When you score big financially, does anybody write you a congratulatory cheque?
No? Well what’s wrong with you? Because if you’re a Canadian filmmaker and you write or direct the top-grossing Canadian film in any given year, you get a cool $20,000. Telefilm Canada says its Golden Box Office Award is intended to “to raise awareness among all Canadians as to the many successes our film industry has been having lately,” but really it looks like it’s meant to encourage Canadian filmmakers to get a little more mainstream. This year’s winner, Goon, about a bouncer who becomes a hockey player, made $4.1 million at the box office. That’s nowhere near the $58.4 million The Avengers brought in to become the highest-grossing film in Canada last year, but it was enough to earn director Michael Dowse and screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg an additional payday.
It’s worth noting, however, that despite all the success Telefilm tells us our film industry is having, its own research shows that only one-in-three Canadians think our films are as good as those produced elsewhere. Maybe that’s the problem Telefilm should be throwing money at, rather than rewarding filmmakers who’ve already had a good run.
I wonder how many Canadian films those surveyed have even seen? Not a lot, I suspect, and who can blame them — how often does a made-in-Canada film show up at your local movie theatre? And the few that do get decent distribution — how much have you heard about them? Ever see trailers for them on television or ads online? (The last one to get a bit of a push, The Movie Out Here, looked more like a Kokanee commercial than a movie. As it turned out, it was.)
How about if Telefilm takes that $80,000 ($40,000 each for the top-earning English- and French-language films) and uses it instead towards better marketing and distribution of Canadian movies? How about if it puts it all behind a single one? As this CBC article from a few years back reveals, one of the major reasons Quebec’s film industry flourishes is because producers, distributors, exhibitors, funders, and marketers work together from day one to ensure films get enough buzz and coverage to drive audiences to theatres. The result? Over 40 per cent of gross sales in the French-language film market come from domestic showings, versus less than 17 per cent in the English-language market.
How about if Telefilm takes that $80,000 and uses it to top up the marketing budget for a single English-language film each year? Apparently, ours are the ones that need it.
The agency, which has been around under various names since 1967, just introduced a new marketing program. It sounds more like a consolidation of already existing ones, with a few new strategies added, but time will tell if it improves the fortunes of Canadian flicks. One thing’s for sure: They can’t get much worse. According to the Motion Picture Association of Canada, Canadian films (English and French) accounted for just 3.2 per cent of total box office revenue in Canada in 2010.
Telefilm’s push to support Canadian movies with “universal appeal,” as they like to put it, is just fine. But it doesn’t matter how universal a movie’s appeal is as long as there’s nobody in the theatre to watch it.