Michael Spencer, Part 4: CFDC Struggles with Distributors

Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Montréal on July, 2010

Fraser. The view of what was possible about the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) was pretty narrow at the time, wasn't it?

Spencer. Moneywise, we had only asked for $5 million. I guess we really didn't think we were going to turn the world upside down. Though, the most vociferous and effective member of our group was from the private sector was Nat Taylor. And if you read the things that he used to write, you’d think we were going to have a feature film industry that would rival Hollywood, right?

F.  He really did have that idea, didn't he? And he must've been conflicted, because he couldn't live without Hollywood. His business was based on showing their movies. Yet, he wanted to do his own thing.

S.  That's politics, right? But you really have to give him credit for having pushed this thing on the private side. Nat and Guy Roberge, they wanted to have this thing work. If you read the minutes of the Inter-departmental Committee, you would see that we were pushing the government; we were talking the Nat Taylor line. But as we were getting  the thing off the ground, the private sector people began to try and bury it

F.  As a broadcaster, I remember interviewing Judy Lamarsh about that time.  Her view was that she had given you some money and that you would just carry on. It was seen as more of a pump primer than as a national policy to develop a feature film industry.  They thought that they would just give these guys some money and they would self-generate everything they’d need.

S. There's one phrase that I remember from that time where she said, “We have considered the distribution side, but we decided to leave it out and let the pictures make their own way into the marketplace.”

F.  This is the real meat of the discussion, the ongoing battle over distribution, over access to screen time. How many times have ministers of various kinds, possibly at your urging or with you behind them somewhere,  come up with some scheme or other to try and get some access to our own screens for our own films? It's never worked. It must be very frustrating for you, because I know…

S.  There's a long trail of memos; every year we were doing that. Lapalme and I went down to Toronto to meet with the Distributors Association. They’d listen to us, but their minds were made up.  In the book, I describe a meeting I went to in New York right at the very beginning when we had Jack Firestone on the committee; I hired him as a consultant; he was a professor at the University of Ottawa.  He was a friend of Ernie's  and someone had suggested him as a consultant to me.

F.  Did you meet with Jack Valenti?

S.  I don't think he had arrived on the scene yet. But there was somebody before him  and they all have the same point of view. Firestone said to him, “Do you agree that we should have some Canadian feature films and the guy says, “Of, course. How are we going to make them?”

F. Right. You make documentaries. We'll make the movies.

S. Yes, we were really put down. The problem was that we didn't have enough resources to do anything with. I thought that the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was exactly the kind of film that we should make 10 a year of. Then we would have a Canadian film industry. But we barely managed to make them. It was always a big struggle.

Fil.  Well, we made Duddy Kravitz and then we made Why Shoot the Teacher.  And they were made about the same time as Lies My Father Told Me. And I think, in the early 70s, that was pretty much it. That's not talking about the French side; they were doing other things.

S.  Yes. You notice that when we talk about the Canadian feature film industry, we talk about the English side but we seldom talk about the French side. And they're two separate worlds, really.   I think that Guy thought that if we could just get the Corporation on the books… once we had it, then maybe we expand it, maybe do other things with it. There was one amazing thing that occurred;  we had been told that we had about $5 million. And the man from the Department of Finance, suddenly said, “Why don't we just make this for 10 million bucks, instead of 5 million bucks. That's something that I should have said, but I didn't. He did. So, we switched it to $10 million. And the $10 million actually lasted pretty well for nearly 7 or 8 years.

F.  There was a sunset clause built-in, wasn't there?

S.  I don't think so, no.  That was John Terry's idea. He said, “You don't want to set up separate administrative costs, once you tell the government, “Give us $10 million and we'll run the show, as well as providing money for films.” I think he was probably right; it would be a whole new discussion if we had decided to figure out how much it was going to cost to hire an executive director and all that. We just went after a lump sum of money, starting at $5 million and switching to $10 million. Once we got the $10 million in place, I had a very good contact with a treasury man at the National Film Board called Jacques Dick; he came on board and knew exactly how to get the money.  So we put all that in place and we were very careful not to build too much on the administrative side; I'm afraid that that's one thing that has not maintained its position.