the link between TV and feature films, as the former should be nurturing the latter-the way HBO and other cable stations have done in the States, with people like Allen Ball and our own Paul Haggis making the leap and doing it superbly."

Her biggest concerns at the moment are the paltry amount of drama being developed for Canuck TV-after the takeover of reality shows and feeble variety packages-and the lack of impetus provided by the CRTC (the nation's regulatory commission) to stimulate home-grown production and consumption.

"Compare us to almost any European countries and you see how much more support there is for arts elsewhere-and for providing venues for the arts. Here, we have to fight for every inch of screen space, and not all of the product deserves it, in any case."

Parker knows the whole subject of government-induced labour pains is a tricky one, and there are some unique factors at work in a system that finds many directors working from their own scripts when they might be better off, you know, hiring a professional.

"I'm mystified by our lack of success. Obviously we have the talent here, but we're just not quite using it right. Mainly, I think, we've failed to follow the Quebec model, in which an impressive talent pool is working in both TV and film, and they are supported by both the government and an enthusiastic audience. How come they're able to beat back Hollywood product and we aren't?"

The reason, she figures, has a lot to do with the fact that we haven't put sufficient time and resources into crafting clever enough scripts. It's not all our fault, however. Big changes in the EU have altered the marketplace, making the international coproductions that used to fill our airwaves harder to make. Alliance Atlantis-a leader in exportable, if somewhat generic dramas (think Due South and Earth: Final Conflict) for the past decade-has virtually ceased making hourlong programs, thanks largely to American protectionism and Euro rules that tip the scales toward strictly continental affairs.

On the other hand, the CTV network, which used to be content to recycle American space-fillers-and that's where the money is-has recently taken the lead in developing script-driven series like Corner Gas and Robson Arms. (The latter is clearly becoming an industry standard-bearer for innovative pairing of writers and directors.)

"We have a small population geographically spread out, and there's no way to get anything made without supports of some kind," Parker said. "I'm just concerned that we're not putting them in the right places."