“Hellbound?”–controversial, critically acclaimed, but Canadian? No way!

There’s a reason why I steer clear of government programs designed to facilitate or protect homegrown art. On one level, such programs lead to a climate of mediocrity where artists are supported not because they’re exceptionally gifted but merely because they fall into whatever category the government has deemed important this year. By way of example, see the recent scandal over an ad seeking a host for a children’s TV show on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), which said it would accept applicants “of any race except Caucasian.”

Any Canadian who has had to endure “Canadian content” on radio or television over the years knows exactly what I’m talking about. I realize certain forms of art–such as filmmaking–require a significant capital investment up front, which is especially difficult for artists to raise on their own when just starting out. However, call me a capitalist (or a Darwinian) but I’d much rather let the market decide which artists succeed and which go on to do other things.

On another level, in my experience–especially my most recent experience–such government programs are merely a facade. They say they exist to facilitate and protect Canadian artists, but in reality, they are merely a way for bureaucrats to earn a comfortable living while creating the appearance of patronage.

A case in point: My most recent efforts to have the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission) certify Hellbound? as a Canadian production. Let me make it clear that I was only doing this because we received a significant offer from a Canadian broadcaster, which was contingent on us receiving CRTC certification. I figured we had it made. Not only did I write, direct and co-produce the film, I also have a Canadian co-producer and executive producer. Our composer and other musicians are from Canada. We did our post-production sound in Canada, the film features several Canadians (including me!) in significant roles, and the film was entirely financed out of, you guessed it, Canada! So I had my accountant do the paperwork and file our application.

Never mind the fact it took 10 weeks instead of 6-8 weeks to receive a reply–and only when I pressed them for fear of losing out on our broadcast deal. When they finally did get around to responding, they denied our application flat out. In their letter, they gave two reasons.

First, we failed to spend enough production dollars in Canada. They require 75%, we only spent 64%. Forget the fact we spent tens of thousands of dollars in Canada AFTER production on things like post-production sound, marketing, publicity and our theatrical release. In terms of production, we were essentially $7,000 short of their threshold, so no deal.

Second, because we had a non-Canadian director of photography, a non-Canadian editor and a non-Canadian second unit producer, they concluded that the producer’s control of the production had been compromised. I was gobsmacked by this statement. How could they possibly come to such a conclusion without even consulting the person in charge of production (i.e. me)? If they had spoken to me, they would have learned that even though I am “only” credited as writer, director and co-producer of the film, I also logged all of our footage and did the rough assembly of the entire film and all of our trailers. However, I chose not to take an editing or assistant editor credit. Nor did I take a credit for art direction, post-production supervising, music supervising or any number of other jobs I did on the film. Although I worked with a fabulous, talented, team, I was in complete control of this production at every level, from development and fundraising through to marketing and distribution. Furthermore, the second unit producer credit we handed out was a “gimme” credit for someone who essentially helped us gain access to the Art Institute of Chicago so we could film some paintings. Hardly an opportunity to undermine my control of the film. The CRTC would have learned all of this and more if only they had spoken with me before rendering their decision. But apparently, that’s not how they roll.

After taking a couple of days to cool down, I appealed their decision. While I’m happy to say the person I spoke with was sympathetic to my situation, she said there was nothing they could do. Her hands were tied.

The upshot of all this? Our potentially lucrative Canadian broadcast license has been cut in half. While I’m thankful we still have a deal, we are now being treated as a foreign production–to the point where they’re even paying us in US dollars rather than cold, hard Canadian cash. I can hardly believe it as I sit here and type this in my office in Abbotsford, BC, ground zero for all things Hellbound?

The CRTC’s web site says their mandate is to ensure that “all Canadians have access to a wide variety of high-quality Canadian programming as well as access to employment opportunities in the broadcasting system.” In my experience, the CRTC has done exactly the opposite by not only potentially jeopardizing our broadcast deal but also by taking money away from a Canadian producer merely because we didn’t quite tick off the right number of boxes on their checklist. No dialogue, no compromise, no grace.

I’m not sure if there’s a song out there called “The CRTC did the job on me.” If not, perhaps I should commission a Canadian musician to write it…

About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" and "After..." In addition to his work in film, Miller has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.


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