How Shaftesbury brought Carmilla to the big screen

With the web series-to-feature adaptation set to open across 30 Cineplex screens today, Christina Jennings explains the project's hybrid distribution and financing model.
Carmilla The Movie Still

When Shaftesbury Films first announced at New York Comic Con 2016 that its web series Carmillwas ending after three seasons but that a feature film was in the works, Christina Jennings concedes that some of the financial details hadn’t yet been ironed out.

“To be candid, we didn’t really know exactly how we were going to finance it,” the company chairman and CEO told Playback Daily.

But after a few months of working out the financing and distribution, Shaftesbury eventually landed on a model that was unconventional, even by its own typically unconventional standards. The model combined traditional film coin from Telefilm, fan-sourced pre-sales money, investment from global SVOD service Fullscreen (which previously licensed the web series) and a first-window TV deal with movie-focused specialty channel Hollywood Suite that will see the property air on traditional television for the first time. (U by Kotex, which fully funded the Carmilla web series, didn’t come on board for the feature.)

The web series-to-feature adaptation, which was made on a budget just shy of $1 million, is making its one-night-only theatrical premiere on Oct. 26 on 30 Cineplex screens across Canada before it launches on Fullscreen (both in Canada and internationally) the following day. Fans who pre-ordered the film (approximately one third of the budget came from pre-orders) received their digital copy of The Carmilla Movie on Oct. 25. 

The film will also air in January 2018 on Hollywood Suite, which boarded the project during the financing and pre-production stage. “This is a young, edgy series with a lot of heat around it, so we thought it was a great opportunity to bring some attention as well to Hollywood Suite,” said president and co-founder David Kines.

The Carmilla Movie is the largest project the six-year-old company has boarded as a co-financier, he added, and the first time it has nabbed first-window TV broadcast rights. The move comes as Hollywood Suite looks to ramp up its early stage involvement with feature projects, including filmmaker Jeremy Torrie’s The Corruption of Divine Providence, which is nearing the end of its Winnipeg shoot.

Jennings describes the movie as a “love letter” to the Carmilla fans, with the feature aimed at expanding their viewing experience. “The [existing] fans are used to a web series that’s fairly intimate, with locked-off cameras. We wanted to be able to take them into a glorious world of a traditionally shot feature,” she said. Of course, the movie also offers an opportunity to reach a new audience, says Jennings. “The original was watched on a mobile, iPad or computer screen, so we thought an interesting way to bring in new fans was a theatrical release for people who just like vampire movies.”

In order to reach existing fans, social-media promotion included a digital campaign whereby fans were invited to tag three others in order to receive the first five minutes of the movie ahead of the release. Through this campaign and others like it, Jennings said Shaftesbury’s YouTube channel KindaTV, which is where Carmilla the web series lives, has increased its subscriber base by more than 7,000 in the past two weeks. In terms of reaching new fans, the Carmilla team focused on more traditional forms of promotion, said Jennings, with “coming soon” posters in Cineplex theatres and press with outlets such as The Globe and Mail and CBC.ca.

The film targets a similar audience as the web series (16-to-24 year olds), which garnered more than 70 million YouTube views since it first debuted in 2014, though the theatrical release will likely skew toward a slightly older crowd as they’re most likely to go to theatres, said Jennings. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see late 20s and early 30s coming to the movie.”

As well, a TV version of the Carmilla property is still in early-stage development with an unnamed Canadian broadcaster. Jennings said the reception to the film likely won’t impact the direction of a potential TV series though.

Cast alongside web series stars Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman are Dominique Provost-Chalkley (Wynonna Earp), Grace Lynn Kung (Mary Kills People) and Cara Gee (The Expanse) in new rolesAlso returning to star in the feature are Annie Briggs (Luvvie), Kaitlyn Alexander (Couple-ish), Nicole Stamp (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Matt O’Connor (Murdoch Mysteries).

Producers on the project are Steph Ouaknine and Melanie Windle. Jennings, Scott Garvie and Jay Bennett serve as exec producers. Spencer Maybee, who also helmed the web series, directs the film from a script penned by Alejandro Alcoba and Jordan Hall.