Telefilm Canada to Face Filmmaker Protest For Rewarding Box Office Success

Goon Movie Poster - P 2012

Goon Movie Poster - P 2012

Young movie producers are mounting a rearguard action as Ottawa's film financier chases bigger audiences for local films like "Goon" and "Starbuck."

TORONTO – Telefilm Canada looks set to face the wrath of young Ontario filmmakers for rewarding box office success at its annual general meeting in Toronto on Thursday.

As the federal government’s film financier pushes ahead with plans to encourage more homegrown films to succeed at the local multiplex, Producers Roundtable Ontario, a group of film, TV and digital media producers, fears emerging film talent are getting the cold shoulder.

At the AGM in Toronto, Wyeth Clarkson, producer and PRO spokesman, will urge Telefilm Canada to roll back plans to give indie producers more autonomy in how they choose and finance projects for commercial success.

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“The success of Ontario’s, and Canada’s, film industry has always been based on the visions, innovations and talents of our up and coming talent, people who are just getting into the business,” Clarkson said ahead of the AGM.

“We’re afraid Telefilm’s proposed funding-criteria changes will cut people out before they get a start, and the long-term impact this will have on the business,” he added. 

The protest by cash-strapped producers is the latest sign many are struggling as they are weaned off of public subsidies and told to fill out budgets by snagging private production coin in the U.S. and elsewhere.

That international push by Canadian filmmakers includes participating in more official movie co-productions, many of which include Hollywood actors, to boost their box office appeal.

Telefilm Canada execs are expected Thursday at their AGM to trumpet their new “success index” that has seen increasing number of Canadian films like Starbuck, Incendies and the hockey drama Goon faring well at the box office.

The new industry yardstick considers film festival trophies and international sales as it measures how homegrown movies perform in the face of stiff competition from popular Hollywood movies at the local multiplex.

That strategy has made Canadian flag-carriers like Jay Baruchel, David Cronenberg and Denis Villeneuve more bookable for film distributors abroad, and so potentially more successful at the theatrical box office back home.

Ahead of Thursday’s AGM, Telefilm Canada said its success index, while rewarding box office, still backs emerging talent.

The funding agency, which pours around $100 million annually into homegrown movie production, said there’s coin for micro-budget movies and young filmmakers that leverage digital technology.

And Telefilm Canada is staging talent labs at major film festivals, including Toronto, to support the country’s next generation of film producers, as well as offering development incentives to encourage established producers to work with emerging talent.

As the biggest film financier in Canada, how Telefilm Canada titles fare at home and overseas, in theaters and beyond, is seen as a key indicator of the commercial and cultural health of the domestic film industry.

The introduction of the success index and other commercial incentives remains a challenge for local film producers who continue to rely on government largesse to pursue projects.

The irony is Wyeth Clarkson is panning a policy to reward commercial success that was encouraged when his father, Wayne Clarkson, was head of Telefilm Canada.

The film financier first introduced so-called "performance envelopes" under Wayne Clarkson’s predecessor, Richard Stursberg, in 2002.

During Wayne Clarkson’s reign from 2005 to 2010, bureaucrats increasingly stopped short of just reading and evaluating scripts to decide which to finance as films, and instead rewarded successful film producers with an envelope of money to spend on their next projects.

Now Wyeth Clarkson is urging Telefilm Canada to be more transparent as it rolls out its latest film funding changes.

“Telefilm’s proposed system is very specific about allocation by language and region. But they’re not revealing how they plan to share money among the diverse group of players within those fields,” he urged.