Profile: Finale Editworks

Advertorial, 1998

finaleWhen touring the Finale Editworks 9,500 square-foot facility near downtown Vancouver, technophiles thrill to the sight of room after room packed with hi-tech gadgets, screens, computers, control panels and thingamajigs galore laid out in a comfortable, elegant setting.

More impressive, however is running into a Los Angeles producer who, unbidden, stops to gush about the Finale editors. ‘Says they’re the best. That, when she can’t work in Vancouver, she flies her Finale editors down to L.A. ‘Won’t work with anyone else.

High praise. And well-earned. Since founding Finale in 1988, Don Thompson (formerly of CTV, U.TV and The Eyes), and his partner Dale Johannesen, have laboured to make Finale the best at what it does. Which is providing complete post-production services, including off-line editorial, on-line editing, and special effects design and duplication for television commercials, broadcast programs and videos.

At Finale, the editing process begins, obviously, when the client brings in what has been shot. The editors do a rough off-line edit, the client approves it, then they move to the high-resolution on-line edit, where colour corrections are made and sound and special effects are added. During the off-line phase, clients may have their own editors and creative staff involved—this is the decision-making process, where the piece is built from its original elements. But, once the project moves to the high-tech, creative on-line phase, the Finale editors take over. And it is this process that sets Finale apart.

“There’s no ‘right’ editing method and, obviously, the best editors are the ones whose work you don’t see,” says Thompson. “But editors are definitely crucial to the creative process, and add elements that writers never envision. There are many styles of editing, and there are big differences in how different editors approach a project—some are more comfortable with videos, some with commercials. There’s also a character factor, where certain editors are off the wall, others are more conservative. Each client is looking for something different—sometimes complementary talent, sometimes talents opposite to their own. The trick is to match them up, and we’re good at that.”

That doesn’t mean that clients can’t be involved at the on-line stage. “The creative process often depends on the synergy between our editors and clients, so producers can work from our office and supervise at all stages of the production. That’s a real comfort to those clients who have a specific direction and want to remain very much involved. Other clients, though, let the editors work their craft, and only come in to oversee the finishing touches.

“When producers hire an editing facility, they should want its creativity. That’s what they’re paying for and that’s how they’ll get the most out of the process. Some editors are just technical types, but most are very creative. Here, we have a depth of editors with different talents and different approaches, and that’s why clients come to us. They know they can find a varied set of talents and that our post managers can keep their projects on track.”

The majority of Finale’s clients are independent documentary makers, video producers and advertising agencies; about 70% from Western Canada, the rest from Toronto and Los Angeles. Most business comes through word of mouth, but the company has benefited from an inventive advertising campaign (care of the erstwhile Moreland & Associates) and more effort has been put into marketing.

“We needed to re-position the company because we were having trouble breaking through some mental barriers in the advertising world, regarding what Finale was and what kind of clients it could service,” continues Thompson. “We don’t do film transfers and, in Vancouver, the perception was that, unless you do transfers, you can’t tackle the large national campaigns. The agencies had looked to us when they were in a bind and we always delivered on time, on budget and with a lot of creativity. Clients become comfortable with their regular suppliers, naturally. But sometimes, you have to look for fresh talent and ideas, and we’ve done some very successful agency work. We’ve been effective at raising awareness and showing that we can be creative in a technology-driven business.”

Technology is, of course, a huge part of Finale’s business, but Thompson says he has found a balance. “We’re under constant pressure to have the latest toys, but we’ve been able to combine the old and the new in a way which works well for us and our clients. Every three years, we go through a major technological up-grade, and we’re always looking for new things to enhance our capabilities. One big advantage here is that we train our clients as well as our staff, so clients understand our equipment’s capabilities and get the most out of it.”

Sound editing has lately become an increasingly important part of Finale’s services, largely due to client demand, and it recently installed a new audio studio. And Finale’s sister company, Image Engine Design & FX, has evolved from an in-house graphics department into a successful stand-alone boutique. (Finale also owns Shooters Production Services.) Thompson says that the clients now know that Finale can handle all their needs.

“It’s important that all clients, particularly out-of-town clients, have that confidence—in Finale or its competition. But what sets facilities apart is talent, and we have some of the most talent editors in the business. In post-production in Vancouver, there’s a lot of talent, period. And that’s what’s allowed Vancouver to attract the calibre of the shows that are produced here.”

