Dealing with Rejection as a Little Fish in a Little Pond

Indie/Post-Film School Industry Reflections part 2

Opportunities in Canada appear to be aplenty, with funding available from a number of government agencies such as the National Film Board, Telefilm, and the Canada Council as well as numerous smaller competitions such as Kickstart and NSI Drama Prize. So why is it so hard to get a movie made in Canada?
First of all, unlike most of the rest of the world, we operate directly in the shadow of Hollywood. Hollywood dominates most of the international film market but in Canada it nearly eradicates any domestic market (except for Quebec) with Canadian films making up less than 5% of the domestic box office in Canada. The lack of a studio system in Canada means that our budgets are much much smaller than American films. The most expensive Canadian movie ever made pales in comparison to the relatively average budget for an American feature. In a market where 30-50 million dollar budgets are ‘normal’ and 100 million dollar budgets are increasingly common, Canadian films simply cannot compete even on Canadian soil. The money simply isn’t there. And when there is less to go around, less people are going to get it.

In the Canadian Film Industry, I have heard people say that it’s about waiting for ‘your turn.’ Established directors, writers and producers who are known to make at least a modest profit on low-budget films or whose films do well in Europe for example, are usually considered a safer bet than an untried newcomer, which is probably why they seem to receive funding over and over again. In contrast, the American Film Industry has more money to throw around, and to gamble on new talent. When you look at Hollywood, it seems like every other week there is a new face or a new name to ‘watch for’. Even the Oscars, something I think of as a sort of institution in deciding the hierarchy of talent of the current moment, frequently offers awards to first timers, sometimes at the expense of seasoned actors.

Even when you compare other kinds of opportunities available to Canadian filmmakers with, say, our southerly neighbors, you can see right away why indeed we are often ‘waiting our turn.’ The Canadian Film Centre (CFC) takes a total of 24 participants in their Short Dramatic Film Program each year. The American Film Institute (AFI) by comparison enrolls up to 140 students each year in their AFI Conservatory, which is a comparable program. Both institutions offer a number of other programs for various disciplines but to break it down even more simply: in 22 years the CFC had produced the same number of grads as AFI does in 7 years.

So in Canada, where there is very little to go around, and where you might have to prove yourself many times over on your own before getting funding, how do you deal with rejection and persist until it is “your turn?” or, as I often fear, “ What if it is never my turn?” “What it my talent isn’t enough?”

One of my instructors in film school recently had his pet project, a feature film script adapted from a novel, produced after trying to get it funded for nearly 17 years. Several times he thought the funding would go ahead and then it fell through at the last minute. Even with the film now completed, no one got paid (writer, director, producers.) In seeing his film completed after so much perseverance, dedication, and hard work in the face of all odds I suppose the naïve optimist in me has to admit that persistence and patience can eventually pay off in our film industry. However, I still feel this is the reason we lose so much talent to the U.S. Imagine James Cameron trying to make Terminator 2, Titanic or Avatar on a Canadian budget and you’ll have an idea of what I mean.

My plan is to move forward with passion for what I do and a sense of realism about the industry itself. I intend to do what I can to open as many doors as possible, both in Canada and the US. And I intend to stay true to myself as an artist and a filmmaker.

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