10 things the Screenies reveal about Canadian film and TV

While there's only one winner per category at the CSAs, the overall nominations give a high-level view of Canadian industry trends. Playback magazine looks at the top 10.

While only one production can walk away with the top prize in any given category at the Canadian Screen Awards, a look at the nominations can provide a high-level view of the major trends in the Canadian film and television industry. Here, Playback breaks down 10 insights the list of this year’s nominees provided, and what it says about the biz in Canada. (Note: this list was compiled before the winners announced.)

The best drama category (was) kind of kick-ass 
As with any entertainment awards show, the best drama category is not always a reflection of audience success. But this year’s Screenies drama nominees not only have very respectable ratings, they all have rabid, sometimes even global, fan bases. As the CSAs seeks to broaden its appeal with Canadians, a list like this is critical to getting fans to tune in and root for their favourite show. Nominees included: Bravo’s 19-2, Showcase’s Continuum, CTV’s Motive, Global Television’s Remedy and category winner Orphan Black, airing on Space in Canada.

The gap between box office winners and low-budget films widens
In Hollywood, the gap between tentpoles and low-budget films has never been wider, and we’re seeing this reflected in Canada, albeit on a smaller scale. The list of best-picture nominees has box-office hits like Xavier Dolan’s Mommy (estimated $5M budget) and David Cronenberg’s star-driven Maps to the Stars (estimated $13-$15M), both of which got an awards bump out of Cannes. But three of the other four nominees made the Academy swoon on budgets less than $2.5M (Terrance Odette’s Fall) or even micro-budgets of less than $250K: Christian Sparkes’ Cast No Shadow and Albert Shin’s In Her Place.

Canada is A-OK in the factual talent department
The nominated series in the Best Lifestyle/Talk category reveals a slate of stars boosting worldwide sales and landing cross-border gigs: The Scott Brothers are a little family empire, with series on Corus’ W Net and two in production with Scripps in the U.S.; the adorable dimples on Income Property‘s Scott McGillivray have helped sell it into over 30 territories over 10 seasons; The Illegal Eater‘s Stephen Page is an international star in his own right; You Gotta Eat Here‘s John Catucci is infinitely more palatable than Guy Fieri and food host Annie Sibonney is both a Cooking Channel (Scripps) and Discovery World (Bell Media) personality.

Writer-directors are thriving
A Canadian film really does begin with the words, judging by the CSA nominations in the Best Original Screenplay competition, which mirror the best director category. Voters gave bonus points for family dramas – better if everyone’s in crisis – as with David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Atom Egoyan’s kidnapping drama The Captive and Albert Shin’s In Her Place.

It’s a good year for TV shows that do well on U.S. TV (again)
There’s no getting round the reality that, as production values rise alongside fierce competition for viewer attention, financing Canadian TV shows at a big-budget level is getting harder. So Academy voters like TV shows that breakout stateside, raising cross-border licence fees and boosting marketability. Those include Showcase’s Continuum, which also airs on Syfy through its fourth and final season, CTV and ABC’s slick procedural Motive and Space and BBC America’s Orphan Black.

And the winner in the film acting categories is… a bankable star
With Canadian film producers increasingly looking to bankable stars to drive foreign sales of their movies, it’s no surprise the best film actor category is dominated with cross-border name brands like Ryan Reynolds (The Captive), Bruce Greenwood (Elephant Song), Evan Bird (Maps to the Stars) and Tom Larsen (The Killing). That category also features Hollywood veteran and Canadian expat Michael Murphy, while A-List Hollywood names filter into the best film supporting actor competition: John Cusack and Robert Pattinson (Maps to the Stars) and Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska (Maps to the Stars) alongside bankable Quebecois stars like Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clement (Mommy).

The top reality series are still formats
With their high appeal to both advertisers – who both appreciate a known quantity and a place for sophisticated brand integrations – local versions of international formats continue to fill Canadian primetime. As such, it’s no surprise the Best Reality/Competition Series category was fought over formats, including Slice’s Big Brother Canada, CTV’s MasterChef Canada and The Amazing Race Canada and Sportsnet 360′s The Ultimate Fighter Nations – Canada vs Australia (a spinoff of the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter series). The outlier is Slice’s Unusually Thicke, which you could call a format of the “celebrity family” genre.

The NFB remains an awards magnet
Nearly all of the nominees in the Best Original Interactive Production Produced for Digital Media category are NFB projects. And that’s on top of a nomination for that “other” big awards season prize, Oscar, the org’s 73rd Academy Awards nom.

Niche is the new mass
B.C.’s Knowledge Network had a big win with its six-part Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH, produced by Vancouver’s Lark Productions and filmed at Vancouver General Hospital. Nominated for Best Factual Series and Best Direction – factual, the series’ premiere was the highest-rated ever for a Knowledge doc series, earning almost 200,000 total viewers. Its commission was part of recent strategy by the pubcaster to focus on short-run B.C.-focused content – proving that a narrow focus can have wide appeal.

It ain’t over til it’s over
It’s not every series that warrants a TV movie after it wraps its run. But as the nominations (and wins) for Bomb Girls: Facing the Enemy shows – alongside the returns of Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys to the big screen – the affection of Canadian fans can be a powerful motivator. Fan outcry over the series’ cancellation prompted the MOW move, while both Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It and Corner Gas: The Movie saw fans flock to theatres to see their favourite characters back in action.

 by Etan Vlesssing, Julianna Cummins and Katie Bailey