This is an archived blog from when I ran Conscious Public Relations Inc. from 2008-2018. Excuse the potential outdated-ness!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I want my career to go. If I should specialize in a certain industry and limit my services to events and film marketing vs. a wide range of services for small businesses. My dream 2 years ago was to work for myself doing PR for small businesses in need of publicity, and now that I’ve completed it, it’s time to modify it a bit.

The Oscars got me thinking about the future of the Canadian film industry. When I graduated 4 years ago, I wrote a paper on the marketing process of Canadian films and how different it is than the US because of the lack of funding to distribute Canadian movies. A good chunk of Canadian features do make it into the theatres, but often they are overlooked because of the ridiculous costs of marketing films with trailers and other pre-hype tactics that are assumed for many American movies, even independent ones.

My paper included the fact that only 3% of films in Canadian theatres are Canadian, and how there is no ‘star system’ of Canadian actors that drive people into seats. In fact, the most notable of Canadian actors are ones that move to the US to star in films there: Mike Myers, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, John Candy, Dan Ackroyd… it seems that success is based on salary and blockbuster hits rather than artistic talent (when’s the last time anyone nominated Keanu?).

Which brings me to the Oscars, otherwise known as the Academy Awards. It is crazy how much the Oscars dominate Canadian media. I would safely bet that last week, there was more coverage on the Oscars than coverage on Canadian features or festivals throughout the country combined. Should we really care who was wearing what, who looked smashing and who looked smashed, and how many Oscars Slumdog Millionaire would win?

Canada has our own Academy Awards: The Genies. And our equivalent of the Emmies are the Geminis. But they are nowhere close to being as recognized & watched as the Oscars, because barely anyone outside of the Academy has seen the nominated films, and no one knows who’s in them. Let’s take a look at this year’s top nominated films:

Ce qu’il faut pour vivre / The Necessities of Life
– Tout est Parfait / Everything is Fine
– Passchendaele
– Fugitive Pieces
– Amal
– Maman est chez le coiffeur / Mommy is at the Hairdresser’s

Three of these films are French and probably only got released in Quebec with the exception of film festivals. I should say that Quebec is the most supportive province of Canadian films due to the high French population. But likely no one else outside of the province saw these French films, and likely no one in Quebec bothered to see the English ones. Passchendaele had a big Canadian name (Paul Gross) and marketing drive behind it, but it only made back $3 million in the box office of the $20 million it took to make it. Fugitive Pieces did the festival circuit thing, and Amal I heard about through Vancouver’s First Weekend Club, which exists to bring members out to a film’s opening weekend, determining whether or not the film will stay in theatres.

Even with Genie wins, It’s possible that Canadian films reach Oscar potential, such as with Denys Arcand’s Decline of the American Empire and Barbarian Invasions, or Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. It almost seems as if the Americans support our films more than we do.

So what’s the trick to getting Canadians to see Canadian films? And getting the Genies to become as big as the Oscars? Something my former boss tried to develop since 2003 (maybe earlier) was a local star system through private and public industry events, and by creating mini-red carpets at film festival events to build up hype in the media. It’s no secret that the TIFF in Toronto does it better than anyone in Canada, even bringing American stars North to support their films. But having worked at an entertainment PR firm for 1.5 years, I know that it can only do so much.

I’m not insinuating at all that Canada will never succeed in becoming a country well-known for cinema, because we already have that international reputation. I’m quite positive there is always a Canadian favourite at Cannes, such as David Cronenberg’s Spider back in 2002-3. But what I think it’s going to take for Canadians to see their own films is a combination of mainstream marketing, a star system (or support system for Canadian stars, as I’d like to call it), and some damn fine looking clothes.

If we want to get butts in seats, our films need to have appealing trailers both in advance theatres and on TVs, even if only 10 seconds long. As long as the films are exceptional or have great guerilla marketing tactics, the word of mouth about them will spread as they did with Slumdog Millionaire and Snakes on a Plane, which both had short, non-intrusive trailers but a LOT of media buzz.

The other trick will be to getting mainstream audiences to love Canadian actors. Industry personnel already have a love and respect for fellow actors- it’s in our blood. But we’re also going to need Canadians to love the cast of Degrassi or Instant Star as much as American preteens loved High School Musical. Is it really that hard to believe that Canadians can’t produce a Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, or Brad Pitt for women to go ga-ga over enough that their films will be seen? Well, there was Patrick Huard of Bon Cop, Bad Cop, but I don’t think the film was in theatres long enough for women to talk about Patrick Huard to each other. Grace Park and Steph Song are two hot local actresses who have done well in getting themselves out in the public. Maybe it’s the Asian connection, maybe it’s a good publicity team. But whatever it is, it’s working for them.

Lastly, it’s sad but true – we do care what they’re wearing. It goes along with the star system in that if they look good, we’ll continue to want to see their movies. I think Sarah Polley and Molly Parker are gorgeous actresses, but it’s a combination of their talent and getting them more out in the public eye that’s going to catapult them to Kate Winslet status. Canada has a TON of fabulous designers who wouldn’t hesitate to design some red-carpet worthy dresses. In our city alone, I can think of Jason Matlo and Jacqueline Conoir. God knows how many calls ex-Canadian designer Jason Wu got after Michelle Obama wore his dress to the inaugural ball.

I guess my point and my thoughts are that we still have a long way even after the 4 years since I wrote my paper. Since doing publicity for the Women in Film Festival though, I have learned immensely about how marketing done well – even on shoestring budgets – can result in great buzz even before a theatrical release. I’m positive that The Baby Formula is going to be Canada’s – maybe even the world’s – first great gay mom movie.

It excites me that, as an emerging publicist still passionate and somewhat involved in the film industry, I might be a part of this movement. That I might be lucky enough to help the next great Canadian film get to the Oscar level, and raise the eyes of Canadians across the country. If Canadian networks band together despite the economic times, the upcoming Genies on April 4 might even increase their ratings like the Oscars did this year – by building up enough of a buzz about the films and artists, and focusing on honouring the artists and the craft as we do already, rather than on the big productions and who’s presenting what. Not that we shouldn’t do the big production thing – the Genies should actually be calling up the Junos to borrow some of the best Canadian music talent to perform!

Although I’m pretty sure I’ll never be on the Oscar red carpet as a nominated artist, I’d be pretty stoked if I was there and had a seat just to witness some support for a great Canadian film, the same way everyone stood behind Slumdog. Now that is a dream to hang onto.

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