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Under the Maple Leaf: Western Canadian Producers Band Together

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One much talked-about problem facing Canadians is their isolation from each other. Canada is the world’s second-largest country, yet there are more Californians than there are Canadians. This relative emptiness gives some of us the feeling of being out in the hinterland, a tiny collective in a vast landscape shouting to the world ‘Yo! Up Here!’

Obviously, most Canadian business sectors have overcome this and Canada has always been a marvel of prosperity. But for film and television producers, prosperity has come through a tough, decades-long slog. Canadian producers now have a stellar reputation, but for them—particularly western Canadian producers—marketing has always been an expensive problem.

This has long been on the mind of Carole Vivier, CEO of Manitoba Film & Sound, the funding agency for that province’s film industry. Manitoba is increasingly busy as a production centre, and the agency funds 30 projects each year, with its $2 million budget and the provincial 35% tax credit it administers. On its own, as a marketing entity, Manitoba is small potatoes. On their own, so are the other western Canadian provinces. It occurred to Vivier that, if the four western provinces worked together, as a region, they could be an effective marketing force.

Vivier started discussing this with her counterparts at the funding agencies of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Last year, it was agreed that a joint-marketing venture would be created. It came into being this year, in the form of CanadaWest.

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The goal of CanadaWest is to help producers compete successfully in the international marketplace, by presenting a united profile to the international marketplace. And, through various marketing initiatives, to provide western Canadian producers with a way to seek out co-venture opportunities, find support for projects in development, market completed projects and meet with international buyers to build relationships and gain market intelligence.

There are now many marketing initiatives under discussion. But the first was a huge success—it occurred when CanadaWest made its debut at this year’s NATPE which, with 20,000 attendees, is North America’s largest annual film/television market.

“I was thinking of strength in numbers,” explains Vivier. “Manitoba has a very strong independent film community, but we need to build visibility at the main markets. And it’s too expensive for us to have our own booth at any of these shows. Plus, while everyone knows about Canada, international buyers may not know the name ‘Manitoba’.”

“We faced the challenge of finding opportunities for early- to mid-career producers to access international markets,” says BC Film President & CEO Rob Egan. “The cost of attending these markets is going up, and the budgets of the provincial agencies are going down, or getting tighter—in 1997, BC Film’s annual budget was cut from $5 million to $3 million.

“Where BC Film has had booths at previous markets, because of the cost, our booths have been small and not well-located. Because of budget limitations, we were not able to have much of a presence or profile, and neither were our producers, many of whom are smaller or mid-sized companies which don’t have the financial resources of many eastern Canadian companies.”

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Before CanadaWest, for a western Canadian production company to go to NATPE, it had to consider how many people to send. That would be multiplied by the airfare, the registration fee and accommodation, plus the production cost of one-sheets, presentation packages and demo reels. Then there was the booth—a booth in Telefilm Canada’s space costs $9000.

“For a small production company, it can be a real challenge to participate in one of these shows, and we kept hearing from producers that they couldn’t afford it,” continues Egan. “And the international markets cost even more. Cannes, MIPTV, MIPCOM, Banff—those are the key international buying and selling markets and all of us in western Canada feel it’s really important that our production companies have the opportunity to get to those markets, be competitive and sell their products.”

For NATPE in January, the four provincial agencies—along with industry sponsors and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, pooled $90,000. This bought a professionally-designed 1,200 square-foot booth, and premium placement. To producers, the booth came with all electronic bells and whistlers, plus display areas for promotional materials, a compilation DVD screened on large overhead monitors, some trade advertising, a media campaign and a participant booklet.

Drawing participants was no problem—the word was put out and producers only had to sign up. In attendance were the four funding agencies, plus five Alberta producers, four from Manitoba, three from Saskatchewan and 13 from BC. Each paid a nominal user fee—$250 allowed for signage, display space and access to a common meeting area. Another $750 added to that a shared meeting/screening room; $1500 bought a private meeting/screening room. Producers were pitching developed or completed animation, documentary, drama and digital media projects—and no one was disappointed.

canwest6“We didn’t get involved with CanadaWest to save money,” says producer Ron Goetz, CEO of Regina’s Partners in Motion. “We’ve been going to shows for four years, and each year the cost was about $15,000. But we immediately saw that $15,000 would go a lot further with CanadaWest.

