A broad topic, the city of Toronto and its relation to its film industry will be explored in this essay. As Canada’s largest city, with a diverse population of over 2.8 million people, there has been a growing film production investments in the city of over $1 billion dollars each year since 2010. This essay will focus on the film industry from the perspective of governmentality as the industry engages with national film and media funding bodies, its subsidiaries and festival platforms. The three areas that will be studied are Telefilm, TIFF and the city’s film commission. There is not just one locatable Toronto film industry so this essay will define it in terms of its relation to these institutions where they intersect most prominently. All three of the institutions are supported by funding from differing federal, provincial and municipal levels within the Canadian government, which has led to their continued sustainability, growth and popularity, while also sparking a larger interest in film from the city’s residents. To provide a first-hand perspective of what kind of work these institutions are providing, this essay will rely on first-hand interviews with some of the important figures of these institutions. These include Dan Lyon from Telefilm, the Senior Canadian Programmer at TIFF Steve Gravestock, and Michele Alosinac from the Toronto Film, Televison and Digital Media Office. The goal being to better understand what Toronto provides, in terms of governmentality and the Toronto film industry, to a global visual culture.
Dan Lyon and the Role of Telefilm
The role of Telefilm Canada is both in financing development and production of Canadian features while also stimulating demand and access to Canadian productions. Its responsibilities consist of both service productions, which are used by Americans or other non-Canadians who utilize Canadian locations, crews and service tax credits; and Canadian productions controlled by Canadian production companies, which are the only projects eligible for Telefilm support.
A broad responsibility that Dan Lyon, the Regional Feature Film Executive for Ontario and Nunavut, works, along with a full office, diligently to fulfill. Through an interview with Lyon the particularities of his role at Telefilm become clearer.
But perhaps to better understand some of Lyon’s ideas and the debates surrounding the role of government subsidized Canadian filmmaking his and Michael J. Trebilcock 1982 book Public Strategy and Motion Pictures: The Choice of Instruments to Promote the Development of the Canadian Film Production Industry needs to be explicated. This legislative study for the Ontario Economic Council explored the production and distribution strategies of Canadian films as they related to public- and private-interests theories of government intervention through the history, instruments and results of major Canadian film-related institutions such as the National Film Board, Canadian Film Development Corporation, Canada Council, Provincial and Municipal Programs, Capital Cost Allowance, and regulation. Much of it is the familiar account of these major Canadian film-funding institutions but with a precise contemporaneous analysis of their recent efforts and economy. The often-times repeated (and true) conclusions about the Canadian cinema are also addressed (and still relevant today): The colonized eye of the Canadian filmgoer hasn’t allowed for a successful film industry to fully emerge.
But Lyon and Trebilcock still agree on the cultural importance of a Canadian cinema and the role for government intervention,
The final market-failure argument for intervention – positive cultural externalities – is elusive and difficult to verify, but it seems to have force. The argument here is that all Canadians, film-viewers or not, are likely to be made better off by a strengthened sense of common heritage, natural identity, and common values and purposes. To the extent that feature films can promote this objective by emphasizing Canadian themes, runs the argument, subsidies should be forthcoming; in their absence, this social benefit cannot be fully captured by private economic agents in private market transactions, so the result is underproduction of a socially desirable good. (Pg. 115)
The conclusion of Public Strategy and Motion Pictures is that the government should have a subsidy policy, as it is one of the only available instruments of intervention to remedy the market failure. Lyon and Trebilcock argue for the necessity to determine the output criteria of the sponsored films and determining more precise content guidelines that relate to a Canadian identity, while avoiding a narrow nationalism and too much of an emphasis on economic qualifiers.
Over thirty years later, these are now Lyon’s responsibilities at Telefilm where he works on deciding which first-time, intermediate and even well-established filmmakers will receive funding from his department. Lyon is responsible for the micro- and lower-budget stream of financing at Telefilm, which means that most emerging Toronto filmmakers would have to persuade him if they wanted to receive some of Telefilm’s funding. On the subject of the Toronto film industry, these investments and relations are how Lyon financially contributes and participates to it. The focus is less on the industry as a whole but on very specific projects that Telefilm is in partnership with in either development, production, post-production, about to premiere or get a theatrical release.
From their 2014-2015 their funding program provided $89.1 million in the support for the Canadian audiovisual industry, which 68% ($60.8M) went to the production financing of 87 feature films, 13% ($11.3M) in marketing funding for 87 feature films, 9% ($7.8M) to the development support for 301 projects, and the remaining to promotional events relating to Canadian film.
