Wednesday, June 25, 2008

William (Bill) Vince - 1963-2008

A service to honour the life of Academy Award-nominated producer William (Bill) Vince, who died last weekend (June 21) after waging a battle against sarcoma, will be held this Friday, June 27, in West Vancouver.

Many in Vancouver's film community are saddened by the death of the savvy, generous man who produced such films as the upcoming The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, the Oscar-winning Capote, and writer-director Charles Martin Smith's upcoming Stone of Destiny, as well as his Smith's efforts The Snow Walker and the first of the Air Bud franchise.

"Bill Vince was the most generous person I have met. Generous with his time, his talent and his knowledge of the business. He touched so many people with his determination and spirit. He was an amazing partner and a loyal friend. All of us here at Infinity loved him dearly and will miss him terribly," Infinity producer Rob Merilees, said in a released statement.

Testimony to Merilees's remarks, Vince still made time to meet with film school students (including my own students), even after earning his Oscar nominations.

In the same release, Capote star and Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman remarked, "I could talk to Bill. Bill wore his heart on his sleeve, thank God. He'd fight with you, thank God. He knew how to hug, thank God. He was attracted to passion, therefore I was attracted to him. He stood by me and I'll never forget it. I loved him, loved him."

A foundation has been established in Vince's name to create an annual scholarship fund to be awarded to an aspiring young filmmaker who has overcome adversity in his or her life. Donations will be matched by the BC Film Foundation and can be made to:

The William Vince Foundation c/o Debra Thomas, The Canada Trust Company, PO Box 10083,Vancouver, B.C., V7Y 1BC

Monday, June 23, 2008

Remembering Air India 182

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the downing of Flight Air India 182, the worst mass murder in Canadian in history. Until 9/11, it was also the world’s most deadly act of aviation terrorism.

On June 23, 1985, a Boeing 747 carrying 329 people, including 280 Canadians, exploded near the Irish coast killing all on board. On the same day, a bomb exploded at Japan’s Narita Airport, killing two baggage handlers. Both flights originated in Vancouver.

Sturla Gunnarsson’s remarkable film Air India 182 aired last night on CBC, commercial free, to mark the anniversary.

Breathtaking in its clarity, importance, and power, the film is a beautiful tribute to the people who were lost and the families who haven’t forgotten them. (My full feature on the film appeared this weekend in TV Times.)

I hope all Canadians will take a moment today to honour the memory of those who died on Flight Air India 182. If you can, donate a toy or game to the Sally Ann, to remember the 86 children who died that day. Yes, 86 children.

The investigation into the attacks went on for almost 20 years. To date, only one person, Inderjit Singh Reyat, has been convicted of participating in the bombing.

In 2000, two Vancouver men, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, inplicated in the attacks were charged with 329 counts of murder. They went to trial in 2003, with a verdict of not guilty announced in 2005.

Perhaps because of its enormity and the elusiveness of justice in this case, its shadow seems perennially cast over Metro Vancouver. It’s the story without an end, which doubtless makes it harder for those who still grieve.

A public inquiry into the Air India disaster wrapped up this past February (2008), and chair John Major’s report is expected to be released this fall.

Also this fall, British Columbia’s Law Society is scheduled to hold a disciplinary hearing into the activities of Jaspreet Singh Malik. Here’s a brief paragraph from the citation, that’s posted online at:

“Nature of conduct to be inquired into:
Your conduct in participating in a scheme or design to mislead the Supreme Court of British Columbia by arranging the acquisition and/or registration of security of a loan from Gurdip Malik, a family member, Ripudaman Singh Malik, a family member, and/or attempting to obtain a judgment on that loan for the purpose of putting into place a reduction in the assets of Ripudaman Singh Malik prior to and for the purposes of his “Rowbotham” application.”

