Breakthrough Entertainment finds equity partners for future growth

Co-founders Ira Levy and Peter Williamson have sold stakes in the company to two long-time executives, Nat Abraham (pictured) and Michael McGuigan.
Nat Abraham

When Ira Levy went to film school in London, England in the late 1970s, he had no idea his love of movies would translate into a 30-year Canadian production partnership with fellow student Peter Williamson.

“At the end of film school, we got together to make a film called The Breakthrough,” Levy told Playback Daily.

That first film, shot in Canada, provided the name for their production shingle, Toronto-based Breakthrough Entertainment, launched in 1984.

And now Levy and Williamson have sold stakes in Breakthrough Entertainment to two long-time execs, Nat Abraham, president of distribution, and Michael McGuigan, chief financial officer, to ensure they can keep writing their own script in the digital age.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there for the creation of content in all genres that we’ve been working in, including feature films, and for Breakthrough to expand in digital media and international distribution,” Levy explained.

“Who better to partner with than people that we know, love and trust, who have been great at growing the divisions of the company and are interested in carrying on the Breakthrough tradition and growing it,” he added.

Significantly, Levy and Williamson went in-house for growth capital.

“It would have been easy to go to the street if they want investment,” Abraham said.

Terms of the deal that make McGuigan, who joined Breakthrough in 1999, and Abraham, who boarded in 2006, equity partners in the company were not disclosed.

But the new capital, besides preserving a sense of safety and camaraderie for Levy and Williamson by coming from within the company, will be put towards Breakthrough’s continuing push into digital content and feature films.

“We’re getting more heavily into [movies] than in the past. We’re doing some genre films and third-party acquisitions,” Abraham, a mainstay for Breakthrough at international markets, explained.

Breakthrough will also continue expansion into the world TV market from its Canadian base.

“This allows us to take new equity and help to back a lot those indie producers we’re working with because we believe in their product and the team knows it can sell into the international market,” Levy said.

As with rival producers, Breakthrough will be pragmatic in how it structures an increasing array of coproduction and co-venture deals with foreign partners.

“There are a couple different approaches. The Canadian broadcasters are key to us getting the production funding and triggering,” Abraham said.

At the same time, Canadian broadcasters are eyeing what can work in the U.S. and other international markets, not least to offset the risk and cost of original series.

“We’ve got to follow the American model. When we’re looking at projects, we make sure it has legs beyond Canada,” Abraham added.

As four partners now steer Breakthrough through a market increasingly coloured by emerging and evolving digital technologies, the executive suite also includes Joan Lambur, executive producer animation, live action, family and children, Nghia Nguyen, VP and general counsel, Diane Boehme, senior development executive, and Dorothy Vreeker, director of digital media.