Canadian Producers Hiring American Stars to Boost Visibility of Films

For example, Jessica Biel is starring in 'The Tall Man,' which marks French director Pascal Laugier's English-language debut and is currently shooting in northern British Columbia.

TORONTO -- Canadian indie producer Kevin DeWalt and French partner Clement Miserez of Radar Films are bringing a Canada-French co-produced thriller to AFM with a major American star: Jessica Biel.

The Tall Man, which marks French director Pascal Laugier's English-language debut and is currently shooting in northern British Columbia, features Biel as a mother who tracks a mysterious figure that has kidnapped her child.

"Half of the battle when doing an indie is convincing buyers the movie is real, that it's going to happen," said Mind's Eye Entertainment's DeWalt, who will pursue pre-sales for the $15 million The Tall Men in Santa Monica along with France's SND, the international distributor.

"We happen to be shooting over the AFM, so we're fortunate the distributor can show some images, and we do have a big star," he said.

DeWalt isn't alone.

Canadian producers, looking to get business done at AFM in a tough indie market, are increasingly casting American stars to boost the visibility and value of their films.

"Canadian producers have done an increasingly great job in attracting international cast," said Dan Lyon, a regional feature film executive at Telefilm Canada, the federal government's film financier, observed.

In a crisis-era film business, Canuck producers have found it increasingly difficult to sell the dark, intimate dramas for which the Canadian film industry, long underpinned by government subsidies, is best known.

To secure enough financial runway for their films to take off and avoid boxoffice failure, Canadian producers are casting American and other foreign stars, or Canuck actors returning home to work amid reduced Hollywood studio production.

Many of the Canadian films like The Tall Men that have American stars are international co-productions, and many bowed at the recent Toronto International Film Festival before possibly unveiling freshly-inked distribution deals at the AFM.

These include Michael Goldbach's coming-of-age comedy Daydream Nation, which stars Kat Dennings and Andie McDowell and was acquired by Anchor Bay Films, and The Whistleblower, a political thriller by Larysa Kondracki that stars Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Redgrave.

Other American-starring films from Canada being shopped at AFM include Jonathan Sobol's A Beginner's Guide to Endings, toplined by Harvey Keitel and Scott Caan, Michael Greenspan's Wrecked, which stars Adrien Brody, and the late George Hickenlooper's Casino Jack, whose cast is led by Kevin Spacey.

These and other Canadian films at AFM snagged American and other foreign coin as international film producers go in search of Canuck soft money and other financing options.

"Producers are realizing, let's bring resources together and make bigger and more commercial films and we're happy to work with other countries and other film councils," said Stephanie Azam, the national feature film executive for English-language films at Telefilm Canada.

The Canuck contingent in Santa Monica is to include major producers like Entertainment One, Lionsgate, Peace Arch Entertainment, and Canadian funding agencies.

Canada-central at AFM may well be today during a morning panel at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, entitled "Across the 49th parallel: changes and opportunities for Canadian and U.S. production and distribution."

The panel, to include IFC's Arianna Bocco, Benedict Carver of Dark Hero Studios, and WME's Graham Taylor, will look to partner up Canadian and foreign film producers on upcoming projects.