My name is Liza Vespi and I’m the  Executive Director of Raindance Canada here in Toronto. Elliot Grove is the Toronto-born-and-raised founder of Raindance — the largest independent film festival in Europe. He’s coming to Toronto to present a series of workshops and events in March, including his master class Lo-to-No Budget Filmmaking.

In the summer of 2017, I caught up with Elliot to hear his thoughts about the many questions surrounding the CRTC funding brouhaha that’s making waves here in Canada. Not one to mince words, here’s Elliot’s take on the shape of indie film, and both the blessing and the curse of government-funded filmmaking:

Q: Everybody’s up in arms about the CRTC ruling on private spending  (and cut in BravoFact Short Film Funding, etc.) How do you see this impacting indie film in Canada, Elliot?

Access to money is always of major concern to independent filmmakers. The upside to more generous funding from CRTC would, in theory, make it easier for filmmakers to fund their projects. Here in Britain, filmmakers find that funding tends to go to the same favoured few, or at least that’s the common complaint I hear in London.

The downside is that over-generous public funding can create a culture of dependency and complacency — anathema to creative and entrepreneurial risk-taking. Filmmakers too dependent on money from the teat of public funding tend to become complacent and unaware of the commercial impact their passion projects can have.

Then there are platforms like BravoFact which exist to encourage new talent in Canada — and that is a great thing. I wish we had a comparable programme here in the UK.

Q:  Elliot, in a increasingly global marketplace, what’s your take on regulating Canadian content, or CanCon, as it’s known here?

Nations throughout Europe have similar quota systems in order to protect and foster home-grown talent — mainly for radio (music) and TV. While this is a noble attempt to encourage and monetize national talent, it can also backfire given the increasingly globalised market that digital distribution offers.

Canada is the world’s third largest exporter of music after America and Britain, so, clearly, the Canadian music industry is thriving, and punching above its weight in terms of market share vs population.

Perhaps a better policy would be for our public bodies to pour their time and effort into marketing and publicity — something that the Quebecois have done really well with the plethora of internationally successful filmmakers from that province. Directors like Xavier Dolan, Denis Villeneuve and Jean-Marc Vallee are internationally renowned.

Q: How should indie filmmakers leverage this currently opportunity?

This question has a double edge. On one hand, filmmakers want to break into the mainstream — and that means funding. On the other hand, the opportunities for filmmakers — or should I say content creators — has never been a greater.

Everyone is screaming for content: There’s two tricks. The first is to monetize your content. The second is to de-risk your project to investors. Monetizing your content doesn’t mean changing your vision, selling out, or becoming ‘commercial’ (why is ‘commercial’ a dirty word in Canada?) Monetizing your content means identifying an audience for your content and ensuring your content gets to that audience, whether you’re making an art house film, a family drama, a web series or an impact documentary. We talk a lot about this at Raindance — how to choose and align the best strategy for each film that will strategically get it to market to make money to get your next film/content made, and so on.

Q: Elliot, why should emerging filmmakers continue to be so optimistic? 😉

Look, filmmakers from a quarter century ago didn’t have near the marketing clout of their colleagues working today. The power of social media and the ability to self-distribute were virtually unknown way back when I started Raindance in the early ’90s. Learn how to use the power of social media. Learn from the publicity lessons of those who have gone before, like the makers of The Blair Witch Project. Leverage technology today like the makers of Tangerine (shot entirely on a couple of iPhones). Collaboratively, a tiny team can create waves of support online to build a community for your creative output. That thing in your pocket is a dream maker which you haven’t even begun to use to its capacity yet.

It’s all right in front of you. What’s there NOT to be optimistic about?

Q: What’s the biggest takeaway filmmakers can expect from your Lo-to-No Budget Filmmaking masterclass?

You don’t have to be born into the right family, go to the right school, or have the right money to be a voice or a visionary. But you DO have to learn how to think strategically, familiarize yourself with some tools, and plug into networks of like-minded creatives focused more on what you CAN do than what you CAN’T.

I’m always happy to come to Toronto where I get a breath of fresh air and meet so many filmmakers on the verge of doing their most inspired work.

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About 

Liza Vespi is Executive Director at Raindance Canada, entrepreneur, mom, partner, co-director/producer of the award-winning feature documentary Slaughter Nick for President... not necessarily in that order.