Waddell warns CRTC against criteria change

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TORONTO -- Canadian actors on Monday charged the country's TV regulator with opening the way for B-list American actors to star in homegrown Canadian dramas.

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, representing 21,000 domestic actors, said proposals being considered by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to relax Canadian content requirements for the Canadian Television Fund will force domestic actors, writers and directors to make way for their American counterparts.

"The effect of these changes will be disastrous," Waddell said of the CRTC studying a proposal to water down CTF funding criteria that bars Americans from filling key creative positions, including lead acting slots, director or scriptwriter, on domestic series receiving public subisidies.

"The CRTC is saying it's OK to have American stars in leading roles in Canadian dramas, its OK to have American scripts or it's OK to have American directors making Canadian series," Waddell said.

Under the current CTF points system, funding from the industry fund goes to domestic shows that have a Canadian director, leading actor or scriptwriter on board.

But a task force recently appointed by the CRTC to help revamp the CTF recommended that about CAN$130 million ($123 million) annually directed to the industry fund from domestic cable-casters and satellite operators be allowed to help underwrite domestic series with American creative talent for higher ratings.

The CRTC task force recommended that "a more flexible and market-oriented private sector funding stream" from the cable operators and satellite services will produce more prime time "hits."

Such a move will also enable Canadian producers to presell their series to a U.S. broadcaster, who may insist on American creative talent backing the production.

The Directors Guild of Canada, responding to the CRTC's task force report, said Canadian producers looking for American talent will be more likely to hire B-list actors and directors, given the size of domestic production budgets.

"If this recommendation is put in place it will bring only one very unfortunate certainty: A Canadian director, writer or significant actor will be eliminated from Canadian productions," DGC president Alan Goluboff said.

Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, argued that American talent working on Canadian TV series is not new. What is new, however, is CTF funding being directed to such "industrial" production and American writers being charged with writing programs that "reflect Canadian experiences."

"And our regulator is supporting this policy change," Parker said.

This week's comment from Canadian industry players on the CRTC task force report into the CTF follows cable giants Shaw Communications and Groupe Videotron this year threatening to halt payments to the CTF over how it is run and for investing in homegrown series with little audience appeal.

The attacks by Shaw and Groupe Videotron on the CTF threatened to undermine the current business model for Canadian producers, which sees domestic cable-casters and other content carriers coughing up 5% of annual revenues to swell the coffers at the CTF, under order from the CRTC, the country's broadcast regulator.

The money is then spent on film and TV product made by independent producers, who retain ownership of copyright and the right to exploit spinoff digital and online content.
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