Norm Bolen - Part 4: CMPA and Distribution

Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Banff World Media Festival on June, 2011

Fraser. What does the increasingly tight money available to producers from the distributors do to the conversation between the two groups?

 Bolen. We have a number of arguments. The distributors feel that we should return to a situation where there are more conditions of license for broadcasters relating to feature film. I worry that we will look back five years from now, and wonder why we didn't do something in 2011 when we started to see that the film industry was collapsing. Will we say that the broadcasting system abandoned it? Maybe we should be enshrining a small contribution from the broadcasting system. It's not really the purview of the CRTC to drive that. We have to get that message across to government.

We have to meet with Heritage and explore that with them. In the feature film review, we are going to advise government to give guidance to the Commission. Let's get the broadcasting industry behind feature film again. I think the public broadcaster has a particular role in this regard. The CBC, just like the other broadcasters, has abandoned, with a few rare exceptions, the financing of film. On the marketing side, and I agree with you that we need to market more and market more effectively, is that American films do not have to market at the same level that Canadian films do. They piggyback on the massive American marketing campaigns that trickle across our border in every magazine, on every foreign television show about entertainment, on the radio, in American popular culture, and now increasingly on social media. We are inundated by all kinds of marketing, viral and otherwise, on American films. It's huge.

 F. Is it hopeless?

 B. No, I actually think that there is a lot of viewing of Canadian film, although not much in the theatres. It's not a screen access problem. Cineplex Odeon is providing good support. It does provide screens and run trailers. And it does encourage people to come and see those films. However, the runs tend to be short. You can’t keep the run going if you're not getting a lot of box office.

 There is another thing going on. We’ve engaged with Telefilm and Valerie Creighton from CMF; we're not talking about marketing individual films. We want to own the podium. It's a bold idea. We want to talk about creating greater awareness of Canadian film and creating more pride around our film industry. Getting the message out. A lot of people don't necessarily know that a film is Canadian. We need to talk about some of the stuff we've been doing and why it's important. We need to work more on a star system. There are a lot of things we need to do. We should not be defeatist about it, drop our hands, and say, “Oh well, we can't do anything about that.” I know there's been a lot of failure in the past to meet some of the objectives. We have had some successes in getting increased box office but haven’t sustained very well. It's a public policy area we need to spend more time on. Film is very important. I personally love film and see just about every Canadian film that comes out. This year I just loved Incendie. I thought Barney's Version was a fine film. We need to build on such successes. But I get disappointed. Sometimes I see films that I like, like Gunless; it's a quirky little film, not mainstream. They spent millions in marketing, but it just fizzled away. I don't have all the answers about why that is.

 F. What can English Canada learn from Québec?

 B. Québec has a star system. And, of course, Québec has a linguistic advantage. There is a cultural and linguistic homogeneity there that creates a different kind of marketplace. They want to see films in their own language, not subtitled films. And they don't want to see films that are dubbed into French. Their films also have a particular cultural affinity. You see a film from Québec and you know that it is a film from Québec; that's some kind of identity. Their star system has been built up in film and television: they know their stars and identify with them. Michael Levine and Brian Linehan have tried to advance a star system but have not gained much traction. We have great talent in this country, but stars in English Canada often move south because of the opportunity. There is a tremendous talent pool in Los Angeles and New York of high-profile Canadians. Not that many choose to stay in Canada because it is a more limited market and probably less lucrative for them.

 F. Could there be a plan to invite some of those people back, say every two years?

 B. There is a lot of talk about that. This is part of the own the podium idea. We need to get some of those people back to spend more time.

 F. Who leads that sort of thing?

 B. The new head of Telefilm, Carolle Brabant, is working hard and trying to make a difference. I think Valerie Creighton from the CMF will be a leader; and I hope to provide some leadership in that regard. Our association very much wants to support this initiative. It’s in our interest to do so. We are proud of Canadian content and offended when people slag Canadian content unjustly. We have a lot of achievements to be proud of.

 We are respected around the world; international players look to Canada with respect. They appreciate what we do, especially our internationalist approach to things, our entrepreneurship, and our system of public support. It makes it easier for us to work with them on financing. They also appreciate our coproduction system. Overall, they like our values as a country.

 We need to appreciate that these things are assets and not apologize to anyone. It is too easy for certain parties to slag Canadian shows. “Oh it's not as good as Hollywood; it's not as good as American stuff. Its second rate.” I don't agree that we do not do high quality content. We have huge audiences in Canada for what we do. On Canadian television, a lot of Canadian shows are market leaders. Increasingly on prime time on conventional television, we have seen successes like Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, The Bridge, Messengers, and so on. We have a different system here; in the States, they have budgets that are 4 to 5 times what ours are for television shows and 50 times what ours are for feature films. It’s not fair to judge the quality in absolute terms. You can't say that this $4 million Canadian movie doesn’t look as good as this $500 million American movie. No kidding! We can't operate in the same arena as the big studios.

 We're in a different arena; it’s smaller. We have to be judged against what other countries, including the United States, produce at that level of production. And we are totally competitive; we know what we're doing. We're good at it. I make no apologies. It rankles me. As you know, in life it’s so easy to criticize others; it's much more difficult to find things that are good and ways to encourage people to do more of that. I see Canadian content that makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it gets the hair up on the back of my neck, it makes me angry. I embrace it. People need to give it more of a chance and consume more of it. James Moore, our new Heritage Minister, has been a champion of that. He has been screening Canadian feature films in Ottawa for our MPs and for dignitaries and other people who don't necessarily have much awareness of it. They are quite surprised by what they're seeing. They hadn't even been aware of some of the great stuff were doing. We need to do more about.

 F. You are a great champion of Canadian film.

 B. I believe in it. And I’ll tell you why. There's a very simple reason that I'm in the role I'm in today. When I was a broadcaster I built my success on the work of independent producers. It was my partnership with independent producers that created the distinctive content that made the channels I worked on successful. It was also the part of my job that was the most satisfying, working with those creative people in a collaborative way in a true partnership. So for me, it was natural for me to continue that relationship once I left the broadcasting world.

 I didn't even realize it at the time. I never imagined I would be doing this. I thought I would retire, and dabble in a few things, maybe teach. And they came after me, surprisingly, because I had been on the other side of the fence. We realized that we had some work to do together to champion the system and I'm glad I'm doing it, glad I had the opportunity. Thank you, Fil. You're a good man.