… in a sea of paperwork.
Perhaps you’ve been wondering, over the past few weeks or even months, what I’ve been super busy with. It is equally possible that you have not noticed that I’ve been especially busy, because you have your own lives to worry about. Either way, here it is.
In addition to programming The Royal and continuing to consult with REEL CANADA (especially on the exciting National Canadian Film Day initiative), I’ve also been trying to get some film projects off the ground. You already know this (because you are my fan and dedicated blog reader).
What you might not know is the elaborate shenanigans I’ve been engaged in for the past several months as I try to patch together financing for one of the films I’m working on.
I’ll keep it anonymous for now because I don’t want to jinx any of the money we are waiting to hear about in the next few days and weeks, but the film is a Canadian production with a fluctuating budget that’s gone up and down over the past year from anywhere as low as $1M CAD up to $1.6M CAD.
I’ve done countless versions of the budget (sometimes with the help of more experienced producers and/or line producers, sometimes muddling through on my own even though I don’t actually know how things like “union tiers” and “tax credits” and “f*@#ing film budgets” really work.
I’ve had to learn a lot of film-specific lingo! Like, when someone says “don’t do X because it will grind your tax credits” what they mean is, it will reduce the amount of tax credits you’re eligible for. New use of word “grind”: learned!
Let me back up. Quick lesson on tax credits:
To encourage film productions to do their business here instead of elsewhere, the province of Ontario offers a refund of up to 35% on the money you spend on labour in Ontario. There are eligible and ineligible costs, and lots of rules, and blah blah, but basically, you get a fat cheque back from the government after you’ve made your film, and that’s pretty great.
Each province has their own (or in some cases, they don’t). Many US states also have similarly competitive tax credit schemes. It’s a popular thing. But you don’t get the money until several months, or even a year, after your film is made.
That means that if you raise a million bucks to make a film, and you make it for that amount, a year later you might get a bonus cheque. Hurray!
But if like most people you can’t raise the full budget amount up front, you end up counting those tax credits in your financing plan even though you won’t get the money until after the film’s been made.
How does that work? Lots of possible ways, but a common one might be to get someone (like a bank) to loan you the money in advance, so that you can use it to make the film. And then when you get the tax credit money a year later, you pay the bank back. With interest. Which you calculate into your budget, of course. It’s complicated. And feels like you’re pulling a fast one. It feels like “FILM HACK: You Can Do This One Incredible Thing to Increase Your Budget By Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars!”
And yet, somehow, it is totally above board and normal and everyone does it.
Anyway. Back to my story.
We’ve received confirmation of funding from one government entity. Hurray! Where do we sign for our money?
Slow down little pony. You don’t get the money. Yet.
First, you prove that if they gave you the money and you didn’t manage to raise even a single penny more, you’d still be able to make the film.
Some government funding bodies say that you have to have 100% of your financing tied up before you approach them. Or 100% minus whatever you’re hoping they’ll pitch in, anyway. Others don’t have that kind of requirement, but at a certain point, they want to know that if they give you the money you’re not going to fuck it all up and end up not shooting the film, which will in turn make them look bad.
Okay, fair enough.
Except, in order to prove to them that we’d be able to go forth and shoot even if we didn’t raise any more money, we’ve had to slash our budget by about a quarter, from $1M to $750K, and we’ve had to adjust all kinds of things in various fairly insane ways (cutting the shooting schedule from four weeks to three, for example, and nixing the idea of a highly paid “star” in favour of an “everybody gets the same piddly fee” approach – hey, it’s piddly but at least it’s fair). All of this has taken a lot of time and effort. More time and effort, perhaps, than should be required to present what we actually consider a worst case scenario Plan B.
But who am I to complain? I just want them to please give us the money. In the meantime, I’ll be over here silently weeping into my fifth cup of coffee.
