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For Television Screenwriters, Canada May Be The New LA

Directors have options. DPs have options. Composers have options. But for decades, aspiring writers – especially ones that want to break into television – have been told one thing, “get your ass to LA.” LA is the hub. LA is where all the work is, where all the rooms are. LA is the only place you can go to write for television and nowhere else. And for all those decades, that was very true, and in a way made sense. By making one city the central home for writers it made life easy on studios and showrunners when they were looking to staff. Instead of having everyone scattered on two different coasts, they just had to call a dude up and say “hey, we need a re-write, can you be here in an hour?” Then television changed, and as the writing community grew, the job market shrank. But there’s a new kid on the writers’ block, and that new kid brought a bat with him and’s ready to break some windows. That new kid’s name? Canada.

It’s no secret a majority of US productions shoot north of the boarder, especially ones on a tighter budget. But since 2008’s Flashpoint Canada’s begun building a new model, one that doesn’t rely on an influx of US talent to support their production market, a model of homegrown entertainment. And what have they done with all that homegrown entertainment? Why export it south of course.

Rookie Blue, Combat Hospital, Bomb Girls, Motive, The L.A. Complex, Lost Girl, Continuum and the newly geek cred minted Orphan Black are all homegrown, Canadian programs. They were conceived by Canadian writers, sold to Canadian studios, set in Canadian cities and casted with Canadian actors. They are through and through, Canadian. Now, why should it matter? It should matter because a new market’s just had the doors blown off its hinges. What was once a fringe occupied by only two financially successful exports (Flashpoint and Rookie Blue), is now exporting television shows faster than US networks can bid on them.

It’s because of this new business model Canada’s become a major player in the US television game, arguably more so than the UK. Yes, we all love our Doctor Whos, Sherlocks, Downton Abbeys and Luthers, but they’re pretty much relegated to airing on PBS or BBC America. However the Canadians took a more shotgun approach to their business model, selling shows to the likes of CBS, ABC, SyFy, Reelz, BBC America and The CW. In fact some of these networks have even gone into business with our northerly neighbors to help secure exclusivity to new, potentially hit shows long before they can be thrown to the dogs of a bidding war. This was the actually the case with Orphan Black, a show that’s in a reality a co-production between Canada’s Space and the U.S.’s BBC America.

So where does the writer benefit come into play? Well, more shows means more rooms, but more importantly, the expanded location means a greater need for talent with ideas that can fill air time, the whole big fish in a small pond thing. Right now LA is jam packed with tens of thousands of extremely talented television writers that are competing for what amounts to maybe a couple thousand writers jobs total, if that. With the Canadian market opening up what could (and hopefully will) likely happen is the stress of job creation will split evenly between the two countries, and since Canadian shows are exporting south, there’s no longer a stigma of “you work on a show but it’s Canadian so… you know…” It’s a whole new ball game these days and no longer is a single city holding all the cards.

In fact this has been proven no greater than with the success of Orphan Black. Many US critics and working writers alike are talking Emmys. Just imagine that possibility for a moment, a Canadian show winning a major American award. Not in that “best mini-series” BS, I’m talking the real deal, “best lead actress in a drama.” The fact that it’s a Canadian series makes no difference to the viewer, it’s simply good, arguably great television, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

The simple fact is if you’re a writer wanting to break into television there’s no reason why traveling west is a live or die play anymore. I’m not saying it isn’t still an option; merely that it’s no longer the only one. You wanna write television? Maybe it’s time to start looking up on the map rather than left.

Orphan Black

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