Getting down to Business at the Ottawa International Film Festival

It was Saturday morning amidst lush VIP seating, with notebook in hand, I sat ready to retain the wealth of knowledge pouring from the six panelists showcased at the Ottawa International Film Festival conference on “The Business of Filmmaking”. The conference featured Edwards Professional Corporation and offered a chance to learn something from the film industries brightest lawyers, producers, entrepreneurs and filmmakers. The conference touched on a variety of subjects including budgets, distribution, the various types of funding available to aspiring filmmakers in Canada, as well as showcased inside knowledge on some of the major players with regards to funding.


Out of the panel of six, two of these industry professionals were women. One of the first things I noticed was when referencing budgets, the two women on the panel were working with significantly smaller budgets than the rest of the team. This comes as no surprise to those of us who study and live the gender wage gap and a lack of equity in film and television, but I thought it fitting that even within this smaller demographic, the numbers seemed representative of the reality that women in film and television, on average, receive less funding than men. These two women managed to transcend this obstacle, creating remarkable productions.
Check out their trailers here.

1.) Karen Harnisch with “Sleeping Giant”

2.) Laura Perlmutter with her film “Don’t Get Killed in Alaska”

Now, let’s get down to business…

In the Canadian market, in contrast to somewhere like the United States,  filmmakers are able to benefit from subsidized government grants and funding to help fuel the Canadian film and television industry. Somewhere like the United States, however, relies heavily on private equity.

In Canada, Telefilm is the largest funder of Canadian films. For first time filmmakers, Tele- film has a larger than life ora; It often seems unattainable. Thomas explained, sympathized and emphasized that this wondrous giant, though seemingly inaccessible, is really not too big to care. This organization goes out of it’s way to help and support Canadian filmmakers, so don’t count yourself out. Try to reach out and talk to them- they are there to support.

It is quite commonplace to acquire your film funding from many different sources, typically, even a well equipped source like Tele-Film would provide a third of your proposed budget. When preparing a budget for your film, prepare different versions for varying amounts of funding. You want to be well prepared and flexible when it comes to your budget as often you don’t know exactly how much funding you will get for your movie beforehand.

Telefilm also provides “Finishing grants” which are a great resource once you’ve completed your film. Karen has received two of these grants and feels that Telefilm is really looking to invest in careers. Finishing a film proves that you have what it takes. If you can show them a completed production, and you receive a finishing grant for your film, it will usually be in the 10,000- 40,000 dollar range.  Karen says, “they are an open door” and urges that it’s never too early to contact them and start a conversation.

Private equity is a great option for funding.  A filmmaker can appeal to three motivators to acquire private equity towards the making of their film. One of the key motivating factor for private equity when it comes to a first time feature filmmaker is love and friendship. The first investors in your film will usually be from friends and family- these are often great ways of funding your first feature film as it will be easier to receive funding from other sources once you’ve established yourself as a feature filmmaker. Speaking from experience, one female panelists explains that creating a feature film has done more for her career than her Master’s degree ever did. Friends and family are often eager to help with the funding of your feature to advance your career.

The next motivator is association. Sometimes investors are looking to receive advertising, a courtesy credit in the film, or if your funder has an interest in film, the ability to go on set can be particularly appealing, especially if you manage to score a well known actress or actor in your production.

The last motivator is someone who wants a return on their capital. These are people looking to make money off of the film industry. This is less popular in Canada, but is very common in the United States. One of the panelists, a man who had experience garnering millions of dollars in film funding, spoke of pre-buying, where companies will buy the film before it’s completion. These happen at select conferences in hotels where buyers go around from room to room to hear about the various prospective films for investment. They will buy the film before it is made, thus, providing funding to the making of the film before it has been completed.

It’s also essential to maintain contact and relationships with your investors, keeping them up to date on the film’s progress. This is something to remember for the less experienced, as you will easily get carried away with the making of your film.

A great way to showcase your film, whether you want to crowd fund the film or search for other means of funding: after completing your script, scroll through and highlight the scenes that seem like “trailer moments”. Creating your trailer before you’ve produced the whole film is common to garner interest and attention for the completion of a film.

Lawyers and entrepreneurs working together with creatives is so beneficial-  When you make a film, wether you are employing union or non union actors, you are creating jobs- this makes you eligible to receive back 25-60 % of your cost of labour. It’s important to understand filmmaking as a business and clients of Edwards Professional Corporation have the benefit of running through scenarios with seasoned professionals, finding the best way to use the government tax cuts to your benefit.  Tax credits can give you up to 50-60% of your costs back in a tax credit.

However, while numbers talk, it’s important to bring the focus back to quality. Knowing how to make a film, knowing how to get the funding or the tax credits to make a film simply isn’t enough. What any filmmaker should be focussed on first is making the best possible film they can. Don’t make a mediocre film because you understand the business of film, only make excellent films. Making an excellent film will get you the furthest. This is what’s going to set you apart. Even without any interest or support from distribution companies, if you manage to make an excellent film that gets into a reputable film festival, you are going to have these organizations ringing off your phone the minute you get accepted into a film festival like TIFF.  Only an excellent film will get you into places like these- you really want to put your focus on making an extraordinarily well made, stand-out film.


After the conference, I caught up with just such a filmmaker – Laura Perlmutter. Laura was kind enough to indulge me in conversation on the topic of equality for women in film. She seemed optimistic about the future saying that the game is changing, however she posited that it’s not enough to simply leave it at rhetoric-  we need to actually support it through our legislation. I followed up with Laura who is currently in NYC, I look forward to further conversation with her, until then, be sure to follow her at First Love Films and continue to support women in film.

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