Now, all of that effort might not have taken the equivalent of two full time jobs’ worth of hours (for weeks if not months on end) if I knew what I was doing when it came to the world of tax credits, deferrals, recoupment schedules, budgets and financing plans. I’m learning a lot (and fast!) but it’s my first time around the track and I have been drowning without help.
I have a very creative, smart Director (who unfortunately also doesn’t know how this stuff works – not on the level required for The Government, anyway) and a very helpful Exec Producer (who does know how it works and provides useful advice when needed, but doesn’t have time to coach me through everything step by step – which is fine, he was upfront about that when we first agreed to work with him).
All of which is to say (I’ve buried the lede, I know) that I may have found the magical unicorn who can actually help me make sense of this nonsense: a line producer. Thank you, oh film gods, for smiling upon me in my hour of need and sending me a line producer who knows what he is doing and is willing to help out even though we won’t be able to start paying him for another few months. I am truly blessed.
I use this blog to write updates about my producing projects, and I don’t often write about my “other job”. It’s with an organization I’m pretty proud to have been working with for the past seven or eight years (good lord, how has it been that long) so I’m going to tell you a bit about it today.
REEL CANADA is a traveling festival that shows Canadian films to high school students (as well as newcomers to Canada – ESL students of all ages) across the country. We’ve been at it for eight seasons and it’s grown from a program that manages to put on film festivals in just six schools in Toronto (in the pilot season) to one that put on over 60 events across seven provinces (in our eighth). To date, we’ve held over 800 screenings for over 200,000 students across the country, bringing filmmakers and other film industry heavyweights with us everywhere – from Montague P.E.I. to Medicine Hat, Alberta.
It’s hard to explain exactly what a REEL CANADA festival day entails, but it can be pretty magical. Here’s a video about the tech setup we occasionally do when we bring all the screening equipment into a school and transform it into a multiplex (please excuse the music):
Essentially, we help schools put on a one-day film festival out of our curated catalogue of Canadian features, docs, animations and shorts (new and old). Students help organize the event and select films, and we bring special guests (in person or via Skype) to talk to them after the screenings. Of course, filmmakers aren’t always free to come to a hundred schools every year, but some kind of live discussion is always part of the events we put on, even if it’s just a teacher or a trained facilitator talking to kids about what they saw. It’s one of the most important elements of what we do, because it really helps connect audiences to the work they’ve seen and gives them an opportunity to think and talk about what it means to be Canadian.
Today, we celebrated the launch of our 9th season as well as the launch of a new fundraising campaign that seeks to raise money for what we do from within the film industry. After all, if the industry that benefits the most from the audience-building work we do believes that the program is valuable, then they should be wiling to support it, right? Well, it looks like they’re ready to do just that!
This morning we held a huge event for about 1000 adult ESL students from across the GTA at TIFF Bell Lightbox. They watched Breakaway, Away From Her and Iron Road and participated in some seriously heartstring-tugging Q&As with the stars. After the students shuffled out, a who’s who of Canadian film heavyweights congregated in the TIFF lounge to hear REEL CANADA board member Colm Feore and bonafide mogul Robert Lantos announce the launch of our fundraising campaign. And the best part of the news they had to share? Not only have we launched it, we’re already $70,000 toward our goal of $200,000 – which is all meant to help us increase the number of students we reach from 40,000 per year to 100,000 by 2017. Personally, I think we’ll hit the magic number even sooner, but I don’t want to make my REEL CANADA teammates nervous.
Oh yeah, and there was even more great news: we’ve just confirmed Scotiabank as a sponsor to the tune of a $50,000 cash contribution and $25,000 of in kind support.
In addition to our two high profile guest speakers, we also had several fabulous guests for the festival portion of our day. Vinay Virmani, the writer and star of Breakaway and Wendy Crewson, star of Away From Her) both turned up along with the lovely Anne Tait, who produced Iron Road.
But wait, there’s more! Filmmakers and actors who have come out to our events in the past and have supported our program over the years also turned up in droves to our little lunch. Patricia Rozema, Charles Officer, Hubert Davis, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Clé Bennett, Ron Lea and several others were there, along with film industry types from ACTRA, Telefilm, the NFB, eOne and … y’know what, at a certain point, I lost count.
