When it comes to making hit movies, the screenwriter William Goldman ruefully observed, “Nobody knows anything.” So Carolle Brabant must be either foolish or fearless, because every year Telefilm Canada, the Crown corporation where she serves as executive director, invests tens of millions of dollars in the production and marketing of about 60 domestic movies, which have to compete against Hollywood blockbusters. Still, as film festival season begins, she tells Simon Houpt there’s more than one way to measure success.
You’ve recently created a public-private partnership, a $5-million annual promotion fund sponsored by prominent business leaders. Why would they want to get involved in this crap-shoot of an industry?
It came out of meetings we had with people outside the industry who were saying, “We would love to participate in the funding of emerging talent, but there’s no initiative.” It’s similar to what France has implemented. They’ve had a private fund for years.
So it’s basically philanthropy, albeit with the benefit of a tax write-off?
We’re making a profit, but it’s not necessarily measured in dollars. In the early 1920s, the Americans set up Hollywood, and not even five years after that, they were selling Coke all over the world. The audiovisual industry is a good business card for Canadians around the world.
Last year, The Hollywood Reporter named you one of the most powerful women in the film world. As Spider-Man says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” How does that help guide your approach?
We’re basically a research and development industry. When you make a film, you pick the stars, you pick the scriptwriter, you pick the filmmaker, and even though you think you have the recipe for success, you cannot be sure 100% it’s going to deliver. More importantly, you cannot repeat the recipe with a high level of expectation that you’re going to be experiencing success. Americans have the same thing. They’ve had failures with Tom Cruise, with Julia Roberts.
Is that why last year you introduced your “Success Index,” which includes more measures than just box office, i.e. DVD, video-on-demand and international sales?
Box office is a good measure of success for films such as Batman and Spider-Man, but people are now choosingthe platform they want to see films on. They will go to see Batman on the big screen; it’s not certain they will go see [the Canadian film] Blindness on the big screen. By using more elements to measure success, it’s portraying better what our films are doing. We were making people or companies accountable for things over which they didn’t have control. They didn’t have much control over the number of screens they’d have available for their films because of the monopolies the American films are exercising on Canada. When you’re in a monopoly situation, you need to use your imagination, particularly where a pricing strategy cannot be used. As you know, when you’re going to see a film, you’re going to pay pretty much the same, whether you’re going to see Blindness or Spider-Man.
What can other industries learn from reframing the terms of success?
That’s something I actually learned from other industries. Bombardier, when they’re measuring success on the CRJ [Canadair Regional Jet], they’re not comparing their market to the Airbus A380; they’re focusing very much on the type of plane and that portion of the market, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.