The CFC: Connecting Canada to the World

Donald Petrie heads a master class with the CFC Actors Conservatory and Cineplex Entertainment Film Program participants.

The Canadian Film Centre is mentoring Canadian writers, directors and producers around the world.

TORONTO — Twelve months ago, the Canadian Film Centre -- the nation’s foremost school for advanced training and production in film, television and new media -- had just begun rolling out content labs and incubators to mentor Canadian writers, directors and producers.

The goal: to spin off cutting-edge content to sustain the careers of more than 1,400 alumni across a range of markets and digital platforms.
 

A year later, the hatchlings are flying.
 

"Movies are being made. People are getting deals. Actors are getting
 agents and being cast. TV shows are being financed and made,” CFC
 executive director Slawko Klymkiw says.

 
CFC graduates Tassie Cameron (1999) and David Wellington (1990) were key
 creatives on the ABC/Global Television series Rookie Blue. TV scribe and 2001 CFC graduate Rob Sheridan signed with WME and landed a blind script pilot deal with Warner Bros. Television for a sitcom.

 
And the inaugural Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab with Just for Laughs
 spawned the upcoming workplace feature Servitude from director Warren
 Sonoda, who has been mentored at the CFC by directors Donald Petrie and Ivan Reitman and writer Etan Cohen, among others.

 
With Servitude, the CFC linked Canadian talent to Hollywood mentors to fuel 
early creativity, find a market and distribution.
 "I was in contact with the director in giving thoughts and notes on pace, 
tempo and tone and all the other things that we think about right up until a 
week before production," Petrie recalls.

 
This depth in advice and coaching is demonstrated by the fact that the CFC
 comedy lab produced two more scripts to be shot this year: Two of Me, from
 writer-director Mina Shum and producer Stephen Hegyes, now being packaged by Hollywood casting agent and Judd Apatow veteran Allison Jones; and the romantic comedy That Burning Feeling, from writer Nicolas Citton and
 producer-director Jason James.
 

"So far, three out of five scripts have seen action. That’s a great track
 record for the program," says actor Eugene Levy, chair of the CFC comedy lab.
 
Kathryn Emslie, CFC director of films and TV programs, adds that the center’s 
incubator model is filling a gap between content development and
 exploitation at home and internationally. 
"It’s all in a larger game plan to increase the capacity of Canadians to 
produce high-quality content and to do that within a global context,” she
 says of such CFC programs as the Tribeca All Access and Sundance Festival Pass.
 
That strategy includes NBC Universal, a major CFC backer, helping creators 
get their original series concepts in front of the studios and Comcast
 channels.  
 

"It’s really about trying to get us on the radar of some of the companies 
that NBC Universal deals with,” says TV writer and CFC alumni Denis 
McGrath (2001), who came through the NBC Universal Content Creator
 Program.

 
Of course, talent, creativity and storytelling have always been part of the CFC, which was launched by Norman Jewison in 1988.
 But new to the advance training centers’ DNA is figuring out how to
 support creators, how to finance content and how to build distribution
 networks around it.

 
And key to that strategy is steering Canada’s old-media dinosaurs into a
 new-media world by helping commercialize cutting-edge content.

 
A year since James Milward hatched the idea for a mobile app
 for location-based music discovery at the CFC/NBC Universal Multiplatform 
Matchmaking Program, he’s off with partners Romeo Candido and Davin Lengyel
 to the South by Southwest festival to pitch their business idea to SXSW 
Accelerator competition judges.

 
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Coming out of the initial one-week hot house for new digital-media ideas, 
Milward and his partners got CFC mentors and the music industry to share 
ideas on how Herd, their proposed iPhone app, can help artists, publishers
 and labels get new music to fans using GPS technology.
 "It’s really about getting all of their feedback on what’s possible and
viable and what’s a realistic launch and monetization plan," Milward 
explains.
 

The Herd app illustrates how product emerging from CFC incubators with 
little funding needs time to develop and get out from under the warming 
lamps to finally tap venture capital funding.

 
Time, after all, is often as crucial as money when it comes to media
 product or service development.
 

Here the CFC steps in to provide Canadian content creators with support
 services, mentoring and networking opportunities before they jump into a
 tough fund-raising environment and make noise at festivals and markets.

 
For Klymkiw, backing spinouts is all about building an expanding support network for CFC graduates.

 
"The key to a lot of the programs is not only developing skills, it’s a 
question of developing capacity," he says. "Can the alumni who leave here with some certainty find work, and when they find work, will they be able to sustain work, and if they sustain work, will they inevitably be able to do work that
 makes a difference."
 
Here the CFC is measuring success not simply by critical or commercial
 success but by making its alumni part of the system.

 
"They’ve connected me with people all over," says Keon Mohajeri, a recent
 graduate of the CFC Actors Conservatory, which is chaired by Kiefer Sutherland. "When I flew down to Sundance, they connected me to former alumni. Through 
this network, my team is building and I have some excellent people around me
 as I start taking on more work in the U.S."
 
To build that community, the center is tapping the Canadian expat
 community in Los Angeles and other international networks.
 "As it gets tougher and tougher out there and financial structures keep
 changing around us, a community like ours has a larger role," Klymkiw insists.

 
Canadian players in Hollywood that are returning home to mentor CFC lab
 participants include Sutherland, Levy, House producer David Shore and Bones creator Hart Hanson.

 
"There’s so much great talent in Canada that works in Los Angeles in film
and TV, so it’s a great opportunity to get access to some of them and to
 get access to their ideas and advice," says Roma Khanna, president of global 
networks and digital initiatives at NBC Universal and a CFC chair.

 
Equally important, the conditions favor the Canadians, the Bedouins of
 global TV, whose small home market has long made it crucial that they wander
 from Los Angeles to London, or Sydney to Shanghai, to make films and TV 
shows for the world market.

 
And the entrée for nomadic Canadians has long been the international
 co-production as a financing alternative to the studio system.

 
To change that, the CFC is pushing ahead with its ambitious Canada-UK Script Incubation Program, collaboration among the BBC, BBC Worldwide and Canadian broadcaster Shaw Media to come up with two high-concept series that can be structured as international co-productions.
 Ultimately, this is about business as much as creativity.

 
"The mandate that we’ve had for the past couple years is not only about
 developing Canadian talent but taking that talent to the world stage, be it
 in a partnership with NBC Universal and BBC, and helping them find their way 
into the international market," Khanna said.
 
Writer McGrath agrees it’s a natural move for NBC Universal to cherry-pick the best product coming out of CFC programs it backs.

 
"It’s pretty savvy for NBC Universal to say, 'We’re always looking for the 
next big thing, so it makes sense to see what’s the cream of the (Canadian) 
crop, and do they have the sensibility to make something new?'" he says.
 
The CFC’s Canadian cream has been noticed elsewhere. Irish filmmaker Jim
 Sheridan led a master class for the CFC Writers Workshop at the Whistler
 Film Festival in British Columbia for three local screenwriters with
 dramatic feature films in development.
"There were three scripts, and I was really surprised at the level of all
 of them," Sheridan said. "Usually it’s a real headache as you have something rather undeveloped. But each was in an advanced stage of development. Each has commercial potential."
 
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