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Industry Report: Focus: North America

Telefilm creates new measure for success of Canadian films


- Telefilm’s old system failed to account for international box office and DVD sales, to say nothing of factoring in the acclaim films receive. Such accolades have led to well-established careers and numerous jobs for actors and technicians, even though this wasn’t being officially measured, says Carolle Brabant, executive director of Telefilm.

For instance, according to older ratings systems, the 2009 Quebec comedy De père en flic – with a home box office of close to $11-million – was a clear hit. But the 2010 film Incendies might not be considered much of a winner with a box office of only about $5-million – despite the fact that it was nominated for an Oscar and won eight Genie awards, including best picture.

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In fact, most Canadian films seemed to fall below expectations under the old system.

A decade ago, former Heritage Minister Sheila Copps set a goal for films to aim for 5 per cent of domestic box office – an attempt to rally Canada’s then-faltering film industry. But given the number of Hollywood films clogging multiplexes across Canada, English-Canadian films typically gross only 1 per cent of the market or worse. Quebec films do only marginally better at around 3 per cent.

And while Canadian films such as 2008’s Blindness often do very well overseas or in DVD and video-on-demand sales, these indexes haven’t been factored into whether they’ve been a “success.”

So, on Wednesday, Telefilm announced a new Success Index. Now 60 per cent of a film’s score will be based on sales figures, 30 per cent on awards and film-festival appearances and 10 per cent on how much of a film’s funding was private as opposed to public.

“The fact that we’re combining the cultural and commercial aspect into an index is quite unique,” says Brabant.

“A good example is [director] Guy Maddin,” she says. “He’s a true international star. His work has been recognized around the world. But his films are not necessarily reaching huge box office in Canada.”

And for films with strong overseas and DVD sales, Brabant argues that the new index better reflects the current reality of the film business, and helps to define what a 5 per cent box-office target might really look like. The industry is now multinational. Most large films have some foreign backing and therefore have some expectations of box-office and DVD sales overseas.

“We see it as an important tool to actually achieve that 5 per cent,” Brabant says. “Just having box office as the most important measurement was not sufficient.”

The new Success Index not only changes how individual films are measured, but how Telefilm itself is measured. Are they doing a good job of allocating public funds for films?

“It has always struck me, and maybe it’s from my background as a chartered accountant, that it was pretty unique in this industry to measure our success mainly from what we’re doing in Canada,” Brabant says. “When you look at companies in other industries – Bombardier or Cirque du Soleil, for example – these companies are not only successful in Canada, but they’re successful all over the world. I thought this was something that was missing [in Telefilm’s measurement].”



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