Some of the 87 films that were funded through the Telefilm production programs include Deepa Mehta’s Beeba Boys, Robert Budreau’s Born to Be Blue, John Crowley’s Brooklyn, Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson’s Diamond Tongues, Philippe Faucon’s Fatima, Philippe Falardeau’s Guibord s'en va-t-en guerre, Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest, Anne Émond’s Les êtres chers, Nadia Litz’s The People Garden, and Igor Drljaca’s The Waiting Room. While some upcoming projects that Lyon is excited for include Gaurav Seth’s Prisoner X (2005), Director X’s Across the Line (2015), David Bezmozgis’s Natasha (2016) and Jeremy LaLonde‘s How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town (2016).
There has also been a qualitative shift in the success index of these films, which accounts for its cultural returns. These are broken down to 60% commercial: which is 40% of the box office receipts in Canada, 10% gross domestic sales excluding box office, and 10% international sales. 30% cultural: which is 10% selection at certain international film festivals, 10% prizes received at said festivals, 10% awards won at national competitive events and festivals. Finally 10% industrial: in regards to the amount of private funding the project received.
To stimulate demand and access to Canadian productions there must be more information about them, which makes social media important to Telefilm. For example their shared Twitter account is regularly updated, in both English and French, with news about many of their projects and events. Lyon also highly recommends the Canadian film industry website and digital magazine Playback. It is the voice of the Canadian film industry as it relates all news relating to it along with providing reviews and box office information. For example, Playback’s newest Spring 2016 issue has a feature on the new technological developments in digital reality and on their website a recent post on the two Canadian films by Kim Nguyen and Nathan Morlando who will be going to Cannes with their newest films.
Lyon reaffirms the healthiness and affluence of film and television productions in Toronto, which is that of an over $1 billion industry. Lyon’s particular responsibilities at Telefilm are the lower-budget stream of its investments, which can be anywhere between $250,000 to $2.5 million, and which are meant to invest in provincial filmmakers who have strong personal visions. These are not loans but an investment for a recoupable equity share of revenues from exploitation in all media. It is collaborative work not only with the filmmakers as Lyon also spoke of the necessity to have positive relationship between his department with Toronto’s other film institutions such as the Toronto film office commissioner Zaib Shaikh or Tasso Lakas from ACTRA who runs its micro-budget program TIP. The Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) is also referred to as an important resource, whose activities are investing in Ontario film productions, administering the provincial tax credits, and providing location services.
The Telefilm lower-budget stream investments are part of the Canada Feature Film Fund (CFFF), which is one of their talent building initiatives. Filmmakers who are accepted for receiving this fund would receive notes, comments, feedback, and advice for possible improvements on their films. But it is more like constructive criticism, as they would propose methods on how to refine the film posed in the form of open questions. Telefilm also has a Marketing Fund which allows producers who self-release without distributors to receive a loan of up to 75% of the marketing and distribution costs of the film. Lyon describes these low-budget stream investments as more creative relationships than it would be with the more established national fund filmmakers.
Two recent Telefilm collaborated films provide case studies to discuss more concrete examples of what kind of work that they actually do. For example, Andrew Cividino’s feature debut Sleeping Giant (2015) is an example of one of these lower-budget stream films. Lyon speaks about how Cividino came to Telefilm two years prior to the completion of the film for financing and was eventually rejected for not having a good enough business plan. So Cividino’s production team would produce and direct the film themselves without Telefilm, but afterwards they would return to them to benefit from their Post-Production Fund. This fund helps filmmakers finalize the completion of their projects, which can later be eligible for the Marketing Fund and the International Marketing Fund which provides assistance for filmmakers to attend important international festivals, promote their films and make foreign sales.
An example of a National Fund film is Paul Gross’ Hyena Road (2015). The story tells the epic tale of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Hyena Road can be seen as the opposite of Cividino’s smaller project. Gross’ film got investment from Telefilm’s National Fund. All films which receive funding from the National Fund have production budgets in excess of $2.5 million. The level of Telefilm investment varies, but is typically varies from $700,000 to $4 million. The production budgets of National films are often over $7 million and have ranged up to $30 million, but Telefilm’s investment in any one film is a maximum of $4 million. These National Fund projects have the mandate of reaching an audience, which is different than talent building, with a higher expectation on monetary returns. Some examples of these types of films include Michael Dowse’s Goon (2011), Richard J. Lewis’ Barney’s Version (2010) and John Crowley’s Brooklyn (2015). The international co-productions within this group must follow all of Telefilm’s rules to be available for the investments and tax-credits, which includes a splitting of employment between the creative and acting talent along with the equipment and production staff. These are films that are expected to reach an audience and cover their expenses. The National Fund films are made with more experienced producers and directors who are allowed more freedom to create than do the low-budget stream filmmakers who are offered more guidance and support.
