Monday, July 19, 2010

Ups and Downs

So then the Alberta boys, Sean and Rick, will try to get Emperor of Mars made. For awhile I didn't hear anything, then they called and said someone from Telefilm (the Canadian federal film financing entity) is going to read the script.

A few words about financing films in Canada by Canadians and for Canadians primarily although the Telefilm bureaucrats like to think the films are made for a world-wide audience. There are two separate schools of film in Canada, the English and the French. English Canada which is the majority make English films and rarely anybody in Canada sees them.

 Most of the time they don't want to see them. I remember leaving a screening in Calgary of Montenegro, a European film from the 80's. Two men were walking out disappointed, one says to the other "we should have known it would be bad, it was Canadian".

Now the irony was that it wasn't Canadian, it was made by Europeans in Europe. But, at the beginning of the film a credit showed the Canadian film distributor, Pan-Canadian Films. But they were only the distributor. And it was in subtitles!

But I learned what Canadians think of Canadian films. Sure, there is a film community and they all like to think there's a vibrant film industry. But again, Canadian films rarely get seen by anybody except sales to pay-TV outlets. And very few if any make money. One movie about a famous battle in World War I called Paschendale cost $20 million and made back about $5 million and was declared a box office winner and financial success. 

I think they're at least $15 million short of even breaking even.

But it was one of the biggest money-makers for English Canada in years. Incidentally the biggest one was probably Porky's, a teen hip, sexy comedy that made over $100 million. But that was made with tax shelter money years ago and Telefilm doesn't like exploitation films. 

The French Canadian industry is exactly the opposite. They make excellent films, one even won an Oscar a few years ago as best foreign picture. They have local TV series in Quebec that get bigger ratings then CSI-Miami does.

The reason for this difference is often debated; but here's mine. English Canada tends to make poor copies of American or British films and Quebec makes films from their own identity and there are around 10 million Quebecois who will watch. Simple.

So when the Alberta boys said they were giving it to Telefilm I felt that it would never be accepted. Emperor of Mars was turned down everywhere in Canada and yet it got so much attention in the US not to mention writing jobs on other screenplays.  Go figure. 

I never heard from them for a few more months. Once in a while, Sean the smooth one would call and say there was "movement", and the tax credits were almost in place. Then no word, until finally the option expired. But they wanted to renew the option for a second year.

Since they had the right to do so, I said ok. But this time the option fee, which was supposed to be $10,000 but down to $2000 the first time, this time was down to $1000. This was after Sean told me he was buying a farm in northern Alberta. Maybe that's where the missing $9000 went.

And again, nobody was offering anything and $1000 is better than nothing. So I said okay again. And again for a whole year the same scenario; someone is gonna read it at Telefilm or someone is going to read it at CBC (our national TV network). Add a few phone calls that it is still "moving" in circles. 

Ultimately movement ended in February 2010.

They never called to say good-bye. It's July now and still  no call. No renewal, no Sean, no Mike. It was like they were wiped off the face of the planet.

And I have Emperor of Mars back in my hands.  So I decided I might as well try to get the project going by myself.  I went back through all the executives and producers and readers and friends who had ever read it.

And I began calling them, many had left their jobs, some were higher up on the food chain and others simply gone.  Two of them were very interested,  an exec at Paramount and an exec at Fox Home Entertainment. Two giant companies.

And this week, a producer who is interested is meeting a distribution company who was very interested in 1997 and while it was the father, the son is going to take a meeting as they say.

What do I think?  I think it's best summed up by reggae singer Jimmy Cliff's classic song; 

"You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try. Try and try."

(Thurs:  ex-student successes)


  1. I think Porky's made more than 100,000 dollars. :)

  2. Yes, you're right, a typo, it made over $100 million. The editor of Porky's edited my film Ghostkeeper and I learned a hell of a lot from him, Stan Cole, he also edited Christmas Story, a great movie and very much the opposite of Porky's.