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New production model for Canadian filmmaking seeks different future for CanCon

J. Joly, the founder of CineCoup, a filmmaking and marketing incubator, is a national advisor to the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, and sits on the board of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Christopher Edmonstone

"We need a more marketable CanCon that people want to see, not these one-room dramas in the prairies." J. Joly is a man who does not mince words. The founder of CineCoup, a filmmaking and marketing incubator, is a national adviser to the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, sits on the board of the Vancouver International Film Festival – and desperately wants to disrupt the system.

Joly says his new production model is a game-changer for Canadian cinema: For 12 weeks, filmmakers compete to generate audience buzz online, working in "sweat equity" in the hopes of landing a $1-million production budget funded by Clairwood Capital Management and private investors including Cineplex Entertainment and CANON.

One thing Joly hates about the current Canadian film model is "this distance of long maybes," where filmmakers wait for funding agencies to parse through hundreds of projects every six to eight months, then wait to find a producer to take on their vision, and then wait some more for grants for distribution and post-production. "If you are lucky enough to get the film going, the last thing you think about is audience or marketing," he says. "This fundamentally has to change. The marketing is even more important than the filmmaking."

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Last year, Telefilm Canada (through the Canada Feature Film Fund), had $74.3-million to spend on film development and production, and $17.9-million for distribution and promotion at home and abroad (91 feature films were produced and distributed). Joly thinks this is backward, and that "90 per cent of filmmaking is hustling and hustling, not actually rolling a camera." CineCoup's aim is to create a "pipeline of low-budget, high-performing films" for an industry that he believes will soon be dominated by such Internet streaming services as Netflix and Hulu. "This is the next arms race."

The other bonus of CineCoup, he says, is that participants don't have to venture to Canada's film centres to get noticed. If you have an Internet connection and can attract an audience, your film has a shot at a million dollars. (Last year's funded feature, the campy WolfCop, came out of Moose Jaw, performing well enough to garner a sequel.)

This year, both High School Brawl and Hellmington were awarded access to CineCoup funding. Glenn Paradis, president and CEO of the Calgary- and Toronto-based Clairwood Capital, says the asset manager is "eager to get production opportunities off the ground for the additional teams that show great promise."

Private investors will step up to the plate if they can see a return on investment, Joly says, and genre films can generate it. He points to a 2014 Telefilm study that found comedy, action and sci-fi films at the top of consumer demands. "I tell people, 'Do not bring me your passion projects … bring me the movie that will put money in your pocket.' "

This brings us back to those prairie dramas: "What I've learned most [is that] Canadians are funny, fucked-up people who don't really get a chance to express that," Joly says. "When I look at our cultural films, sometimes it feels like we're a broken culture on the edge of suicide."

Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm, takes a different tack. "This is not a one-size-fits-all industry," she says. "Our mandate is contrary to CineCoup necessarily, because we're here to develop and promote the Canadian industry." Brabant adds that Telefilm is "absolutely open to new approaches and initiatives," pointing to its investment partnerships with players like Birks and a recent micro-budget financing program.

"What I like about cinema is that there is diversity," she says. "I like the fact that we can fund a Guy Maddin film and Corner Gas ... I am pleased with what CineCoup is doing. At the same time, I don't think we should be putting all our eggs in the same basket."

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Moving from a world of traditional filmmakers to "content creators," has provoked some criticism that CineCoup is pandering to the lowest common denominator. But Joly believes digital content is just as valuable as films shown on a 10-foot screen. "If you're not making a movie for an audience, who are you making it for?" he says. "Can't both worlds exist? Can't WolfCop have artistic merit?"

Regardless of whether it's a cultural or commercial product, Joly says, "if we both don't get audiences to watch, there is no movie. If you want to be culturally relevant, you have to get eyeballs on the screen. If I want to make money, I have to get butts in seats. We both have the same problem."

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