US boom has led to ‘dying’ Canadian industry says WGC, with earnings down 22% over five years

Murdoch Mysteries

The US industry’s production push into Canada over the past decade has left the Canuck industry “dying”, with screenwriters earning almost a quarter less than they were five years ago, according to The Writers Guild of Canada (WGC).

The findings came from the WGC’s submissions to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is looking to modernise its regulatory framework regarding contributions to support local and Indigenous content.

The WGC revealed that the aggregate earnings of its members have declined by nearly 22% over the past five years, with president Alex Levine arguing that the statistic “demonstrates the dire straits that Canadian screenwriters find themselves in”.

“The 22% drop in Canadian screenwriter earnings has been devastating to our members. Out of work writers are switching careers. Others are leaving the country. Our domestic industry is dying,” he added.

The WGC said its data “demonstrates that the decade-long boom in foreign service production – Hollywood productions that shoot and crew in Canada but are creatively driven from Los Angeles – does not benefit Canadian screenwriters.”

Context & calls for change

Canada’s content industry has been buffeted by change over recent years, with US streamers – and tech players such as Google and Meta – sucking ad dollars and pay TV subscriptions away from domestic broadcasters.

Three Pines

That has led to considerable recent cutbacks unveiled at both Bell Media and Corus, while Murdoch Mysteries commissioner CBC – which receives public funding alongside advertising and subscription fees – has also felt the squeeze.

At the same time, while US-based studios are producing shows in their neighbouring country, these are largely on a producer-for-hire basis, something that was brought up as Bill C-11 made its way through parliament last year.

With the bill now passed, the government is consulting the industry on how to best implement new regulations to ensure international streamers spend accordingly in the country.

“When a Hollywood show comes here to shoot, that may create jobs for crew, but not Canadian screenwriters,” added Levine. “These series aren’t Canadian, they aren’t written by Canadians, and they don’t have an authorial Canadian voice. We need to make sure Canadian shows get produced too. We can’t just be a branch production plant for Hollywood.”

Netflix ordered its first local Canadian show last year with a Matthie Dufour comedy special, adding one more series – Tall Pinesearlier this year.

Prime Video commissioned a handful of local scripted series such as Three Pines and dramedy series The Sticky, but Disney+ has not commissioned one. Its local originals chief, Stephanie Azam, left her role last week.

Canadian content ‘window dressing’

The WGC added that the decline of writers pay may also be worse than the findings suggest, because screenwriters tend to do most work at the beginning of the production process.

“|The WGC data should be a wake-up call to the Government and the CRTC,” Levine said.

“The government needs to make sure that the policy direction to the CRTC includes support for the Canadian authorial voice. We can’t have foreign service production count as ‘Canadian content’ through window dressing.

“Canadian content must be Canadian-written. And the status quo isn’t enough. The Government and the CRTC need to actually grow this industry, and make sure that Canadian screenwriters have pride of place within it. Otherwise, screenwriting is finished as a profession in this country.”

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