Dispatches from SXSW: Saving B.C.’s Film Industry

SaveBCFilm | BCBusiness
A driver in California speaks out for B.C.’s film industry.

How foreigners—and one Canuck—would save the B.C. film industry

On the final day of the SXSW Interactive festival, the creative industry trade show in the exhibit hall of the Austin Convention Center turned into a block party with free food, drinks, beers and bands sandwiched between the booths peddling the latest tech innovations. Having watched some cool documentaries at the adjacent film festival, I found myself suddenly determined to save B.C. film. So I drank several (free) Dos Equis tall cans and accosted everyone who would listen with a long rant and a simple question. It went something like this:

“I’m sure you’ve heard Vancouver called Hollywood North, right? Well, the city I call home may have been kicking ass in film for the last 30 years, but suddenly we’re hurting bad. Lots of actors, directors and producers are out of work and there are even threats of film studios and other infrastructure going away. Vancouver can masquerade as just about any city in the world, but its natural splendour doesn’t matter if the economics don’t make sense. I’m told it all started with losing the competitive edge to other jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. that offer more lucrative tax breaks to Hollywood productions. But the B.C. government doesn’t seem to give a damn even as the film community organizes into a loud—if desperate—critical mass begging to be saved from collapse. How can we save B.C. film?”

Most exhibitors predictably stressed the importance of the products and services they were there to sell, but others offered interesting advice independent B.C. filmmakers could follow right now, even in the absence of cash from Hollywood. Here’s a little sample:

“We have to move away from the notion of film as a commodity. We’re not manufacturers. We’re creating long-form creative experiences. Absolutely do not rely on the government to solve this problem for you. The solution has to come from within the community. And it also has to come from the artist. We’re a new audience-building platform for independent film that combines crowd-funding with digital distribution. So we join filmmakers and film lovers to make and watch movies together. Indie filmmakers are taking advantage of this already. In our first 75 days, nine films have been successfully funded for almost $200,000. Shorts, features, docs, you name it.”
Emily Best, founder & CEO, Seed and Spark, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We’re attracting a lot of filmmakers who may have had films at a few festivals, but don’t have distribution, or maybe they didn’t get into a festival and now they don’t have distribution. So instead of putting it on YouTube and Vimeo and monetizing a couple of pennies every thousand views, put it inside a film app where you will get paid every time someone watches. I fundamentally believe the new distribution model is going to be on tablet and phone. Passionate consumers will pay for amazing content. So stop giving your work away for free.”
Milan Shah, builder, Online Film App, Chicago, IL

“You have to know who is watching your film and how they’re reacting to your film. As buyer and seller, from an acquisition point of view of Asian countries, Canadian films are really domestic. Even if it’s an English speaking, Caucasian movie, Canadian films seem quite different from U.S. movies. I see almost no Canadian films in Japanese cinema. Nobody’s buying Canadian films. They are buying U.S. films. What’s the difference? I think the storytelling is pretty domestic. You are telling a story of just five minutes around you. The theme or topic is not universal. If you’re making money domestically, that’s fine. But if you need to go global, then you have to know the market demands.”
Yuko Shiomaki, producer, Pictures Dept. Co. Ltd., Hayama, Japan

“My suggestion is getting rid of the “eh”. And bring back “hoser.”
Graham Winnick, film commissioner, Miami Beach, FL

“CineSkates was our first Kickstarter campaign where we reached our funding goal in a day and surpassed it by 2,400 per cent. Film whatever you’re doing and make it happen. Kickstarter is a great way to help support other people at a low price. If a ton of people back your movie, then you know it’s something people want to see.”
—Allison Jensen, co-founder, Cinetics, Austin, TX

“I think a little representation down here would go a long way. Saskatchewan’s here, Canada’s here, Quebec’s huge, there’s a whole bunch of other geographical locations being repped. And as far as I know the Vancouver Film School is the only thing representing Vancouver. No representatives from the BC Film Commission or whoever it is that’s actually selling all the crew that we have, the facilities, the studios, all the scenery. It’s a fantastic place to shoot a film, we’ve got it all and yet we seem to be losing a lot.”
Rodger Cove, senior instructor, Vancouver Film School

More dispatches from SXSW to come from Vancouver journalist Luke Brocki. The advice above might not save B.C. film, but perhaps it will motivate unemployed filmmakers to keep making art. He’s also happy to report that the hordes of marketers are now leaving Austin, and extends a warm welcome to the busloads of musicians with neck tattoos and/or bedraggled beards here to make noise. Things are about to get wild. Stay tuned… | Twitter