Key distributors and producers talk to Jeremy Kay about the landscape in Canada currently.

Over the last couple of months, Screen has talked to key distributors and producers in Canada about their plans and the landscape in general. The interviews were conducted separately and what follows is a compilation of excerpts.

What impact will the eOne/Alliance merger have on your business?

Mongrel Media founder Hussain Amarshi:

We are already seeing the manifestation of the change. They’re handling close to 150 films per year. That’s a massive number of films and there’s the idea they will not perhaps want to handle ‘small’ films so that could be significant for us.

Cannes was an indication of how we were forging our path into this landscape. We had three of the leading films at Cannes. We bought Blue Is The Warmest Color at script stage [the film went on to win the Palme d’Or]; we got Inside Llewyn Davis after we made the deal directly with the Coen Bros to handle that; and we had Like Father, Like Son.

On balance we had eight out of 20 competition titles. We want to handle significant, quality films that straddle arthouse and commercial and that’s the place we see ourselves in.

Michael Robson, head of acquisition at D Films, whose releases include TIFF entry Third Person. Credits include The Paperboy, Blancanieves and The Attack:

We have been trying to grow our piece of the industry. The merger has given us a tremendous opportunity to fill the void that’s left in the market. eOne’s a tremendous company but we thing there’s an opportunity for us to grow: one company cannot do everything so we are pretty excited to step up.

Pascale Hébert, Remstar, which has Dallas Buyers Club, Devil’s Knot, Don Jon and Parkland in TIFF:

We’re going to stay boutique with 15-20 films a year and we are also buying for TV. We don’t want to compete with eOne or Mongrel or anyone else. We’re different from others in what we’re looking for and in the way we want to run our business.

eOne has more than 100 titles, so if 20 don’t do well they’re not going to go bankrupt. If we have 20 films and 10 aren’t working we could be in trouble, so we have to be very careful with the choices and the prices. Also the package is important – who’s the producer, director and cast?

We’re trying to get independent films at script stage. We bought The Wrestler at script stage, so we have been trying to do things that way. That was the beginning of the kind of film we were looking for. We’re really into English-language films. We bought Adore, for example.

We buy French-language titles because about 95% of them go to V [the Quebec-based broadcaster Remstar acquired several years ago.] We have a lot of work to get those films before they go through output deals [from other distributors]. It’s a lot of work but there’s some space because we are looking to get into production, distribution and broadcasting. Being small and boutique gives us a different approach.

Zanne Devine, head of Pacific Northwest Pictures, which has TIFF entry All The Wrong Reasons. Forthcoming releases include Night Train To Lisbon and SXSW hit Cheap Thrills:

We launched two years ago and aim to distribute six to 10 films a year theatrically. We have focused initially on small films that match up with our size and capability. I do anticipate growth for us over the next 12 months.

Javi Hernandez, evp of VVS, whose releases include TIFF selections Horns and You Are Here. Credits include Olympus Has Fallen, Spring Breakers and the forthcoming Machete Kills, Homefront, Out Of The Furnace and Sabotage:

We are the only other Canadian distributor that competed for bigger budget productions – films in the $30m budget range. We have grown through content acquisition quite aggressively over the last five to seven years. We have continued to acquire larger and larger films.

Through the mergers and acquisitions [Alliance buying Maple; eOne buying Alliance] we have moved up the ranks as the number two distributor in Canada for commercial, wide theatrical releases.

Will VVS set up output deals?

Javi Hernandez: Who knows. We are looking at opportunities.

Why is buying at script stage important for Canadians?

Hussain Amarshi: The Canadian filmmaker needs us to access investment from Telefilm Canada. Just because we come on doesn’t mean they will get investment from Telefilm, but our distribution tools are a big part in qualifying for investment by Telefilm Canada. For us we have to gauge the quality of the filmmaker. We have been building relationships over a number of years.

What ties do you have with US companies?

Hussain Amarshi: In 2001 we started a relationship with SPC and we have been handling all their films in Canada [where SPC has rights in Canada] and that has been an ongoing relationship for 11 years. We have worked with Magnolia and IFC and on top of that we do our own independent acquisitions – we pick up between 10-20 films a year. Overall we release close to 50 theatrical a year and 100 including DVD and VoD.

How do you see the Canadian landscape right now?

Martin Katz [pictured], chairman of Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, president and founder of Prospero Film and David Cronenberg producer:

The picture has never been better for the film industry in Canada. We are very proud of our new Canadian Screen Awards that the Academy inaugurated last year for film and TV together in one show and the response to that was overwhelmingly positive and our ratings soared and the send of pride was rewarding.

And for the third year in a row at least one Canadian film has been nominated for the foreign language Oscars and winning awards in Berlin and Cannes, which projects a sense of the creative community in Canada. There is pride in the talent who stay in Canada or come back to Canada to make pictures here. So films like Maps, Queen of the Night and Enemy are representative of that kind of home-grown creative strength.

Robert Lantos, founder of Serendipity Point Films and producer of TIFF entry The Right Kind Of Wrong:

From a production point of view Canada is one of the most sophisticated countries in the world. It’s second to none – the US, the UK – in terms of facilities and depth of crews and technology. So much of US production has been shot in Canada over the last three decades in addition to all the Canadian productions. There are extraordinary skill levels in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Don Carmody, producer of Pompeii, Chicago and the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises:

The infrastructure has clearly grown over the years and the credits in Toronto and Montreal were enhanced about three to four years ago to go to the all-spend, which made them incredibly competitive. The Canadian dollar has been very strong and now it’s dropped, which has helped.

