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
"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
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.
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
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."