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The Beaverton Review: Part of Our Sad, Milquetoast Comedic Heritage

November 13, 2016
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My half-assed attempt at making their faces melt is on par with the show’s photoshoping.

The Beaverton is an occasionally funny The Onion imitator that you’ve probably come across on your Facebook feed. Its creators are now branching out with an un-funny Daily Show imitator that lands more as a knock-off of This Hour has 22 Minutes as written by CBC Punchline alumni.

The show has the distinction of being the most Canadian of all our lacklustre comedies in that it has no sense of its own identity: it can’t decide if it wants to play it straight like The Onion or go the Daily Show route and engage with its audience. In true Canuck fashion it tries to meet somewhere in the middle and utterly fails. While the live-studio audience is there, the show’s bland, personality-devoid hosts don’t use that in any way. Every jokes lands with the same robotic laughter with none of the organic back-and-forth you get with Colbert or Oliver. Nothing bombs or cuts a little too deep and nothing ever feels at stake. The series plays it completely safe, its main targets being right-wing militiamen, right-wing Trump supporters, right-winged bros and right-wing Albertans, lest we ever consider that its writers were somehow on the wrong side of progress.

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This from one of the show’s writers: Because no man that has the audacity to drive a truck could have a valid opinion.

Everyone on camera is a graduate from the ACTRA school of performance, so you’re constantly aware that you’re watching actors, killing the satire. The militiaman in the Vice-spoof segment is the worst of the lot, mugging it up like he’s spent his whole career up to this point in silent film. For all you Boyd Banks fan, rest assured that he shows up (as is guaranteed by our Charter). Here, he plays an embittered alcoholic, drinking from a giant forty so we know he’s an alcoholic and because big props are funny.

The gags – such as they are – are mostly just juxtaposing dated pop culture references with topical political/social issues. There’s one bit about Kim Kardashian starting a charity to give homeless people big butts. Another has Trudeau creating a dubsmash video with oil company executives. Aside from not being funny, the hosts’ delivery is so rapid fire there’s no setup or regard for timing, its like a nervous fourth grader reciting their book report in front of the whole class and wetting themselves. Oh, and rather than show us Kardashian’s butts or Trudeau’s viral videos, the jokes are just described by the host accompanied by some awful Photoshoping.

The nadir of this whole approach is a segment on entitled teens fucking around on a Birthright tour of Israel. It was the closest the show came to being funny, completely undercut by having the scenario related by a lone actor standing against a green screen. This is screenwriting 101, people: Don’t TELL us the Blowjob at the holocaust memorial, SHOW us.

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The rest of your improv troope will try to reassure you of your greatness, but you cannot escape the emptiness inside your soul.  Photo credit: funcheap.com.

Collectively, we Canadians have already invested at least $4 Million in the production of this bland, inoffensive exercise in growing the brand. Given that The Comedy Network is the same channel that gave us eight seasons of Kevin Spencer, we could be in for many millions more. We do this because we can’t be trusted with our own money and tepid crap like The Beaverton is the only thing protecting us from the foreign content that we actually want to watch.

Oh, Canada.

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The Edmonton Film Fund: A Noble Effort but No Pathway to Success

August 30, 2016

For me, failure is always a better teacher than success. It’s harder to pinpoint what makes something work and when you try to replicate it, you might end up zeroing in on the wrong element.

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It must have been Batman’s darker tone, thought the film producer. Enter neck snapping Superman.

 

We often fail when we take risks but that’s okay, just so long as we learn from the experience. Take for example the Edmonton Film Fund: It was a noble effort but based on its own targets, it failed. As its future is set to be debated at Council’s Executive Committee we have to decide if we’re a City that learns from the past or if we’re doomed to eternally bankroll Certified Rotten direct-to-iTunes Dylan McDermott vehicles.

The Film Fund was a partnership between Kilburn Media and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) with the goal of developing a sustainable film industry in Edmonton and to see a positive financial return on investment. With $5 Million apiece – EEDC’s contribution coming from the City of Edmonton – the idea was to finance feature films that would turn a profit and use the money to reinvest in future projects. Since 2012, the Film Fund has invested in three films, Freezer ($1.085 M) Cut Bank ($3.2 M) and local production, 40 Below and Falling ($338 K). To date, none of these films have paid back their principal investment, let alone the anticipated 13-20% returns. Even factoring in another anticipated $200K in revenue, the City’s $5 Million contribution is expected to sit at $3.34 M.

One thing is obvious: the fund didn’t work. It didn’t reach its targets and there’s no credible pathway to success. According to the EEDC’s own assessment, “this industry involves too many risks to guarantee any profits”. The City would have generated more money keeping our millions in an RBC Young Saver Account. So what’s the solution?

