Film producer Robert Lantos pledged on Wednesday that he will not make any money as an employee or board member of Starlight, the aspiring Canadian film channel hoping to secure a guaranteed spot on the TV dial at hearings being convened next month by the broadcast regulator.
Accompanied by filmmakers David Cronenberg and Paul Gross for a visit to the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, Lantos shot down recent suggestions that the channel's finances were structured to favour him. During a recent industry panel in Ottawa, a Rogers Communications executive alleged that Lantos would pay himself $1-million a year. Not true, he said Wednesday. "None of us here is drawing a salary."
But that assurance will not likely dull the sharp opposition Starlight has met since its proposal for a 24-hour channel dedicated to Canadian film was unveiled in January. All of the major cable, satellite and Internet protocol television (IPTV) providers, as well as the owners of competing movie services, have attacked the channel's proposed mandatory charge as a tax on Canadian TV viewers. Starlight is asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to grant it a spot on the digital basic TV lineup and green-light a charge of 45 cents-per-month for each subscriber, which will likely rise to about 90 cents after retail markups. Lantos said that the cable and satellite companies have thrived for years under government protection but "become consumer advocates when it serves their purpose."
The three men, who are part of an all-star team of Canadian filmmakers backing Starlight that includes Deepa Mehta (Midnight's Children), Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg), Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) and Patricia Rozema (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing), said they hoped to enrich Canadian culture rather than themselves. "None of us particularly wants to do a channel. It's an awful lot of work, and we've got other things we'd rather pursue," Gross noted. "It's really a question of necessity ... and deep emotion about what it is we do.
"We think this is important for the country."
Lantos added that most of the films cannot currently be accessed by Canadians. "These are orphans, so they should have a permanent home."
Still, he acknowledged that Starlight's investors – of which he is one – would be paid returns on their investment. "To get this off the ground will cost about $15-million. We certainly plan on getting that back and making a return on it. This is not a not-for-profit."
Starlight intends to spend 70 per cent of its revenue, or about $31.5-million per year, on Canadian films: licensing classic movies, licensing new films in production that will first be seen on other channels such as The Movie Network and Movie Central, and commissioning between eight and 12 new films per year in the $2-to-$4-million range that will have theatrical runs before premiering on Starlight. None of the filmmakers associated with the channel will be able to directly access its funding, Lantos said. "It will be heavily weighted in favour of emerging talent, new filmmakers, those who have difficulty accessing financing, and for the most part, tend to leave the country when they're young and go to places where there's more money, like Hollywood."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Robert Lantos as president of Starlight. This version has been corrected.