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Good Lawyer



Canadian Distribution Revealed

Industry insiders' tips on getting your film out there

By Beth Macdonell

Montreal movie theatre Excentris is a place to get Canadian big-screen distribution.

No matter how brilliant the artist or beautiful the story, it’s just film in a can without distribution.

The challenge to find a distributor is one of the many obstacles facing Canadian filmmakers, and it’s part of the reason why a 33-year industry veteran like Howard Krosnick offers this advice to people looking to get started in the business: “Don’t do it.”

Krosnick spent most of the 1980s at TV Ontario in senior management positions before moving on to become head of international and Canadian marketing at the National Film Board (NFB).

“It is a difficult and heartbreaking field because of the number of great hurdles you have to overcome to actually have success,” says Krosnick.

In 2004, he published a 77-page report on the distribution of artist-driven film and video in Canada for the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2001-2002, Canadian artists only received 2.1 per cent of distributor revenues in theatrical and pre-recorded home video markets, while television distribution hovered around 20 per cent.

Krosnick says trying to reach a mainstream audience in Canada is “almost a nightmare” because heavy American marketing makes it very difficult for artists to break through, “except in Quebec [where] there are incredible independent cinema enthusiasts.”

Krosnick says being a talented filmmaker does not ensure audiences will see your film.

“Personal involvement is the key,” says Krosnick. “If you really want people to see your film, it means understanding distribution.” He suggests talking to people in distribution before filming, to get a sense of how it’s done.

If a film is non-traditional or deals with social, political or controversial issues, Krosnik says Canada Council has a distribution system in support of the artist’s views.

In Ontario, V-Tape is an option. Artist-run and non-profit, V-Tape is an independent distributor that profiles films from festivals, community organizations and art galleries, and takes an active role in promotion and advertising.

If a filmmaker’s goal is to go mainstream, Tom Alexander, director of theatrical releasing at Toronto-based Mongrel Media, says compromise is necessary.

“Canadian audiences want to see Hollywood films,” says Alexander. “They are not that different from American audiences – they want to see familiar faces.” Casting someone like Sarah Polley, he says, isn’t good enough.

The most important thing is to know the audience, says Alexander. Mongrel Media is interested primarily in documentaries, American and Canadian independent films and foreign language films. “We specialize in art-house films,” he says, “and look for films with a small but committed reach.”

When going into a meeting at Mongrel, Alexander says artists should present a complete script ready for production, have a cast and crew list, budget and financing information and have a long and short synopsis. Mongrel also wants to know whether Telefilm Canada is supporting the production.

At the NFB, “the more information the better,” says Christian Ruel, assistant director of distribution. Ruel says filmmakers approaching the NFB for distribution need to provide a detailed summary, a prepared visual component and know the available rights over the film.

Finding a distributor comes down to finding the middle ground.

According to Ruel, getting a film out there is about balancing creativity with business savvy.

“And it’s a gut thing…you might have to think twice about compromise.”