“When you first go to the one of these markets, you tend not to have a booth. You stay on the floor, see what’s happening, and have meetings in other people’s booths. When we got our own booth at NATPE, it was in with all the independent producers, and that can be a jungle because you have all the mom-and-pop companies there. It worked, but it wasn’t ideal. The Telefilm booth is fine, but if you’re in there you’re one of many players. This year, with the CanadaWest booth, we got a private meeting room. We had our own office with our own stuff in it and buyers could come in to see us. We were able to spend the balance of our show budget on advertising and presentation materials. And, for the first time, we made sales at a market—about $50,000 worth. So it was worth it.

“The revenue from markets isn’t that high, but you have to go—the growth of this company would not have happened without our trade show attendance. With each show, you build relationships, people get to know you, and you learn how things work. So I had 60 meetings booked before I got there, but when the buyers showed up at the booth, it was ‘Wow!’ It was definitely a step up. We had a great location, in a sophisticated and professional booth, and that brought credibility to everyone in it. At these shows, booth location and appearance are crucial. The CanadaWest booth felt important and everyone  looked good.”

“It’s basic economy of scale,” explains Egan. “We had more money, so we had a better booth and location, a higher profile, a greater presence, more people. We attracted more visitors and more business. CanadaWest is an interesting initiative and people are looking at it as a real innovation—Telefilm Canada has been in touch to discuss the possibility of working on a Canada pavilion.

“We’re definitely going to continue with it. Any marketer will tell you that you can’t go once; you have to keep going. You have to build that presence and work to maintain it. And given the time it takes for a project to move from development to production to market, it’s critically important that our producers have access to these international markets year after year.”

Vivier was thrilled with the result and says that other things could happen, such as group advertising campaigns and international missions. “The visibility benefit was enormous. The booth was constantly busy—we had about 1,000 people stop by and it was wall-to-wall meetings. The space-booker from MIPCOM couldn’t believe how busy we were.”

For Vivier, there are other important factors. “Each province has its uniqueness and there’s already friendly competition. But this is also a good way for the production companies, which are so far apart geographically, to get to know each other and explore the idea of co-ventures.

Also, while it’s fiscally responsible, as funding agencies, to spend our money wisely and get the most profile for our products, I also feel it’s very important to market ourselves under the Canadian banner, under Canada as a brand. Canada has an amazing reputation, we have co-production treaties with almost every country, we’re proud Canadians and people look for Canada at these shows. We supply the grounding, the producers take advantage of it and develop their own relationships. But the concept of CanadaWest lets us market ourselves as Canadians first.”

 

Blitz Magazine, May 2001

The Universal Language: It’s Rhythm, Baby

stompBlitz Magazine, January 2005

‘Think that love is the universal language? Wrong. It’s rhythm, something that’s shared by everything with a heartbeat, from birds and apes to sharks and humans.

The performers of Stomp, the long-running Broadway hit, decided to ‘discuss’ rhythm in a sort of study of humanity, and the roots and continuum of the celebration of rhythm, in the large-screen Imax format.

Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey begins in New York, and then takes us on a rhythmic world tour. The camera soars above the globe in dazzling panoramic shots then swoops down on a string of exotic locales.  We see, among others, the American Indian Dance Theatre, Kodo, the Winchester Cathedral Bell Ringers, a New York drum and bugle corps, and performers from Brazil, Botswana, South Africa, Guinea, Spain and India—where numerous elephants are important participants.

Along the way, Pulse compares the sound of running buffalo to that of a subway. We see the similarities between break-dancing New York teens and the Johannesburg ‘Gumboot’ kids, whose performance resembles (but is much older than) hip-hop. Pulse is meant to be educational and entertaining and, in the case of the bell ringers in particular, the mathematics of rhythm is clearly evident. It also shows us how humans have imitated and adapted their environments and everyday rituals into sound, rhythm and song, using everyday objects like shells, boxes and body parts.

