Tom Cox, Part 3: Marketing.

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

Fraser. How do we win Canadian audiences for Canadian productions? We’re not doing too badly in films, but we have a long way to go.

Cox. I agree. Television has gained an advantage where broadcasters partnered with producers in finding and keeping those audiences. If you look at the incentives that broadcasters have, they're based on eyeballs; so, there is appropriate recognition of the quest for eyeballs and appropriate incentive to keep them. On the feature film side, I'm afraid the system hasn’t been developed to that degree. I wouldn't say that we are dis-incentivized at all, but I don't think that the same kind of attention has been paid to the challenge of getting Canadian eyeballs to Canadian theatrical screens, along with making sure that there are promotable films that draw them to the theatres.

F. Is this just about marketing?

C. Absolutely. And it's in private investment, because that will drive marketing. If there are investors that are strongly motivated to see a return on their investment and profit, that's going to shift the strategies that we have around film; it will ensure that they are marketed and promoted. Telefilm, bless its heart, has been a wonderful partner over the years, but it has a schizophrenic mandate. It is told to serve a fiercely cultural mandate and that there also has to be a return on investment. I would suggest that it's time that we uncoupled those two things and have projects that are purely commercial in nature, that can help to create a star system, and that can feed the cultural system. Let's let the marketplace loose, without gutting or diminishing our cultural aspirations by any means. We shouldn't tie the two together so tightly.

F. So, you would have two streams of funding: one for the Atom Egoyans of the world, and one for the Tom Coxes.

C. No, I wouldn’t paint that black-and-white a picture. But I would hope we could go beyond the constraints of cultural financing to create an environment of market-driven financing. I think it’s hugely important that we continue making culturally important films. But we have to take the shackles off the industry by creating an environment that attracts private investment. Those may be wonderfully cultural projects, maybe Atom Egoyan projects: but they’ll be better financed, better marketed and promoted; they’ll find new ways to attract audiences; and they may serve filmmakers we haven't heard from at all.

F. Does that not imply two different distribution streams? You would have cultural products going down one road, and more commercial products going down another road?

C. I would hope that it’s a single road. I believe that if you only have a cultural mechanism for financing, then the ability to market is always going to be finite and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can create a mechanism that is far more market-driven, it will help to generate new Canadian audiences who will, in turn, be drawn to the smaller films that don't have the marketing, but maybe have stars that are recognizable. For example, I would go to see Sean Penn in a film that was made for a dime, because he’s a phenomenal actor. But first I have to know who Sean Penn is. In our country, we don’t recognize those actors, directors, designers, and cinematographers; or we have let them slip away to the south because there isn’t a consistent system here to support them.

F. You want a system where people would go to see a film with Sarah Polley in it, no matter what the film was.

C. Absolutely. Or Sarah Polley directing, as she does now; this is an age-old question and I'm not sure that I have anything new to offer, but we can’t let this discussion die. We are on the verge of an era when it’s going to be more possible to have different kinds of projects and the technology is shifting to be far more democratic. You can make a feature on cell phone; it's been done. But if you could make a feature film on a cell phone with a recognizable star, you might make some money.

F. What is palpable in the air at Banff this year is a passion to do it; it now seems almost inevitable.

C. I believe it is. I think it's about the maturity of the industry and the passion of newcomers. I'm stunned at the talent that’s coming up in this country and it’s talent that is accompanied by smarts that we didn't have when we were starting out. And that’s accompanied by technology that we didn't have. So the time is right to make a profound shift toward a national industry that recognizes its own talent and promotes it. And we’re way better at promoting television than we have been in features; it's time to put our minds to the feature side to ensure that our time here isn’t wasted.

We do have challenges, but Terms of Trade has been a very positive thing to undergo....

F. It scared the hell out of me in that session yesterday when I heard that a third of the money goes to the lawyers.

C. We’ll figure that out. There's lots to do, and the new government is likely to be there for a while and able to make decisions that they weren't able to make before [with a minority]; we're trying to make sure that they know who we are, that we're worth partnering with.