There also needs to be a community of audiences to eventually watch these films when they get a theatrical release. Lyon highly recommends the First Weekend Club, which helps build audience for the new Canadian releases by promoting their opening weekend screenings. As well as the work of the National Canadian Film Day organized by Real Canada, which just in 2016 included 417 events across the country.
Finally, for Lyon some of the best Toronto films are ones where the city is on full display. Some examples of these favorites include David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps (2010), Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (2011) and Murray Foster’s The Cocksure Lads Movie (2014).
Steve Gravestock and Programming Canadian Films
The Canadian programming at TIFF is perhaps the most important showcase of Canadian films each year, which makes it the perfect spotlight for some of the best work of the Toronto film industry. Steve Gravestock is the Senior Programmer of its Canadian film section along with being responsible for the Canadian film programming year-round, which includes Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival and the Canadian Open Vault. Gravestock’s perspective on the Toronto film industry is that of a veteran Canadian film programmer and scholar (having written the essential monograph on Don Owen).
Gravestock’s knowledge of upcoming Canadian films is quite thorough. He describes being ahead of the news, hearing about upcoming Canadian film projects through word of mouth conversations, familiarity with the filmmakers and the industry, and through the film festival submissions. He describes the amount of Canadian film submissions rising so that just in 2015 there were at least 1,225 Canadian submissions, with an estimate of somewhere between 100 to 300 feature films and the remaining amount shorter works, which he makes sure himself and his programming team watches. Gravestock describes the reasons for the increased submissions due to the rise of prominence of the festival both in Canada and internationally, how it is easier to access high quality filmmaking equipment, and the fostering of more filmmakers in Toronto whether they are from the entertainment industry or are more independent. There is a lot of competition to get into the Canadian program at the film festival and the premiere has risen in importance, becoming the new currency for most film festivals. These filmmakers either come from television, are older award-wining filmmakers, more independent and minimalist, previous Canada First! alumni, or are first-time emerging filmmakers (who might have previously made short-films). The amount of filmmakers applying has become so large that without splitting the focus between these different groups there would be too many important Canadian productions that would be potentially overlooked.
The Canadian program at the festival typically premieres between 20-30 films with perhaps five or six that have premiered already elsewhere. But, for example in 2015 the total was 39 Canadian features, including co-productions, which is up from 31 features in the previous years. There is no longer a purely Canadian section at the festival, though. The Canada First! section was eliminated after 2011, and prior to that there was the Perspective Canada from 1984 to 2003. These films now go into the first films or contemporary world cinema categories. These changes occurred due to several reasons, with the most prominent ones being that producers and distributors saw the label as negatively effecting their chances of being purchased along with the rise of international co-productions that complicated the matters. Part of the reason for this is because the industry has a different definition of what makes for a Canadian film. The festival itself privileges authorship along with Canadian financing while the industry itself is more concerned with what country’s money is the film being produced with.
Now having had so many filmmakers pass through its previous Canadian cinema slots over the years, there are so many experienced and veteran filmmakers that need to be represented. For example, just from the impact of the Canada First! section there had been the stewardship of such filmmakers like Michael McGowan, Stéphane Lafleur and Kazik Radwanski. The festival’s award for Best Canadian First Feature and Best Feature Film has been a valuable asset to its previous winners. These wining films have included Don McKellar’s Last Night (1998), Stéphane Lafleur’s Continental, un film sans fusil (2007), Jeffrey St. Jules’ Bang Bang Baby (2014), and Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant (2015). This is along with its Best Canadian Film award, which is typically reserved for more accomplished filmmakers. These prizes have a monetary component, which has been able to benefit the filmmakers with the ability to continue to work. There has also been the rise of initiatives such as that of the TIFF Rising Star and Studio to increase the visibility of young Canadian actors and producers.
