Canadian Screenwriters Find Gold in Hollywood

Rookie Blue Canada 2011

“Rookie Blue” Ben Bass as Det. Sam Swarek, Missy Peregrym as Andy McNally

Canuck scribes write their next role in Los Angeles writing rooms as indie producers open stateside offices and the major studios eye tax credits north of the border.

TORONTO – Oh the irony: the best Canadian dramas these days are hatched in Hollywood.

Canadian screenwriters with Los Angeles addresses and credits are reaping the rewards as U.S. studios and producers engage in a growing cross-border trade in co-productions led by NBC/CTV’s Saving Hope and ABC/Global Television’s Rookie Blue.

“I’ve had U.S. network execs tell me I’m like crack cocaine because being a Canadian in L.A. with U.S. (TV) credits is a huge plus for them,” Derek Harvie, a nomadic Canadian scribe who has residences in Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto and Ottawa, said.

Harvie was a writer and co-executive producer on MTV Network’s Skins, which had him shuttling between the writer’s room in New York City and a production set in Toronto.

And Harvie was a writer and executive producer along with creator Kenny Hotz on FX’s Testees after Canada’s Showcase network came on board to help finance the pilot.

“When we went back to FX with the finished pilot, they were impressed, but they also liked the budget because it was half the usual production cost after they brought on a Canadian partner,” and shot the series in Canada, he recalled.

Harvie is not the only Canadian screenwriter bolting himself to Hollywood.

Since the 2008 writers strike had antsy U.S. networks buying Canadian dramas like CBS/CTV’s Flashpoint and NBC/CTV’s The Listener, Canadian producers and broadcasters faced with dwindling government subsidies at home are increasingly partnering with American and British players to share the risk and costs on global dramas and mini-series, while retaining rights in their own territory.

The big winners with new-found work and status are Canadian screenwriters that already know the studio system in Los Angeles and are readily available to take meetings there.

The new industry model is underpinned by Canadian producers opening up U.S. offices and the Americans eyeing Canadian tax credits and other soft money north of the border.

Take Megan Martin, currently a supervising producer on CW’s The Cult.

The cameras are rolling in Canada on Jeremiah Chechik's theatrical feature The Right Kind of Wrong, based on Martin’s screenplay adaptation of a novel by Tim Sandlin.

“(Canadian) TV is an exciting and viable market right now because of how we can sell a show for cheaper to the U.S. networks. It took a long time for that to be respected creatively, but it’s starting to now,” Martin said.

“Those of us who do have the ability to work in both markets are very blessed right now,” she added.

Other creative talent in Canada, including actors and directoris, are similarly benefitting as local producers react to dwindling government subsidies at home by pursuing more international co-productions with foreign partners, especially in Europe.

“It’s something that we can participate in as Canadians quite nicely on the coproduction front, and it’s something that I think we should start taking more seriously because the prestige film has a place in the American market,” Canadian actress Sarah Gadon, whose recent credits include A Dangerous Method and World With End, said.

Also on the film front, veteran Canadian scribe Arne Olsen is adapting Richard Comely's iconic masked crusader Captain Canuck for the big screen.

That gig follows Olsen working in Los Angeles for 15 years, where his screen credits included Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and Cop and a Half, before returning to Canada.

“Someone who has both the American and Canadian experience, it helps,” Olsen said of the industry’s seismic shift here.

Elsewhere, Canadian scribe Martin Gero saw his career take off as he showruns the CW/MuchMusic soap The L.A. Complex, which is shot in Toronto, after he worked stateside on HBO’s Bored to Death.

And Los Angeles-based TV writer Tim McAuliffe (Up All Night, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) has had two of his sitcoms ordered to pilot by Canadian broadcasters: the ensemble comedy Satisfaction is parked at CTV, while rival CBC has commissioned The Khouris.

“It’s really elevated the material, that Tim (McAullife) has been working in the States. And he’s had success in the States,” Sarah Fowlie, director of director of independent production, comedy at CTV-parent Bell Media, said of exploiting McAuliffe’s Hollywood experience on Satisfaction.

And Rogers Media gave full-season orders to Package Deal, a multi-camera comedy from Los Angeles-based Canadian creator Andrew Orenstein, and another for the mid-season comedy Seed from Joseph Raso, whose Hollywood credits include Disney’s Zombies and Cheerleaders.

“We really believe the time is right for a Canadian multi-cam sitcom, and feel that Andrew Orenstein’s experience on Malcolm in The Middle and 3rd Rock from the Sun will be definitely be very valuable for this project,” Claire Freeland, director of original programming at Rogers Media Broadcasting, said as Orenstein’s command of the Hollywood sitcom is prized by the Canadian broadcaster.

The Writers Guild of Canada applauds Canadian screenwriters working on studio lots in Los Angeles, but is keen to ensure scribes back in Canada continue to get work on the strength of their local experience.

"The Writers Guild of Canada is always pleased to see Canadians writing Canadian stories, but we need to ensure that a Hollywood address isn't a requirement for a screenwriter to get work in his or her own country,” WGC executive director Maureen Parker said in a statement.

Also getting attention and financing from Canadian broadcasters is Katie Ford, an American who was raised in Toronto, and whose Hollywood credits include Miss Congeniality, Miss Congeniality 2 and episodes of Desperate Housewives.

Now the Los Angeles-based screenwriter has penned the pilot script for Leilah and Jen, an Entertainment One comedy for the CBC.

It helps that Ford’s agents in both Los Angeles and Toronto are alerting her to possible Canadian gigs, including recent work on HBO/Cinemax’s Transporter: The Series, a Canada-France co-production.

“It used to be unusual for me to want to do work up there. People didn’t get what was meant by a co-production. That didn’t seem as exciting as it does now. All the things have come together today,” Ford insisted.