The first temptation is to move the goalposts, scale back the targets so we can retroactively claim success. Proponents will argue that we need to look beyond lack of return (curious, since that’s the entire point of an investment fund) and focus on the broader economic benefits. After all, the $4.62 million invested generated $6.47 million in economic activity so that’s good, right?

Well, no.

Those economic-impact assessments are bogus, put together using very dodgy math designed to exaggerate benefits. As explained to me by University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy Fellow, Professor Trevor Tombe, they assume workers and the subsidies to pay them “fall from the sky”. The reality is that when subsidies are activated, workers are merely shifted away from other, more productive sectors and the money to pay them must be taxed from other businesses. There’s a slew of other reasons to take economic-impact assessment with a massive dose of salt, best explained by Professor Tombe himself here.

Measuring economic impacts is also meaningless in isolation. The Film Fund reportedly generated a 1.4:1 economic multiplier (the target was 6:1, btw) but how does this compare to other sectors? Full figures for the entire Edmonton economy aren’t available, but a recent report on Edmonton’s Late Night Economy found an total output impact of $1.3 BILLION (dwarfing the $6.47 Million of the Film Fund). Using the argument of economic-impact proponents, we should nix the Film Fund immediately and start funneling the money instead to Chez Pierre.

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Repainting this sign generated 125 full-time equivalent jobs and $275 in dance vouchers.

The second temptation is to throw more money at the fund. We did this with the Edmonton Indy, dumping $22 Million over eight years and look what that got us: it’s most lasting achievement seems to be a mention on Letterman. The closest equivalent to the Film Fund is Telefilm, a Federally funded investment program for feature films. Telefilm spends about $90 Million a year on developing, producing and marketing Canadian film. Annually, it recoups roughly $12 Million. With nearly $100 Million, decades of experience and hundreds of staff and projects annually, the best it can do is an $80 Million loss.

Every. Single. Year.

If the Film Fund isn’t sustainable at $5 Million there’s no evidence it will be at $100 Million either.

The last temptation is to keep spending because Canadian Culture. Now, I don’t know how poorly received movies set in a generic US freezer or the canola fields of Montana are expected to stir my nationalistic pride, but we already have vehicles for this kind of spending, such as the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) – which, incidentally, is currently underfunded. In the past, we restricted public funding to individual in financial need and non-profits whereas now there’s a very real danger of the Film Fund becoming a pot of free money accessible to for-profit companies working in a very specific subset of the media industry.

So as there’s no real future for the Fund, how should the City spend the remaining money? Very soon there’s going to be a funding request for the forthcoming Media Industries Office. The new institution (theoretically) has the ability to support the media industries more broadly (including digital and interactive content) and it would only require shifting funding rather than pulling it from other programs or necessary spending. There’s also EEDC’s Intersect Initiative – also geared towards the media industries in a similar vein as Startup Edmonton – which will require some level of support as well. Finally, here’s a wild idea: the City could also fund initiatives or infrastructure that benefit the economy as a whole rather than specific sectors.

I don’t fault the City or EEDC for trying something different and I want them to continue taking informed risks, but when it doesn’t work out, the smart money says you dust yourself off and move on.

Disclosure Statement: I currently sit on the board of the Edmonton Arts Council, but my views expressed here are my own. I have a personal policy not to apply for EAC funding for my artistic and commercial pursuits which, by the way, are totally freaking awesome. Up until August 2015, I was also on the board of the DedFest Film Festival which involved meeting with City administration and Councillors on several occasions.

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Edmonton Screen Industries Consultations

March 10, 2016

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You have the poweeeeerrr! (to influence City of Edmonton policy)

A few weeks ago, I penned a blog post critical of the proposed plan for Edmonton’s Film/Media Commission. There was a lack of information coming through, and those that had council’s and administration’s ear could have been more open and communicative about the process.

Myself and a couple other people appeared before council, and it was enough to get the Executive to task administration with conducting broader engagement with the screen industries communities. Whether you’re a filmmaker, animator, web creator, game designer this process is about you and your work. If you want to have a say in the future of Edmonton’s Media Commission you NEED to attend. Even if you work independently and have no interest in City support or influence, that needs to be heard.

There’s been one consultation event so far. It was heavily weighted to an older (50+) crowd involved in legacy media (film & TV). That’s fine – everyone can and should participate – but if you don’t come out, you won’t be represented. If you can’t make it to any of the events, you can contact the City’s Senior Policy Advisor in charge of the process, George Matteotti (T: 780-442-0812 E: george.matteotti@edmonton.ca).