Gravestock describes the Canadian film prize as a great incentive to encourage the winning filmmakers to stay active and help with their future projects. While the Canada’s Top Ten allows the filmmakers to celebrate once-again their accomplishments and to get more visibility. Some reoccurring filmmakers that were nominated for the short-film section and then later returned with a feature films include Stephen Dunn, Andrew Cividino, and Don McKellar. Other Toronto filmmakers that Gravestock highlights include Simon Ennis, Ingrid Veninger, Charles Officer, Igor Drljaca, Albert Shin, Nadia Litz and Luo Li.
The Canadian Open Vault is one of Gravestock’s projects whose goal is to screen classic films from Canadian film history, which is to remedy what Gravestock quoting Piers Handling describes as the amnesia of Canadian audiences towards Canadian films. For Gravestock the distribution of Canadian films is a problem and he thinks the government should be doing more to help with. Gravestock does not think that the system is perfect either as even more established filmmakers have difficulty and sometimes cannot receive funding for their projects, even though it is still perhaps easier for them as they have more connections and longer track records. While Gravestock sees the major problem being that there is not enough access for Canadian films to get onto Canadian screens. He cites Michael Spencer’s book Hollywood North as illustrating quite well how the industry had failed in the past for the implemention of quotas.
Gravestock sees the Toronto film industry as being layered with television sales having a central importance to it. The city is quite rich in resources, from studios to production companies to post-production facilities, and it is amenable to the point of being willing, for some exceptions, to even close down some of its major streets to help with certain film projects. According to Gravestock, it is the tax-credits and the cheaper Canadian dollar that are the main reasons for why Americans come to make their own films in Canada. His counter-examples are Saskatchewan in 2014 and Nova Scotia in 2015 whose film industries were killed off by the tax credits getting pulled, due to the government being suspicious of them as the foreign companies are sometimes then just able to keep their own production’s taxes.
Michele Alosinac from Film & Entertainment Industries in Toronto
The Toronto Film, Television and Digital Media Office is part of the City of Toronto's Economic Development and Culture Division, Film & Entertainment Industries Unit, which includes film, music, tourism and special events.
The Toronto Film, Television & Digital Media Office promotes investment in the Toronto economy for diverse productions to either be filmed on location or in a studio and includes physical production, post-production, visual effects, animation and digital media. Operationally it coordinates and issue permits for location filming that takes place on Toronto's streets or properties, which in 2016 included over six thousand shoot days for more than one-thousand-three-hundred films, television and commercial projects.
In its 2014 year-in-review presentation, the film bureau reported that expenditures has reached a then record high of $1.23 billion. From this amount $953.1 million was on major productions, $195 million on commercials, $87.1 million on animations, and $1.2 million on music videos. Out of the major productions there were 100 TV series ($757.4 million), 51 features ($171.3 million), and the remaining on television and movie of the week specials.
These statistics are a source of pride for the department, which has seen the industry grow throughout the years: 2015 has been the fifth consecutive year that the total production spending has exceeded $1 billion with a 4.3% increase in total spending from 2013 to 2014, and then from $1.23 billion in 2014 to $1.5 billion in 2015. These statistics illustrate how film in Toronto is experiencing a vibrant period, both contributing to the city’s cultural and economic life. With the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the city is seen as both a film city and a film-loving city that knows how to celebrate and appreciate film, which has led to the rise of investment in production that has made it one of the city’s five key industries
But what exactly does the office do beyond these impressive statistics? From an interview with the Film Sector Development Officer Michele Alosinac a clearer picture emerges. According to Alosinac what is important is to have a base structure and steady employment to maintain a successful year-round industry. In the early 2010s there was a lot of investment to create a strong and sustained significant domestic production base for television series, which has greatly contributed to its maintenance.
According to Alosinac, the Film in Toronto department is split between 50% domestic productions with the other 50% service production for international productions, with 80% of investment coming from television. This is important as it leads to and creates a sustainable, productive and important base for the Toronto film industry as relationships are formed, both internally and externally, and it demonstrates a high working standard and expectation that raises the norms of professionalism.
