Local fare could thaw Canucks

'Boys,' 'Cop' both due for release in August

TORONTO — There are high hopes that the embattled English-language sector of the Canadian film industry will be hitting the road to redemption this summer with the release of two popular comedies, “Trailer Park Boys” and “Bon Cop/Bad Cop.”

Both are due for release in August, the softest spot in a summer packed with potential Hollywood blockbusters.

“From May 5 on, there’s no such thing as a lull in the summer anymore,” says Mark Slone, VP of marketing and publicity for Odeon Films, a division of Alliance Atlantis Motion Picture Distribution, which is handling both comedies. “You have to find the softest spot for your demographic.”

In this case, both films are mainstream fare, and industryites are counting on them to appeal to English-speaking Canadians in large numbers.

The C$8.1 million ($7.1 million) “Bon Cop/Bad Cop,” touted as the first entirely bilingual Canadian pic, is a buddy film that begins with the unlikely teaming of a French- and an English-Canadian investigator after a corpse is found draped over the Ontario/Quebec border.

“Trailer Park Boys” is a spinoff from the popular specialty TV series about a group of foul-mouthed friends making a living on the wrong side of the tracks. Skein has a cult following on Canadian television and is known in the U.S. via BBC America. Pic has the backing of Canadian-raised producer Ivan Reitman.

Both films will be released wide, which in Canada means more than 100 screens. The releases have to be wide, notes Slone, if there’s any hope to make up for the P&A that will have to be spent to get the word out, since there’s none of the spillover from the U.S. that the distributor can usually count on with American fare.

They are designing traditional, Hollywood-style campaigns, says Slone, including trailers, TV ads, posters, and an Internet campaign. He declined to supply AAC’s P&A budget, but public funder Telefilm Canada is kicking in more than $881,000 each for marketing.

“Both of these films are inherently Canadian in their content, but it’s not because they’re Canadian that we’re behind them; it’s because they’re outstanding entertainment,” Slone says.

Still, Alliance Atlantis has gone this route before, with a splashy multimillion-dollar campaign for thriller “Foolproof,” which ultimately flopped.

“There have been a lot of successful films between ‘Foolproof’ and today, though not all on as wide a scale,” Slone says, pointing to the Oscar-winning French language “The Barbarian Invasions” and smaller films like “It’s all Gone Pete Tong,” whose return on investment has been generous.

Telefilm Canada is also pinning its hopes on “Bon Cop/Bad Cop” and “Trailer Park Boys.” It created the Canadian Feature Film Fund in 2001 with the goal of boosting Canadian films’ take of the national box office to 5% by 2006. And while that goal has been achieved, it is thanks exclusively to a boom in French Canadian cinema, which takes 25% of the box office in Quebec. In English Canada, the figure was a paltry 1.1% in 2005, up from .3% in 2001.

Telefilm topper Wayne Clarkson believes there’s plenty to learn from the Quebecois. He points out that French Canada’s indigenous box office has grown from 7% in the mid-90s.

French Canadian cinema was all about auteur work in the 1970s and ’80s. Then in 1997, the first of what became the hugely popular “Les Boys” films kicked off a boom in local cinema.

“Creators, directors, exhibitors and distributors realized there was a huge demand out there by the public for a move from cinema d’auteur to cinema everyone wanted to go to.” He’s hoping that with “Bon Cop/Bad Cop” and “Trailer Park Boys,” English Canadian films can move in a populist direction.

Success in English Canada is much more modest than success Stateside, or even in Quebec. Given that 85% of English Canadian screens are taken up by U.S. fare, Clarkson is looking at 3% — still almost triple the 2005 figure.

“I would never in any sober moment say that we’re going to get 24% of the market as they do in Quebec,” Clarkson says.