Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Sundries VI: The Undiscovered Blog

Well, I feel tres nerdy, dropping Star Trek references in the titles of the three most recent Sunday Sundries. But really: Not a lot of franchises get to six. It's Star Trek, Star Wars and various slasher series from the 80's about nubile adolescents being disembowelled. And I very much didn't want to call this update Sunday Sundries VI: I Stab Your Naked Head.

Wasn't this Supposed to be a Writing Blog?

So, it's the end of a long weekend -- no holiday on Monday for me. Progress on my writing continues to be of the barely-eked-out variety, but it is happening. While things are still going swimmingly at my job, life has been handing me a few lemons on other fronts lately -- enough to outstrip my capacity for lemonade-making.

My writers group meets this week, and I'm hoping that will help to re-energize me.

That's about it. I was hoping to pull it all together with a witty conclusion for you, but that seems to be beyond my capabilities tonight. Eh, they can't all be gems.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Sundries V: The Bad One Where I Ask Why God Needs A Starship

Outrage quota met; now back to work!

Whew. The big Bill C-10 post is done (see below), and I'm glad. To be honest, it had turned into kind of a monkey on my back. I only have so much time so write, and when I use that time to blog about writing, rather than, you know, actually doing it... Well, let's be gentle and say that it feels like maybe not the best approach to time-management.

Rewarming the Cold Iron Badge

I'm going to work on the work-family-me time balance this week. I've set myself a goal of having two important things completed for Cold Iron Badge by the end of the Easter weekend. One is Chapter 3, which has been taking far too long. The other... well, no point in going into that unless it pans out. Honestly, it's nothing too exciting yet.

Dammit, Jim!

Hey... Come to think of it, why would God need a starship...?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I Say No to Bill C-10

All right, you keep talking about this Bill C-10 business. What is it?

Bill C-10 is what's called an omnibus bill; that means that it bundles together a bunch of changes to many laws and treats them as one act of legislation in order to get them all approved in a timely manner.

It's apparently about 500 pages long, and mostly involves absolutely trivial changes to tax codes and related regulations. It was also a housecleaning bill, an effort to try to make changes that have been planned since the Liberals were in office.

It sailed through the House of Commons with approval by all the political parties.

That sounds efficient and non-partisan. What's the problem?

The problem is that, buried deep in the legislation, was this change to the rules governing tax credits for film and television production:

“Canadian film or video production certificate” means a certificate issued in respect of a production by the Minister of Canadian Heritage certifying that the production is a Canadian film or video production in respect of which that Minister is satisfied that

(a) except where the production is a treaty co-production (as defined by regulation), an acceptable share of revenues from the exploitation of the production in non-Canadian markets is, under the terms of any agreement, retained by

(i) a qualified corporation that owns or owned an interest in, or for civil law a right in, the production,
(ii) a prescribed taxable Canadian corporation related to the qualified corporation, or
(iii) any combination of corporations described in subparagraph (i) or (ii); and

(b) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy.

Okay, blah blah blah party of the first part, eyes glazing over... Wait a minute!


"Contrary to public policy"? What does that even mean?

Apparently that would be at the discretion of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, but it would include "gratuitous" sex and violence, and other projects that include "criminal content".

Wow. Do a lot of people make Canadian movies and TV with criminal content?

According to representatives of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage itself? It has never happened.

Well, who decides what "gratuitous" sex and violence is?

A panel appointed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, made up of representatives from the Ministries of Heritage and Justice.

What criteria would they use?

They either don't know or won't say.

Okay, that's kind of reactionary and heavy-handed, but this is public money, right? Maybe it shouldn't go to controversial projects?

That's where the argument gets even more complicated, I'm afraid. The tax credit system isn't "arts funding." Telefilm and the Canadian Television Fun do that sort of funding -- where money is paid out to creators to provide direct financial support to their projects.

The tax credit really is what it sounds like -- a credit towards money invested in the production of Canadian film and television, to compensate for the cost of salaries.

The tax credit, in other words, allows Canadians to profit by paying Canadians to make Canadian productions.

Because those salaries are a huge percentage of production expenses, the tax credit comprises a significant part of the budgets of Canadian film and TV. Because it's money investors/funders are guaranteed to get back, it has become a vital part of production budgets -- essentially as "in-kind" funding. And it has never been dependent on content in any way -- as long as a production qualifies as Can-con, it qualifies for tax credits.

Putting that previously-certain funding in jeopardy means putting the financial underpinnings of the entire system in jeopardy. It means that artists, producers and funders will be put in the position of having to self-censor -- deciding whether to risk their money on whether or not the Minister of Heritage and a panel of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats decide your project is "offensive."

Because the criteria, apparently, will be retroactive. A movie or TV production could be approved, then have its tax credits yanked after the fact.

The resulting investment chill would make it difficult to develop a project with any controversial, thought-provoking, transgressive or intellectually and artistically challenging content at all. Investors simply won't be able to risk it.

Whose stupid idea was this?

Prominent religious-right types in Canada were giving themselves rather public pats on the back over having convinced the Conservative government to move this law forward. Ironically, that was probably one of the key factors in stirring up public opinion against it.