And the press? Oh! The press! Four camera crews – two from the CBC, one from ET Canada and one from CTV turned up, as well as a large contingent of the city’s prominent print and online journalists. This piece from the Globe’s Liam Lacey was posted just two hours ago. I blame Ingrid Hamilton, who did an incredible job of promoting our event and getting media interested in the story.
As if all those announcements weren’t enough, we unveiled one other thing – some posters for the fundraising campaign that were designed by the superstars at Agency 71. Check out three out of the four posters (foolishly, I failed to take a photo of the beaver design).
They did such a killer job! These images are SPOT ON.
Anyway, the launch event was fancy! I wore a dress, that’s how fancy it was. And after several hours of happy schmoozing, I’m so dead tired this evening that all I can manage to do is write this blog post and eat raw fruits and vegetables from the fridge because cooking is waaaaaay too much effort (I know, I should have ordered a pizza).
I’ll leave you with my favourite photo of the day.
An old friend of mine, Dev Khanna, recently directed a feature. He’s done several shorts before (many have played TIFF and they’re great) and I was excited to see his feature, which I got the chance to do last week as part of a private press/friends/word-of-mouth screening intended to introduce the film to pals who may be able to get the word out about it in advance of the theatrical run.
So, biases declared up front, this is a movie directed by a friend of mine, and I definitely would like to help him drum up interest for the theatrical release (the film will have a week long run at the Royal in Toronto starting this weekend). However, I also wanted to write an honest review, because I had so many thoughts about it during and after the screening.
The film takes place in the early ’90s and centres on Anil, a teenage Indian-American boy (born in Jersey, but still the only non-white kid on his team) who goes to a small town in Italy with his soccer team to compete in a tournament. All the boys have high hopes for the trip, mostly revolving around scoring – not on the soccer field, but with the hot italian girls that they’re inevitably going to meet in the picturesque town of Fondi.
Anil is a thoughtful, quiet type, his shyness sometimes manifesting as frustrating timidity and powerlessness and at other times as outright cowardice. When he sees the beautiful au pair of their wealthy host, Anil is immediately smitten. However, an ugly, half-witnessed incident involving one of his teammates ruins his chance for romance and leaves Anil stuck between strong feelings of guilt, desire, impotent rage and confusion.
Even though there are scenes in Fondi ’91 in which certain characters’ actions and inactions were frustrating and their motivations inscrutable, the film made me think. A lot. My only real qualm with it is the fact that the film treats women – and the often troubling things that happen to them – as catalysts for the important things that happen to men. The women are secondary – there to pique Anil’s interest, arouse his desire, make him feel good and bad, and teach him valuable lessons – they’re not agents in their own lives, just supporting players in his.
The young au pair – the object of Anil’s desire and the catalyst for all the chaos in the film – is beautiful, innocent, foreign (therefore nearly wordless) and pure. She’s a blank slate onto which Anil can project all his own mixed up feelings. He spends much of the film impotently following her around, desperate for her attention but unable to express this desire. The pain she endures is only relevant as it relates to Anil, and while he also has his share of pain to cope with, his is handled with more depth. The film is about him, after all.
This is a very unusual coming of age story, one which explores not just the innocent desires of well meaning teens, but also sexual pressure and assault – all incredibly complex and uncomfortable subjects to put on screen in what seems, ostensibly, to be a lighthearted romance. In fact, Fondi ’91 is much more than that. It’s a complicated and often sad story about how painful and downright brutal it can be to learn some of life’s most important lessons about love and morality.
Of course, those minor quibbles about the female characters aside, I really enjoyed Fondi ’91. The story has real sensitivity and emotion at its heart, and I think it’s a pretty mature and well crafted debut from a promising Canadian director. I encourage you to go out and see it, Torontonians.