According to Alosinac, there are plenty of production companies in Toronto but their activity fluctuates depending on the new projects and contracts that are available. The production companies that the Toronto Film Office has worked closely with over the years include Don Carmody Productions and Whizbang Films which offers a complete production service infrastructure for domestic, US and European co-productions filming in Canada. Take 5 Productions, for instance, is known for facilitating television co-productions and is known for its post-production work. There is Shaftesbury Films, which is best known for the popular CBC series Murdoch Mysteries (already in its tenth season), and IFC Films with Ilana Frank executive producing shows like Saving Hope and Rookie Blue. To cite just one example more in depth, Don Carmody’s production works closely in bringing major Hollywood studio projects to Canada which has led to Variety describing its founder Carmody as ‘Hollywood’s Man in Canada.’ Some of Carmody’s productions include Réjeanne Padovani (1973), Death Weekend (1976), Rabid (1977), Meatballs (1979), Good Will Hunting (1997), Polytechnique (2009), Goon (2011), Pompeii (2014), and the Resident Evil films among many others. In the spring of 2016 filming in the city were television series American Gothic (produced by Frank Siracusa), Schitt’s Creek (Colin Brunton), Suits (Aaron Kosh) and feature films like Alexander Payne’s Downsizing (Paramount/Mega Omaha Films).
The Toronto Film Commission has co-production treaties with over 90 countries, which allows for the creation of more and diverse projects from animation to post-production. The ability to co-produce allows for both countries to maximize their incentives and bolster financing of their projects. For example, there is a government memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Canada and Ireland, which leads to more co-productions like the 2015 Oscar winning success Room directed by Lenny Abrahamson and post production on Game of Thrones. Co-productions create an environment that is mutually beneficial for the creation of more short-term and long-term jobs and craft development.
The city of Toronto does not offer any tax benefits, relying on provincial incentives as is standard in the North American model of province/state tax credits/rebates. The Toronto Film Office is mandated by Council to operate as ‘revenue neutral’, which means that they would not charge for extra cost for services beyond revenue recovery. This affordability is appealing to production finance decision makers and contributes to the desirability of Toronto as a filmmaking friendly city. To process the permits, the Toronto Film Office has been mandated to a forty-eight hour turn-around to respond, edit or confirm filmmaking permits, which is attractive to the film industry. Recognizing the impact of filming as an economic driver City council have mandated these initiatives. These permits can be inputted both online and in person at their offices, which will include eight offices of by the end of the year. For example, in 2015 the city issued 6000 permits. These permits are challenging and labor intensive as a typical permit application can have up to ten edits.
For a massive Hollywood film like Suicide Squad, Alosinac describes it as a herculean task to coordinate with the internal city divisions and for the production to coordinate the business and resident collaboration to close off Yonge Street for location shooting. For a project of this scale, the city’s Film Manager would have worked closely with the film’s Location Manager, along with many internal and external stakeholders. There were multiple meetings to make sure everything is properly organized and that it all occurs smoothly. They would need to get permission from the neighborhood by way of forms and signatures of over 50% of the neighboring residents, and make sure that it is fine with all of the small and larger business owners. Whether these were compensated would be negotiated by the production.
For major productions an important issue is to have their resources available which necessitates the renting of street space to park their large trailers. They would need to clear the allocation of the space through these permits and pay whatever is the quoted renting rate. The city’s film department does not interfere with private film contracting and productions that do not engage with the city’s public spaces, such as using roadside parking or blocking its sidewalks. One requirement for filmmaking to take place in the city and to have access to these services and permits is that for the crews to have insurance.
For the Toronto Office to improve, Alosinac mentions that they are improving the permitting system to create a more compatible IT system that coordinates within all effected City Divisions. What is important for the Toronto Film department moving forward is a positive collaboration and stability between the industry and the city. This is more important, according to Alosinac, than the Canadian dollar exchange rate. What is important is that the production companies and residents are productive and supportive, and that the streets and neighborhoods are shared for the mutual benefit of all to contribute to the vitality and economy of the City of Toronto.
Alosinac at Toronto Film personally loves all of the productions that she has worked with, and appreciates watching Toronto-produced media. She is particularly proud of the supportive fan communities around television shows such as Suits and Murdoch Mysteries.
This essay tended to focus first on understanding the work that is being done by these institutions, and as they are important and quite complex, the focus was primarily on their core responsibilities through specific examples. The willingness and transparency that the three interviewees have provided has been very beneficial to this understanding. But there are also a lot of other institutions and resources available in Toronto that can just as easily be considered important to the Toronto Film Industry. There are communities, businesses and organizations spread across the city, and even though emerging filmmakers are not guaranteed a high salary, the city offers more industrial work through its television contracts that can help acquire more technical and professional skills. There is not just one Toronto film industry but many and combined together these many agencies, production companies and screens when they work effectively together are able to showcase some of the city’s best work that makes Toronto a leading film and television creator in a global visual culture context.