We interviewed Random Acts of Romance’s executive producer, Avi Federgreen, by phone from his Toronto home. We asked him about his role in the film and it evolved into a very intriguing and inspiring conversation about the realities of the Canadian Film industry and what it means for audiences as well as people working in film. Here is the first half of that discussion:
Sparkjoy: What did you do for Random Acts of Romance?
Avi Federgreen: I’m the executive producer of the movie. [Producer] Darren [Reiter] and [Director] Katrin [Bowen] applied for Telefilm production money, and because they hadn’t produced a film for Telefilm from beginning to end for the budget they were making it for, Telefilm felt that they needed an experienced producer to oversee and mentor them through all of the pre-production, production, post-production and delivery of the movie.
Katrin knows me through meeting her when she was here for TIFF for Amazon Falls. When Telefilm ask that she find an experienced executive producer she asked me if I would be willing to come on board. I knew of this project when it was in an early iteration of development, and so when she asked me, I said yes of course.
S: You met Katrin in TIFF in Toronto?
S: Is that where you’re based?
S: You’ve mentioned that you’ve worked on many other Telefilm projects. Any notable ones?
AF: Well, if you go to my website, you’ll see that I was one of the producers on One Week; Score: A Hockey Musical; High Life; Leslie: My Name is Evil; Hungry Hills… I’ve produced ten films in the last five years. That’s more feature films in Canada in the last five years than anybody else.
S: Were they all Telefilm projects?
AF: All but two.
S: How did you become a producer?
AF: I grew up in Edmonton. Since I was a kid I’ve wanted to make movies. I went downstairs when I was nine to say goodnight to my father and he was watching Vincent Price’s House of Wax and I turned to the TV and I pointed at it and I said “That’s what I want to do.” And my Dad said , “What?” And I said “Make that.”
From that, I applied to film school, didn’t get in, ended up going to DeVry [Institute of Technology] and graduated with a computer science degree in 1985 and worked in the computer business until 1994, when I quit a very high paying job to start at the very bottom in the film business.
S: What is that — production assistant?
AF: Yeah, PA. I basically moved up the ranks from PA to assistant location manager, to location manager, to assistant production manager, to production manager, to line producer, to post-production supervisor, to producer. And I’ve been producing since 2007.
SJ: So you’ve seen it all. That experience in the industry must help you now.
AF: Well, in my personal opinion, you’re a better producer if you’ve learned it from the ground, up. Now, does that make you a good judge of content? No, but I think you’re either born with that or you’re not. And I think you’re born to produce or you’re not born to produce, just as you’re born to direct or born to write, and so on.
I think everybody has their talent. And I think that the cream rises to the top, and those people that are passionate and that are empowered and that have a fire burning in their belly will succeed.
I just did an on-camera interview for the Harold Greenberg Fund, who for their 25th anniversary launched an interview series, called In Focus, and you can go on and check it out. I’ve also posted the interview on my Facebook wall, but I talk about those kinds of things.
S: So what exactly does a executive producer do?
AF: Well, for every single movie it’s different. In this case, I used my experience to advise and help them through the process. I just watched the rough cut of the movie last night and [Editor] Franco [Pante], Katrin and I spent time on the phone giving them my notes and my feelings about the cuts and where I think it needs to go, and things I think they should take a serious look at and so on.
I went out to Vancouver for a week in January before they went to camera to give them my two cents’ worth about many aspects of their production. I hope I’ve been an asset as opposed to a hindrance. These are talented people. They just needed some guidance based on my experience.
I think that in the end it’ll be a great movie. Katrin is a talent and I think everyone associated with the film put everything they had into it, to make this movie successful. And if I could help them in any way, then I was happy to do it.
I didn’t get paid anything to executive produce this movie. I did this because I believe in it, and I think it was the right thing to be a part of. Unfortunately there are not a lot of great women directors given an opportunity to make films in this country. I believe in Katrin and I think she’s going places .
