DO YOU CONCUR? Rock on with CanCon (film)

H.G. Watson

CanCon. One little, mashed up word has likely never caused so much strife in an arts community. In music, Canadian content laws are often cited as the reason that Canadian indie bands have been successful, the reason they have been unsuccessful, the reason Nickleback gets to exist. And while it is contentious, it’s hard to deny that Canadian bands like Arcade Fire, Metric and yes, even Nickleback, might have had a harder time finding success had it not been for laws in place requiring more home grown music.

So then, my question is— where are the Canadian content laws for films?

If you think the music market is difficult, be happy that you aren’t in the film one. Even the smallest indie film requires more up front funds then a band ever will need. There are the basic costs of making a film, which for a 90 minute feature is realistically somewhere between $15,000 to $30,000.

Past that, there’s the time and money involved in getting the film into festivals with the hope of eventually catching the eye of a distributor. Point being, a filmmaker can’t just pack up their van and tour the film around the country (unless you’re Kevin Smith or Francis Ford Coppola).

Imagine this; what if every theatre in Canada were required to dedicate one screen to Canadian content? Of course, exceptions would be made for rep cinemas— perhaps a percentage model would be better in that case (plus independent cinemas are the ones more likely to be showing Canadian content in the first place). The theatres would then be forced to begin distributing content from films made by Canadian filmmakers.

It would give a chance for indie directors like Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), Peter Stebbings (Defendor), Don McKellar (Last Night), and so many more to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys of cinema.

Canada has recognized that to support our music industry, it needs a boost to stay competitive with the deluge of music coming from out southern neighbours, not to forget the UK and continental Europe.

Why not recognize the same of film and implement more programs to build a homegrown film industry?
In France, the birthplace of cinema, filmmaking continues to thrive thanks in small part to government support that requires cable distributors to subsidize film production. Other countries have enacted similar legislation to ensure that their filmmakers have a voice.

If Canadian films are ever going to be seen— either around the corner or at cinemas across the world— they need some support to get there. It falls on us, the viewer, to demand that our politicians make actual steps to support the arts, even if it’s a zombie film.

4 Comments on DO YOU CONCUR? Rock on with CanCon (film)

  1. The whole system is a mess. Most producers, including myself are big fans of getting rid of Telefilm and having the Government just double the federal tax credits for content films and the film industry in Canada would rule the world by having tons more CANCON films done. The filter effect of that volume of films would get some of them into theaters.

    Also, most producers like myself don’t really want films in theaters as it’s a big waste of time and money. Most want the TV and VOD sales here in Canada and in the US. The theatrical model doesn’t work for anyone but the studios and big independents now.

    • Hi Michael – what do you think about companies like Netflix and Amazon beginning to produce/buy independent content? I ask because it seems like a good deal but it may be a case of “too good to be true” scenario.

  2. Anonymous // 2012/07/12 at 3:47 pm // Reply

    I appreciate the content of this post, but I wanted to correct an error: $15,000 to $30,000 upfront costs for a 90-minute feature is not the slightest bit realistic unless you are making an honest-to-goodness microbudget movie (barely any crew and likely nobody’s getting paid). A bare-bones independent feature where people are being paid the something approaching minimum wage and everyone is begging, borrowing, and stealing like crazy…maybe you can get away with “basic costs” somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000 (as I have done), but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Ideally, you have a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars for a low-budget feature, and believe me, that is still a low-budget feature. All the more reason why we need to get these movies onto screens.

    • I definitely low-balled the amount – I actually had Blair Witch in mind when I wrote that figure. It’s budget after principal photography was supposedly $20000 – but that is not the norm at all. It’s another reason we need more support for Canadian content in film.

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