The Conservatives deny it, saying in their own defence that the Liberals are actually the ones who cooked up that part of C-10. It's true; the idea for the provision originated some years ago, when Sheila Copps was Heritage Minister. There was an understandable -- although, you will notice, quickly forgotten -- uproar over a movie about Karla Homolka being eligible for tax credits. Just like every other movie and TV show that meets the existing guidelines (the guidelines are, basically, "no news, sports, reality shows, games shows or porn get tax credits.")

So the idea of introducing a "public policy" clause to the tax credit system was cooked up. But it was a bad idea.

I find the notion of cashing in on Karla Homolka's infamy absolutely disgusting. But as wiser people than I have pointed out, "Tough cases make bad laws." Panic legislation -- law made in a frenzy of overreaction to a single, egregious event -- tends to go much too far, much too fast, with far too little reasoned debate.

This is a classic example. Giving politicians and bureaucrats arbitrary power to decide what movies and TV shows can and can't be made? I don't care who thought of it; it's a bad, dangerous piece of legislation. I don't care who stops it; it just needs to be stopped.

The Liberals, incidentally, claim that the Conservatives tweaked the wording in a way that would give the Heritage Minister much more arbitrary power to decide what constitutes being "contrary to public policy", including the "after the fact" part.

But is it really censorship?

As I mentioned in my last post, that's a thorny issue. So thorny, that I'm going to stick with the short answer. Yes.

Come on. It's not really censorship, is it?

In the strictest, most semantic sense? No, no it isn't.

But in a real, practical sense the intent is clearly censorious, and the effect would be indistinguishable from censorship. The insidious and cowardly part is that because it isn't technically censorship, the government can deny that it's attacking freedom of expression while still making it impossible for movies and TV shows they disapprove of to get made.

Is this thing a done deal?

Not quite. As I mentioned, because C-10 was a 500-page omnibus bill that was supposed to only contain technical tax law changes that everyone had already agreed to, it sailed through the House of Commons with absolutely no scrutiny, and then went to the Senate -- normally pretty much a technicality.

Then someone actually read the thing. And spotted the new part. And a public uproar ensued. Almost everyone in Canadian film and TV blew their collective gaskets, free speech advocates joined in and the media started paying attention.

So the Senate yanked the Bill from moving on to third reading -- which would have passed it -- and sent it back to the Senate's Banking, Trade and Investment Committee for scrutiny. They have the power to propose changes to Bill C-10, and send the revised version back to the Commons. The Liberal majority leader in the Senate has promised that they will send it back with changes remove the censorious component of the Bill.

Wait. The Canadian Senate did something useful?

We were all surprised.

And what can we do?

You can speak out, so the Senators know that their leadership on this issue is appreciated, and their action supported by a broad spectrum of public opinion.

You can write to the Prime Minister, the Heritage Minister, and the leaders and culture critics in the opposition parties, so they know that we are opposed to Bill C-10 as it stands, and demand they withdraw any component of it that would directly or indirectly censor Canadian film and TV production.

You can join the Facebook group that was formed in opposition to C-10; there were a few hundred members when I joined, a day or so after news of the Bill's provisions swept through the industry. Now there are over 34,000. It's a great source for more background, contact info for sending letters and emails, and news about what others are doing to help stop C-10.

The stakes are nothing less than freedom of speech, the future of Canadian film and TV as both an industry and art form, and stopping the government from sneakily using tax policy to enforce a reactionary conservative social agenda.

Please do what you can. Join me in saying no to Bill C-10!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sunday Sundries IV: The Funny One Where I Travel in Time to Save the Whales

Something Semantic, Something Pedantic.

I keep trying to write something about Bill C-10, and why it's an odious attempt to use tax credits for film and TV production to attack freedom of expression. But I keep getting hung up trying to address the issue of whether it really, technically qualifies as censorship, or not.

I'm just going to have to do an end-run around the hair-splitting. C-10 post coming soon, with the censorship issue tidily ignored.

I Continue to Suck

I also still haven't made much creative progress; that makes three weeks running, and it's starting to piss me off. I need to find a way to deal with this, work, take care of the family, make time to write and do it without having to stay up so late that I turn into a freakin' sleep deprivation zombie.

Webcomics that Bring the Awesome

I mentioned Socks and Barney a little while ago, but it bears repeating: Steve Conley's political satire starring past, present and aspiring White House pets is smart, pointed and funny. And he occasionally quotes me!

And I totally have such a crush on Octopus Pie. Meredith Gran's strip about two young women living in Brooklyn is not only one of the best, and funniest Odd Couple riffs I've seen in a long time, it somehow manages to be scathingly sarcastic and adorable at the same time.

Daylight Saving Time: Threat or Menace?

Right. I've been staring at the screen trying to figure out a clever, dynamic way to wrap up this post for entirely too long. My brain in shutting down. I'm off to try to get my body clock straightened out, post-Spring Forward.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I've Read 3d6 Lame "He Failed His Saving Throw" Jokes Already

I don't think I'll be surprising any of you when I state, for the record, that I am a king-hell geek.

