Prairie associations see strength in numbers

The Prairie production community is about to get louder. The Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan industry associations, or the 'IMPIAs' as they collectively refer to themselves, are forming partnerships that will give them a unified voice on national issues. In addition, they are working together to launch Prairie-wide film awards, a production guide and a screenwriting competition.

The Prairie production community is about to get louder. The Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan industry associations, or the ‘IMPIAs’ as they collectively refer to themselves, are forming partnerships that will give them a unified voice on national issues. In addition, they are working together to launch Prairie-wide film awards, a production guide and a screenwriting competition.

‘[There is] a desire on the part of all three organizations to consult and collaborate more often and more deeply on the kinds of policy issues that we hold in common,’ says Michael Snook, Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association chair and executive producer at Regina, SK-based Westwind Pictures (Designer Guys). ‘If the three Prairie provinces can find issues in common and a common voice with which to speak, we’re more likely to be heard nationally than as individual associations.’

Prairie filmmakers share many challenges: smaller production communities, geographic remove from broadcasters, and less developed infrastructures. Collaboration on policy issues and Prairie-particular production challenges will be an ongoing part of the new partnerships, but the IMPIAs are also beginning to establish specific collective initiatives.

‘[The partnerships are] a sharing of ideas and intellectual wealth and also, potentially, if we are able to accomplish some of the tangible objectives, a sharing of material wealth,’ says Snook.

Prairie film awards

The creation of a Prairie-wide film awards, currently in the early stages of development, is something Snook says may encourage more direct partnerships among Prairie producers.

‘It would be a higher-profile and much larger event that will attract larger numbers of people [than the current individual provincial awards], so it’s going to be of greater benefit to people who might consider sponsorship or support of such an event,’ he says. ‘[It] also networks us better, and the possibilities for things like coproductions or pooled resources for productions become more likely the better you get to know the people next door.’

Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association executive director Alan Brooks agrees that better communication among filmmakers will lead to increased production. While coproduction among the provinces doesn’t happen often, it is more common between Saskatchewan and Alberta, he says. For example, Edmonton-based Dinosaur Soup Productions partnered with Saskatoon-based Beaver Creek Creations on the preschool animation Elfkins, which aired on CTV Christmas Day last year.

According to Manitoba Motion Picture Industry Association executive director RoseAnna Schick, the new partnerships could increase the potential for closer production relationships for Manitoba, especially, she says, if the other provinces develop economic incentives like Manitoba’s equity funding.

Manitoba’s 35% tax credit and equity funding through Manitoba Film & Sound has attracted productions such as The Atwood Stories, the first instalment of a six-part, half-hour format based on short stories from Canadian authors, in this case Margaret Atwood. Winnipeg’s Original Pictures and Toronto’s Shaftesbury Films are currently in Winnipeg shooting The Shields Stories, adapting stories by Carol Shields. And Shaftesbury chairman and founder Christina Jennings says they will likely go back for The Munro Stories, based on work by Alice Munro, which is currently in development.

The IMPIAs are also working on a cross-Prairie screenwriting competition. Once sponsorship is confirmed, Brooks says they will announce the competition, which he hopes will offer a prize of at least $5,000.

In addition, the IMPIAs are discussing the benefits of a Prairie-wide production guide, which could help build membership in the associations. By providing members with a free listing and a discount on advertising, The Manitoba Film and Television Production Guide, created by MMPIA in partnership with MFS, was able to bring in 50 new members last year, Schick says.

One of MMPIA’s key initiatives is the Manitoba Music and Motion Pictures Development Program, or M3P, developed with the Manitoba Audio Recording Industry Association. The three-year pilot project, initiated in July 2001, focuses on supporting market access and professional development.

‘We funded 10 people to go to the Banff Television Festival last year,’ says Schick. ‘Some producers may only have been able to go to one market a year; now they might go to two or three, and they’re starting to really get a profile for themselves within those markets and for Manitoba.’ M3P picks up between 70% and 80% of market costs.

It was predominantly established producers who initially benefited from the program’s market-access initiatives, but, Schick says, MMPIA quickly recognized a similar need among emerging producers, and when the program is renewed in 2004, it will be looking to create a budget allocation specifically for them.

In January, M3P will launch a corporate strategic planning program in conjunction with the Business Development Bank of Canada. Over three to six months, nine production companies will work with a consultant and participate in workshops, for which the program will cover 70% to 75% of the cost.

Winnipeg prodco Buffalo Gal Pictures participated in M3P’s market access program and is now looking to redesign its corporate strategy through the new initiative, says president Phyllis Laing.

SMPIA is also responding to a need for corporate strategy initiatives. It is creating a new skills development program to replace Crew Call, a four-year technical skills program created in response to a sudden production growth spurt in the late ’90s.

Following the success of Crew Call, which Snook says almost tripled the province’s crew capacity, the new program involves creative and technical crewing as well as a business skills component. SMPIA plans to submit a completed proposal before the end of the year.

SMPIA is also looking to make NextFest a national event in 2004. The digital filmmaking festival piloted in October 2002 and will now be combined with Showcase, Saskatchewan’s awards night.

Unlike SMPIA and MMPIA, which focus on indigenous production, AMPIA’s mandate includes actively promoting Alberta as a location for offshore producers. The difference is primarily due to Alberta’s film incentives and funding program.

The Alberta Film Development Program requires out-of-province producers to partner with an Alberta producer in order to take advantage of the program’s grants, based on 20% of Alberta spends.

AMPIA is working with the Alberta government to increase caps on the AFDP in the new year. Caps are currently limited to $750,000 per production, with a total yearly investment of $10 million. Brooks hopes the $10-million cap will be increased to $12.5 million in the near future, with plans to expand to $15 million.

-www.mmpia.mb.ca

-www.smpia.sk.ca

-www.ampia.org