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Canadian film and television makers should be looking to the global stage to finance, create and distribute their work. They can receive strong financial backing from Telefilm Canada, they can pitch foreign investors on the high production standards of Canadian film crews and on proximity to the U.S. market; and the world abounds with opportunities for co-productions with filmmakers in other countries.
Alfons Adetuyi, film producer / director and
founder of Inner City Films Inc. of Toronto
So says Alfons Adetuyi, a producer and director, and founder of Inner City Films Inc. of Toronto.
Inner City Films has sold its films in 60 countries. It entered into an early co-production with post-apartheid South Africa, and has a three-picture deal with entrepreneur Ramoji Rao in India. Its dance competition film, Beat the World, received financial backing from Sony Pictures in return for U.S. distribution rights. It has made feature documentaries such as Ganesh, Boy Wonder and TV shows such as the drama series North/South. The company has from two to 20 employees, depending on the complexity of its projects.
Adetuyi, originally from Sudbury, Ont., studied at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., and at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto.
How wide are the opportunities globally to go out and raise money, if you’re from Canada?
We’re in an excellent position. Whatever private money we raise is always leveraged with government support. And our government support in Canada is some of the best in the world.
Someone might ask then – why don’t we make better movies?
I think we are making better movies. It’s starting now. Quebec has had an industry for quite a while. Monsieur Lazhar, Incendies – they’re two great films.
But we are not known for our movie industry.
We are not. The French have the language, which helps carve out a market for them. English-language films are up against Hollywood. Where we have made big inroads is in television. We can produce very good television for a portion of the price of U.S. television.
So how much money is available to someone like you in Canada, of the total?
Telefilm can put in up to 40%. Then you have the tax credits that can put in roughly 20%, so you can get 60% of your money out of Canada, at least.
What about the private sector?
I have a group of private investors in Canada that I tap into. Right now I’m doing a project in Barbados – the Barbados government wants us to do the same thing we did in South Africa. I had gone back to South Africa and done a series called Jozi H, a medical series, sort of like an ER in Johannesburg. That was an $18-million series. South Africa wanted to develop a television industry.
Skills exchange is important now. People have different motivations for investing in the film or the media, and that was one of their main motivations. So Barbados came along and said, “Hey, we want the same thing. We want to develop our industry.” They’re throwing in a 30% tax credit, and there’s also a group of private investors in Barbados who have gotten on board.
So sometimes you work your way back – you start in Canada and then go out and get the international financing. In this project, we started in Barbados. And now I’m working my way back into Canada, and introducing it to Canadian broadcasters.
So how does globalizing offer you a way to become distinctive and compete with Hollywood?
In the case of Beat the World, it allows us to go into Europe and Africa and put partnerships together. Instead of going to a studio and getting money, you would get money from Europe, make this film and sell it into the U.S. market. That’s our advantage. We’ve got the skills and the abilities. Many U.S. films are made here with our crews, and even a lot of our actors, a lot of our creative, they’re made right here – all the special effects. So we have all this material and usually it gets headed up by the U.S. studio and sold to the rest of the world. So we can take the same ingredients and we can finance it through other means, internationally, and we can sell it back into the United States. That’s what you’re going to see as we team up with France, Germany and Britain.
I did a three-picture deal with Ramoji Rao. He has 6,000 full-time employees in a studio that’s actually the biggest in the world – way bigger than the Universal and Paramount lots.
How does that partnership work?
He puts in most or all of the studio costs. It’s close to a 50-50 split. We look after some of the above-the-line costs – that means some of the actors and Canadian technicians who will be coming over. He can handle all the distribution in India. He controls a number of theatres and has relationships that allow us to get the film out to all the screens in India. We will find distribution in Canada and the United States with our connections.
What potential does India have for Canadian filmmakers?
Huge potential. It’s a great marketplace. And it’s a marketplace unlike other markets. They have huge numbers of screens, even per capita, for more than a billion people. And their screens are growing exponentially.
How do Canadian filmmakers tap into that potential?
Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Media Development Corporation offer screen-based missions to India. They sponsored a trip of 10 Canadian producers to meet with Indian producers. We do this often in many markets, whether it’s Britain or France or elsewhere. We visited a number of studios in Mumbai. Then we went to the Goa International Film Festival. We made presentations about what Canada has to offer.
How do co-productions work?
“Co-pros” are administered by Telefilm Canada after treaties are negotiated with the other countries by the Ministry of Heritage. A Canadian would say, “Okay, I’m going to do a co-production with South Africa. Here’s my partner, here’s our letter saying how we’re going to split [the costs] to make sure it’s an equitable co-production,” usually reflecting the financial contribution of each side.
The business sounds pretty complex and you’re a small company. How do you find time to make the movies?
That’s true. At one point we had to get a little larger to handle some of the stuff that we were doing, because you have to process the tax credits from the Canadian side, and it’s a lot of accounting and legal work. What some producers do is join up with larger companies that have the backroom staff to facilitate those elements.
How does the international money affect a Canadian filmmaker’s ability to tell Canadian stories?
One would hope that we would tell universal stories. You just want to tell a story. You happen to be a Canadian, and sometimes, yes, your story is set in Canada, but Canada is a place of cities, a place of countryside, a place of oceans. It’s very similar to other places. You have to hear some of the ideas or concerns of your international partners. So in that sense, it certainly can’t all be about Canada.
What is a lesson of your success?
Go outside your comfort zone. Look outward a little bit. I went to South Africa in ’95 after Nelson Mandela was out of prison. It was a hectic place. People were running out of the place, not necessarily going to it. I found great opportunities. And now I’ve looked to India. Maybe China is next. There are some European co-pros we’re working on. And be flexible. Because sometimes the TV industry is dying, but the factual industry [such as reality shows] is taking off.
This interview has been edited and condensed.