It would have been easy for the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television to take the easier route to presenting this year’s pandemic-restricted Canadian Screen Awards by doing it all virtually with pre-recorded acceptance speeches. But that’s not the style of the Academy.
While there won’t be a fully dressed audience in a ballroom or theater, the Academy will be handing out a plethora of material over the next week, capped off with a gala on CBC and CBC Gem on Sunday night.
We spoke to Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, ahead of the festivities.
Beth, you announced that Catherine O’Hara, Tatiana Maslany, Arissa Cox, Andrew Phung, Ron MacLean and others will be participating this week. Can you give details of their roles?
Beth Janson: We try to think of the big CBC show as a TV show with a cast. These people are what we would consider our star actors or the people who sort of make up the cast of this show. There are a variety of ways they are involved. Some have different categories. Some are part of vignettes we make around different types of defining moments. And some liven up the show in different ways.
Kudos to everyone on the team for being able to organize award shows in the first place, whatever form they take.
BJ: It’s something that we don’t really talk about much, but our staff here at the Academy have gone through the same things that everyone around the world has gone through to varying degrees and battled COVID, and the mental health and family members to take care of and that sort of thing.
We’re no different than anyone else, but we’re also in the business of celebration, so it takes that extra emotional energy to get you in that frame of mind when you feel like the world around you is falling apart. . I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the whole team for keeping it together. And really, I feel like our work is getting better every year in COVID, like nobody just sits down and goes, ‘Ah, I don’t have to do this too because… ‘ It was really phenomenal and epic, I think.
Tallboyz couldn’t be better to host Sunday’s gala. Are they the leaders of all of this?
BJ: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. We work in a very different context than something like the Oscars or the Emmys. I’m always excited when we can just take the talent that’s really doing world-class work and give them a platform. That’s how I feel about Tallboyz. I think their brand of comedy is really unique. It’s very strong and hilarious. They have just signed a deal with Fuse TV in the USA. I hope that even more people will be able to discover them this way.
Canada has always been a bit above its weight when it comes to its movies and TV shows. I feel like there have never been more people in the world watching Canadian television than right now.
BJ: It’s really a strong point. Streamers play an important role because they have a very different business model. Network television must cater to a very specific demographic. They make a lot of assumptions about what this demographic wants to see. And streamers serve a much larger audience and you can go deep into a niche audience on a streamer. I think that was a game-changer for a lot of our creators who really grew their audience.
You have nine awards ceremonies taking place during Canadian Screen Week. Remind me how this will work?
BJ: All of our winners will accept live, so that’s nine live shows. We’ll have a host who’s in a studio in Etobicoke and we’ve done an insane job of editing all the nominee packs and that kind of stuff, but eventually every winner will be able to accept live. That’s a huge amount of computing superpower going on behind the scenes.
Let’s say we have 16 categories in a program. Let’s say you have an average of five nominees, so you need to arrange 80 calls and coordinate all of that per show. It’s a huge amount of coordination and work. We have amazing producers who have produced live shows before and they have moved on to those live shows.
When people tune in and watch the show, what do you want them to get out of it? A celebration of Canadian television and Canadian cinema, and embrace it and go out and watch it?
BJ: It’s a party and I hope people will learn something too. Not everyone knows about our Canadian talent and what’s being done here. So I think there’s discovery, there’s celebration and pride in being Canadian and in our industry because I think there’s something to be proud of.
See the list of nominees.
The Canadian Screen Awards Gala airs Sunday, April 10 at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.