As the story continues to unfold, it’s worth noting the courage of those who have refused to let the story slip from public consciousness.
All Canadians are indebted to Gunnarsson for this film;
to journalists like Kim Bolan and Terry Milewski, who continue to pursue the truth in spite in spite of death threats and lawsuits;
to politicians like MP Ujjal Dosanjh who continue to lead the way;
and mostly to Canadians like Vancouver’s Hayer family, whose patriarch, newspaper man Tara Singh Hayer was murdered in 1998, who continue to speak out against violence.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Will the Actors Strike?! “Strikeproof?!” Is It All Much Ado About Nothing?

As American networks continue to open up their airwaves to Canadian TV, the Screen Actors Guild's senior reps appear to be chomping at the bit, threatening a strike (but not actually setting a strike vote for its membership).

The Fox network yesterday announced its involvement with Global’s The Animated Adventures of Bob and Doug Mackenzie. It joins other Canadian programs, including Flashpoint (CTV/CBS), The Listener (CTV/Fox International/NBC), Howie Do It (Global/NBC), MVP and Sophie (CBC/ABC) to find airtime on the U.S. nets.

But there looms the threat of a crippling industry strike, this time by actors. It’s worth taking a look at how serious the threat is and what it means, especially to Canadians, many of who are card-carrying SAG members.

Right now, SAG executives are fuming at their AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) counterparts for making a deal on its own. It’s estimated that about 40,000 of SAG’s (122,000) members are also AFTRA members. (AFTRA is about 70-000 members strong).

SAG’s leadership, helmed by actor Alan Rosenberg, knows that its power is being diluted for two primary reasons:

1) Its smaller cousin union, AFTRA, is not going to knuckle under its pressure.

2) The networks’ newfound enthusiasm for buying international programs weakens Hollywood’s power as a production centre (even more than the related scourge dubbed “runaway production.”)

New Studio Power Play:

“Hey, SAG. If you don’t like our new deal, we’ll work with AFTRA performers - maybe in Canada.
And p.s. to you, AFTRA: If you don’t like it, we’ll have a chat with ACTRA.”

SAG & AFTRA (finally in unison): “What the hell is ACTRA?”

How the mighty fall. It’s no wonder that SAG appears to be exerting more energy trying to scuttle AFTRA’s recently negotiated contract than trying to work out a deal of its own.

Even SAG president Alan Rosenberg has acknowledged that AFTRA’s contract agreement had reduced SAG’s “leverage” with the AMPTP (Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers).

Check out SAG’s website at, and note the missive directed at AFTRA members:

Send AFTRA back to bargain together with SAG
Vote No to the AFTRA contract

But AFTRA isn’t bowing to its heavyweight cousin. Not only is AFTRA digging in, today it released a statement declining SAG’s request to participate in a "discussion" about the terms of the contract, a three-year deal hashed out May 28. It marks a new era.

AFTRA has now sent the contract, one that its board of directors approved convincingly, (with a whopping 91 percent vote for), to its members for ratification. A “yes” vote by members is considered likely - results will be known on July 7.

And SAG’s execs fume. SAG’s deal expires June 30, at which time the results of AFTRA’s vote won’t be known. Check out AFTRA’s website and tune in to actors like James Cromwell (Babe) issuing edicts like: "I'm voting YES on the AFTRA Primetime TV Contract and you should vote YES too!"

SAG execs clearly realize that so-called “strikeproofAFTRA series, such as Rules of Engagement, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cashmere Mafia and Reaper (filmed in Vancouver), weaken its position. Their attempts to interfere with AFTRA and to pressure dual members suggests that SAG's executives know the guild is not in the driver's seat.

And what does SAG think of all this buying of foreign, especially Canadian, series? We’ll have to guess, because a SAG rep has not replied to a request for comment.

Judging by how L.A.-based unions reacted to the “runaway production” issue, we can safely assume it won’t deepen a love for all things Canadian (the investment in Bob & Doug notwithstanding).

