The Business of Film
Making a movie can be expensive, labour intensive, technically complex and
artistically daunting. It also requires faith, patience, meticulous attention
to detail and a flare for salesmanship. The challenges are even greater in a
place like Newfoundland, where the industry is still young and the films face
competition from the United States and around the world in trying to find an
But Newfoundlanders have persevered, turning out over 100 films in the last
30 years. Many of them have been short films done on low budgets with small
crews. But since the mid-1980s there's been a steady increase in more ambitious
projects, including documentaries, feature films, television shows and dynamic
shorts. This work is made possible by improving technical and creative abilities
in the community. But it also reflects the development of well-honed business
skills and the general maturing of Newfoundland film as an industry.
Rosemary House and Mary Sexton discuss how filmmakers negotiate with financiers and television networks.
From "The Nickel", produced by Derek Norman and Michael P. Walsh for the Producer's Association of Newfoundland and Labrador and Cable 9.
Making film more affordable and accessible was one of the key reasons behind
the formation of the Newfoundland Independent Filmmaker's Cooperative (NIFCO) in
1975. Today NIFCO's home in downtown St. John's is a full production facility
with cameras, lighting and sound gear, editing equipment, animation software
and a small studio. Almost every film professional in Newfoundland either started
at NIFCO or has been involved with the cooperative at some level. The development
of new talent remains a core NIFCO mandate. Its "first time film" program allows
novices to develop and produce a short film at virtually no cost, with the cooperative
providing equipment, film stock and crew. This beginner's program is a rare exception
in a business where people routinely spend as much time and effort raising money
for a film as they do making the film itself.
Traditional sources of investment in Canada include the CBC and CTV television
networks and government-funded agencies like Telefilm and the National Film Board.
In recent years new cable television networks have emerged as potential backers.
Newfoundlanders have also improved their contacts with private foundations and funding
agencies. Public money and tax breaks have become more widely available, most notably
through the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation. In 1998 the
corporation introduced a film tax credit system to give producers a rebate on costs
and help spur investment. Since then the value of the Newfoundland film industry has
grown from $2 million to an estimated $20 million.
The cost of a project varies greatly depending on its length and scope. In
1994 Anita McGee made a short film called The Trunk for about $5,000, acting as
her own director, camera operator, sound recorder and editor. But a 90-minute
feature film like Extraordinary Visitor can take years to plan, finance and
"I've probably told the story of Extraordinary Visitor a thousand times over
the course of two years," said co-producer Jennice Ripley not long after the film
was released. "Trying to convince people that this would be a good thing for them
to finance." Those who agreed to support the picture included the C.B.C., Telefilm,
and the Canada Television and Cable Production Fund. The movie was cast and shot
in St. John's and released in 1998 at a final cost of about $1.9 million.
Extraordinary Visitor is the story of St. John the Baptist's visit to St. John's (his namesake) to give humans a chance to save themselves from the end of the world.
Reproduced by permission of Film East Inc. Written and directed
by John Doyle.
The process of financing a film or television project often requires compromise
by the creative team. "Usually the network has the last say when it comes to who's
being cast," says Mary Sexton, producer of the comedy series Dooley Gardens. "If
you don't have their money the project's not going to happen. Everyone goes to
the table with their own expectations and we all have to give a little."
Once filming is underway, the producer is obliged to complete the project on
time and within budget. That can prove challenging when logistical problems or
unexpected delays are encountered. No Apologies (1990), a story set during a
Newfoundland winter, was filmed in the months of November, December and January.
With most of the film taking place outdoors, production was limited by short days,
cold weather and the difficulties of managing a large working crew in such an environment.
"Interesting locations to film are not always easy locations to film in," said Paul
Pope, an assistant director of the film. "You're parking your trucks and hiding all
your crew and people are running through the snow to set the shot up, but you still
want it to look like new snow."
When shooting is finished the project goes into post-production, in which editors
assemble the best footage, soundtrack music and sound effects are added and countless
other details are seen to so that the film can be finished for a scheduled release date.
Press and publicity campaigns are coordinated to coincide with the film's release.
Most of the filming and post-production for local films is done in Newfoundland.
But the lack of some facilities, most notably the absence of a fully equipped professional
film studio, often requires larger productions to take some of that work elsewhere.
In recent years local filmmakers have looked beyond our borders and entered into
national and international agreements. The value of forging international connections
was illustrated in 1999 with the release of Misery Harbour, a Scandinavian film shot
largely in Newfoundland. Red Ochre Productions of St. John's became involved after
meeting the financiers and producers of the film during a marketing conference in
France. An even bigger international venture is Random Passage, an eight-hour
miniseries that will be broadcast on CBC Television in 2002. It's a $15 million
dollar project involving production companies and financiers in Newfoundland,
Québec and Ireland.
Reproduced by permission of Ken Pittman
"Each film has a certain mix that has to be put together to make it work," says
Ken Pittman of Red Ochre. "The important thing would be to have Newfoundland scripts
produced as Newfoundland films and to invite (outside) people into those Newfoundland
projects because they make them stronger."
©2000, Jamie Fitzpatrick