Banff Festival's Start-Up Machine Joins Tech Talent War

IdeaBOOST and CineCoup were a few of the accelerators in the Canadian Rockies this week to nurture creative minds choosing crossplatform content over TV.

BANFF, ALBERTA – Lia Yoo was a 15-year-old leader of her Ohio high school’s gay-straight alliance when she raised $10,000 on Kickstarter to become a production intern on the interactive web series-turned-Broadway musical Prison Dancer.

A year later, Yoo is at this week's Banff World Media Festival as the young executive producer of an upcoming six-city run for Prison Dancer: The Musical, which was inspired by the viral YouTube phenomenon that featured the dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines.

“I’ve been going around here and trying to meet people and bring up Prison Dancer as often as we can,” Yoo said of promoting the property and drumming up sales.

The original web musical uses interviews and surveillance footage to tell the story of six Filipino inmates transformed by a dancing rehabilitation program in their Cebu prison that made them an Internet sensation.

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Yoo points to parallels between the prisoners revealing the trials and tribulations of prison life through dance and song and her own anti-bullying message. “I personally think Prison Dancer is so successful because people in my age group who consider themselves social outcasts can relate with the prisoners, to their feelings,” Yoo said.

Her presence in Banff also underlined an industry conference fast moving from its traditional role of discovering new TV show ideas to forging new ways to spot and catapult new industry talent.

The festival this week saw Ana Serrano, chief digital officer at the Canadian Film Center, bring six teams from her latest IdeaBOOST creative company development program to the Canadian Rockies conference.

To get into the new company accelerator, teams had to create a page on and use social media to build a target market of early adopters for their corporate plan.

"We’re helping companies with specific products actually define their business models," Serrano explained, as IdeaBOOST uses business modeling tools typical of Silicon Valley startup development.

Here, Banff is moving away from its traditional role of helping producers and broadcasters turn base talent into TV ratings gold. Instead, Banff has become a launching pad for young filmmakers and entrepreneurs going online and directly to consumers to create self-sustaining content before they secure production or seed financing from major investors.

An example: Lowell Dean, writer-director of Wolfcop, and Bernie Hernando and Hugh Patterson, the film’s producers, earlier this week in Banff won $1 million in production financing from CineCoup, a film accelerator.

"It’s been such a long and crazy process," Dean said minutes after being named the winner of the CineCoup competition.

To take the prize, the trio had to produce a concept trailer and use social media to help build an audience for their proposed theatrical film on CineCoup’s social web platform. Now the Wolfcop team must quickly produce a movie for release in Canadian theaters in spring 2014.

The trend of young talent using Facebook friends and Twitter followers to demonstrate traction for their product comes to Banff as the collapse of the traditional broadcast model has changed the way global content is made and distributed.

Canadian broadcasters Shaw Media and Corus Entertainment as well as Google are offering guidance and potential investment coin for the IdeaBOOST startups.

"There’s a number of partnerships they can create to push out their platforms to a variety of specific channels," Serrano said.

Throughout the week in Banff, panels and keynote addresses frequently turned to new digital platforms and channels like Netflix and Amazon as new conduits for industry product.

CBS Television Studios president David Stapf, who delivered a keynote speech in Banff, was asked whether his studio would produce for Netflix.

"For us, it's another opportunity. It’s another place to produce shows for. I look forward to having those opportunities," Stapf answered.