Personally, if I was a Canadian actor on a series like Reaper, I’d be crossing my fingers and praying to the icy ghost of Walt Disney that sanity prevails and that SAG reaches a deal on or before July 7.

Not so sure I’d be happy to go to work on a U.S.-network series in the event (growing more unlikely) that SAG goes on strike. But, if I was a Canadian creator or showrunner right now - well, I’d be probably be pretty tickled (and in L.A. opening up a branch office) right now. Two words. Golden. Opportunity.

What a mess. Angry SAG. Determined AFTRA. No clear solution. No going back.

There’s no business like show business. There’s no business, indeed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

To Everything There Is A Season

A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven
Tributes honouring legendary TV journalist Tim Russert, host of NBC’s MEET THE PRESS, are pouring in after his sudden death today in Washington at age 58. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw broke the news on air today (June 13), shortly after Russert collapsed.

“This was one of the most important years in Tim's life for so many reasons. He loved this political campaign. He worked to the point of exhaustion so many weeks, not just on MEET THE PRESS, but on MSNBC, and with our colleague, Brian Williams, of course, during the debates and on Special Coverage on NBC Nightly News,” said Brokaw.

Political junkies and newshounds alike will remember Russert as a funny, warm, energetic, no-nonsense fellow, with an astute political mind. He was the longest-serving host of the Sunday news program that dominated its genre.

He spent 17 years hosting MEET THE PRESS and traveling across the United States encouraging young people to get interested and involved in the political process. He was widely regarded as a man of extraordinary integrity who always treated his interview subjects fairly and with respect.

“We are heartbroken at the sudden passing of Tim Russert,” said Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s chief executive officer.

“We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family and the news world has lost one of its finest. The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated. More than a journalist, Tim was a remarkable family man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, their son, Luke, and Tim's entire extended family.”

America’s Wall Street Journal is reporting that both presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, have paid tribute to the broadcaster.

An article by Susan Davis quotes Obama as remarking, “There wasn’t a better interviewer in television, a more thoughtful analyzer of politics and he was also one of the finest men I knew, somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about his family. I am grief stricken with the loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And I hope that even though Tim is irreplaceable that the standard that he set in his professional life and family life are standards that we’ll all carry with us in our own lives.”

His death is a great loss, not just to the practice of journalism, but to journalism educators and students. Russert was scheduled to be honoured this month by the Newhouse School of Public Communications (Syracuse University) for lifetime achievement. The honor will now be given posthumously.

“We were shocked and saddened to learn of his passing,” says Newhouse Dean David M. Rubin. “We extend our condolences to his family, his colleagues and all those who have watched and admired him through the years.”
Those who have watched and learned courtesy of Russert must surely number in the millions. But he was known and loved best by his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, and his son Luke, soon to graduate from Boston College.

It's impossible to imagine MEET THE PRESS without him. All North Americans are a little poorer for the loss of such a great mind and compassionate human being. He's already missed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bard on the Box

It’s a good weekend for Canadian drama. For the piece de resistance, this weekend tune in, PVR or record (old school), but don’t miss the ambitious Othello: The Tragedy of the Moor (Sunday, June 15, 9 pm, CBC). This isn’t Laurence Fishburne’s version of Othello, let’s make that clear.

In some ways, it’s simultaneously more innovative and yet more true to Shakespeare’s original text than other previous movie versions. Most contemporary theatre productions portray Othello as an African-American, though it’s believed by many scholars that Shakespeare had envisioned Othello as a Moroccan and a Muslim.

The later interpretation followed the events of human history, points out actor Carlo Rota (24, Little Mosque), who turns in a powerful performance in the lead role.

The production (which will air as a radio play on CBC Radio this Friday – June 13) features a plethora of recognizable Canadian and was co-written by Leo award-winner Zaib Shaikh (Little Mosque on the Prairie) and Matthew Edison.

Shaikh directed the piece, which opens symbolically with the wedding of Desdemona and Othello, as she places a Christian pendant around his neck, while he adorns her with jewelry bearing a crescent moon and star. Foreshadowing in iconography...It’s quickly obvious that this love will not conquer all.