This film is a celebration of the global beat, an exploration of sights and sounds of continents and cultures, guided by performers of the stage show Stomp. It’s an uplifting film, in that we see how rhythm—not the spoken word—is the unifying common thread of humans, and how there is a fundamental harmony that exists across time, space and disparate societies.

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Pulse has no dialogue or narration—just the language shared by all human beings. Unfortunately, the film is only 40 minutes long, and its producers focused a little too much on Africa (plus a goofy underwater scene) and omitted the Cossacks, Dervishes and Highland Sword Dancers, but it’s definitely worth seeing.

 

You Wanna Make A Movie On A Mountain? No Problem

everestBlitz Magazine, May 1998

Except that the mountain in question is Everest. And you’re making an IMAX movie. An IMAX camera weighs 80 pounds. And one 500-foot roll of IMAX film, which is ten times the size of 35 mm film, weighs five pounds and lasts 90 seconds.  Even the super-human cannot carry that much weight when deprived of oxygen. And you discover that it’s impossible to load said film while wearing gloves. You need a light-weight camera with large, accessible knobs and lens mounts which would allow an exhausted cameraman to film with impaired motor and thinking skills. In extreme cold, lubricants congeal, film becomes brittle, a camera’s exterior shrinks, the interior jams.

So you get IMAX to make you a new camera. With a six-pound lithium battery, plastic bearings and synthetic drive belts. Now your camera weighs 48 pounds and can withstand extreme cold.

You assemble a cast and crew. A handful of technicians, also mountaineers, to stay at base camp. Veteran climbers Ed Viesturs, from the US, and Araceli Segarra (who would become the first Spanish woman to climb Everest). Jamling Tenzing Norgay, whose father Tenzing made it to the top with Sir Edmund Hillary, Japanese climber Sumiyo Tsuzuki, cameraman/climber Robert Schauer, five Sherpas.

You pick your route — the South Col, used by Hillary and Norgay in 1953, and you begin. Along the way, Tsuzuki breaks a rib during a fit of altitude-induced coughing and has to stop. Then, eight climbers from another expedition die when a sudden storm at 28,700 feet hits, bringing -100 degree temperatures and 80 mph winds.

And then, using a stream of Kool-Aid as a landing marker, you orchestrate the successful, never-before-attempted helicopter rescue, at 20,000 feet, of a Texas doctor.

Everest towers 5 1/2 miles above sea level (29,028 feet) and simply staying alive there requires immense endurance and courage. By the time you reach 25,000 feet, or The Death Zone, you’re operating at 30% standard atmospheric pressure. To deal with oxygen deprivation, you hyperventilate and become dehydrated. Your heart is pounding and your brain, which is 3% of your body weight, uses 20% of your oxygen. You have no appetite, you develop fatigue, nausea, headaches, nightmares; you’re at risk of experiencing confusion and hallucinations; frostbite and hypothermia.

And you’re lovin’ every minute of it.

Three weeks later, you’re ten hours away from the summit. There’s no stopping along the way and you have to start climbing, and filming, at mid-night to hit the peak in the morning. Because, after a brief celebratory ceremony at the peak, you have to hike another 10 hours down to camp. And because reaching the peak means crossing the Hillary Step, a 40-ft. high, inches-thin crack so-named because Hillary was the first to cross it and live to tell the tale. The Hillary Step requires technical expertise and total concentration–and by this time, you and your climbers are moving in slow motion.

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And you’re making a movie. So you need two shots of everything. So each time your spent climbers do something breathtakingly taxing–like crossing a gaping crevasse on an aluminum ladder or heaving themselves over an ice shelf and onto the summit–you have to yell ‘Cut!’ and make them do it again.

“Filming on Everest is much harder than climbing Everest,” says director/producer/cinematographer David Breashears, the veteran mountaineer and Emmy-winning filmmaker who has climbed Everest four times and has participated in 18 Himalayan expeditions, nine of which involved filming on Everest. “Your job is never done. In the evenings, you’re downloading film, cleaning and repairing the camera, writing shot lists, recording dialogue. During the day, you’re looking for good shots, asking yourself: Is it safe to stop here? Is this good light? Do I demoralize the team by stopping?  If we stop here, do we risk not reaching camp?  From the beginning, it was clear that, if we succeeded, this would be one of the epic achievements in Himalayan film-making.”

