Although it’s not as visible as oil or agriculture, film in Alberta is an increasingly big business. Sure, our landscapes, which range from mountains and lakes to fields and forests, may have attracted big-budget international productions like The Revenant, Wynonna Earp and Brokeback Mountain, but we also have a burgeoning homegrown film industry.
But filmmakers, like other artists, often face roadblocks when they approach a bank for financing. From bankers who don’t understand artistic industries to policies that exclude artists on the basis of formalities, traditional banks are often not the most helpful or supportive places to go when you’re trying to make a movie in Alberta. In the words of Edmonton filmmaker Dylan Pearce (Avatar Media), this industry is all about surviving the word no.
The banks for artists
At The Branch for Arts + Culture, we treat artists a little differently. We want to be involved so much that if you’re trying to make a movie, we might even be the ones to approach you.
Avatar Media’s most recent feature film, Christmas Cupcakes, was financed in part by ATB through The Branch. “We never had to worry about trying to convince The Branch that this was a good idea,” Dylan says. “It was a situation where they were fighting for us.”
Financing independent film
Just like in any business, in film, it takes money to make money. Without significant amounts available right from the get-go, it’s often impossible to shoot a movie at all—much less deal with all the costs of post-production, marketing and distribution that come later.
The Branch partners with film productions by providing something called “gap financing,” which is a big deal in the movie business. Production budgets often rely heavily on presales to distribution companies and licensers, on grants (many of which can be found here), and on provincial and federal tax credits (all of which are paid out after the movie is finished). So a loan to cover the cost of equipment, locations, cast and crew can make or break a movie before the cameras even start rolling.
It may sound more glamorous, but really it’s exactly the same kind of banking support that any big business, dealing with large sums of money constantly moving in and out, would require. In fact, when The Branch was first figuring out how best to serve Alberta’s film industry, we used Alberta’s agriculture industry as a model. As it turns out, the kind of risk and reward analysis that applies to crop production also applies to movie productions!
Standing with Alberta’s filmmakers
Looking to the future, Dylan hopes people start to realize what an asset Alberta film productions can be many different sectors—from catering to car rentals—in our province. But, he notes, “for Alberta film to thrive, banks need to be willing to take more risks with filmmakers, as the filmmakers themselves take risks.”