“I hadn’t done Shakespeare before,” says the charismatic Rota, who strikes a commanding figure. “But the experience of being successful and an immigrant is one I could relate to.”

Matthew Deslippe, Shaikh’s partner in Governor Films and a colleague from Stratford, co-stars as Iago. Rota, Shaikh and Deslippe all served as executive producers. Christine Horne (The Stone Angel) is a gorgeous Desdemona. Nazneen Contractor (The Border) appears as Bianca in the tale of prejudice, betrayal, envy and murder. All turn in compelling performances.

A universal tale, which can be said of all the Bard’s work, Othello has been much studied by academics and is largely understood to be the tale of a prideful man’s ruin, brought on by the betrayals of those closest to him. Without giving away the plot, Othello’s insecurities and view of himself as an outsider are what are ultimately make him vulnerable to the manipulations of others, and to his own destruction.

“The idea of serving the play was very important, but we essentially had to cut half the play out,” says Shaikh. “You can’t just cut it. You have to sculpt it and shape it and actually illuminate it in a different way. And yet somehow remain true to [it].”

The effort’s a success. Love. Lust. Envy. All are at the heart of Othello, which Shaikh and Deslippe miraculously adapted into a two-hour telefilm, while keeping major plot points intact.

The handsome actor best known for playing the funny, sarcastic sweetheart of an imam, Amaar, on Little Mosque began his career in theatre, took on the project as a labour of love and dedication. He holds a Masters degree (MFA) in directing from U.B.C.

“It’s time to explore different ways of getting people back to liking the world of theatre,” he says of his interest in dramatizing the play for TV.

“Theatre is exciting, and it should be,” says Shaikh. “I never sought to do this for TV because it wasn’t interesting enough for theatre. I thought to do this for television and film because theatre IS so interesting. It needs to be shared.

“Hopefully that excitement transfers.”

It does.

Also this weekend: Nick Campbell returns to the role that made him a household name in Canada in The Quality of Life: A Dominic Da Vinci Movie (Saturday, June 14, 9 pm, CBC). Yep, the man called “Canada’s best actor,” by Chris Haddock, stars with Mary Walsh, Hugh Dillon, Michael Murphy and Ben Ratner in a TV movie that picks up where Da Vinci’s City Hall left off. Murder, mayhem and intrigue.

Sounds like any another week in Vancouver’s municipal politics. Seriously. NO wonder Larry Campbell headed for the relative sanity of the Canadian Senate.

Look for my full report and interviews with Haddock and Campbell this weekend in Canwest’s TV TIMES.
This weekend also marks the debut of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, (Sunday, June 15, 8 PM, CBC). We’ll have more about the series, hosted by the funny Gavin Crawford, in a future post.


Will a weekend of top-notch CBC programs take viewers minds off how angry they are at the ceeb for giving up the Hockey Night in Canada music? Probably not.

You should still send e-mails and letters to CBC Sports honcho Scott Moore and let him know what you think.Better yet, maybe you should use the weekend to get started on ideas and lyrics for HniC’s replacement tune. By all means get creative….

I think a tune that everybody already knows might work best as the new HniC anthem. My idea: How ‘bout this at ?

Who doesn't know this tune:

Well we're movin on up, To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up To the east side. We finally got a piece of the pie.

Fish don't fry in the kitchen; Beans don't burn on the grill.
Took a whole lotta tryin' Just to get up that hill.
Now we're up in the big leagues Gettin' our turn at bat. As long as we live, it's you and me baby There ain't nothin wrong with that.

Well we're movin on up, To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up To the east side. We finally got a piece of the pie…

Music&Lyrics: Ja’net Dubois/Jeff Barry

Q: What does that tune have to with hockey? A: Nothing, but it’s snappy. A theme song SHOULD be snappy, just like the old one.

