François Macerola, Part 2: The Film Industry, Technology, Regulation, and Foreign Investment

Interviewed by Evelyn Ellerman at Montréal on March, 2012

Ellerman. Digital technologies are becoming very important across the whole industry. There are questions about services like Netflix; people are wondering how to monetize the product on the Internet, especially in English Canada where people have very little in the way of screen time. These are mixed up with questions about the CRTC, the regulatory body, in a technological age. What is your part in all of this?

Macerola. I've been mandated by the Québec government to start preparing policies in digital and new technologies. One of the recommendations is that we should have a platform where we will present Québec films. I think we should be able to regulate the platform and also the content. I don't believe that we will have to sign with an American company in order to have one-hour slots in order to present our films. We've been discussing with a lot of people from the technical industry, some producers and filmmakers; for me, this is the best situation. We've been doing that for books, because we've established a platform that is administered by Québec companies using québécois content. We would like to do that with film and I think that that is part of the solution.

E. Part of the problem of course is copyright; it's a very complex issue, especially with technological changes.

M. I've told  my colleagues in Ottawa that we have a good law, except that it doesn't take care of the creative people. It's a very good law for technology, for the relationship between the technology and the content. But personally I believe that for the people, the service providers, to put on their platforms high quality content, it should be paid for. That's the problem that we in Québec with the plans for the new law.

Frankly speaking, I don't know what the solution is; but for me, in the old system, you have the screenwriter, the film director, the producer and so on; but all these people were paid. I'm not saying they were very well paid, but they were paid. Now, it's completely different. Someone produces something and he's paid for one showing of that product. After that he has to start all over again to produce another product. I think he should be able to make a living out of his creativity. The federal government doesn't seem to understand. For them, what is really important is the technology and the people having access to it. And I don't disagree with that. The only problem that I have is that the creators...

E. You burn people up that way.

M. Yeah.

E. One of the issues with these changes to regulation is the whole issue of foreign investment in Canadian media industries. Does SODEC have a position on that issue?

M. We have the commercial cultural fund, which has a capital of $100 million; we welcome any foreign investment, except that we are not open to projects that would be a pale imitation of what the Americans can produce themselves or what the French, or the Italians or the Germans can produce. If we do find a foreign partner, who's really ready to play the game of co-production within that fund, we would be more than delighted. Absolutely.

E. Speaking of non-Canadian players in the industry brings to mind the fact that English-language films simply don't get much screen time. But there's a great deal more screen time available to film in Québec and always has been. What's your understanding of how that works?

M. I think it's a question of quality and continuity. The problem in English Canada is that very often they'll have one film in January and the next one in February and so on. Here at La SODEC, we have decided with the producers to have a Québécois film on the screen all the time. That way you have continuity; and you also establish a dynamic relationship with your public.

And we've tried to create a star system through which our artists are very well known and respected by the public. That is missing in English Canada. Let's say for example that… Philippe Falardeau, who made Monsieur Lazhar, has some offers to go work in the States. Denis Villeneuve, who did Incendies, is now working in L.A. Nevertheless these people are going to come back. It is not part of their dream to emigrate and become a filmmaker in the States. For them, it's more important to be recognized here in Québec. This is an approach that has been built up over the last 25 years; people are really proud to be working in Québec, to be producing high-quality film. Nevertheless, they're not close to any other reality. That's why they’re very pleased also to receive an offer to direct a film in L.A. Paris, or London.