It is a veritable clash of eras as city council and cross-tier media professionals try to bring the rudderless film commission into modernity.
In the spring of last year, then Edmonton film commissioner Brad Stromberg suddenly left his position. Earlier this month industry professionals representing film, television and digital media met with council hoping to band together to create the Edmonton Screen Industries Office.
Owen Brierley, the executive director of the Edmonton Digital Arts College, says council must take into account the changing nature of the industry. He’s one of the core individuals who helped create the idea of a Screen Industries Office, and his focus has been on Edmonton’s potential as a hub for digital production.
“Once upon a time digital media was considered the experimental stuff,” he says. “You do a film then you tack on some weird multimedia piece or whatever. That is not the case anymore. The multimedia, the digital media stuff is now an integral business sector of the creative industry. It is now on par, if not bigger than in some cases, the film and television industry.”
From voice actors to motion capture performers to script writers to environment builders and animators, the digital media industry is not just taking off, it’s been flying for a while, says Brierley. And a narrowly focused film commission would miss those opportunities, and do the city a disservice.
“It’s bigger than film,” Brierly says. “Yes, there are filmmakers that are desperately looking for assistance and a way to survive today’s climate, just as much as newspapers are desperate to survive today’s climate. The distribution models are changing and the audience appetites are changing. Do we need to do things to support the filmmakers? Absolutely. Part of that support is going to be in helping them transition into the new world order.”
Ava Karvonen is a filmmaker and president of Reel Girls Media. She spoke to council at this meeting on behalf of IATSE Local 210 (the union behind entertainment). She argues the office should be modelled after Edmonton’s specific needs. Rather than try to lure big budget projects away from Calgary, Karvonen thinks that the city should carve out its own niche by focusing on its specialized talents.
“Edmonton does the independant, the gritty. We will be doing stuff with slightly lower budgets,” she says. “But we will make it happen because we come up with solutions.”
Karvonen says the meeting with the city went very well. Council acknowledged support for the office and allowed the group to start laying the bureaucratic foundation for it. Work is still needed on a three-year plan for the not-for-profit, and there isn’t a proposed funding model yet.
Local filmmaker and producer Lindsey McNeil hopes this new office will be open enough to address the huge changes in the industry.
“There is no traditional film industry any longer, which is good because we’ve become very fragmented,” she says. “From the gaming industry, to television, film, web production, digital content…all of that is converging. It is an amazing and immense job that people are taking on here.”
In McNeil’s eyes we are in an evolutionary state when it comes to entertainment media. She thinks it is time to embrace change and would like the office to serve as a connection point. It would be a place where a feature film producer can access the right people to grow their product. Turn it into a game, an app or even just a website. She has confidence that Edmonton is the right city for this kind of network.
“I think Edmonton’s going to be on the map for cross-platform productions,” she adds.
One thing is for sure, the city is better off with some form of representation, and the sooner the better. According to Kurt Spenrath of Open Sky Pictures, if the city doesn’t act quickly to act in support of the many talents it already has, it is going to lose some of them.
“I’m a believer in the city, but I’m also a believer in that professionals sometimes have to make hard choices,” he explained. “And if the city and the province don’t make an effort to create an atmosphere in which this business can thrive, and somebody else does…”
Edmonton loses out on a very lucrative business, and the momentum that’s already there.