Tom Cox, Part 2: Success of the Industry and Fiscal Climate.

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

Fraser. Few Canadians know how big the film and television industry is, how many people are employed in it, how much it contributes to the economy. If they think about it all, they think that people who make movies are always asking for hand-outs.

Cox. The creative economy in Canada employs 100,000 people and generates billions of dollars annually. The film and television industry alone contributes tremendously to the economy, not just to the cultural fabric of the country. This is true in Alberta as well. Any government investment is returned many fold, with no multipliers or spin factors. And, when you think that Canadians can watch well-told Canadian stories, that’s another addition to the economy.

F. We're making very good movies, although they never do as well as they should in the theatres. But we’re at a crossroads; we have to find our domestic audience.

C. Let's take the feature film industry as an example. We make wonderful films from coast to coast. If you look at the American financing model, the budget for a film may be $5-50 million. Whatever it is, the amount spent on ads, and marketing after the fact, is usually as much or more than the original budget. In Canada, we are lucky if we can spend 1/20 or 1/50 of the budget on marketing and promotion. And that just doesn't work, especially when we're up against the juggernaut of Hollywood. If we're going to have a successful industry, we have to figure out not just how to make our films, but how to market them successfully. That's probably not going to happen without a mechanism to drive private investment.

F. We've got a couple of current wonderful examples of that with Barney's Version and Incendie. They’re great films and we’ve done very well with them. They’ve won awards everywhere. But, in terms of box office, not so good, not nearly what they should have been.

C. We had a discussion about creating a star system 25 years ago; that same discussion is ongoing. It's not that we don't have stars; we don't have the promotional mechanism that would cause a Canadian viewer to say, "I must see this film," whether it's Denis Villeneuve, Richard Lewis, or whoever the star is. But, if an American actor like George Clooney is in a film, we all have to see it. There are few exceptions to this rule. We need to create the financial incentives that will allow us to put the original money that went into the film towards marketing. We can’t do that without a private investment mechanism.

F. How do we get there?

C. There’s a lot of discussion about how to create private investment mechanisms and some of them are happening provincially, some here in Alberta. That's what should be driving the industry. We will never have sufficient cultural finances to do that. The discussions are now happening at the national level. There had been an aversion to doing that because of previous mechanisms that were created at a time when we were very naïve and, quite frankly, not making the quality product that we’re making today. Nor were we nearly as sophisticated in the business sense. It’s time to kick that conversation into high gear. We’re a sophisticated, knowledgeable industry making a world-class product; and I think it's time that private investors were able to get involved and have some return on their investment, with profits as well.

F. One way of making that happen, past examples notwithstanding, is to create a regulatory tax climate that makes it possible and attractive for the private sector to put their dollars in.

C. Yes, there has even been a hesitancy within the industry to pursue private investment out of fear that the government would say, “Now you have private investment, you don't need public support.” My response to that is there will always be a need for cultural financing because not every project should have a completely commercial application. If that were the case, there would be a lot of stories untold that should be told for Canadian audiences. But I don't think we should be afraid to add the private mechanism; we can keep our culture alive along with that.

F. You chair an organization, one of whose chief responsibilities is to lobby governments to create the kind of climate you are talking about. So, here we are with a new government and we’re not sure yet where they might go. What are you telling them? What's your pitch?

C. Our pitch is very clear. We’re small businessmen and women who are based in every city and town across this country; we are fiercely independent entrepreneurs. We actually represent the very best of business in this country. We contribute substantially to the economy as well as to the cultural fabric of the country. We think we are ideal partners for this government if we frame our dialogue on those lines. This is about first assuring the sustainability of an economic sector that exists from coast to coast in small entrepreneurial businesses. Beyond that we can contribute to our culture and history with programming that will satisfy audiences in Canada and around the world for generations to come. This is a win-win scenario if we have the tools to be sustainable.