‘They cre­ated an ex­pec­ta­tion’

Que­bec artists wait for Net­flix in­vest­ments

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - NEWS - GIUSEPPE VALIANTE

MON­TREAL — On a re­cent episode of Que­bec’s pop­u­lar TV talk show, Tout le monde en parle, co­host Dany Tur­cotte asked Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau why he hadn’t heard of any sig­nif­i­cant Net­flix in­vest­ment in Que­bec since a ma­jor an­nounce­ment last year. The U.S. stream­ing gi­ant com­mit­ted in Septem­ber 2017, to in­vest­ing $500 mil­lion over five years in Cana­dian-pro­duced movies and tele­vi­sion shows, in both English and French.

“It’s not hap­pen­ing fast,” Tur­cotte said to Trudeau about Net­flix money in Que­bec. “There is noth­ing hap­pen­ing.”

The prime min­is­ter replied de­fen­sively: “On the con­trary.” Net­flix would in­vest “even more than they had ini­tially planned to,” he promised.

Maybe Trudeau knew some­thing about Net­flix’s plans that Tur­cotte, a Que­bec show-busi­ness vet­eran, didn’t.

But none of the Que­bec-based pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies or unions rep­re­sent­ing ac­tors, di­rec­tors or writ­ers con­tacted by The Cana­dian Press said they have heard of any French-lan­guage movie or tele­vi­sion se­ries in devel­op­ment by Net­flix in the prov­ince.

Cul­ture is a highly charged is­sue in Que­bec — and it’s no sur­prise that along­side ques­tions about cannabis le­gal­iza­tion and Saudi arm sales the prime min­is­ter was put on the spot about Net­flix.

Me­lanie Joly, the for­mer her­itage min­is­ter, lost her port­fo­lio last sum­mer fol­low­ing what was widely seen as a dis­as­trous han­dling of the Net­flix file.

Joly was sav­aged in the Que­bec me­dia for her gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion not to im­pose the fed­eral Goods and Ser­vices Tax on Net­flix or any other on­line-stream­ing com­pany. Net­flix’s $500-mil­lion an­nounce­ment was seen by cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in the prov­ince as a sop to the in­dus­try af­ter Ot­tawa de­cided against im­pos­ing sales taxes on stream­ing ser­vices such as Net­flix.

It’s a ques­tion of eq­uity, said Gilles Char­land, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the union rep­re­sent­ing Que­bec’s im­age and sound tech­ni­cians. “It’s not about adding a tax on peo­ple,” Char­land said. “It’s about en­sur­ing that whether you’re sub­scribed to Bell or Videotron or Shaw or Net­flix, you pay a tax for us­ing that prod­uct.”

The $500-mil­lion pledge was sup­posed to make up for the break given to Net­flix, but more than one year af­ter the an­nounce­ment, fran­co­phone Que­bec di­rec­tors, writ­ers and ac­tors are still wait­ing for a big project.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing,” said Gabriel Pel­letier, head of a union rep­re­sent­ing 700 film, tele­vi­sion and web-based di­rec­tors in Que­bec.

“It takes time to de­velop projects,” he con­ceded, “but still, there should at least be some deals for de­vel­op­ing some­thing.”

On the English side, Net­flix has made sig­nif­i­cant moves in Canada over the past year.

It re­cently re­newed the show, Trav­el­ers, cre­ated by Cana­dian Brad Wright and shot in Van­cou­ver. The com­pany has other English­language movies and TV shows in pro­duc­tion across the coun­try. Mon­treal-based Muse En­ter­tain­ment is cur­rently in post-pro­duc­tion on Good Sam, a $6.5-mil­lion fea­ture film for Net­flix, sched­uled to run on the com­pany’s on­line plat­form in 2019.

Muse vice-pres­i­dent Jesse Pru­pas said, “as a pro­ducer, I am very happy for this op­por­tu­nity and it took me years to get it — I’m de­lighted.”

Net­flix points to two re­cent projects in­volv­ing fran­co­phone tal­ent as ev­i­dence it has not ig­nored Que­bec.

It bought the rights to the 2017 film, Les af­fames, sched­uled to ap­pear on the plat­form in 2019. And the com­pany plans to record four fran­co­phone co­me­di­ans dur­ing the next Just for Laughs com­edy fes­ti­val in Mon­treal as part of an in­ter­na­tional se­ries fea­tur­ing 47 co­me­di­ans from around the world.

Writ­ers, ed­i­tors and ac­tors see signs of good­will from Net­flix, but so far it is not fund­ing any orig­i­nal Que­be­cois movie or tele­vi­sion se­ries.

In a state­ment, Net­flix said, “we are al­ways on the look­out for the best sto­ries.”

The com­pany said its $500-mil­lion com­mit­ment in­cludes movies and tele­vi­sion shows in both English and French, as well as an ad­di­tional $25 mil­lion in mar­ket devel­op­ment.

“There is more to come,” the com­pany said.

Si­mon Ross, a spokesman for the Her­itage Depart­ment, de­clined com­ment on the progress of Net­flix in­vest­ments but as­sured Que­bec artists, “we have their back when it comes to pro­tect­ing our cul­ture.” He said the gov­ern­ment “ex­pects the com­pany to make the in­vest­ments stip­u­lated un­der the In­vest­ment Canada Act in both of­fi­cial lan­guages, and we are mon­i­tor­ing it.”

Last May, Net­flix held a two-day se­ries of meet­ings in Mon­treal dur­ing which it re­ceived nu­mer­ous pitches. He­lene Messier, head of an as­so­ci­a­tion that rep­re­sents 150 in­de­pen­dent Que­bec pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies in film, tele­vi­sion and on­line, at­tended one of the events in May.

“There were more than 1,000 ideas sub­mit­ted to Net­flix dur­ing those meet­ings,” Messier said in an in­ter­view. “I know it can take time to de­velop projects,” she added, “but I would have hoped that by now we would have at least been able to an­nounce some­thing.” Messier said Net­flix “cre­ated an ex­pec­ta­tion” in Que­bec last year when it an­nounced its in­vest­ment, and she re­mains op­ti­mistic. “I think they will de­liver,” she said, “but I don’t know when.”

PAUL CHI­AS­SON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Gilles Char­land, di­rec­tor gen­eral of AQTIS, the Que­bec union of tech­ni­cians in au­dio-vis­ual pro­duc­tions poses for a pho­to­graph last Fri­day in Mon­treal.

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