Demystifying Digital Distribution

I had the great pleasure of moderating a panel on Demystifying Digital Distribution at the Available Light Film Festival in Whitehorse earlier this month. There were some great insights on this topic shared by my fellow panelists who included producer and distributor Avi Federgreen from IndieCan, distributor Dylan Marchetti from Amplify Releasing and Suzanne Crocker, a multi award winning filmmaker, All the Time in the World.

During our discussion we explored the changing landscape of releasing a film in Canada and discussed some of the opportunities and challenges filmmakers face today. We also discussed the various facets of distributing a film, from festival screenings, to theatrical release through to online distribution. We all agreed that the theatrical release is no longer the ‘be all and end all’ for a film’s release. As Avi said, it’s great for a filmmaker to get a theatrical release and have their film play on the big screen, but often it’s not practical and can be extremely costly. Dylan argued that in many cases it makes no sense to book a film in a movie theatre for multiple screenings per day for a week, particularly a low budget film with no star’s attached. Most of those screenings play to an audience of two or three people at best. What a colossal waste of money. I agreed that in many cases it is better for the filmmaker to book a theatre for one screening in their home city, pack the house and then release day and date, or shortly thereafter, on VOD. 

Although there was general agreement with this approach, Avi pointed out that some films are required by Telefilm Canada to have a minimum of one week in three cities, and if a filmmaker wants to be reviewed by the critics they must have a proper theatrical release. We speculated as to whether Telefilm will change their policies as we start seeing more success with alternative distribution models. There’s no way around getting those critics reviews though.  The question is, how important are they? I know you can’t guarantee that your film will get reviewed and even if you could, there is certainly no guarantee you’ll get a good review. 

The other consideration for going the theatrical route, is if you want to play in a Cineplex theatre, which dominates over 80% of the theatres in Canada, you cannot release on VOD within 90 days of it’s theatrical screening. That’s a long time to wait after a one or two week theatre run (three weeks if you are lucky). Any buzz generated for your film during it’s theatrical will be long gone and forgotten. You have to start your VOD marketing campaign from ground zero and with a limited budget you may have little to no impact. 

In a perfect world, you would have a strong festival screening at a significant, well respected festival, then quickly move into your theatrical release in Canada, day and date with your US release, and then immediately follow that with your launch on VOD.  Unfortunately, we seldom see that perfect scenario unfold, and it’s particularly unlikely for the smaller films.  In fact, it is very difficult for low, or smaller budget films to even book a theatre, and it can be near impossible to time it with an American release. If you happen to get an American release, your southern distributor will then insist that you not release your film online until it has had it’s theatrical release in the States. This is something Suzanne is currently experiencing with her film All The Time In The World and her American distributor is basically forbidding her to release online in Canada. Unfortunately, unlike the title of Suzanne’s film, filmmakers don’t have the leisure of time, and if there is too much of it between festival, theatrical and online distribution your film can quickly go stale. 

I like Dylan’s recommendation. He said a low budget film that is likely to be subjected to this kind of waiting game torture is much better off to plan a VOD launch immediately following a significant festival screening. By doing so you can ride the wave of publicity buzz generated by the festival and people will more likely seek out your film to watch online. It’s a cost effective way to build your audience and keep the momentum rolling. 

From here we moved into talking about aggregators – that’s an expensive business and from what I gathered it’s not necessarily the best approach for smaller films. First off, you have to pay approximately $1,000 to work with an aggregator and every time you want to send your film to a VOD platform the aggregator will charge you another $175 for delivery. They don’t help market your films, but just dump them on the VOD sites and walk away. The problem is, if you want to get your film on iTunes or Netflix you have to either have a distributor or work with an aggregator as these two giants will not deal with individual filmmakers. 

There are other platforms that filmmakers can go directly to though. Suzanne is in favour of Vimeo as they only take 10% of sales and you set the price. This is the DIY approach to distributing your film, which works for those who are great marketers and already have an existing and well established fan base. The biggest problem with Vimeo is that it is difficult to find new films unless you know exactly what you are looking for. 

