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Banner lets Fido do the talking

Sales agency Joker also produces family films

For a shingle with a narrow specialty, North Vancouver-based Joker Films is certainly diverse.

As a sales agency, Joker handles up to 10 pics a year in all genres. Titles include “Suck” (Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper), “Gunless” (Paul Gross), “Daydream Nation” (Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell) and “Defendor” (Woody Harrelson).

The company’s production side, though, has a more specific focus. According to CEO Tim Brown, Joker will produce only family films of less than $5 million about talking animals — with a particular emphasis on dogs.

“I specialize in family films because I feel that the market needs it,” says Brown. “I have young kids; I know what they want. Family films are something that kids watch over and over again; they’re something that retain value for a very long time.”

Brown lets his twins, a boy and a girl, serve as his test audience. And he enjoys watching them laugh.

“I don’t even watch the screen,” he says, “I stare at my children and watch their reaction.”

The strategy seems to be working. Joker recently pre-sold its first feature, “Vampire Dog” (with “SNL’s” Norm Macdonald) to a pack of markets, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Russia, Spain, Australia/New Zealand, Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, Latin America, and Pan Asia Pay TV.

Its next pic, “Step Dogs,” a talking-canine movie about a canine from the big city that moves in with a farm mutt, is slated to lens in spring/summer 2012 and has pre-sold to Eastern Europe, Spain, Russia, and the Middle East.

Brown, who worked with Malofilm Distribution, TVA (formally Astral Distribution), Keystone Distribution and Insight Releasing before forming Joker nearly three years ago, attributes the strong presales largely to the fact that talking-animal films don’t require star power the same way that traditional films do.

“The animal is the star,” he says.

Joker has built a team that has worked on similar projects, and it aims to use that talent consistently. “It’s crucial when you make a film like this, where animals talk, that the visual effects are perfect,” Brown says.

Brown hopes that as Joker’s production side grows, it can become as integral to the shingle’s bottom line as its sales arm.

“Normally when you’re a sales agency, you acquire films — when you’re a production company, you produce,” says Brown, “Joker does both.”

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