Ararat and Crash producer Robert Lantos is readying a series of big-budget films with international casts - in line with Canadian funding body Telefilm's aim to support films with box office potential.
It has been almost a year since federal funding body Telefilm spelled out its aim of focusing on supporting commercially viable films, while setting a target for indigenous cinema to secure a 5% share of the national market within the next four years.
To try and hit that target, Telefilm's Canadian Feature Film Fund (CFFF) said it would prioritise projects based on box-office potential. Evaluation criteria now also include a financial commitment by the distributor to the costs of the film's theatrical launch.
Robert Lantos, owner/producer at Serendipity Point Films, for one, is cautiously upbeat. He sees Telefilm's new emphasis on supporting films that are made for audiences as positive and necessary. "That wasn't much of a concern for Telefilm for the preceding 15 years. If it doesn't push in that direction and producers don't make films for audiences, then sooner or later there will be no more reason for the government to pump finances into movies and the money will evaporate."
Lantos recently acquired 50% of North American distributor THINKFilm, which is in a growth phase of acquiring new films and will distribute all Serendipity films in Canada. "For a very long time I have been of the view that Canadian films can be successful with audiences at home and abroad, but you can't do that if no-one knows the film is playing. That's why I've always had a distribution company to make sure that among other things, that I had a way to make sure they were launched appropriately," says Lantos, who built up Alliance Communications and sold it to Atlantis Films in 1998.
For his part, Lantos is thinking big, both in terms of budgets and international stars. He is currently in pre-production on The Statement, to be shot in Paris and with a budget of $17.7m (C$27m), and with director Norman Jewison and actor Michael Caine onboard. He is also prepping on Being Julia, with Annette Bening, which will shoot in London. Later in the year he plans to start pre-production on Painkillers, with director David Cronenberg and an agreement in principle with Ralph Fiennes.
Lantos continues: "A healthy film industry anywhere in the world needs a healthy balance between auteur films and films made for broader audiences. In the last 15 years that has been out of balance as the auteur films were the only ones being made. So when I say the signs are positive, it's because we are moving toward a better balance.
Lantos knew who his audience was for Men With Brooms, which he produced and Alliance Atlantis distributed. About $720,000 (C$1.1m) was spent on an unprecedented promotional campaign for the $4.9m (C$7.5m) film - which despite frosty reviews broke domestic box office records,.
"Men With Brooms was made for the Canadian market and it showed that you can actually attract enough of an indigenous audience to make it worthwhile, just like in other countries. Men With Brooms is a mainstream film - if it didn't have the benefit of being launched like other mainstream movies then it couldn't have possibly reached its intended audience, Brooms had to compete with the other 15 or 20 other mainstream movies that were in the theatres from Hollywood at the same time, which had the same P&A spend. We spent as much as Disney would have spent if they had launched it."
However, Lantos points out, with a film like The Statement, which is an international thriller, the promotion will be completely different. "That's why there are distribution deals up front with the U.S., the U.K., France and Australia - it will be launched simultaneously all over the world. It's an international story and the audience is different."
And while making the films with an audience in mind is key, so is planning the launch and P&A. "There have been some [Canadian] films in the past few years - not made by me - that I believe deserved a better fate than the oblivion into which they disappeared."