Another great platform is CanadaScreens – Ok, I know I’m a tad biased about this one but it really is pretty cool. First off, if you already have a pro-res file it will cost you nothing to get it on CanadaScreens. If the film needs to be digitized, it will just cost $100 (much less than the $1,000 to go through an aggregator). Content is curated and actively marketed by a savvy social media team; and we promote the service as a place to discover great Canadian films so people who haven’t heard about your film will be exposed to it. You can find out more about CanadaScreens here.

Once you figure out your online releases strategy and what platforms you are going to be on then make sure you have the assets to attract your audience. Avi commented on how important it is to have a simple, clean poster. Remove all the laurels, keep your graphics to a minimum, don’t have actor names or quotes. Remember the VOD poster is not the same as the theatrical poster as your audience’s first exposure to your movie will be captured in a thumb nail. Keep it simple.  

Dylan said if you can’t get a professionally cut trailer (and he sternly advised against filmmakers cutting their own trailers) then just take a :30 second clip from the film – a teaser of sorts. You must have something to preview. Both Avi and Dylan also strongly recommended that filmmakers have their own YouTube channel where they post their trailers, and warned filmmakers against trying to monetize them. You’ll frustrate you audience if you make them watch an ad before your trailer, which is in fact another ad. 

In closing, it’s an exciting time to be a filmmaker. It’s easier then ever to make movies and if you have some social media savvy, are committed to promoting your work, there are many avenues for you to take to help find your audience. 


There’s been a lasting ripple effect due to the lack of diversity represented in the best acting categories at this year’s Academy Awards. The Academy has since taken action to double the number of ‘women and diverse’ voting members by 2020 

In this particular case the term ‘diversity’ is being used to refer specifically to actors of colour, however I personally feel it refers to all of us since we’re all different–women, the LGBT communities, or actors of different ethnic backgrounds and ages—and isn’t that what ‘diversity’ means? But I digress!

The question at hand is: are we doing better in terms of diverse representation onscreen here in Canada? If you look at the nominees in our own Canadian Screen Awards categories, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’ but if you dig a little deeper it’s not as black & white as it appears, pardon the pun!

One of the benefits of a government-funded system is that when you go to Telefilm for money, you have to satisfy Canadian Content criteria, and indeed, diversity is part of their mandate:

“Telefilm will encourage a diversity of voices in feature film by … projects presenting different viewpoints such as those of women and emerging talent, as well as projects showcasing the cultural diversity of the country through the presence of Aboriginal communities, linguistic minorities, etc.”

I spoke with Telefilm’s, Dan Lyon, a huge supporter of Canadian talent both onscreen and behind the camera, who said that, “In my role as a Feature Film Executive for Telefilm Canada, one of my greatest pleasures is to provide opportunities for filmmakers from diverse backgrounds, and fostering stories about people reflecting the scope of our community. Examples of recent projects which reflect the wide diversity of Canada include Stella Meghie’s JEAN OF THE JONESES (which will play SXSW in March), Igor Drljaca’s THE WAITING ROOM starring the CSA-nominated Jasmin Geljo, Deepa Mehta’s BEEBA BOYS, DR CABBIE starring Vinay Virmani and Kunal Nayyar, ACROSS THE LINE starring Stephan James (directed by Director X, inspired by the true story of a race riot in a Halifax high school), and David Bezmozgis’ NATASHA (set in the Russian-Jewish immigrant community in North York).  A unique example of diversity on-screen is THE RAINBOW KID, in which CSA-nominated actor Dylan Harman portrays the leading role of a young man (like himself) with Down’s Syndrome.”

It’s certainly an impressive line-up of films and one which reaffirms Telefilm’s commitment to representing Canada accurately onscreen. Yet when I ask Albert Shin, writer/director of CSA Best Picture nominee for 2015’s IN HER PLACE, how he feels as a ‘diverse’ filmmaker he pauses and says, “It’s kinda complicated.” His film didn’t receive any Telefilm funding as it didn’t satisfy the Canadian Content criteria. It was filmed in Korea and had no Canadian actors, however it was ‘born, bred and developed here’. It was Canadian enough to be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award so this raises the question as to what qualifies as ‘Canadian’.