Toronto and Montreal have become such major production scenes. My pictures are not runaways because they’re international co-productions… We take advantage of the treaties, which give us more bang for our buck. I have done some service deals for Joel Silver [which could have shot in the US but shot in Canada instead.]

David Gross of The F Word producers No Trace Camping:

Canada has gotten a lot better since the independent market has got more difficult [2008]. We’re very much like the US and we have a lot more soft money. As an indie it’s easier to be based here. We have stable tax credits that the banks will cash-flow. We have A-list crews and we have cities that can double as any city in the US. For a small country we have a sizeable amount of home-grown talent.

Brightlight Pictures head Shawn Williamson, producer of White Noise:

Toronto is the hub of Canadian film and TV; Montreal is the hub of French-language film and TV; Vancouver has been a great destination but it’s really established itself as a home for true producers who can finance and there are producers like myself who have shot all over the world and I love that but I am not leaving here.

I am staying in Vancouver, so what I am seeing now is young filmmakers coming out of the programme like Capilano [University] that gives them the tools to succeed that they didn’t have in the past. I am seeing a new wave of filmmakers who understand the industry and understand how important it is to navigate Hollywood. I cut my teeth in Hollywood and learned how important it is to work with the agents and international sales agents.

Julia Sereny of Sienna Films, producer of How She Move and Touch Of Pink:

We are very fortunate because we have a system that’s traditionally been supportive of Canadian cinema. We have been able to straddle two worlds in that we have developed and produced indigenous Canadian work and simultaneously produced many, many co-productions.

It’s been a way we have worked in this country for 15-20 years. What makes it more interesting now is the way the US has opened up. So that applies to TV as well. We have done a lot of co-productions with the US.

Pierre Even of War Witch producer Item 7:

In Canada there are three centres of production: Vancouver is mostly for service production for the US; Toronto, which is huge; and Montreal as well. There’s a big chunk of the industry that works for the Americans in terms of service production. We have very experienced crews in Montreal that can work either in the local industry on projects similar to independents in the US.

Our average budget is around $4m CAD [for local Canadian films it’s $4.5m CAD and for Quebecois films it’s $4.2m CAD]. They have a lot of experience of doing a lot for little money. Montreal is also a huge scene for VFX – we have a lot of talent here for any kind of effects and there are many VFX studios in Montreal.

Aaron Gilbert, head of Bron Studios and Media House Capital:

Being based in Vancouver, it’s my objective wherever possible to shoot films in Vancouver. It makes sense shooting there. We have a very mature tax credit system in British Columbia. Some of the US states don’t have such attractive incentives. In Vancouver there’s a tremendous, deep, talented labour force.

Vancouver has been such a great production centre for years and the TV business built that sector [Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, etc.] Vancouver is close enough to Los Angeles and it’s a community that really understand production and supports it. The infrastructure in Vancouver to shoot there on every level from lighting to stage access to trucks is very mature and this is true across Canada. There’s a lot there.

How is your company evolving?

Niv Fichman of Rhombus Media, producer of Denis Villeneuve’s TIFF entry Enemy:

In the last few years we’ve tried to put up large international co-pros [$10m CAD] aimed at the commercial arthouse marketplace following up on [Fichman’s earlier] Blindness or Red Violin. Enemy is in that vein and they tend to be co-productions [because Canadian independents cannot raise that budget alone].

At the same time we have been working on a strand of first films [supported by] Telefilm Canada. The first ones were Hobo With A Shotgun and Antiviral and we’re working on [early 2014 shoot] Zoom, a Brazilian-Canadian co-pro.

Simone Urdl of The Film Farm, producer of Atom Egoyan’s forthcoming Queen of the Night:

We have grown slowly over the years. We are very focused on the script and story. We have not done anything we don’t believe in 100% or work with filmmakers we don’t admire. We are very proud of all the films we have done.

We have done three films with [Egoyan], we have worked with Sarah Polley and Brian De Palma. We’re working with young directors and trying to help their careers get going. We are very particular about the projects we take on and we want to take on projects that have a life.

Pierre Even of Item 7:

We are four years old, so it still feels like a pretty new company. We have done a lot of films and just had an exceptional year with War Witch and we’re trying to find better balance between out English-language and French-language product. We’re very fortunate to be based in Montreal where we can do films that are more culturally specific to Quebec and be a bridge between Europe and the US and work in English.

Marie-Claude Poulin of Item 7:

And we do international productions and in-province productions as well. We would like to produce at least one film a year and we try to diversify our slate and use different financial scenarios.

Why is there a scarcity of private investment in Canada when it is so prevalent across the border?

Marie-Claude Poulin: It is rather rare. There are private equity funds in the US they invest in a slate, but it’s isn’t as common in Canada, one of the reasons being that the equity investors like to know if there is a US release in place and it’s quite rare that a US release would be in place on a Canadian film at the financing stage. It’s a negotiation process with the institutional investors such as Telefilm and SODEC because they require a position in the corridor.

How do you feel about Canada being a feeder nation to the US?

Simone Urdl: We still have a lot of great talent that stays at home, especially when we are trying to fill out a cast we have no problem doing that here. There’s a great pool of actors that stay in Canada. I don’t feel any sort of resentment about the fact that they are going to the US because that’s where the big business really is.

By getting a name for themselves, as long as they’re willing to come back and work here it can be beneficial to us. They are known internationally because it helps in the marketplace. There are some fantastic Canadian actors in the US we all wish we could work with more but you cannot begrudge anybody doing what they do.