CFC guides filmmakers, Web projects

'Splice,' 'Odd Job Jack' recent success stories

Vincenzo Natali's $25 million creature feature "Splice," which bowed at Sundance, is a model for the Canadian film industry: an international co-production aimed at a world market that still raises the standard for Canada. And Natali says he couldn't have pulled off the Canadian-French co-production without the Canadian Film Center.

"(CFC) was my lucky break," he says. "I'd been making movies from when I was a kid, and I'm sure I wore that place out -- I did a director's residency, a short and a feature."

Natali is not alone. For ambitious Canadian talent with good ideas, the CFC's support can mean the difference between reaching the next level and toiling in obscurity.

Natali first started writing the script for "Splice" with Antoinette Terry Bryant in 1995 while both attended the CFC. The CFC also produced Natali's first feature, the cult hit "Cube."

In 2005, "Splice" producer Steve Hoban, another CFC grad, met Guillermo del Toro, who agreed to executive produce Natali's next feature. And while French financier Gaumont largely backed the Canadian feature, which stars Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody, Natali says Canadian dollars, especially from Telefilm Canada and local tax credits, were crucial to getting the project off the ground.

"The ($25 million) budget is high enough that we couldn't have made it within the country," he says. "So inevitably, and not unhappily, it became a co-production."

The CFC was also key to launching the Toronto-based animation house Smiley Guy Studios, whose animated TV, film and new media projects air worldwide.

Brothers Jonas and Jeremy Diamond and Adrian Carter first started work on "Odd Job Jack" as an animated "," or Web-based cartoon, while attending the CFC in 1998. Jonas Diamond recalls then-Telefilm Canada boss Wayne Clarkson, a former CFC executive director, introducing the trio to Don McKellar, another CFC grad, as a voice for "Odd Job Jack." The project eventually debuted as an animated sitcom on Canada's Comedy Network.

"We were able to use those (CFC) connections and that community of relationships to help group the business," he recalls.

Smiley Guy Studios' latest multiplatform project, with producer Nexus Media, is "Pillars of Freedom" for TVOKids, a series of animated TV episodes and accompanying Web site with online games.

Elsewhere, "Being Erica" creator Jana Sinyor partnered with CFC mentor Heather Conkie to produce YTV's "Dark Oracle" for Shaftesbury, soon after graduating from the CFC in 2000. And Megan Martin is showrunning the CBC drama pilot "Tangled" for Jennings, while Tassie Cameron, who wrote the 2007 TV movie "The Robber Bride" for Shaftesbury, is writing scripts for the drama "Copper" for ABC and Global Television.

Also having learned to operate beyond the Canadian market is CFC alumna Christina Jennings of Shaftesbury Films. NBC aired her Canadian-made drama "The Listener" for one season and Fox International and Canadian broadcaster CTV have remained on board for the second season. Jennings continues to hire fellow grads for her expanding stable of film and TV projects.

Jennings graduated from the CFC in 1989, having convinced a visiting speaker, British producer Simon Relph ("Damages"), to help produce her first movie, the Jessica Tandy and Bridget Fonda starrer "Camilla (2004).

"He (Relph) took the script away," Jennings recall. "You think, 'he'll never get back.' He read it and got back and thought it amazing. There's an instance of you pitching someone at the CFC and they pick up your project."