And my route to geekdom wasn't science fiction and fantasy, which was only one part of my voracious appetite for books. It wasn't comics -- most people assume that, since I write the things, but I didn't really get into comics and graphic novels until university. That's Greg's fault, and a more fitting subject for another post.

No, it was role-playing games. And for that, you can blame Patrick, the co-creator and artist of Cold Iron Badge, who introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, about twenty-seven years ago.

My first adventure was the legendary (and infamous) module, The Keep on the Borderlands. I played a Thief. I don't recall what his name was. He didn't survive my first game session, but I was hooked for life.

I discovered role-playing games and acting at very close to the same time, only about a year after my family moved from Toronto to London, Ontario. I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but I was feeling tremendous culture shock and alienation. I didn't fit in to my monocultural suburb where most of the other kids were budding Type-A-personality jocks. I needed to escape, and yet I needed to belong. I managed to find two ways to do both, and they both involved my personal ace: My imagination.

And, maybe because gaming and acting came into my life and became my passions together, there was always some overlap in my approach to them.

Acting was very much a game for me. And I brought acting to my role-playing games years before more immersive, emotionally intense gaming became popular. Which sometimes disconcerted my peers. They just wanted to kill things and take their stuff, and suddenly my elf would start asking whether it was really moral to break into these ancient tombs and loot them.

So, I role-played like an actor, and performed like a gamer. Did either suffer from the cross-pollination? No, I don't think so. And I also think, oddly enough, that both helped to make me a better writer.

Okay, the acting you can probably see. But am I reaching to say that D&D improved my writing?

Well, an old-school role-playing game, where you sit around a table and have to picture what's happening in your head with only some description and maybe a scribbled map and some simple miniatures, is a great exercise for the imagination. If you can't see it, vividly, you might miss something important.

A lot of games -- especially those old D&D adventures -- were all about the creative problem solving. (And having cool powers and killing things, but that's another story.)

Role-playing games are inherently collaborative. Success depends on collaboration between the players, and between their characters. The entire game is a collaboration between the players and the Dungeon Master. Is it a coincidence that I'm drawn to inherently collaborative media, that most of my best writing has been done in collaboration?

And, of course, role-playing games are about creating a vivid, exciting, compelling character, and then bringing that character to life by putting them through interesting and challenging situations.

And that doesn't even touch on running the game -- being the Dungeon Master. Which involves, for starters, bringing to life a cast of thousands, intricate plots, cooking up creative problems to be solved and inventing entire worlds to inhabit.

So yes: Gaming, like acting, was protein to my growing writing muscles. But drama club is one thing. It's marginally less uncool than being a D&D geek. Was the creative aspect really what mattered? Maybe you ask, weren't all those role-playing games escapist?

Hell, yes they were escapist! And thank goodness. Sometimes we all need to escape. Especially bright but socially awkward kids and adolescents who aren't sporty or pretty enough to be on the popularity fast-track.

Escape, yes. But also friendship. Fun. Empowerment. Imagination and a creative outlet. And through it all, no matter what other games I played, and no matter how much I loved them, there was Dungeons & Dragons. I played it first. I played for close to three decades. I'd be playing it now if I could.

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died today. He was 69. I never met him. Never had a chance to thank him in person. So I'm going to thank him now.

Thank you, Gary. Thank you for giving me hours (days! weeks!) of fun. Thank you for helping me develop my imagination. Thank you for giving me worlds to play in, where I could be happy and safe while I grew and got stronger and learned who I am.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Sunday Sundries III: The Search for Sunday

I missed updating on the "real" Sunday. So I am proclaiming today -- Monday, March 3rd -- a "Sunday of the heart." As a wise man -- okay it was Cowboy Wally -- once said, "I consider every day to be Sunday." It may not be accurate, but it's truthy.

Oh, sure... I could just accept not posting on Sunday and move on, but then I'd have to come up with another clever name, and I don't think I have it in me. Monday Meanderings? Monday Miscellaneary? Not The Sunday Sundries? Ugh. No. See what I mean? Let's just agree that today is Sunday.

But it wouldn't have made the hugest difference, to be honest; there isn't a whole lot to relate this week. Between work and a bug that I picked up (via the kids' day care? Through the doctors I work with? Bad oyster? Who knows...) I haven't done much on the creative front.

Oh, I finally read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Yeah, a little late. But I promised myself that wouldn't buy it and read it until the first weekend after my first paycheque at a new job, as a reward. So, I am now unafraid of spoilers and can get on with my life. I will impose a review on the rest of you if anyone is really interested.

I managed to read while sick, but not write -- so I haven't made as much progress on my screenplay or on Cold Iron Badge as I would have liked.

However, the next Cold Iron Badge preview should be ready for posting soon. It introduces the protagonist, who you haven't met yet.

Sorry. I'll try to be more interesting this week, and have a fun anecdote about moose-wrasslin' or some such next time out.

I should also post about Bill C-10, and how Canada's conservative government is trying to use what looked like a brain-numbingly dull omnibus bill of tax code revisions to try to impose their narrow ideology and intolerant Puritanism on funding for Canadian film and TV. But that'll have to wait until my brain clears just a little more.