They succeeded. The result is Everest, narrated by Liam Neeson and with music by George Harrison. You want to see it.

 

The BC Film Commission: Location, Location, Location

Blitz Magazine, May 2000

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was rare for a Hollywood producer to consider British Columbia when choosing locations. If they wanted a mountain, a bear, a Mountie, a Mountie on a bear on a mountain, only then BC was the obvious choice. A few well-known films were made here—McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Carnal Knowledge. The skill was here; Canadian broadcasting and film talent has always had an excellent reputation. But, by 1975, although there was a lot of television production going on, BC had gone five years without seeing a complete Hollywood feature shot here and the province’s craftsmen were leaving to work elsewhere. Finally, in 1978, the Social Credit government stepped in and created the British Columbia Film Commission.

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With that came people who were actively marketing BC as a location. By the end of that year, BC went from having no business to enjoying production spending of $38 million. In 1979, it was $55 million. Producers, directors and production designers started to talk to their peers about BC, and there were people here following up. This meant cold-calling producers who, often, had to consult a map to find Vancouver. It was sometimes a tough sell, but the commission staff concentrated on building relationships and providing ever-better service.

While the cost of shooting in Los Angeles continued to escalate, BC was enjoying watershed moments. There was Year of Rambo (1979). 21 Jump Street showed producers that you could happily shoot an episodic series here. Then came MacGyver, and Wise Guy. In 1987, after the provincial government made a substantial investment to up-grade the Bridge Studios, Stephen J. Cannell and Paul Bronfman teamed up to build Lions Gate Studios (now North Shore Studios). The list of hit features continued to grow. The Canadian dollar stayed low, the tax advantages piled up.

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So has the work. In 1998, 28 features, 26 TV series, 15 animation projects, 59 documentaries and 43 MOWs, mini-series and pilots were produced in BC, for a total value of $808 million (CAD). In 1999, there were 54 features, 30 TV series, 6 animated projects, 48 documentaries and 60 MOWs, mini-series and pilots, for a total value of $1.7 billion. That doesn’t include the $500 million non-theatrical ‘broadcaster bucks’ and television commercial expenditures. And conservative estimates place the spin-off economic impact at $3 billion.

The BC Film Commission (BCFC) is a branch of the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism & Culture and relies on the government for all of its funds. It employs just 10 people and has seen its budget regularly slashed in recent years, to the point where it currently operates on a stunningly low annual budget of $875,000. (This, while Montreal just received a $300,000. injection to its promotional budget alone.)

The BCFC mandate is to market, promote and facilitate film and television production in BC, and to market the services of BC production, post-product and ancillary service companies to the international film and television industry. It has four tasks: international marketing, location scouting, location services and community relations.

These days, the marketing function is restricted, to say the least. “Seven years ago, I had a $250,000 print advertising budget,” says marketing manager Alice To. “It’s now $50,000, including creative. We’ve gone from placing 45 ads a year to placing five. Those five are saved for when there’s a BC production that needs to be congratulated in the trade press. Now, we don’t have campaigns, we have reminders. We stand out by using illustrations—other film commissions run location shots. We used to advertise to the European and Asian markets, we used to publish a newsletter for schools and libraries, and we used to do a lot of media relations. But we don’t have the resources for that any more.”

The commission used to have an advertising agency (Campaign Communications, now Saatchi & Saatchi). It also used to host the extremely successful Friends of BC reception in Los Angeles—a party to thank people for filming in BC. The commission still goes to Cannes and is hosting a Business in BC conference in London this year, but the once all-important trade shows are now also a thing of the past.

“We used to do Location EXPO,” continues To. “You’d have all the film commissions under one roof and everyone competed to attract people to their jurisdictions—we’d pass out BC apples, water, salmon. And we used to exhibit at Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival. Now we don’t do that, not so much because of budget cuts, but because people aren’t interested in trade shows any more. They know about the commissions and they can get the information they need off the Internet.”

For the past two years, the BCFC has had a very effective web site (www.bcfilmcommission.com). It’s strictly for information dissemination and doesn’t carry advertising, but it is well-visited to the point of the occasional crash. On it, visitors find film lists, statistics, quick facts, news items, maps and information on customs, taxes, unions, equipment rental, studios and services.

