As an advocate for Canadian media I have been told time and time again that Canadians don’t watch Canadian television, go to Canadian movies or play on Canadian websites because it just isn’t good enough. We have the stats to prove otherwise but that doesn’t stop the trolls (who are sometimes even mainstream media) from slagging the stuff that we make here. I wish they all had spent the weekend at Fan Expo to see the truth. We have a star system, we have crazy fans, we have a huge audience for our home-grown content. This is a good news story (and a good news blog post). And honestly – if someone tries to tell me today that we don’t make good stuff I think that I might slap them.
I’ve been going to FanExpo for a few years now. The first year (2010) there was one Canadian property at FanExpo – the steampunk web series Riese (that’s the wikipedia reference – I couldn’t find a Canadian source to watch it as it’s geoblocked on Syfy.com) – I saw some fans still cosplaying characters from that webseries this year – which is quite cool. Each year since then the Canadian contingent has grown. This year there were panels and booths and cast signings for “Lost Girl”, “Call Me Fitz”, “The Listener”, “Murdoch Mysteries”, “Orphan Black”, “Bitten” (which hasn’t even aired yet but has a huge following based on Kelly Armstrong’s books – which I first learned about at last year’s FanExpo) and several other series which are American but shot here such as “Warehouse 13” and “Defiance”. The Independent Production Fund hosted a booth for several of the web series that they have funded. Across from them was the booth for “Ruffus The Dog’s Steampunk Adventure” (which apparently Gina Torres loved – #geekheaven). The animated web series “Captain Canuck” had a booth where Kris Holden-Reid, who voices the main character, did signings (I stood there for a while and ogled him – have to admit it). Quite a few indie gamers had booths. The Canadian presence was huge.
And the fans loved it. I spent some time on Saturday in line with fans and I really enjoyed meeting people. In the “Murdoch Mysteries” line people kept talking about being in line to see Jack and that confused me until I realized that was Yannick Bisson’s character name from “Sue Thomas F. B. Eye” (an industrially Canadian series from 2002-2005). My favourite fans were the lady in her 60s and her 90 year old mother in a walker. “Jack” was the mother’s favourite actor on TV. Both mom and daughter were pretty excited when the cast made a fuss over them. [Note – FanExpo is not just for geeky gamer boys and Lolitas. This story shows just how mainstream it has become.]
I took a break from the madness of FanExpo on a Saturday and went early to line up for “The Listener” panel and sit and read my graphic novel. I had passed a surprise “Listener” cast signing and let the women around me know that it was going on and offered to save their places for them. Then I started talking to the identical twins behind me. They now introduce each other as ‘clones’ after becoming big fans of “Orphan Black”. We talked clones (Will there be a new one next season?) and “Bitten” casting (can Supergirl play a werewolf? They think so) and they raved about how terrific everyone they met had been.
When the ladies came back from their cast signing one had brought me a poster and another invited me to join her in her VIP front row, as thank yous for their incredible experience meeting the cast. Awwwww! Listenerds are the best!
It’s not just about meeting the stars though. At each panel I attended (or heard about), fans got a chance to ask questions about story and in a few cases pitched story ideas for future seasons. [Christina Jennings was quite taken by a few of the “Listener” fan ideas.] They loved meeting the creators when they had a chance – I heard about how great it was to meet co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson of “Orphan Black”.
And then there were the “Bitten” ears. Everyone who went to their panel got a pair of wolf ears. You could tell after the panel was out and the rest of FanExpo (including the Nathan Fillion line which I was in instead of the panel – sorry guys) was infiltrated with wolf ears. Brilliant.
As we all know Nathan Fillion is Canadian. I’m not sure everyone knew how proud of that fact he remains. He made that clear and the crowd roared in appreciation (I have to admit it – I almost teared up). And yes, an appreciation for our Canadian talent who have gone south and done well for themselves is an integral part of our Canadian media world. Which is not the same as only promoting our ex-pat stars.
So what did I learn from this? Canadian fans are very aware that they are Canadian and different from Americans (you should have heard the crowd loudly correct George Takei when he said both Canada and the US entered World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbour). We are proud that we are polite and generous whether we are celebrities or fans. We love our Canadian television not because it’s Canadian but because it’s great stuff. It competes with and is just as good as the American shows. We have a star system that seems to have grown organically just on the basis of that great television.
It’s not that the broadcasters do NOTHING – no, they do promote their Canadian programs and talent but just not enough. So the producers and talent take on promotion when they have the time and money to do so. Some of it is as simple as jumping in on social media (I think more than a few fans will be joining Twitter to twatch the “Listener” finale next Wednesday after the cast talked about regularly twatching) and the lack of ego that leads to free cast signings when the big US stars are charging mega bucks and limiting the number of autographs.
Some people are catching on – loved the sneak peeks from Shaftesbury and seriously if someone could send me some wolf ears I swear I’d wear them. Somewhere. Space does a great job at working FanExpo. We can do more. We can grow the audience with more fan support. And if the audience grows then maybe, when benefits money runs out and BDU contributions to the CMF drop, then just maybe broadcasters will see that it’s in their best financial interest to continue to give the audience the great Canadian TV that they have come to expect, with the stars and stories that they love.
Every year I tell people what a great experience it is to go to FanExpo if you work in Canadian television (and digital media but this year I focused on the tv side – maybe next year). Our task now is to support the fans throughout the year. Seriously guys, I don’t think a hashtag is going to do it.