Set in Canada Part 2

A lot of movies and TV shows are shot in Canada. This might be why you are reading a magazine called “Hollywood North.”

Most of the production in English Canada is from US studios and Networks. Even though the productions are made here, they’re not made to look like it. 

We are examining the causes. In this part, we focus on how others see Canadians. The Canadian Film industry in the 1970’s. Issues with funding organizations. The experiences of a Canadian producer, a Canadian writer living in the US, an American events company owner and more American viewers. 

How do people around the world find out about Canadians? To be honest, it’s going to be from the media. Canada doesn’t dominate international news very often. The National Hockey League is well represented by Canadian players and Canadian Women often win the Gold Medal in Olympic hockey. Therefore, we love hockey. You can buy poutine around the world. Obviously, it’s delicious and well known to be from Quebec. Like it or not, that’s now our national dish. What about the rest of us? Are we the helpful town folk in Schitt’s Creek? How long do the fun personas of Bob and Dough McKenzie linger? If you google “Canadian Celebrities” you’ll find Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Ryan Reynolds, Rachel McAdams, Elliot Page, Sandra Oh, Seth Rogen, and Celine Dion before you click on 41 more. You might not know any of them personally but they all seem friendly and polite in movies and on TV. The real question should be why would anyone in the world want to know more about Canada and Canadians?

In 1974 the Federal government increased the capital cost allowance (CCA) from 60 to 100% which started the Tax Shelter Era. The critically acclaimed The Apprenticeship of Daddy Kravitz (’74) and Lies My Father Told Me (’75) were produced due to this incentive. Also, David Cronenberg was able to launch his career by making Shivers (’75), Rabid (’77), Fast Company (’79), The Brood (’79), and Scanners (’81). Other successful films such as The Silent Partner (’78), Meatballs (’79), Prom Night (’80), The Changeling (’80), Atlantic City (’80), Porky’s (’81), The Grey Fox (’82) and Quest for Fire (’82) benefited from the Tax Shelter incentive.

Not all government funding decisions are the best ones. Telefilm does fund quite a few films, especially in Toronto. One issue for Telefilm is that it’s difficult to predict box office success. A great example is that Winnipeg native Nia Vardalos was denied funding for My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After that, Rita Wilson enjoyed her one-woman show in LA, got her husband Tom Hanks to see the play, and that lead to a huge box-office hit when it grossed over $368 million. Even though it was shot in Toronto, Winnipeg became Chicago in the movie. 

Do filmmakers push the narrative that people don’t want to see Canada or experience Canadian stories? We can find out more by speaking with film producers. 

After having a very thoughtful and informative conversation with an American producer in our first part, it would be worthwhile to do the same with a Canadian producer.

Dale Wolfe is an Edmonton-born, Vancouver-based film producer and performer. He made Terror on the Lake, With the Wolves, Hair of the Sasquatch, Woodland,  and Going For Broke (TV-writer/director). He also has many credits as a professional actor.


HNMAG: You produce a lot in Canada and work with American companies, what are your experiences with having a story set in Canada as a location?

Dale: We have a crime thriller right now that was originally set in any town USA. It’s based on a true story that happened in Surrey. It centers on a 14-year-old kid. It’s a suburban type of story, so we didn’t want it to be LA, Chicago, or anything gang-like so we thought maybe it was Beaverton, Oregon, or Boise Idaho, or something like that. For authenticity, we decided to set it in Canada because that’s where the real story took place. There’s an Executive Producer in DC who loves it and loves the fact that it’s set in Canada. 


HNMAG: Was there a reason to make it small-town USA earlier?

Dale: We thought it would have a better chance for distribution in the US if it were an American story. 


HNMAG: Why do we believe that?

Dale: Familiarity is a big part of it. Stories of the human condition are the real stories that travel and it doesn’t really matter where they’re set. Even in this film, where it’s set doesn’t really matter to the story. There is a perception about Canada now, that’s growing, that wasn’t really there before. 

In the US, Canada wasn’t really thought of. With this movie, we thought there was something there, even if it was minutely showing something about Canada that people didn’t really know was there. 

There is something about the landscape of the Northwest, the mountains and the forests that the director really wanted to tap into. 


HNMAG: Do we as Canadians, truly believe that audiences don’t want to see stories that are set in Canada?

Dale: As Canadians, we might ask ourselves, why would anyone in the world care about Canada or a Canadian Story? If you’ve got great characters, if you’ve got a great story, it’s not about where the story is set. Without the human story, great characters, and solid execution, nobody cares where it is. My main point is the importance of telling stories about the human condition. For example, Canadian filmmaker Ivan Rietman makes great stories, regardless of where they’re set. 


HNMAG: What does a show like Letterkenny say about the question of a Canadian bias?

Dale: Letterkenny is a great example that there is not really a bias against setting something in Canada because it’s well made, it’s funny, great characters and that’s the reason that it’s successful, not because it’s a Canadian thing. 


HNMAG: Have you had more pushback against setting a project in Canada from American or Canadian investors?

Dale: I think maybe more Canadian. 


HNMAG: Your film Woodland was set in Haida Gwaii.

Dale: It was set in Haida Gwaii, yes. It didn’t have a Canadian theme, it was just set in Canada.


HNMAG: Was it shot in Haida Gwaii?

Dale: No it was shot on Vancouver Island, near the north tip, for budget reasons. 


HNMAG: Do you think it did about the same or better in the US than in Canada?

