Set in Canada Part 3

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

Not nearly as many productions shot in Canada are meant to take place in Canada. This is the third part of a series examining a possible bias against Canadian Content.

We will continue our look at historical efforts to shape the industry from the 1980s and see how Quebec benefited from a unique provincial program. We’ll also examine some newer programs that are making a positive contribution. There are additional benefits to shooting in Canada for Hollywood. We will speak with another Canadian Filmmaker that is writing a real Canadian thriller as well as a couple more US viewers will share their preferences.

Once we examine all the evidence, we will be better equipped to move forward so the world can truly see who we are as Canadians.

In 1982 the CCA was reduced to 50% and that put an end to it. In 1983 Bill 109 was adopted in Quebec. This required distribution companies to be at least 80% Canadian-owned. This helped the industry in Quebec. In 2005 box office shares for domestic films in Quebec were 21.2% while in the rest of Canada was just 1.6%. 

Historically, Hollywood has been quite successful at working around Canadian regulations in English Canada, to benefit financially but efforts to support the world seeing Canada as Canada has fallen by the wayside. 

In 2005, a Toronto-based non-profit organization called The Reel Canada initiative was established. Their mission is to bring Canadian films to Canadian schools. It’s been very successful and hopefully will lead to real change. Their effort led to a National Canadian Film Day in April that began in 2014.  

Canadian cast and crew are also very experienced and professional. Hollywood doesn’t sacrifice quality by coming North. 

Canada has diverse locations. You don’t have to travel far to find mountains, deserts, beaches, cities, or something that can pass for another world.

Ken Hegan is from Kamloops, BC, and has worked in Film and TV for thirty years in Vancouver, Toronto, and now the Yukon. He is currently writing a Canadian movie. 


HNMAG: Is this new script something you came up with?

Ken: I’m writing a new feature film script set in the Yukon. It’s something I came up with on my long drive back and forth from Vancouver Island. There are two days on my long drive up to the Yukon where you don’t have cell reception. You don’t have cell phone reception, you don’t have internet and it just struck me as a great opportunity for a thriller. 


HNMAG: This film will be set in the Yukon?

Ken: Yes, this film will be set in the Yukon. It has always mystified me that this country doesn’t make more thrillers. When you look at films like Fargo, Insomnia, and all these great Nordic crime thrillers, I just don’t understand why we’re not making something similar. 


HNMAG: It’s been suggested that Canadian producers think that viewers would not be interested in Canada. Is that something that holds us back?

Ken: Certainly, I’ve seen that over the years with booking talent for Canadian reality shows. When we approach a Canadian to be on the show, their reaction is “Why Me?” whereas an American reaction is “Where have you been? I have tons of stories.”


HNMAG: The first film you made, Farley Mowat ate my Brother was very Canadian. In fact, it would not be possible to set that in any other country.

Ken: That film won best short film at the New York Underground Film Festival. Ed Halter, the festival director said., “Ken, we love your film, just so you know, none of us have any idea who Farley Mowat is.” 


HNMAG: Your movie Outrunners, is that about to be released?

Ken: Yeah, it’s all done. We’re submitting to film festivals. We had our world premiere in my hometown, where we shot the film, Kamloops. At the Kamloops Film Festival. It was inspired by the Pandemic. It’s a cross between the Hunger Games and Squid Game. Two reality show stars are running for their lives because the reality show gets cancelled on air, which happened. Some Big Brothers including Germany and Canada, were cancelled, live on the air, and they had no idea there was a pandemic because they had taken all their phones away. I banged out a really fun script where the reality producer sends a camera, secretly after them thinking that maybe this can be a new show. There are drones and a remote-controlled Jeep, with a camera, and then he throws hurdles and snipers after them just to make it more interesting. The characters are so lost in the meta-fake reality of everything that they even wonder if there is a pandemic. It’s super fun and original. I set this film in Southern California because I wanted to have a party, beach volleyball, summer, and a Big Brother feel. It was just right for the story. It only made sense in SoCal. I wanted hot tubs, scantily clad characters, and warm weather. It felt more savage for the villain, the executive producer character to be a Survivor-style LA or New York character and LA was more natural.

My next film will be Canada’s Answer to Insomnia. 


HNMAG: The one in the Yukon?

Ken: That’s the one in the Yukon, yeah.


HNMAG: Some people dismiss locations as secondary so it’s easy just to switch a place in a story.

Ken: What I’ve learned and now teach in workshops is that the more specific you can make something, the more global the appeal. There is a vulnerability in authenticity that is not easily replicated or exchanged. 


We spoke to two more American viewers which solidify what we have learned so far. 

Janis is from Bucks County, near Philadelphia. She has yet to visit Canada.


HNMAG: Do you prefer that a movie or tv show is set in the US?

Janis: No, not at all. My top movie of the year was Women Talking. It was made by a Canadian, Sarah Polley and it was shot in Canada but the actual story location is not discussed. We think of Canada as being very nice a couple of Canadian TV shows I like are Schitt’s Creek and Working Mom’s. 


HNMAG: Do some shows need to be set in America?

Janis: The TV show Succession, that particular show should be in the US. New York is such a big part of the show and the identity of the characters.

For most other shows, it doesn’t matter if it’s in America because the specificity of the particular city isn’t part of the story.


HNMAG: If you take a movie like Fargo and set it in Manitoba, just north of there, would that matter?

Janis: It’s the writing and performance that makes that movie great. It could be called Brandon and nothing else needs to change. 


HNMAG: Handmaid’s Tale was shot in Toronto, should it have been made in the US?

Janis: It’s a dystopia that is not already familiar. That show doesn’t need to be shot in the US. Sometimes the city or location is almost another character. Especially places like New York City or Los Angeles.


Maureen was born in Philadelphia and now lives in Baltimore.

She has never lived in Canada. Her longest trip here was for two weeks in Nova Scotia. She loves movies and also watches many TV programs.

Maureen doesn’t care if a movie or show is set in the United States.

If the location is somewhere she has been to, it’s nice to experience the familiarity. 


HNMAG: Will you watch something just because you’ve been there?

Maureen: That’s not a reason to watch though.

It’s a pleasure for her to watch anything about a place, time, or culture that she is unfamiliar with. Maureen enjoys other worlds. She is also a fan of Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale is partially set in Canada and mostly shot in and around Toronto. 


Maureen has just watched the first season of Alaska Daily which was shot in Vancouver.


HNMAG: If the show was called Yukon Daily but everything else was the same, would you still have watched it?

Maureen: I would. The story, the characters, and the quality of the production are much more important than the location. 

By taking everything into account, government incentives wouldn’t hurt but they don’t last. American movies and TV shows are primarily set in the US because that is who is making them. Authenticity includes the creator’s environment. When a story hits home with a viewer, it’s because the characters and the place become real. They are part of the entire experience. Viewers don’t have a predetermined expectation of where something needs to be set. We are used to watching Hollywood productions that are supposed to be in the US, so that is where we believe they should be. Filmmakers want to make the best product they can. Some of the times, it means that the place has to be authentic and is part of the story. As Canadians, if we want to see our homes in the programs and movies we watch, we need to champion the ones that do that well. As Canadian TV producers and filmmakers, we need to be true to our stories. We shouldn’t just set something in Moose Jaw because it’s Canadian. Specificity and authenticity mean something. We have to write scripts that come from the heart. From somewhere that only we know really exists and that place, the world needs to experience.




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