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Canada funds commercial fare

Capri, Keystone, Whizbang get cash injection

MONTREAL — Canuck funder Telefilm Canada hasn’t had much success developing English-Canadian film hits, but the Montreal-based agency has a new development program that Telefilm execs think could be a blueprint for how to break the box office curse.

The program gives cash to companies with proven track records to develop a series of films, and the notion is that these projects will be more commercial and market-driven than the usual Canuck fare. English-Canadian cinema is famous for churning out dark, gloomy dramas about dysfunctional families with healthy dollops of drug addiction and sexual abnormality.

Telefilm recently announced that three production companies have been approved for the program: Capri Films, Keystone Pictures (best known for the “Air Bud” family films) and Whizbang Films. Whizbang is the current poster-boy for Canuck film given that its latest production, “Passchendaele,” is one of the biggest English-Canadian hits in years.

Actor-writer-director and Whizbang co-owner Paul Gross’ World War I epic has turned into a major attraction, with ticket sales so far in Canada of more than C$4 million ($3.2 million). Frank Siracusa, who owns Whizbang with Gross, says the new Telefilm slate development program is a step in the right direction for the film funder because it gives producers more flexibility.

“The most positive aspect of the fund is that it gives the production companies the ability to move from genre to genre depending on where the market is moving,” Siracusa says. “It also induces the distributor to be involved in the project much earlier because their money is exposed much earlier.”

Whizbang pics in development under the program include the teen thriller “Lovesick” from “Bon Cop Bad Cop” director Erik Canuel, “Spaghetti Western” and Newfoundland-set period piece “The Bird Artist” from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur.

Alliance Films will be distributing the Whizbang pics. The producers must have a distributor signed on in order to access the Telefilm development money, and getting the distributors more deeply involved right from the start is a key part of the plan. In the past, many felt the Canadian distributors didn’t make enough of an effort to market their Canadian pics, because they were more focused on their lucrative American pics.

“The comfort for us is that the distributor is onboard, so we know there’s market interest,” says Lori McCurdy, who manages the program for Telefilm. “So the risk is lower for us. I think it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of films get made.”

One of the first companies to be approved for the Telefilm program was Vancouver-based Anagram Pictures. Anagram is in post on the first film to be shot with money from the program — “The Thaw,” a horror pic about a prehistoric parasite. The film will be distributed by Maple Pictures.

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