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CBC DIVERSITY

CBC DIVERSE CREATORS MATCH-UP

As I approached the short line that was forming outside of the Glenn Gould studio, I saw what I expected to see. Mostly young people of colour, dressed in conservative business casual; some talking in small groups and some on their phones.  As I stood there with those first few for the next 20 minutes, the line started to grow behind me, and the participants more diverse.  All ethnicities, age ranges (but still mostly younger), and the physically challenged.  There must have been close to 80 people there, making it (by one organizer’s testimony) the largest event of its kind that the CBC has hosted to date.

It was the third annual Match-up, an event meant to connect diverse creators with other industry professionals. In attendance were writers, directors, actors, filmmakers, musicians and producers; all looking to make connections with the cadre of executives that CBC had invited to participate.  The list of contributors was extensive and included many of the industry’s top decision makers.  At the registration desk, I received a name tag and two drink tickets.  I then signed up for a “speed-connecting” session; a chance to speak to 5 different executives for 3 minutes each.  I had done my research beforehand so I had an idea about who I wanted to talk to.

When the event started, Shad, host of Q, addressed the crowd with a brief introduction and welcome. Then introduced Tara Ellis, Executive Director of CBC Scripted Content, who made a short speech.  After some formalities, they announced the beginning of the speed-connecting sessions.  I wasn’t on until the next slot, so I grabbed a beer, chowed down on some hors d’oeuvres, and began the grueling task of forced conversation.  I successfully navigated my way through a few awkward interactions, occasionally stepping back and surveying the room.  I noticed that the few physically-challenged attendees in wheelchairs were grouped together, largely ignored by the rest of the group.  As I made this sad observation, I ran into Catherine McKinnon, the ACTRA National International Woman of the Year award winner.  (If you are unfamiliar with her, she is a long-time advocate for the hearing impaired and a talented deaf actor.)  I congratulated her on her achievements and was then called into my speed-date.

In a room set up like a grid, 5 rows of 5 pairs of chairs, the contributors sat, as the last session participants filed out of the room, we filed in. I met with:

  1. Abby Ho, Senior Producer of CBC Commission & Scripted, who gave me insight into the digital world and the evolution of internet programming. Where communities form and genre-specific content is able to find a fan base. CBC’s Youtube presence is carefully curated.
  2. Shane Smith, Director of Programming, Hot Docs, who gave me his card to submit to him my short documentary and encouraged festival participation and promoted the industry events and workshops connected with Hot Docs.
  3. Bruce Cowley, Creative Head, Documentary Channel, who also asked me to submit my short doc to him. We talked about Winnipeg and he told me he was working on projects with Merit Jensen Carr of Merit Motion Pictures and Kyle Bornais of Farpoint. We talked about the state of documentaries in modern media.
  4. Grant Harvey, Director/Producer, Fuel Films Inc., who encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing, and that I seemed to be on the right track. He did give me some useful advice about going after an agent and film-making at my level.
  5. Sarah Adams, Executive in Charge of Production, CBC Drama, who gave me some insight to what the CBC are looking for and some advice for my career as a creator. CBC Digital Originals is looking actively for comedy and unscripted. Content that lends itself well to web-series. She also mentioned finding an agent and touted the CFC and NSI for training.

The timing was kept by a gong, which was very obnoxious sounding, but undeniably effective.

Afterwards, there was more mingling in the lobby of the studio. It was very loud as people started to loosen up and get more comfortable.  I happened to meet a writer who had participated in the Bell Media Diverse Screenwriter’s program.  She told me about her project, which was picked for mentorship and development.  Now, her goal was to produce a trailer for a pilot, to get funding for said pilot.  She told me that the show is a sci-fi dramedy set in… Winnipeg (however ironically).  “I’M from Winnipeg!” I exclaimed.  I started telling her about how great it is to shoot in Winnipeg; the tax credits, the variety of landscapes, not to mention the supportive and skilled filmmaking community.  Needless to say, she was very impressed and interested in sussing out the possibility of filming here.

Over the years and throughout my travels, I’ve heard many people extoll Winnipeg’s virtues. But I’ve also heard people air their negative perceptions of our fair city.  If we want to break free of these notions that Winnipeg is less-than, we have to make people aware of the awesomeness that resides, no – THRIVES here.  In regards to the filming industry, it is much easier to film in Manitoba, than it is almost everywhere else.  We have extremely cooperative government officials, not to mention a wonderful organization, Manitoba Film & Music, dedicated to helping producers make the best of their hard-sought budget dollars.  And many people who are actively working in the industry know this.  I heard three separate executives make reference to Winnipeg throughout the night.  We are a small market, but we churn out quality product.

As the night wore on and the crowd began to thin, that’s when the conversations turned to the issues of diversity in the larger scope of Hollywood and commercial media. Misrepresentation and under-representation being the main topics.  But the overall feeling was positive, and with so many talented, like-minded individuals, all hungry for a piece of the pie, it seems inevitable that the portion of diverse content shown across all platforms will continue to grow.  The fact that events like this exist, as well as other Diversity initiatives, show that the institutions realize the lack of representation.  That, in itself, is a step in the right direction.

All in all, it was a worthwhile event. I feel I got out of it as much as I could, given the time and circumstances.  And I gained some valuable insight into how Winnipeg fits into the industry (very positively), and other issues of diversity.  Essentially, the opportunities are out there, and the CBC (and their affiliated partners) are actively pursuing diverse content for their platforms.  The onus is on us, as creative professionals, to create, and foster the community where our stories can be celebrated

– Alan Wong,  actor/singer/film-maker

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