S: I’ve heard producers talk about compartmentalizing filmmaking in terms of there’s the art, and then there’s the mechanics of actually producing the film. Do you straddle both?
AF: Any good film starts with a good script. A good script leads you to a good director, and a good director and a good script leads you to a great cast and a great crew…and money. There are producers that are good creative producers, there are good producers that are helping raise money and all the financial aspects, and then there are good producers that do both. I consider myself good at both.
S: What did Katrin and Darren need help with mostly — the business side or the creative side?
AF: They needed somebody to help them who has experience. Katrin’s made one film, and that was an extremely low-budget film. She didn’t make it for the budget that we had on this film.
More money means more responsibility, means more bureaucracy, means more paperwork, which means more asses on the line. Her next film, if this is deemed successful, she won’t need somebody like me attached. But when you’re giving somebody a significant amount of money, like Telefilm did, they want to make sure that their investment is going to be managed, and that there’s going to be somebody overseeing it.
This is not the first time I’ve been asked to executive produce a movie. I executive produced the movie Dead Before Dawn, which was shot last year. It was the first ever Canadian-financed 3D movie, and we made the movie for a million bucks. Which, I can tell you, is damn near impossible, when the average 3D movie is made for 15, 25, 50, 100 million dollars. And we made it for a million.
So, I have a reputation in Canada for making low-budget movies — on budget, on time — when people think that it’s not possible.
S: Is that a theme in Canadian independent films, pulling off magic?
AF: I don’t believe in taking no for an answer.
I made a film that I released myself through my new distribution company, Indiecan Entertainment. We made a movie, all-in, for $75,000. And its been playing theatres all over Canada. I got two weeks in Toronto, it just played a run in Edmonton, it’s playing in Saskatoon this weekend for four nights, it’s going to be playing in Regina, I sold it to Air Canada, I sold it to TMN…when everybody said it wasn’t possible.
S: So you’re producing and distributing content?
AF: Yeah. I like to consider myself Avi Weinstein. I have my own production company, I have my own distribution company, I have my own record label and music publishing company.
S: That’s amazing!
AF: I started the distribution company because we make about 250 films a year in Canada, of which less than 10% get distribution. And I’ve made films that couldn’t get a distributor for, like Moon Point. I just didn’t want to see that happen to me again, nor did I want to see it happen to friends of mine, who were making great movies, who couldn’t get a distributor, or when they got a distributor it only got put in one or two theatres in the entire country. I couldn’t watch it happen anymore. So, I decided to make change.
I can’t get a distributor to distribute every single film I make. So, if I can’t get a distributor to take my film, then I need to take ownership as a filmmaker, and get it out to the masses myself.
S: Are you distributing Random Acts of Romance here in Canada?
AF: I have spoken to them about it…
S: You’re distributing Amazon Falls, though, aren’t you?
S: Oh, great.
AF: I mean, there’s not much left to do with it. I’m going to see if I can get any more TV sales out of it and digital distribution.
My love for making films will continue and I’ll continue to do it. That’s my first priority, but distributing films for people who make good films and can’t get a distributor is my second.
S: It sounds like you’re seeking out other good people and trying to support them through your own investments.
AF: Totally. I have a doc that was made by a friend of mine in Vancouver named Charles Wilkinson, called Peace Out, that I’m going to distribute; it just got into Hot Docs, and I’m doing everything I can to help.
Most Canadian distributors take six to eight Canadian films a year, and of course they’re going to take the ones that are bigger budget, with the bigger name actors in it, and that’s their priority.
In my opinion I think Canadian distributors need to take more Canadian content of all budget sizes. There are no mandates on how many Canadian films should appear on Canadian screens. Until that changes, we as filmmakers and creators of content have to push the envelope.
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Thank you for reading the first of our two-part interview with Avi Federgreen. We’ll bring you the second half in a week’s time. He will share some insights on the financial side of making Canadian films. You won’t want to miss his riveting revelations. Avi is an executive producer based in Toronto. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His distribution contact is email@example.com.