Company measuring success on a global scale

MONTREAL — In a move that will better balance the evaluation of English- and French-language Canadian films, Telefilm Canada is measuring success on a global scale.

Following consultation with film players here, the federal film funder has unveiled a Success Index that, for the first time, takes into account recognition abroad as well as ticket sales in the Great White North.

Even as Telefilm is compiling the data, it’s clear it will impact how the funder doles out financing. Industry insiders say the Success Index will be used as the criteria to decide which producers receive automatic funding under Telefilm’s so-called performance-envelope system, which up to now has given money to producers based on the recent box office performance of their films in Canada only.

“To measure their success with just one criterion, the box office in Canada, is not enough,” says Luc Dery, who produced “Incendies.” “This levels the playing field for films from English Canada that tend to work better internationally than films from Quebec.”

“Incendies” success may have sparked the new Telefilm policy. It won prizes and accolades at festivals all over the world, which helped earn it a nom at the most recent Academy Awards in the foreign-language film category. In the past, that global success would not have been measured by Telefilm.

Another film that influenced Telefilm’s thinking was Fernando Meirelles’ 2008 Brazilian-Canadian co-production “Blindness.” The film, which opened the Cannes Film Festival, generated $25 million in presales — enormous for a Canuck pic — and “Blindness” producer Niv Fichman notes that the pic’s producers sent a check to Telefilm to reimburse the funding agency for its entire $2.5 million investment, something that rarely happens.

But “Blindness” made only around $1 million at the box office in Canada.

Telefilm will now evaluate the success of a film using a weighted system based on three categories: Box office in Canada and international sales will count for 60%; selections and awards at international film festivals will count for 30%; another 10% of the index will be based on the ratio of private vs. public funding of the project.

The idea is that the new guidelines will result in Canadian producers making more pics targeted to international auds. That’s already been happening in the past year with pics like the Dery-produced “Monsieur Lazhar,” directed by helmer Philippe Falardeau; writer-director Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Cafe de Flore”; and hockey laffer “Goon” all notching notable international sales and fest berths.

Telefilm, a federal agency, is one of the main financing motors of the Canadian film and TV business. It doles out $100 million annually to the Canadian film biz, with the cash handed out in two ways: Either Telefilm bureaucrats evaluate individual projects, or money is given out based on the producer’s previous box office performance.

Telefilm was charged by the federal government a decade ago to raise the market share of local films to 5% — that’s when the funder developed its performance-envelope program, designed to reward projects believed to be more commercial.

But that quest for box office gold didn’t work out that well. Canadian film reached the 5% mark only once in the past decade — and that was almost entirely due to the success of French-language films in Quebec. Last year, Canadian films garnered 3.1% of the box office pie in Canada, with English-Canadian films holding a market share of only 1.2% and local French-lingo pics nabbing 13% of the ticket sales action.

Telefilm execs feel the Success Index better rewards a pic’s the overall performance.

“Year after year, the only big news at the end of the year is that Canadian film didn’t do well at the box office,” says Telefilm topper Carolle Brabant, who notes that two films last year — “Incendies” and the Mordecai Richler adaptation “Barney’s Version” — took home 52 awards around the world and had a combined international gross of $35 million.

“You can’t take into account the box office in just Canada,” Brabant says. “That was 10 years ago. Now we need to adapt to the way consumers consume content.We think there are real opportunities for Canadian content to make it big internationally, and we want to support filmmakers that are imaginative about reaching that audience.” nBut Brabant is quick to underline that it’s not just the Telefilm decision-makers who have trouble picking the hits. It’s also hard for the Hollywood studio chiefs.

“It’s an inexact science,” Brabant says.

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