You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Canadian lab grows new laughs

Telefilm initiative bears fruit

TORONTO — Everyone knows Canadians are funny — especially Canadians, who keep homegrown standup, radio and TV comedy thriving. But bigscreen laughs tend to be a different story.

A few years ago, bizzers told government film funder Telefilm that Canadian comedies weren’t making the leap to Hollywood and beyond, says the Canadian Film Center’s film and TV programs director Kathryn Emslie. That led to the forming of the Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab, which was launched to help make comedy click at the domestic box office. It kicked off its third annual session Nov. 14 at the CFC in Toronto, a key lab partner along with Montreal-headquartered Just for Laughs.

“Filmmakers with comedy scripts weren’t looking to Telefilm, because most of that financing went to drama,” says Michael Sparaga, the Toronto-based writer/co-producer of lab project “Servitude.” “So the announcement of the lab marked a big shift in priorities.”

The lab also is a mechanism for determining if the projects are worthy of Telefilm development money. “The hope for the participants is that the relationship with Telefilm will continue,” say Emslie.

The lab, which focuses on fast-tracking script development and packaging of Canadian feature comedies for domestic and international auds, has already had a degree of success.

“Servitude,” a workplace comedy helmed by Warren P. Sonoda (“Cooper’s Camera”) that was developed in the lab’s first year, will close the Whistler Film Festival and is set for spring release by Alliance Films. “Atlantic Gold,” a romantic comedy penned by John Hazlett from the lab’s second year, has previous lab mentor Donald Petrie (“Miss Congeniality”) attached as director.

Several more alumni comedies (five are selected each year via a rigorous process) are now speeding through the pipeline, thanks to the lab’s project-specific matchmaking, which pairs teams of creatives — typically producer and writer and/or director — with industry heavyweights.

The lab began with an intense script-focused November session (this year’s mentor/guest roster features Kirsten Smith, David Frankel, Mike White and Ron Yerxa, among others) and concludes with a week of meetings in Los Angeles in the spring, with script drafts and frequent tete-a-tetes among creatives and mentors.

Sparaga’s first lab-enabled meeting was with Ivan Reitman, who urged the writer to make his script semi-autobiographical and R-rated. A year later — after several drafts and a writers-room style punch-up in L.A. — cameras were rolling.

Montreal-based “Atlantic Gold” producer Antonello Cozzolino found a champion in veteran producer and 2010-11 mentor Joe Medjuck. “It’s tough to get your script noticed by the right people,” Cozzolino says. “By the time we hit L.A. for the lab’s second session, we were meeting with major agencies and high profile-directors — the packaging started happening very fast.”

Three of this year’s participating projects are from British Columbia: “How to Change Everything Without Doing Anything” (producer Blake Corbet, writer-director Kris Lefcoe); “Zombie Love” (producer Mark Stephenson, writer Jonathan Williams); and “How to Break Up With Your Mother” (producers Elizabeth Levine and Adrian Salpeter, writer Kellie Benz). Another, “Fit to Print” (producer Michael McNamara, writer-director Daniel Perlmutter), is from Ontario; and “Birthmarked” (producers Pierre Even and Marie-Claude Poulin, writer Marc Tulin) comes from Quebec.

Let the crossover laffs begin.

More Film

  • Radiohead - Thom YorkeRadiohead in concert

    Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to Release Solo Album Accompanied by Paul Thomas Anderson Film

    Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s new solo studio album, “Anima,” will be released digitally on June 27 on XL Recordings, he announced today. The album’s digital release will be accompanied by a “one-reeler,” also entitled “Anima,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood”) and set to three tracks from the new [...]

  • HKIFFS and Heaven Pictures

    Hong Kong Festival, China's Heaven Pictures Launch 'Back to Basics' Film Project Support

    The Hong Kong International Film Festival Society (HKIFFS) and China’s Heaven Pictures announced that they will award six Asian filmmakers RMB1 million ($145,000) in a joint project to demonstrate how high-quality films can still be made inexpensively. The six films that emerge from the new initiative, titled “Back to Basics (B2B): A Love Supreme,” will [...]

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan in conversation at

    Shanghai: How Nuri Bilge Ceylan Sees the World so Differently

    At a masterclass on Thursday, Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave the initial impression of being an austere and unwilling participant. Wearing heavy glasses, keeping his coat on, and responding to questions rather than offering a class, his manner suggested that he was difficult. In China as the head of the Shanghai International Film [...]

  • SpiderMan Far From Home

    Hollywood Takes on Italy's Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

    With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse. For decades, the studios withheld their [...]

  • Easy Money

    Netflix Orders 'Snabba Cash' Series Based on Hit Movie Franchise from SF Studios

    Netflix has ordered a six-part original series based on the hit Swedish crime franchise “Snabba Cash” from SF Studios. Based on Jens Lapidus’s bestselling novels, the series is set in Stockholm’s gritty criminal underground ten years after the events depicted in the “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money,” pictured) movie trilogy. The society has become even more [...]

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content