Here’s a list of the consultation sessions. They had pizza at the first one, so at the very least it’s a free lunch/dinner:


Tuesday, March 8

11:30 am – 1:30 pm
Edmonton Arts Council (10440 108 Ave)

Thursday, March 10

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
NAIT Room X107 (11762 106 Street)

Saturday, March 12

10:00 am – 12:00 pm
FAVA – Ortona Armouries (9722 102 St NW)

Wednesday, March 16

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Edmonton Arts Council (10440 108 Ave)

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Future of Edmonton’s Media Community To Be Decided by Narrow Industry Interests

January 28, 2016

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I wrote a guest blog for the folks over at yegfilm.ca on the shenanigans surrounding the Edmonton Film Commission “consultations”. Sure, it sounds like inside sausage type stuff but at its heart it’s about public accountability and knowing that we can trust in City Hall to make decisions in the best interests of the community.

Check it out here.

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November 21, 2014

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One Sentence Horror Stories

October 8, 2014

This is how you do it, right guys?

I hope this spooky photo doesn't make you BOOOONER. Wait, what?

I hope this spooky photo doesn’t make you BOOOONER. Wait…what?

A friend of mine was whispering in my ear last night. Then I remembered I don’t have a head.

A scientist showed me the most dangerous creature ever to walk the earth: He held up a mirror, and behind me I saw the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I was putting my son to bed when I realized I didn’t have children and I should probably get out of my neighbour’s house.

I rolled over to cuddle with my wife…then I realized it was just a Japanese love pillow…which I realized was just a Sailor Moon mask taped to a sack of potatoes.

I sat there cradling my daughter with her small arms wrapped around me. I am glad she isn’t an octopus.

I went to go see a promising new science fiction film, but as the opening credits came up, seven words made my blood run cold: Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Last night, I was visited by the ghosts again. How else do I explain the ectoplasmic goo they leave on my bedsheets?

I got an email yesterday from my wife. Problem is, my wife is dead. Also, I am a zucchini.

I woke up screaming and half buried with the laughter of children echoing in my ears. I was then politely asked to leave the Chucky Cheese ball pit.

I walked into a hotel and there were identical twin girls staring back at me. I then uncrossed my eyes and realized there was just one.

I just finished talking with an old, dear friend on the phone. The only problem is, none of our dialogue was as clever as Diablo Cody’s Juno screenplay.

Once, I burped down a well…but it was a fart that echoed back.

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Episode Review: Mr. D – “Old School” (S3E02)

March 4, 2014

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Yes, I know the above image is for last week’s episode of Mr. D. Blame CBC’s Media Centre for not having anything available today.

Here I was, going to pound out another C average review for Murdoch Mysteries’ Cabin in the Woods episode (interesting setup and fun B-story let down by nonsensical character decisions in the 3rd Act) when I decided to stick around for Mr. D, which succeeded where Seed, Package Deal and Satisfaction did not: it made me laugh.

Not once, but several times. The opening teaser was great, the B-story with Vice Principal Cheeley and Mr. Leung doing their best Lethal Weapon impression that dovetailed nicely with the main story of Mr. D trying to curry the romantic favour of the female student body, culminating in a poorly executed teacher’s fashion show. The C-story featuring Bobbi’s attempt at greenifying Xavier Academy and janitor Malick’s reveal at the end also served up some genuine laughs.

Why does it work? The show isn’t obsessed with giving its characters interesting or clever things to say and the punchlines aren’t telegraphed so far advance by the time they’ve landed, the audience has moved on. Case in point: I figured out pretty early that the culprit behind the photo defacement in the Principal Cheeley/Mr. Leung story was the cherub-faced boy they interogated. The funny part came when he started a slow golf clap and both teachers joined in, everyone clapping a little out of sync. It was incredibly awkward, unexpected and really funny.

I don’t know if it’s the sensibilities of the CBC or the school setting forcing the writer’s hand, but I’d love to see the cringe comedy pushed further. The big comedic climax of Mr. D’s story was blown by the CBC’s promos, but even in their absence, the scene went a bit too long. Again, it was cute but for me, the best joke in the scene was Lisa’s commentary and reaction to Gerry’s attempted sabotage of Simon’s catwalk. It’s irritating when shows feature a fairly unlikable and dickish main character, but everyone just can’t seem to get enough of them (looking at you, Seed). What’s great about the world of Xavier Academy is that Gerry is a social pariah: the characters know it, the audience knows it…everyone except Gerry himself knows it. That’s the funny.

Looking forward to next week.

Grade: B+

What Worked

  • It was funny
  • The show isn’t content with being clever, it knows how to deliver a punchline
  • Laugh out loud cringe humour

What Didn’t Work

  • CBC blew the comedic climax in their promos