Hollywood uncertainties may raise demand for Canadian talent, observers suggest

By Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Twin Hollywood strikes that have stalled U.S. film and TV production could raise demand for Canadian talent if the job action stretches beyond the summer, say industry observers.

Of course, that would largely depend on how long the work stoppages last and would pale in comparison to the job losses and broader disruption that’s almost certain to deepen with a long labour fight, they add.

However, production delays appear to be behind NBC’s announcement last week to schedule the third season of CTV’s hospital drama “Transplant” on Thursdays this fall instead of “Law & Order: SVU,” as previously announced.

And the CEO of the Canadian network OutTV says more U.S. broadcasters could turn northward for content if the simultaneous writers and actors strikes continue into September.

Brad Danks says he hasn’t yet seen a big push by U.S. networks and streamers to stock up on foreign content, but he’s sure exploratory talks are underway.

“With more room on the schedule, some more room to manoeuvre, there may be opportunities to: A) stand out to audiences in ways you wouldn’t in a more crowded market, and secondly, opportunities to do deals with some of the larger companies that are looking for content and supply,” Danks says.

“That would be inevitable and that’s happened in the past. So we could see starting in August or September, them reaching out asking, ‘What have you got that we want on one of our services?’ I’m sure it’s happening but it hasn’t happened en masse yet.”

Meanwhile, one prominent Toronto casting director says non-SAG Canadian actors could have an advantage at auditions as long as their unionized U.S. peers are off the job.

Stephanie Gorin says there’s much uncertainty over whether and how unionized members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists can work in Canada.

Canadian productions under Canadian labour contracts can proceed amid the strikes, and SAG has begun handing out waivers to some independent productions with SAG stars.

However, she says there’s much uncertainty over the fine print of SAG rules, which are broadly intended to restrict work on projects backed by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Even if a SAG member is allowed to work, there’s no guarantee they would not pledge solidarity to the cause.

As a result, some Canadian productions seem to be shifting their sights from hiring established SAG stars to more readily available homegrown talent, says the Emmy Award-winning veteran.

“I certainly in the last few months helped cast the leads for a new Canadian series where they were looking in the U.S. as well, and with the call for the likelihood of the strike this really put the Canadians high on the list,” says Gorin, whose resume includes the FX series “Fargo,” and Global’s “Private Eyes.”

“Not that they were any less talented… we have two wonderful Canadians in the lead. Some of the actors who were on the list had to be put aside because it wouldn’t work and they really wanted the series to shoot (at) the time that they set to do it.

“Which allowed for the whole cast at this point to be Canadian.”

Members of SAG and the Writers Guild of America are each striking over similar issues with the AMPTP including compensation and guardrails around the use of artificial intelligence.

Toronto screenwriter and show creator Anthony Q. Farrell says attaching a SAG actor to a proposed series generally raises its appeal for broadcasters on both sides of the border.

But if attaching that SAG star also raises uncertainty over when and if a proposed project can actually shoot and deliver a show or film, the appeal dwindles, he notes.

That’s where Canadian-made series with Canadian casts and writers could have a leg up amid a U.S. labour fight, says Farrell.

He notes that he’s able to continue developing his Canadian series “Hate the Player: The Ben Johnson Story” for Paramount Plus Canada because it is under a Writers Guild of Canada contract.

“The strikes wouldn’t affect those shows if they do get greenlit because it would be through ACTRA and through the WGC,” Farrell says, referring to Canada’s performers’ union, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.

Talent agent Jennifer Goldhar agrees that non-SAG Canadian actors probably have a leg up when competing for some acting jobs in Canada.

But it’s also possible that competition may increase for smaller roles that an established dual SAG/ACTRA member would eschew in any other year — but is suddenly pursuing because of the lack of work, she says.

Determining such fallout is difficult amid widespread confusion over who can work and who can’t, she adds.

“We’re trying to learn as much as we can,” says Goldhar, who represents actors for film, television and theatre work.

“In the meantime, we’re all just going to be as aggressive as we can for the work that is out there — for the Canadian work and for any of the little independent films that are going to continue to shoot.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2023.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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