We’ve been rightfully proud, for example, of the Best Picture Oscar nominations for Canadian coproductions, ROOM and BROOKLYN, but does anyone outside the Canadian industry consider these films ‘Canadian’?

BEEBA BOYS star, Gabe Grey, also felt that the definition of what’s considered ‘Canadian’ is changing and that “funders need to acknowledge that.” Grey had a huge year in 2014 when he was part of the Canadian Film Centre’s Actor’s Lab and shot the Deepa Mehta-directed BEEBA BOYS. Naturally his career took a solid upward climb following this bountiful year right? Wrong. I was shocked to hear that auditions have actually decreased for him since BEEBA BOYS.  While this is partly due to him going out for larger roles, if those roles aren’t open to casting him, it’s a bit of a sticky situation.

Grey’s comments on the changing status of what’s considered Canadian stemmed from the fact that, as a South Asian actor, the types of roles he’s considered for continue to be largely stereotypical ones—that of a terrorist or doctor for example—whereas he’s never considered for a romantic lead. It feels like there’s a sensibility with those making the casting decisions of Caucasians being ‘like a string of pearls that is neutral and goes with everything” he says, while ethnic actors are marginalized as being more ‘specific’.  

As a former Chair of the Diversity Committees for both, ACTRA Toronto and ACTRA National myself, I know that the actor’s union does it’s best to represent it’s diverse actors to the casting communities.

ACTRA Toronto President, Dave Sparrow says, “At ACTRA, we have embraced our motto "Diversity is our Strength." by working with our industry partners to lobby government for the opportunity to better reflect the amazing mosaic of Canadian society on all our screens. And while many more projects now tell the stories of strong women and people of colour, there is always more we can do. Inclusion is an action word. As creators, our industry must work to include as they tell the stories of our diverse nation. As we saw in last year's Book of Negroes, great, exciting stories are celebrated and shared across wide audiences. At our ACTRA Awards in Toronto on February 20th we celebrate 15 nominees who have done outstanding work over the last year, and they represent diversity of gender, age and ethnicity… but most of all, they are terrific actors and engaging story tellers.”

But ACTRA is not a casting director, and even if casting directors bring diversity into the audition room, they aren’t the ones making the final decisions. That’s what it essentially boils down to—until the decision makers are more diverse themselves, the casting of films won’t change much.

It is amusing to me that ‘authenticity’ is often invoked as a reason for not including diverse actors. Somehow it’s ok to have Kristin Kreuk play an Indian woman in PARTITION, but we simply cannot have an Indian/Black/Asian performer in a historic film outside of their native lands! Ahh the frustrating contradictions!

As he works on his next project, Albert Shin is aware that fellow filmmakers trying to make culturally diverse films are having a hard time getting their films off the ground yet he knows firsthand that “if you can do it on your own and cut through the noise you can still get recognized”. IN HER PLACE was definitely an underdog and it’s nomination for Best Picture made him a filmmaker to watch. He’s now working with a larger production company for one of his next projects, something that probably wouldn’t have happened before IN HER PLACE.

As for handsome Gabe Grey, he’s become a self-starter, realizing that creating your own projects is really the lesson to be learned. One of the projects he’s involved in has had no Canadian interest yet, however it has attracted an international distributor. This is another sad fact of the Canadian industry, that many of it’s best and brightest stars often feel they need to leave Canada to be recognized and to have opportunities that aren’t available to them at home.

I’ll leave you with this. I recently watched an American film, LAST KNIGHTS. In it, Clive Owen plays a knight to Morgan Freeman’s Lord Bartok. Several secondary characters, including many of Owen’s band of knights include black, middle Eastern and Asian actors. I’ll tell you this much—having diverse actors in a drama set in historical England  did not diminish my enjoyment of this film even a wee bit. Perhaps it’s time we give audiences a little more credit, a little more respect and a little more representation of themselves at the theatres.

What do you think? Am I kicking up a fuss about nothing? Are things progressing at an acceptable pace or do they need to progress at all? I can’t wait to hear your comments!


