Study: Canadian writing rooms are mostly white and male

The Ryerson RTA School of Media study, which was based on 266 responses to a survey of the Writers Guild of Canada's membership, found industry concentration is sending scribes to Toronto and Hollywood.
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Canadian TV writing rooms are overwhelmingly white and male.

That’s the conclusion of the first-ever study of Canadian screenwriters, conducted by researchers at Ryerson’s RTA School of Media.

The report, which was based on 266 completed surveys of the Writers Guild of Canada’s 2,100 members, found there’s nearly twice as many men than women in industry writers’ rooms.

And female screenwriters tend to make less money than their male counterparts and toil on the lower rungs of the writing game.

What’s more, visible minorities are “severely underrepresented” in Canada’s screenwriting business, the study found.

But besides uncovering a lack of women and minorities among Canadian scribes, the study, written by RTA School of Media professors Michael Coutanche and Dr. Charles Davis, found top-earning screenwriters here are concentrated in Toronto and Los Angeles.

And for good reason, Countanche told Playback, as that’s where the best-paying writing gigs are to be found.

Los Angeles is the biggest industrial hub for the screen industry in the world. Toronto is close, second in North America,” he pointed out.

Screenwriters who live outside Toronto tend to gravitate to Canada’s biggest film and TV market, with the most ambitious eventually testing their writing chops in Hollywood.

“In terms of a career trajectory, the ultimate goal is to end up in Los Angeles,” Countanche said.

That said, the Ryerson professor says Canadian screenwriters should take their time getting to Hollywood.

First hone your skills in Canada, where mentoring opportunities abound, and rack up film and TV credits.

“I’m not saying they (Canadian screenwriters) don’t have to learn to hustle and get to Los Angeles. But they should have a track record when they get there,” Countanche, who teaches Canada’s next generation of film and TV scribes, argued.

And when they do arrive in Los Angeles, screenwriters will find their versatility and Canadian sensibility are highly valued.

“The Canadian talent has been elevated in the minds of the Hollywood gatekeepers, who see us as kind of fresh,” Countanche said.

That Canadian training may well include a university degree.

The Ryerson survey of WGC members found just under half, or 48%, have an undergraduate degree, and 22% have a graduate degree.

And while most Canadian screenwriters got their education in Canada, around a quarter of survey respondents said they obtained at least some of their education in the U.S.

“Given Hollywood’s significant pull on the Canadian screenwriting industry, it’s not surprising that many Canadian screenwriters study or complete their training in the U.S.,” the report stated.