Q: What does that have do with Canada? A: Well, again nothing, but it’s iconic, recognizable and legendary, also just like the old one.

Q: So, are you saying one good theme song is as good as another good theme song? Well, no. But, think about this: Would George Jefferson EVER give away his piece of the pie?

Q: This business about: “Now we’re up in the big leagues…” Wouldn’t that work better for the other guys?

A: Well yes. But there’s no point calling them right now; they’ve just landed the Big Kahuna. And besides, they’re probably quite busy with their victory party.

Opportunity cost. Branding. Market Share. That’s what it’s all about.
Dumb-da-Dumb-Dumb-Dumb…and so on…that’s the name of that tune.

Tonight's the night: for the NHL Awards...CBC, 8 PM.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Dishy Dogs and Cool Cats

Animals seem to like me. Feel free to insert your own joke, but it's true. Animals, even horses, like me. And this week, while I've been on the run in Toronto doing interviews, I've done a couple of set visits where I've met, respectively, the cuddliest cat and the most darling dog in showbiz – at least in this city.

Top dog is a fuzzy brown terrier called Harry, whose coat is groomed into a great mohawk, who hangs out with the gang from CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie. Dogs are smart, they know a soft touch when they see one and Harry's no exception. I love career firsts, and thanks to Harry, I can now say I remained (mostly) professional, conducting interviews with him draped across my lap. Sweet.

And the most charismatic cat ever is a big, mostly black feline called Panther, who should have has his own producer credit on Degrassi: The Next Generation. (Just kidding.) Panther, who weighs in at at least 18 pounds, is a love sponge, the kind of cat who acts like a dog, and even has the good sense to roll over and enjoy a good belly rub. And Panther has good manners. Thanks Panther for walking (following) me to the studio door to send me off so warmly.

These are the little moments that make a business trip tolerable, especially after one is idiotic enough to leave her wallet in a cab...Think Air Canada will waive its “ID required for boarding” proviso in an emergency? Me neither.

As for other cool cats, I spent yesterday visiting the set of The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos and checking out their smoothly run operation. Man, do they do a good job keeping things tight. I've visited other similarly run shows, only Craig Ferguson's late night crew matches this CBC team for keeping things fun, lively, organized and devoid of stinky show biz pretense. Maybe they could run Air Canada, instead of the computers that now operate the airline.

Strombo, as he's known elsewhere, Curious George as we call him on this site, yesterday interviewed guests comedy legend Bob Newhart and magazine legend Lewis Lapham (Harper's Magazine). If you watched, you'll know what I mean when I say that George can handle himself with heavyweights.

Part of what makes him a great interviewer is that he's able to shut up and listen...He doesn't inject himself into his guest's stories, or compete with them for the spotlight. He is, at the same time, both perfect audience member, and in-tune host. Which is why octogenarian legends like Lapham and Newhart know they're in good hands with him...or maybe they just like the piercings and his crazy-ass belt buckles. Who wouldn't?

Tonight's episode of The Hour features Curious George in an exclusive, hanging out in the studio with Chris Martin et al in advance of Coldplay's new release Vida La Vida.

The sound of this record is the sound of [my bandmates] taking back some of the glory,” Martin says, in an advance clip.

Rock band dynamics are the stuff of legend and awesome books and movies. To get some unrivalled insight into Coldplay's, check out The Hour tonight at 11 PM, CBC.

You can watch some of the fun with George and Chris Martin on the

show's you tube portal:-

(photo credit: Darby Wheeler/Ben Aylsworth, 2008)

post script: To the wondrous human being who found and returned my wallet....THANK YOU!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reaching a Flashpoint at the CTV Launch

So, I've been in Toronto now for more than 24 hours but not quite 48. It's easy to keep busy here. Already I've joined in a demonstration at Queen's Park (Ontario's provincial legislature), looked at dinosaur bones at the Royal Ontario Museum, and seen Corner Gas's Brent Butt pay a tearful tribute to his co-stars at CTV's fall network launch.

