Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Woe Canada

Quick! Name three all-cgi theatrical features that had their visuals made predominantly in Canada. Can't do it? You live in Canada and you still can't do it?

The films I'm thinking of are Pinocchio 3000, The Wild and Everyone's Hero. If you couldn't name them, one reason might be because all three films were flops. Pinocchio 3000 barely got released in Canada. The Wild and Everyone's Hero got wide releases, but neither set the world on fire. Everyone's Hero is still in theaters, but with an opening weekend gross of $6.2 million, it's a safe bet that this film won't be breaking any box office records.

It would take a book to detail Canada's relationship to the U.S. entertainment industry. Canada has content quotas in place in television to prevent U.S. imports from swamping local productions. There are no quotas in place for movies, so in English-speaking Canada, Canadian films get about 3% of screen time. Imagine how odd it would be to have 97% of the movies available to you come from a foreign country. That's Canada.

Canada's track record in animated features is not good. Nelvana has turned out many, but except for Rock and Rule they basically took TV properties and goosed the budgets a little. The theatrical runs were short and the films main audience was on video.

The three films mentioned above were attempts to compete head to head in the feature business, but they all suffer from the view of Canada as a low wage country. Pinocchio 3000 was a Canada-France co-production (Spain was involved in some way as well), but the script came from France. The Wild and Everyone's Hero both had their scripts come from the U.S. Canada's role was to be less-expensive Americans, taking care of the visuals.

The failure of these films is not doing Canada any good. Producers are less likely to bring feature projects to Canada when there's no history of box office success. The problem is that Canada pays for everybody else's sins. If you look at any high end feature studio, you'll find Canadians. They're at Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney, ILM, Sony, and Blue Sky, so the problem is not the quality of Canadian talent. The problem is studio management that won't let the talent in Canada do the job. Canadian studios are shackled to poor scripts and inefficient producers who ride herd on talent that knows it's making bad films.

There's no easy solution. The Canadian film industry is a low budget and low profile affair. It's tough to sit in on a high stakes poker game when you've only got enough chips for one hand. If you don't win the pot, you're out of the game. And if you're an inexperienced player, it's hard to learn the ropes in just one hand.

The deck is currently stacked against home grown Canadian animated features. While there are many low budget live features made for under $10 million, that budget level is a tough one for an animated feature that has to compete with Pixar. Sylvain Chomet avoided that and made a personal animated feature with The Triplets of Belleville, but he's decamped to Scotland.

It may be that Canada may never be a successful player in the animated feature field. There are no artist/entrepreneurs who can get projects off the ground (Canadian animation is hardly creator-friendly) and most Canadian producers are understandably scared of big investments. That leaves us at the mercy of people from other places with money. I just wish that they were smarter.


Benjamin De Schrijver said...

"Imagine how odd it would be to have 97% of the movies available to you come from a foreign country. That's Canada."

I don't se how that's odd. I'd wager it's the case in most countries around the world.

Mark Mayerson said...

There's no question that American films dominate the world market. However, many countries have quota systems to protect local industries and other countries or locales just do better at getting local content on the screen. In Quebec, for instance, 15% of screen time goes to Canadian films, so they're doing far better than the rest of Canada.

I would bet that in India, Bollywood films are far higher than 3% of the available films.

Steve Schnier said...

The situation is not limited to animation. This is the case for Canadian live action as well. We're well known as service providers to the U.S. film industry - look at the ongoing ruckus over "runaway production".

There are many problems with Canadian productions, economics for one. Canada has a very small population base compared to that of the U.S. We can't support our film industry on boxoffice dollars alone.

As a result there are government quotas and subsidies - but this assistance KEEPS GOING TO THE SAME PEOPLE. The one's who have proven time and again, that they can't deliver a product that people want to see.

And it's not their fault - the government funding agencies keep handing them money, so naturally they keep taking it.

What the powers that be should do is - look beyond the "usual suspects". Seek out new and talented creators. Give them three strikes (I'm being generous) - then move on and find someone new. There are lots of talented people in this country. But our funding organizations only support a very priviledged few.

Anonymous said...

Canada should take a page from post-war Italy. 84 days a year per screen were devoted to Italian product. Any foreign films coming into the country were taxed. The money collected from the taxes was used to produce those Italian films. The Italian government didn't have to pay a cent for film production. I fail to understand why the Canadian taxpayer has to protect Canadian culture when the (as you claim) 97% of foreign product which is thwarting our culture isn't contributing a blasted thing financially to our film industry.

Steve Schnier said...

"I fail to understand why the Canadian taxpayer has to protect Canadian culture when the (as you claim) 97% of foreign product which is thwarting our culture isn't contributing a blasted thing financially to our film industry."

Because it's what Canadians want to see. We like mass market Hollywood entertainment - not the typical "It's Canadian - it's GOOD for you" pablum that we're spoon-fed.

Nancy said...

I'm puzzled, Mark. Canadian SHORT FILMS made at the National Film Board have taken many American Oscars. Why have none of the people involved used this notoriety to obtain backing for feature prodcutions in their own style? Canadian animation studios that expect a dud like EVERYBODY'S HERO or THE WILD to revive Canadian production are only whistling in the dark. They are not going anywhere with poor stories and poor productions sponsored by the USA, France, or anywhere else.
And the Canadians are in a situation is no different from that of most American animators.--work on big budget crap and get blamed for the failure of the live-action sections (OSMOSIS JONES, WARNER BROTHERS BACK IN ACTION.) The computer makes it easy to produce your own films. If a film wins a prize, like Sylvain Chomet's OLD LADY AND THE PIGEONS, then there may be backing for a genuine Canadian feature. But it is pointless to expect coins from silk purses that never materialize from pigs' ears.

Nancy said...

I did not want to imply that OSMOSIS JONES was crap. It was an excellent animated film surrounded by wretched live action.
The animators got blamed for the failure of the live sections; the TV show corrected the live bits and did far better. The animators did not get any credit for the latter success.

Boris Hiestand said...

It's the same everywhere else as well though.
Commercial success versus quality is probably an interesting issue here.
Would you rather have Candadian box office hits that follow the formulas of earlier successes(which is probably the only way to get them funded), or fantastic shorts made with a unique and original vision(that, granted, are very tough to get hold of)?

I think canada is still very much on the map when it comes to animation(independent productions), and I'm sure a lot of its makers aren't even interested in making features that break box office records.

Suzanne Dingwall Williams said...

Mark, I woudl love to get your perspectiveon the guys at House of Cool, who are struggling mightily with their own vision of a Canadian studio. I mention them on my blog (