André Bureau, Part 2: Harold Greenberg
Interviewed by Fil Fraser on March, 2012
Fraser. André, you have had a powerful effect on television and on the development of the Canadian film industry. Do you have any thoughts about the state of the industry and what needs to happen to make it work better than it does? It works very well in Québec, but not so well in the rest of Canada.
Bureau. Yes, we have developed some expertise in movie production here and Harold [Greenberg] became at some point the biggest movie producer in Canada, not only because of his weight, but also because of the popularity of the movies that he had done. It has been something that has been nurtured here [in Québec]; Harold was involved in almost all the Québec films that were made, not only because he was himself a producer, but because he owned the technical facilities for the montage, the mixing of these movies, dubbing, and distribution. As a matter of fact, when I came to Astral, I realized that all the producers were coming to us to have their films worked on technically at our studios and would never pay Harold and Harold would never ask for payment. So, one of my jobs was to try and turn that around and get the producers to develop the habit of paying for technical services.
But it [the success of the film industry in Québec] was also helped by the provincial government, which supported film production industry; and we convinced the federal Dept. of Communications to do that, too. But, in the rest of the country, other than a few great producers who have done a great job, there was not that much enthusiasm, for whatever reason. They didn’t believe they could have success because they were fighting against American movies, of course, which was the difference between Québec and the rest of the country.
The Dept. of Communication at the time… it was Sheila Copps and before her Marcel Mas… they never really supported the English language community; they were ecstatic about the success of the French language ones, but they didn’t support the old CMPA [Canadian Media Producers Association] enough. So, I always felt they were not treated fairly, but I also thought they were not that enthusiastic themselves. If you remember, the CMPA of those years was not very vocal, not very aggressive; it’s only in the last few years that they have become a lot more involved and visionary about what could be done. I never really understood that except that they were in a market where the competition with the American movies was so difficult.
F. Well, we in English Canada had to start over every time we made a new movie. I made a few myself… and we had to fight directly against the Hollywood product, which actually controlled the screens in English Canada. In French Canada, you had a much better system – you had a star system, the language barrier, and some good producers.
B. Absolutely! And I think that you have described it very well. The difficulty in English Canada was that they had to fight against much bigger guys; even the distribution was in their hands.
F. It was very difficult to get screen time even for well-produced Canadian movies. What do you see from here on in? Do you see any change in that?
B. I look at what we are doing at the Movie Network, for example. We have probably been one of the biggest investors in English language Canadian movies for the past 20 years. We have supported and promoted Canadian movies; we are now putting some of our money into series. So we divide the amount of money we invest between movies and series. I think that we have invested in and supported 98% of all the movies that were made in Canada last year and the years before. The only ones we didn’t support were either supported by the CBC (and they wanted to have the first window) or they never came to us. So, there were two films last year that we did not invest in – CBC funded one and we didn’t know the other one existed.
F. There are a lot of movies made in the Vancouver area that are really Hollywood movies with a lot of Canadian participation and content and they seem to do pretty well.
B. Yes, I know quite a bit about that because of my association with Heenan Blaikie. Our Vancouver office specializes in that sector.
F. How does that work for Canada?
B. I don’t have the details of how it works. I know they hire a lot of Canadians. I don’t know about it in terms of Canadian scriptwriters or actors. From a technical point of view, it’s a bonanza. But in terms of promoting Canadian scriptwriters, or producers, or actors, I don’t know. I don’t have any information to rely on.