CTV unveiled its new Canadian programs at an event offering few news-bites, but mostly a chance to mix and mingle at the Park Hyatt with the talent behind its Canadian programs.

In a nutshell, here are the headlines:Flashpoint, starring Enrico Colantoni and Hugh Dillon, premieres July 11; Fall air dates were confirmed, but no specifics were announced for So You Think You Can Dance Canada and The Listener. The latter, from Christina Jennings's Shaftesbury, will debut on Fox International in December before airing on NBC in 2009. And the Juno Awards 2009 will broadcast from Vancouver, hear that my friends at home? By then Chad Kroeger may have his license back and can drive himself to the venue.

Butt and Corner Gas provided some of the day's big news. Although the upcoming season will be the last for Corner Gas, Butt said a TV movie franchise is a definite possibility. “There's no deal, but all the people in the decision making process seem to want it to happen,” said Butt, talking to a packed room of mostly Toronto-based media.

Along with that, Butt will develop a new half hour comedy for CTV, it was announced today.

Anyone who suspected a huge heart beats inside the big lug's chest, was proven correct. Butt and his cast-mates took the stage where he thanked his fellow thesps Fred Ewanuick, Nancy Robertson, Gabrielle Miller, Janet Wright, Eric Peterson, Tara Spencer-Nairn and Lorne Cardinal for “breathing life” into the characters he created. Butt couldn't hold back his tears, and neither could his co-stars. You can't fake a spirit like that, and it's the same one that's embraced by Corner Gas's many fans.

Butt isn't sure how the series will end, but it was suggested his hero Bob Newhart might play a cameo role. “I don't have many heroes, but he's one of them. We've asked him, but he said he doesn't want to do half hour comedy any more.”

The afternoon included a splashy presentation at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts,with some of SYTYCDC's judges and choreographers, Tre Armstrong, Jean Marc Generex, Blake McGrath, and guest judges Rex Harrington and Mary Murphy, showing off a few of the moves that made them famous.

You Can Dance ... For Inspiration

It's good to have heroes. Like Butt, I don't have many, but at the CTV launch, I met one, Rex Harrington. The day's accomplishment: Having the sense to not gush in His presence, and restricting comments to: “I've seen you perform.”

Not that I imagined he couldn't sense my feverishness...For a brief second, he had that imperiled look made famous by people in TV movies of the week; one that says, "Stalker?" No. I promise. To add a little context, watch him dance: (with Greta Hodgkinson).

I was once advised, “It's best not to meet your heroes. You will be disappointed.” Not true. Harrington, officer of the Order of Canada, could not have been more charming and generous. And the wink from the baby blues? Nice touch - and it wasn't even my birthday (though it was my sister's...Sorry I missed it.)

Harrington will serve as a guest judge this fall on SYTYCDC, in episodes expected to air in November.

“We'll seen what happens, by that time the dancers will be of a certain level, he said. “We'll see what happens; it's live TV. They could end up 'bleeping' me...It could be dangerous.

“But I love this stuff, performing, I love TV. I've been joking that it's such a different way of being treated...Just having someone to drive you around, someone to help with you with wardrobe. It's so different from [dance], where you schlep your own stuff as you go around the world.”

Harrington, the National Ballet of Canada's former Principal dancer officially retired in 2004. He's still an artist-in-residence with the company. Since then, he's been working building an acting career, and still dances, at last enough to keep in shape.

“What I've been thinking about what I want to see when I look at dancers if of course, timing, style, technique and that sort of thing but you really want to see somebody who's going to move you.”

Words from a master.

The whole deal ended with the fabulous Jully Black singing her hit Seven Day Fool. And the event wrapped up with a cocktail reception attended by 2.1 million of Toronto's 2.48 million people.

And that's where Alison experienced what could be called her very own Flashpoint moment.

Just kidding.