To, who compares her job to doing the limbo under an ever-lower budget bar, maintains a large photo library and has managed to produce excellent location brochures showing various BC locations—not just deer in the woods, but alleyways, warehouses, docks, residential areas. There’s the occasional marketing project with BC Film (the non-profit society responsible for marketing completed made-in-BC projects) and, twice a year, the commission’s director, location and production services managers go down to Los Angeles to meet with film industry executives and engage in some good, old-fashioned product touting.

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The product is a region which has evolved from being a location to being a production centre. BC’s craftspeople are as good as, if not better, than those anywhere else in the world. We have 67 state-of-the-art sound stages, the best post-production facilities in the business, and we’re capable of having 35 A-list crews working simultaneously. All facilities and amenities are here; producers don’t have to bring anything with them. BC has architectural diversity, ethnic diversity and geographic diversity (it has nine of the globe’s 12 climates, lacking only arctic, tropic and sub-tropic).

“We used to just market locations, now we market Vancouver as a production centre,” says acting BCFC director Mark DesRochers. “We have the complete package now—the pitch to the popcorn. People have put a lot of money back into the business here, so everything’s up to date and the quality of the facilities here has been well attested to by the most grizzled of Hollywood veterans.”

But if there’s no marketing budget, no events budget and no media relations budget, how has the BC Film Commission succeeded?

Strategy, service and more service.

“The second part of our mandate—location scouting—can be challenging,” continues DesRochers. “If someone needs the Texas panhandle, we’ve got a problem. But maybe we can get that script rewritten for Montana. Double Jeopardy was originally supposed to take place in Boston. Then Bruce Beresford thought ‘Why am I trying to cheat this for Boston, when I can rewrite it to take place in the Pacific Northwest?’

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“We have to get in at the contract-signing stage. After that, there’s not much we can do to change their minds. So we look at the trades, track production, call people up. The key is to get producers to think of BC first. A producer will send a script to a dozen locations and his concerns are budget and what a location offers. They come up here and I show them around and say, ‘We can do it for this much here and it’s going to look good. But then I may take them to the Okanagan and show them the perfect location for the script and say ‘If we do it here, for this much, it will look fabulous’. Then they’ll go back and fight for that location. It may cost them a little more to go up to the Okanagan, but they’re still saving money by filming in BC, and they don’t have to compromise on the creative side.

“Also, since 1995, we’ve had the Regional Film Commission of BC, a network of regional film offices that helps us give people exactly the location they want. Production budgets are shrinking and it’s expensive to send location scouts everywhere, especially in a region the size of BC.

“We know how thin the margins are on these shows and we have to service that margin. If a producer needs a mountain and he can get great shots on Grouse Mountain, we’re not going to have him drag his crew over to Mount Robson. If he wants the Queen Charlotte Islands and we know he can’t afford it, we’ll find the alternative.

“We learned a long time ago to never bullshit the customer. If someone needs tundra and musk ox, I’m going to tell we don’t have it. We don’t want to screw up or disappoint our customers, because some of our customers are people who would go out of their way to tell their friends what a bunch of wankers we are. If you market yourselves as being something, that’s what you have to deliver.”

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Once a project has been landed, the third part of the BCFC’s job— location services—kicks in. The BCFC takes a hands-on approach, walking producers through the hoops and ladders of immigration, customs, tax credits, Canadian content issues and union agreements.

The latter, as has been well publicized, used to be a major bugaboo. “People want to come here and make movies, not learn labour law,” explains DesRochers. “There was a time when people considered the possibility of union problems if they came to BC. That may or may not have cost us business—and it did get to the point where the whole thing could have gone down the toilet. But out of that came the opportunity to figure out how to make it work. And we did. Now, unlike any other jurisdiction in North America, all of the unions and guilds have long-term agreements with the employers, and the union agreements are much more straightforward than they used to be. We now have labour peace.”

More recently, there was the issue of unrest among members of the Los Angeles film industry, many of whom were furious at the amount of business coming up here.

“This is a cyclical business, and the growth in production in LA has been more rampant than any other place on the planet,” says DesRochers. “But if there are impracticalities which cost money, and producers want to make a profit, they’ll go where they can get the biggest bang for their buck. Anyway, we haven’t heard much from them lately—the guy leading the charge had to resign to go work on a feature in Toronto.”

