Yorkton is a small city in Saskatchewan with a population of roughly 17,000 people who every year invite the film community to join them in celebrating the movies. They have done this for 65 years, making it the longest running, continuous film festival in North America. It brings together a unique combination of people in a relaxed setting and includes screenings, panel discussions and presentations, and events like the annual LobsterBlast where you can see film producers and funders shooting skeet, swilling bottles of wine and beer and cracking lobster flown in from the east coast. It is an intimate and unique bonding experience for all those who attend. It was especially interesting to be at this gathering when the Saskatchewan industry is in such crisis (due the recent major changes to the film tax credit). There were many conversations, often including major national players, about the future of film and other screen media. While there were resonances with what I learned at a conference last fall about the “future proofing” of the industry there was also an immediacy and urgency at Yorkton that made it feel like that future is now. Here, with some prairie flavour, are four interesting conversations I was a part of while there:
Conversation #1: Real time storytelling “shenanigans” = money
You can tell stories and then you can live them. My Yorkton adventure started before I even got to Yorkton when I was picked up by the Roamancing gang of Erica Hargreave, Emme Rogers and Katrina German for the road trip of a lifetime. Roamancing is one of the storytelling vehicles of transmedia company Ahimsa Media. Before I knew it I was part of a live theatrical performance being shared with the world in real time by Twitter, as we transported a limited edition beer from Paddock Wood Brewery to the festival with the ridiculous hashtag #howtodeliverbeerwithoutdrinkingbeerbecausedriving. While I was being entertained I also had some great conversations with these smart women who create spaces for stories online that attract large followings and then invite (or are asked by) brands to be a part of the party. It’s a brilliant business model built on highly engaged niche audience(s) that trust the storytellers. In fact, Erica mentioned she had stopped going after public money simply because it took too long. The sponsorship momentum she was building was happening much faster and was enough to sustain the company. Not only does she make a living, but she also works with a group of talented writers/performers who she can and does pay. Now that’s a great story!
Conversation #2: Marketing/business skills have become critical to filmmaking training
Speaking of business models, I was also very excited to listen and talk to John Gill and Melissa Kajpust of the National Screen Institute. Years ago (more than I want to admit here) I spent some time taking producer’s training with the NSI. Today, the organization includes a number of very exciting courses, which I urge beginning and even more established filmmakers to check out. John has been the CEO at the NSI for about a year and Melissa (beside whom I shot my first shotgun) is the programming director. Over and over again they mentioned that marketing is part of every training program as are the business skills many mainstream entrepreneurs take for granted. These are people who speak my language and I am hoping to get myself invited to share some of my knowledge with their students.
Conversation #3: Television is just one option
During presentations and conversations with Mark Bishop and Matt Hornburg of Marblemedia and Joan Prowse of Cinefocus I loved hearing how these wildly creative people were so grounded in the digital business side. All three can boast online/television hybrid success stories: Matt and Mark are responsible for the kids’ game show Splatalot while Joan is behind another kids’ program GreenHeroes. They understand the value of the Internet for finding and building a strong niche audience that you can leverage across the world. Television has become just one channel for content distribution. They envision a day in the near future when web connected TVs include all kinds of content apps, with a broadcaster being only one of many choices. They are building and investing in digital audiences today to leverage those kinds of opportunities.
Conversation #4: Leveraging the brand of Canada
One of the final conversations of the festival happened during a panel entitled “Brave New World (?).” It included many of the people above as well as Tom Perlmutter of the National Film Board, John Dippong and Michel Roy from Telefilm, and Valerie Creighton of the Canada Media Fund. This was an engaging discussion of the challenges and threats to the future of the screen media industries in the country – especially timely to a Saskatchewan industry that feels under siege. Many great points were made during this discussion and many frustrations voiced, but one of the exciting initiatives discussed was Valerie’s pet project on how to leverage the “brand” of Canada (one that has so many positive associations since the Vancouver Olympics) on behalf of our screen based media. Plans are in the works to create an online hub for Canadian video content to share at home and with the world. Valerie was able to quote all kinds of great statistics (which the data hound in me loved) that makes me hope this may be a very effective strategy. The concept of a collective brand could certainly generate some revenue from the back catalogue of great Canadian television shows and movies, and if marketed effectively could go a long way in helping new screen media content and stories from this country also find and grow that audience.
A Few Final Shoutouts
Thanks again to all the volunteers who make the festival what it is. Also thanks to Richard Gustin for inviting me to speak and Randy Goulden who makes it all happen. I enjoyed lots of other conversations beyond the ones above (some of which I can even remember) and was really pleased to meet and spend time with the likes of Shelley Fayant (featured in the picture above taken by Katrina German), Robert Hardy, Amy Matysio, Daniel Cross (who gave the most amazing statement of support for the Saskatchewan industry in his award acceptance speech), Cam Broten, Joanne McDonald, Charlotte Engel, John Ritchie, Geoff Leo, Emma Graney, Nova Alberts, Matthew Garand, Crystal Van Pelt, David Cormichan and LOTS more. I hope to do it all again next year (although I came down with a terrible cold right afterwards and was told I just didn’t drink enough vodka).
What Do You Think?
Have you ever been to the Yorkton Film Festival? Did we meet in the conga line this year? I’d love to hear what you learned, who you met, how you were inspired or about any film, TV or web series projects that got jump started by the unique opportunities Yorkton presents. Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: The CanCon of Social TV