Rich Past, Bright Future

Canadian Film Production

According to the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA), the filmmaking industry had an impact of $1.8 billion on the economy of Canada as of 2011. The combination of Canadian theatrical production and foreign location and service production employs up to 43,000 people full time in the country. In addition, the report shows overall Canadian film and TV industry production levels rose 8.9 per cent to a new record of $5.49 billion that year.

In 2010, the Province of Ontario introduced a 25 percent all-spend tax credit to lure producers from Los Angeles. This credit helped the total volume of production rise 6.3 percent to $2.06 billion in 2011. As a result, Ontario surpassed British Columbia as Canada’s top production centre, and the third largest in North America.

Nevertheless, British Columbia saw its total production volume jump 20.8 percent to $1.71 billion in 2011, with the largest boost coming from foreign location shoots, including U.S. network TV series.

In addition, production volume in Quebec rose 5.5 percent to $1.33 billion the same year.

However, the report also revealed that Canadian film production was down sharply. After rising in 2010 to $2.42 billion, total production volume for Canadian indie film and TV fell 1.4 percent to $2.39 billion in 2011.

Films have a long history in Canada. The first public screening in the country was held at the Palace Theatre in Montreal in June of 1896. Films were first shot in Canada in 1897 by Thomas Edison and French filmmakers, Auguste and Louis Lumière featuring the scenery of Niagara Falls. Manitoba farmer James Freer is widely recognized as Canada’s first filmmaker, whose documentaries on life on the prairies of Manitoba were shown as far away as England in order to promote immigration to the province.

The country’s first fictional production was the 15-minute drama ‘Hiawatha, the Messiah of the Ojibway’ in 1903. In Halifax, the Canadian Bioscope Company made the first Canadian feature film, ‘Evangeline’ in 1913. The growth of Canadian nationalism around World War I also promoted Canadian production and other aspects of the industry. The first wide-release newsreels appeared, feature film production expanded, and theatre chains expanded throughout the nation. The Canadian Motion Picture Bureau was established by the federal government in 1923, and Canada’s first film studio opened in Trenton, Ontario in 1917.

In 1938, the Canadian Government established the National Film Act of 1939 and the National Film Board of Canada to create films in support of World War II. Also, the National Film Act of 1950 was created “to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations.”

As early as the 1950s, government measures aimed to develop a feature film industry in Canada, resulting in the development of the Canadian Film Development Corporation in 1968. The organization, later becoming Telefilm Canada, was created to stimulate domestic production through tax shelters.

Canadian film production is heavily intertwined with the industry in the United States. Toronto and Vancouver are both considered “Hollywood North” by many insiders, and the majority of foreign location and service productions filmed in Canada are American movies. Also, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) held in September of each year is considered to be one of the most prestigious and important film festivals in the world.

Numerous Canadian directors and actors have embarked on successful careers in the United States. One of Hollywood’s most successful directors is James Cameron. A native of Ontario, Cameron has directed the first and second highest grossing movies of all time, Avatar and Titanic. Cameron’s films have grossed approximately $6 Billion worldwide.

Canadian actors and actresses who have found success in Hollywood include Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Ryan Gosling, Kim Cattrall, Pamela Anderson, and Rachel McAdams to name a few. Silent film actress Mary Pickford, ironically nicknamed “America’s Sweetheart” in her heyday, was born in Toronto.

Anglophone Canadian movie productions, however, have difficulty getting worldwide distribution and movies that are exclusively Canadian in content have largely had trouble breaking through to worldwide audiences. A typical Canadian film production is made with money from an array of government funding and incentives; these budgets are hardly a match for the distribution networks and promotion budgets that American productions have. Hollywood studios consider Canada a part of the domestic market, the only non-US country to receive this distinction. In addition, unlike television and radio, Canadian films do not have the protection of Canadian content regulations. In many cities outside of the major metropolitan areas, Canadian films are given limited releases, usually only playing in smaller or repertory theatres.

The exception for this is the French-Canadian films from Quebec, which are distributed throughout the province along with subtitled American films.

Many people who have connections to the Canadian film industry feel that Canadian movies should be marketed in different ways beyond the old business models in order to introduce and promote their content. Film director Patricia Rozema wrote an editorial in the ‘Globe and Mail’ suggesting that filmmakers embrace multiple methods of marketing. Rozema suggested using internet outlets such as YouTube, collaborating with Quebecois filmmakers, establishing a Canadian Directors Guild, and seeking more private-equity investment for distribution costs.

In spite of these setbacks, there seems to be a burgeoning awareness to increase the output in Canadian films. According to Telefilm Canada’s corporate plan, some of the organization’s major goals are to stimulate domestic demand, assist with developing new financial resources, and collaborate with other film organizations in Canada in order to promote overall content.

Finding new channels through which to distribute movies throughout the country seems to be a priority. A report from the Canadian Association of Distributors found that English-language films supported by the Canadian Feature Film Fund were successful in the domestic home video market, which accounted for 39 percent of all sales for the English-language market in 2011 and the TV market, including pay TV, contributed another 38 percent of all revenue.

In contrast, in Quebec, the theatrical market for French language film was the most important as it represented 47 percent of all sales in 2011, with TV and home entertainment far behind.

As a result of these findings, the study suggested that distributors work more closely with cable companies that offer Video On Demand (VOD) services to offer more English-language Canadian videos. The study stated, “Revenues from VOD have now become a critical source of income for Canadian feature films and can represent more than one-third of the revenue from all broadcast sources.”

As new avenues of distribution open up to Canadian filmmakers, it remains to be seen whether the production – and the audiences – will follow. But undoubtedly, the Canadian film industry has had a fascinating history throughout the years. And in spite of the cyclical nature of the business, it seems to have a promising future.

July 21, 2018, 3:27 AM EDT

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