Delivering that bigger bang also means competing with 260 other North American film commissions—and with Toronto, Vancouver’s main competitor, whose film commission also gets way more support from its provincial government. Toronto also has location advantages that BC doesn’t have.

“The competition has to do with location-driven pictures,” explains DesRochers. “Toronto is always on the producers’ shopping lists. If you want that eastern city look—if you want New York, Toronto is more logical. But there’s the weather to consider. And we are chameleons.”

The BCFC’s final mandate component is community relations. This area is absolutely essential, given that, not too long ago, the goodwill and hospitality of British Columbians—Vancouverites in particular—was starting to run a little low.

“Vancouverites are easy to get along with, considering the amount of production going on in a relatively small inner city,” remarks DesRochers. “But we had to start spending more time making sure the neighbours were not going to lynch the next show. Now, the municipal and city fathers are educated on what all of this filming means to the economy. People get advance letters, friendly production people knock on their doors and answer questions. It may just be a courtesy or—if you want to land a helicopter on someone’s street at 2:00 a.m.—it may be crucial.

“Like any business, once you’ve done your marketing and landed the business, your future success lies in how efficient you are at servicing that business. We have a multi-tiered client base and we don’t want anyone to feel used and abused.”

In 1995, the BCFC needed someone to deal only with community relations. It didn’t have the money to pay that salary, so it went to those with a vested interest—lawyers, accountants, post-production facilities, unions etc., and had them each chip in $4000. to pay 75% of the salary for a community relations person, something which most film centres don’t have.

The BCFC’s community affairs manager, Gordon Hardwick, is responsible for working with production companies and helping them deal with municipal administrators, Crown corporations and the private sector—helping them cut the red tape.

“I’m currently trying to organize municipal administrators to discuss ways of standardizing things,” he says. “The Greater Vancouver Regional District has 21 municipalities, all with different application and permit processes. Each year, filmmakers make 1,250 applications to the City of Vancouver, which has 400 files open at any one time. So things can become quite complex.”

Hardwick is also working on a marketing plan aimed at raising public awareness of the industry’s fiscal benefits.

“The film community supports a lot of charitable and service organizations, and there are many good-news stories to be told. We have a very low complaint level, but sometimes people get this idea that they’re being exploited by Big American Film Companies. Once they realize that a lot of the productions are Canadian, and that the guy next door makes his living this way, they understand. So the goal of the marketing plan will be to get the good news stories and the economic information out on as localized a level as possible.

“My job is to find ways to accommodate everyone and communicate with businesses and residents so that they can plan their lives around what’s going to be happening. Without that communication, communities would get fed up with the road blocks and noise and racing vehicles and say ‘forget it’. That’s what happened in some communities in the Los Angeles basin, which simply no longer allowing filming. Collectively, our locations are a resource that needs to be managed, with an eye to preservation for the future, just as the fishery or forestry resource does. This is a resource that needs to be both promoted and protected.

“The film industry here grew as a location-based industry—it was never about studios and back lots. We’ve always needed public support and understanding and the willingness to accept inconvenience once in a while. This industry employs 25,000 people—you don’t want it to go away just because it occasionally blocks your driveway.”

Perhaps the human element complicates things more than in this industry than in other sectors. But the other key to the BC Film Commission’s success is that it has been very good at forging solid, long-lasting relationships.

“We’ve developed a great rapport with the decision-makers in this industry,” says DesRochers. “When I go down to LA, I meet with people and find out what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. We stay abreast of their desires and wishes and respond quickly. People there know we’re open to suggestions and that we’re committed to delivering the goods. That confidence is better than any advertising you could run.

“This is show business—a mix of creativity and fiscal responsibility. You can’t separate money from the other benefits. You can’t put a dollar value on knowing that you’re going to get the product you want, on time and on budget. And those relationships may save money in the long run, even if the up-front cost is a little higher. So you’ll get producers who come here again and again, no matter what company they’re working for.

“Sure, there’s the exchange rate and the tax advantages, but it’s also the people. Producers know they can depend on our people. We’ve earned the respect of our community on both sides of the border—from studio guys, to unions, to composers, to the guys renting cell phones. We’ve done a good job in forging relationships and keeping those warm and fuzzy feelings about us.”

