B.C. talent development to get top billing at VIFF

Film festival focused on mentorship as funding for domestic productions dwindles

Vancouver International Film Festival Executive Director Jacqueline Dupuis at VanCity Theatre | Chung Chow

Call it the “filmmaker entrepreneur” – the one who needs to direct, produce and secure financing to get their movie made.

It’s a class of filmmaker common in B.C., where the industry is dominated by foreign productions rather than domestic fare, according to Jacqueline Dupuis.

“Especially in the B.C. market, there aren’t a lot of creative producers,” said the executive director of Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), who closes out her eight-year term this year.

While the province is known for its abundance of service producers that keep foreign productions humming, creative producers are the ones handling movies and TV shows incubated in the province from script to post-production. With VIFF’s silver-screen offerings set to engross cinephiles at next month’s 38th annual event, the festival is also facilitating efforts to boost domestic fare.

“The challenge in Canada is there’s always been programs to get emerging filmmakers developing projects or developing skills,” Dupuis said.

The question then becomes, she said, what do these trained filmmakers do to make sure there is an audience to see their works?

The 2019 festival is hosting creator talks and master classes with industry experts, a multi-day VIFF AMP program to dissect everything from music rights management in movies to music supervision (film composer Cliff Martinez, a longtime collaborator of director Steven Soderbergh, will be among those dropping in) and Totally Indie Day, which offers panels to independent content creators to help them learn more about the business side of the film industry.

Among the newer batch of domestic industry initiatives is a mentorship program for about a dozen young filmmakers geared to educating them on business endeavours such as distribution, marketing and using festivals as a platform.

“It’s a really great tool to help support the development of the creative ecosystem here in B.C.,” Dupuis said.

And data shows that B.C.’s creative ecosystem is under strain.

Domestic TV productions from B.C.-based producers fell 15.1% year-over-year to $438 million during the last fiscal year, according to the Canadian Media Producers Association’s (CMPA) Profile 2018 released in March.

Domestic film productions from B.C.-based producers fell even more dramatically, tumbling 74.4% year-over-year to $11 million.

Foreign productions, meanwhile, skyrocketed 31.5% to $3.04 billion year-over-year.

Liz Shorten, senior vice-president of operations and member services for the B.C. chapter of the CMPA, said the province used to boast a 70-30 ratio of foreign versus domestic productions.

That’s since fallen to closer to 90-10, putting strain on local creative producers trying to compete with Hollywood budgets for talent and facilities.

At the same time, funding for domestic productions is also taking a hit.

The Canada Media Fund (CMF) provided $298 million in funding for domestic productions through its convergent (traditional) stream in fiscal 2018-19.

That’s down 6.6% from years earlier when $319 million was provided.

“We’re at an all-time low,” Shorten said.

The CMF’s funding model depends on a percentage of revenue from traditional broadcasters to help fund Canadian content.

As streaming services eat away at those revenue streams for broadcasters, less funding is going to domestic productions.

In 2017, Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq:NFLX) announced it would create a new production company to invest $500 million “in original production in Canada” over five years.

But one of the other sticking points for B.C. funding is that the province’s producers received $19 million of the CMF’s $298 million sum while Ontario and Quebec took a combined $238 million.

“It’s challenging because it’s not commensurate with the size of our production community here,” Shorten said.

The volume of film and TV production in B.C. reached $3.58 billion in the last fiscal year compared with Ontario’s $2.89 billion and Quebec’s $1.82 billion, according to the CMPA’s Profile 2018 data.

In addition to VIFF’s efforts, other small-scale initiatives are underway to boost domestic talent in the province.

The first, five-person group of entry-level screenwriters accepted into the Pacific Screenwriting Program graduated in May, with one writer immediately landing a job as script co-ordinator on Netflix horror drama The Order.

The five-year program was announced in summer 2018 and is receiving funding from Netflix, the CMPA and non-profit agency Creative BC.

It comes two years after the provincial government retuned its film tax credit program to allow for B.C. writers to qualify, providing incentives for  producers to build up a stable of local writers.

Meanwhile, Shorten said, there’s also been a shift in strategy for domestic producers seeking funding.

“A number of our members – because of this challenge working in the conventional system – instead of turning east, they’re turning south and turning global,” she said, adding producers are making quick friends with Hollywood studios as well as streaming services like Netflix.