How Acadie Dominates French-language Fiction Outside Quebec
Acadie is the clear leader in francophone fiction production outside Quebec with hits that include Belle-Baie (Les Productions du Phare-Est, 2008), À la Valdrague (Mozus Productions, 2018), Conséquences (Bellefeuille Productions, 2019), and Les Newbies (Productions du Milieu, 2019). To find out what’s behind the region’s success, we asked Mozus producer Suzette Lagacé and Les Newbies screenwriter and actor André Roy to give us their take.
How can we explain the leadership role that Acadie has taken on in the production of fiction series, particularly in the past 2-3 years?
Suzette Lagacé: To start with, we’ve always been leaders. Technically, the first fiction series outside Quebec was made in Ontario but Belle-Baie came on the scene not long after and ran for four full seasons. And that’s a big deal. The fact that New Brunswick is Canada’s only officially bilingual province has always played a role, and that’s been very important to us. It makes a huge difference in the relationship you have with your culture when you feel it really is official and not quasi-official like in Ontario. I’m originally a Franco-Ontarian so I know from experience. In Ontario they make you feel like they’re doing you a favour. But when it’s your legal right, it really means something. It gives added weight to asserting your identity on television and in film. And the fact that all these great series came out around the same time, made it feel like something magical was happening.
How important has cultural infrastructure been to the success of fiction in Acadie? Pays de la Sagouine is a good example.
André Roy: Pays de la Sagouine has been pivotal in the development of Acadien acting talent. It is the largest employer of artists in New Brunswick. As I remember, some 120 to 130 artists work there during the summer season. The three of us on Les Newbies, Christian Essiambre, Luc LeBlanc, and myself, worked there for years. I wrote my first scripts for a comedy act there with Christian. After that, I wrote scripts for Pays, did some staging work, learned how to direct, to edit, and to manage promotional campaigns. There’s also the drama department at the Université de Moncton where I’m a lecturer. I teach a class in acting techniques and now we have another class focusing on acting in front of the camera. That option wasn’t available before so we upgraded the department so we could offer it. Many of our graduates go on to work at Pays to gain experience.
People often talk about how important the star system was in building Quebec’s super successful television ecosystem. Does Acadie have a star system of its own?
André Roy: There is a new star system forming but nothing quite like Quebec’s yet. Certainly, every positive step someone takes has a ripple effect on the rest of us. Artists who make it big, like Lisa LeBlanc, Radio Radio, and Les Hay Babies, add sparkle to the entire Acadie brand. They raise the bar. Those that came before were true groundbreakers. Edith Butler and Antonine Maillet really put Acadie on the map. Of course, we’ve evolved since those early days and the way we want to present ourselves to others has evolved, too. The goal is a realistic portrayal of contemporary Acadien life, to make the experience universal and not just stereotypical. Kind of like what Les Newbies is doing.
In the first episode of À la Valdrague, a subtitle was used when someone spoke Acadien. Do you think subtitles are still necessary?
Suzette Lagacé: It was the only time a subtitle was used in the entire series and we had some big discussions about using it because it was in the very first scene of the very first season. It was an extremely colourful accent, and it was intentional. We love the richness of our regional accents. However the broadcaster really knew the audience and didn’t want anyone switching channels after 30 seconds simply because of a few opening lines that sounded foreign to them. It was to keep the viewer’s attention so the series could work its charm...and it worked. The series is now in its fourth year because the audience is there. We’re also looking to build a bigger base in Quebec because that’s where the numbers are even if we are producing a series outside Quebec. We’re in a business where ratings are everything. We still have a long way to go with the public there, but it has been opening up a lot in the last ten to fifteen years. We’re making the most of this opening, but nothing is automatic, of course.
Most fiction productions use Quebec talent in their crews. Why is Quebec expertise still needed in Acadie?
André Roy: We shouldn’t worry about importing talent, whether it’s consultants or camera operators. Bringing in expertise from elsewhere is a good thing as long we don’t lose our identity. I’m proud to say that we always stand up for the vision of our creators in Les Newbies. You can always learn a new way of doing things without risking the soul of a series. We’re building bridges where they need to be built because, geographically speaking, New Brunswick is so close to Quebec.
Suzette Lagacé: À la Valdrague isn’t a co-production. It’s 100% Acadien and that’s the way I want it to stay. Thanks to productions that have come before like Belle-Baie, we have some homegrown talent at our disposal. I was hoping for a majority of local department heads but Acadie just doesn’t have that level of expertise yet. For that you need volume, so crew members can work year-round in their field. I know our series has helped develop some top talent. Year after year we’re training people to become department heads. My biggest challenge is the team. It’s 90% Acadien but we still bring in eight crew members from Quebec. Teams from Quebec really want to come and work here. It’s a different way of life. We love creating the perfect conditions for them. And they never look down on what we do which is really motivating for our teams. You can’t work in a vacuum in this business. You have to get the best wherever they’re from.
Shooting for the fourth and final season of À la Valdrague is scheduled for this summer. André Roy’s Productions L’Entrepôt currently has a number of projects in development.