Canadian film flies the coop

The Movie Co-op to establish a slate of five pix

A group of Canuck industry heavyweights has formed The Movie Co-op, a vehicle for producing commercial feature films without relying on what they see as an unwieldy traditional funding model in Canada.

Eugene Levy, Paul Gross, Maury Chaykin, Saul Rubinek and Gordon Pinsent are among the better-known of the dozens of Canuck actors, writers, directors, producers, technicians, equipment rental companies and agents who own and operate The Movie Co-op.

The group is circumventing the current feature film funding subsidies and loans system spearheaded by the federal government agency Telefilm Canada that they complain has morphed into an exhausting bureaucratic maze in which creative control often ends up in the hands of the wrong people.

“It doesn’t take a ‘Foolproof’ to see that there was obviously some real inherent failure in the system,” Wendy Crewson, Movie Co-op co-founder, star of the new season of “24” and recent Gemini award winner told Daily Variety, referring to the recent Alliance Atlantis actioner backed by a multi-million dollar marketing blitz that went bust at the B.O.

“Following the traditional path, inevitably I think that the films that go through that process end up compromised in so many ways,” she said.

The Movie Co-op hopes to establish a slate of about five films and to build a Canadian star system. To that end the group has shot a 20 minute reel for its first project, titled “Mozart Loves Me,” starring Canadians Crewson, Maury Chaykin and Peter Outerbridge, and scored by Christos Hatzis.

All of them are providing their services in exchange for shares of the company. “That becomes our investment,” says Crewson. “Then the budget of, say, a $4 million picture, $2 million of that is deferred.”

The group is shopping the tape to find investors both within and outside of the film industry. Plans are to shoot the remainder of the film in Toronto next spring.

“What we want to avoid is that a) Telefilm, or b) the distributor sits down and tells us that they want us to change the script or recast the film,” says Crewson. “We maintain creative control.”

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford did the same thing in 1922 when they formed United Artists. The Canadian model the Movie Co-op is following is the Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, whose members six years ago mortgaged their houses to get the first season off the ground.

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