 

The Divine Comedy: Buster Keaton & Francisco Goya

English: Film comedian Buster Keaton has his f...

English: Film comedian Buster Keaton has his foot caught in the frog adjacent to Western Ave., on the Calico and Ghost Town Railroad at Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park in 1956. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Photograph of Buster Keaton seated. B...

English: Photograph of Buster Keaton seated. Buster Keaton, full-length portrait, seated, in costume (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, What Could These Guys Possibly Have in Common?

Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828) is noted for work that captured the horrors of war and, in its articulation of humour and tragedy, work that had an enormous impact on modern consciousness. He also satirized the folly of Spanish society, using double meanings to shed light on social hierarchies, royal personalities, relationships between the sexes, and a continued belief in superstition despite the rise of rational thought that dawned with the Enlightenment.

American filmmaker Buster Keaton (1895-1966) is famed as one of history’s great comics, enjoying a successful 60-year show business career. Keaton employed physical comedy to reveal a modern world that is unstable and ruled by the rhythms of the machine age. In his films (One Week, Cops, Sherlock J., The General) chaos and calamity reigned, with ordinary people moving from one disaster to the next, defying the laws of physics and surviving unscathed.

South African artist William Kentridge (1955- ) has earned an international reputation for his exceptional animated films, prints and sculptures. Often depicting a world in chaos, his work employs subtle humour and personal gesture to reflect on the psychic landscape of post-apartheid South Africa. In his animated short films, we see real life becoming tragically absurd.

goyaThe common denominator between these artists is found in The Divine Comedy, an exhibition that the Art Gallery of Gallery of Western Australia organized to explore the relationship between comedy and violence, laughter and tears. Through the work of these artists, we can see the shifting relationship between aesthetics, politics and humour.

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showi...

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters being executed by Napoleon’s troops. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Through a range of images from 18th century etchings to contemporary video, the exhibition weaves together the work of three artists who lived through times of extraordinary social change, when forces of modernization obliterated stale old ways and left artists grappling with the loss of social and moral certainties. It provides a timely look at how black comedy, absurdity and satire are used to express our relationship in a tumultuous world.

goya1

Blitz Magazine, January 2004

 

 

Treachery by Telephone

dialmn

Blitz Magazine, March 2003

Ever heard that choice piece of advice ‘Write What You Know’? Evidently, no one said that to the author of Dial M For Murder. Frederick Knott, who passed away just three months ago, was the child of a perfect marriage and grew up to become a famously perfect husband.

He was born and raised in China (to wealthy missionaries) and was set to spend his life as a professional tennis player. After finishing at Cambridge, however, he was at his family’s Sussex estate when a gun went off, an idea came into his head and he promptly sequestered himself for 18 months, furiously writing his play. When it was finished, it was rejected so many times that he was about to tear it up and head back to the grass when the BBC bought it, and aired it. An American producer promptly snapped up the film rights—for the dismal sum of $2000.

His play, meanwhile, was a smash in London, opened on Broadway in 1952 and enjoyed a five-year SRO run in 30 countries. Alfred Hitchcock was intrigued by the play. He had one film left in his contract with Warner Bros., he was tired and wanted to try to adapt a stage play set entirely in one room—he said, to recharge his batteries. But the studio forced him to film in 3-D, despite the fact that the 3-D fad was fading and most theatres would show it in conventional format. Hitchcock’s solution was to use swoops, zooms and angled overhead shots to make scenes look as if they were captured on surveillance cameras. The finished product became one of the very few successful 3-D movies ever made. It was shot it in 36 days and was released in 1954, starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. Knott wrote the screenplay, but received no credit for it.

knott

It’s a great story. Tony, a slick playboy and professional tennis player, marries a wealthy socialite, strictly for her money. The marriage is a bust but Tony knows that a divorce would leave him penniless. He hatches a plot to have Margot killed. He blackmails an old friend of his into carrying out the hit. But, as we know, Margot whacks her attacker. Tony has to switch to Plan B, a dastardly set of deeds that very nearly succeeds….but I won’t spoil the ending.

Knott, who did not have a head for business, didn’t make much money on his first creation, or his second, The Last Page. He did make up for it, however, with his third, and last, play: Wait Until Dark.