Dale: Yes. The story and the psychological thriller part of it were more significant than the setting. During the Q & A after the Newport Beach California screening, nothing was brought up about the location. It was all about the story.


HNMAG: Was there a discussion about setting the film in Alaska as opposed to Haida Gwaii? 

Dale: There was. There was a little discussion about how it’s told. The main character has a short voice-over that mentions Alaska. The writer-director lived in Haida Gwaii and the film was based on his experiences. There is a perceived spirituality to Haida Gwaii. His experiences there and his experience with the people and the folklore were important. 


Many films and TV shows are adapted from novels. We spoke with a Canadian-born author that moved to the US. 

Jane Boon is the writer of the book Edge Play. A fun way to describe it is a mix between 50 Shades of Grey and The Big Short.

Jane was Born in Ottawa. She went to University in Flint Michigan (studied Engineering). Jane then moved to Boston. Now she lives in New York City. 


HNMAG: As a viewer, does it matter to you where a show or movie is set?

Jane: No, it doesn’t matter if it’s set in the US or Canada. 

I do like to listen for Canadian accents and then verify that online.


HNMAG: You enjoy watching The Last of Us. How would you feel if the characters continued their journey north from Colorado and landed up in Alberta?

Jane: I would be happy if they continued North to Alberta but it might be strange for Americans. They would feel that Canadian monsters would be too nice and not as menacing. 


HNMAG: Have you ever been asked about changing a Canadian location to the US?

Jane: My book is mainly set in the US but the main character does travel to Montreal for a small part of it. I have had meetings about a TV series with people in Hollywood and that was not mentioned at all as an issue. 

I also know that Montreal is more exotic than the rest of Canada. That makes it more appealing in Film & TV.


Speaking with an American that works in live entertainment is also insightful. 

Todd Rice is the owner of THEY improv, an international entertainment events company. Todd grew up in Texas and has lived in DC, Chicago, and South Florida.


HNMAG: Would you watch a film or TV show set in Canada?

Todd: That might be a preference. The realism and characters are most important. There is something romantic in the US about Canada. We look at our neighbors to the North as quaint and polite but that’s not always accurate.


HNMAG: How do you feel about when that stereotype is broken such as in the show about the Police in Montreal, 19-2?

Todd:19-2, I like 19-2 a lot. I like the grit and the fact it’s Canada. We know about the laws and rules for US procedurals but it’s terrific to see a show with different laws and different ways of doing things.

I’d like to see a show about the RCMP.


HNMAG: There was a Canadian show about a Mountie working the US police called Due South.

Todd: I liked Due South which was set in Chicago with a Mountie but at the same time it was too self-deprecating.

I also liked a TV show set in Toronto called The Border.


HNMAG: In Canada, we sometimes feel that people won’t be interested in us. That’s why we don’t set a lot of our stories here.

Todd: I wish Canadians would embrace your country a bit more.


There is a lot shot there that needs the broader interest to be set in the US but you can also do more exotic shows like a romance in Banff that would be different and appealing. 

The productions shouldn’t be self-deprecating. How about a Cool Runnings movie about curling, not to make fun of it but to show the skill and dedication behind it? There might not be a big enough market for curling but something along those lines. 

As Canadians, we have this idea that Americans wouldn’t be interested in seeing our country on screen. Is this accurate? We spoke with more Americans that watch television shows and movies. 

John and Kelly are a couple in Queensbury, New York.

John was born in Cleveland. He’s been to many places in Ontario and Quebec. Kelly grew up in Albany and has been to Quebec City, Niagara Falls, and Montreal. 


HNMAG: When you watch movies or television, do you care if it’s set in the US?

John: Not particularly. Actually, because I’ve traveled so much, I really enjoy seeing movies and television of places I’ve been. That way I can share with families and friends my experience. It’s a side benefit of travel.


HNMAG: Kelly, do you feel the same way?

Kelly: It doesn’t really matter. I watch drama and horror, it’s more about the plot. Most of the movies I watch are American Movies, like Fast and the Furious.


HNMAG: If there was a Fast and Furious: Winnipeg, would you watch that movie?

Kelly: Yes, of course, I would. There was a Fast and Furious, Tokyo I think.


HNMAG: What’s some of your favorite moves?

John: I am definitely a war movie fan.


HNMAG: Let’s say there was a movie about the War of 1812. Canada wasn’t a country yet but the film showed how the war helped inspire the creation of this nation. Would you want to see it?

John: Absolutely yes. As a matter of fact, one of the movies I particularly enjoyed was Hyena Road. I had combat engineer soldiers in Kandahar and we worked aside a Canadian base. The movie was about all the areas I worked in. It was overly dramatized but it was a Canadian movie and very focused on the Canadian aspects of it. 


The perception of Canadians is reflected out in the world and back at us in a very limited scope. Not enough of our specific and compelling stories are out there to change that. In the 1970s, we had a small amount of success with funding Canadian-made films about Canada but that didn’t last nor grow. Government funding seems like a real positive but too many great stories fall through the cracks. Film producer Dale Wolfe’s main point is that great films are about the human condition, not where they are set. If the location is part of that condition, then it adds to the production. There isn’t a real drive by American investors to set productions in the US, it’s different case by case. Todd Rice is an American who wants to see more productions about Canada. He doesn’t want it to be self-deprecating either. John and Kelly also wouldn’t mind seeing movies and TV shows set in Canada. If the viewers want to see it, shouldn’t we be giving them more?




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