How REALLIFE Pictures brings diverse Canadian voices to the global market

The boutique literary agency and prodco has leveraged its industry experience to maximize opportunities for marginalized voices to sell their work.

kulbinder saran caldwell_colour_headshot-02A new literary agency in Toronto is opening doors for diverse members of the industry to shop their IP locally and abroad.

Founded by CEO Kulbinder Saran Caldwell (pictured, right), REALLIFE Pictures operates as a boutique literary agency and production company, dedicated to working specifically with diverse, neurodiverse and LGBTQIA+ writers and directors. The company is run by Saran Caldwell and COO Charanpreet Chall (pictured, bottom left), a filmmaker and member of the Directors Guild of Canada.

“[In the past] there weren’t a lot of opportunities for these marginalized, niche writers and directors,” Saran Caldwell tells Playback Daily. “Now there are, but how are they being supported to leverage these opportunities to the full extent possible?”

The company, which was originally founded in 1990 as a music video production company before Saran Caldwell restructured it in 2019, offers a safe space for writers to develop their voice and market their IP. Utilizing her skills as a trained life coach, Saran Caldwell and Chall developed a professional development program for clients who needed training traditionally given by organizations such as the Canadian Film Centre or the National Screen Institute to hone their scripts and pitches.

Unlike many companies in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has only sped up REALLIFE’s momentum. Saran Caldwell says her and Chall launched a “two-pronged strategy” when the pandemic hit. With productions and travel shut down, development executives became much more accessible; they were able to set up meetings with production companies while running virtual training sessions with writers. The program included virtual table reads, mentorship with showrunners and senior writers and story editing sessions, all done to ensure IP was market-ready.

REALLIFE Pictures has signed more than a dozen clients to date, including writer and producer Eva Thomas, Magee Diverse Screenwriters winner Anil Kamal and Whistler Film Festival power pitch winner Jaskaran Singh.

charanpreet-challThey opened their client roster to include neurodiverse writers, giving an example of a client with Tourette syndrome, to ensure scribes from all marginalized communities are welcome and not stigmatized. “We’re not pitching our writers from one kind of ethnic perspective,” says Saran Caldwell. “What we’re saying is that they have their own distinctive lived experience that makes them uniquely them and their story to tell.”

So far clients have inked deals with Canadian companies such as Epic Story Media, WildBrain, Mosaic Entertainment and Lark Productions, as well as met with U.S. studios such as WarnerMedia and Dreamworks Pictures. The company has also leveraged Chall’s experience in Bollywood to link writers with studios and companies in India, including Netflix India.

The virtual marketplace has also proven to be a success for clients, according to Saran Caldwell, with early commissioning dollars coming as a result of events such as the Banff World Media Festival in 2020.

Operating as both an agency and a production company gives them the space to maximize opportunities for writers to monetize their IP, according to Saran Caldwell. REALLIFE has paired with writers as a producer to help them apply for funding, as was the case with a few projects that applied for CBC’s Creative Relief Fund. Saran Caldwell says they maintain a clear distinction between the two roles by not charging an agency fee when signing on as a producer.

While the roles are distinct on the business level, Saran Caldwell says their perspective as a producer has been essential as a resource on what sells in the market.

“We have a very clear focus; we want to get their original IP greenlight,” says Saran Caldwell. “We know the broadcasters, we know the production companies, we know what kind of budgets that we’re working with here in Canada. We want to make sure [clients] have as much advantage as possible because they’re already fighting an uphill battle.”