Thunderbird Films’ Soda Pictures will present Philip Ridley’s 1990 film The Reflecting Skin at Vancouver’s Vancity Theatre on Friday, February 26th at 10:20PM and at Toronto’s The Royal (Feb 26 to March 3), with special guests in attendance.  The film stars Viggo Mortensen in one of his first roles and is a Canadian-British co-production that was filmed in Alberta.


Canada Screens Launches New Family Films Programming with A BEAR NAMED WINNIE

February 15th marks Family Day in Ontario, and is also the day and have chosen to launch our ‘Family Films’ programming for the Canada Screens VOD platform!  Pairing feel-good storytelling with fascinating Canadian History, First Weekend Club is thrilled to announce A BEAR NAMED WINNIE, from Entertainment One distribution, as the first of many ‘Family Films’ to have a future home on online VOD platform, and to be part of bringing ‘family time’ closer to Canadians with lovely, relevant and entertaining home-grown stories!


Discover Your Reel Love This Valentine’s Day with and First Weekend Club

Discover Your ‘Reel Love’ this Valentine’s Day with First Weekend Club and !

Whether you’re in the mood for an award-winning soulmate story, or want to chill out with Canada’s true love- Hockey, from February 12-18th, First Weekend Club members will receive a special promotion to rent Canadian Film gems, CAFE DE FLORE and GOON for a price you’ll fall in love with, just .99c!


First Weekend Club Celebrates Black History Month

First Weekend Club and are pleased to share in the story-telling taking place all over Canada to celebrate and honour Black History Month. In the spirit of encouraging diversity, discovery and discussion, we have 3 unique and acclaimed Canadian Film titles we’d like to share with you, available to experience in 3 different ways;


Think Canadian film can’t be romantic? Think again. Just don’t expect your run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. Here are a few of our favourites.


I didn’t really know what I was getting into all those years ago; At the time, it was just this little idea I had, that if all the people I knew in the film industry helped spread the word about a Canadian film’s opening, then maybe that film would stay in theatres longer instead of disappearing after the first week like so many seemed to do. It has been 13 years today since I started First Weekend Club! Wow. What an incredible journey it’s been. 

At that time I put out an email to all my contacts letting them know of my ‘plan’ and asking them to email me if they wanted to be added to my new “First Weekend Club ” email list.  I was overwhelmed by the response. Not only did I get a resounding YES, but my friends then told their friends about it and next thing I knew the media was calling me, and filmmakers, actors and other industry professionals were stepping forward, offering to help grow this idea into something much bigger.

Today this idea, and wish for some change, has led to members across the country, each with the same wish and commitment to see Canadian Film talent supported! First Weekend Club has grown into a staff of 6 across the country, and we  have promoted over 400 Canadian feature films!

2015 was another big turning point for FWC when we recently launched a Video on Demand service exclusively for Canadian movies,  (Think Netflix- but just for Canadian Film) and have partnered with some of the largest and most respected film industry organizations in the country. 

Interestingly, just today I was listening to a motivational speaker and he said, “If you can’t find your purpose, find your passion and your passion will lead you to your purpose.” That’s what happened to me; I was passionate about Canadian film and here I am, running a national organization that promotes Canadian film and talent and I know I found my purpose (or one of them anyways). I love my work, and the people I work with. 

I have the best staff you can imagine – a group of truly passionate, intelligent, creative women who inspire me. I have a pretty incredible board of directors too, each with their own mega contribution to Canadian Cinema. Seriously, these men and women on my board are the powerhouses of the film industry and they are working with me and my team to help build a thriving domestic film industry! It’s pretty amazing. So to my staff, my board of directors and all of our FWC members, thanks for believing in me and our mission. 

If I could ask for even more support today? Well I’d simply ask you the same thing I asked all my friends 13 years ago;  Will you sign up to be a member of and subscribe to my little ’email’ 😉   

You can join here 

Here’s to another great year ahead! 

Anita Adams

PS – if you’re on Twitter let’s connect there @AnitaFWC  @1stWeekendClub @CanadaScreens


This is a special year for the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 10-20. The festival will celebrate its 40 year anniversary – a significant milestone for a small Canadian festival that grew to become one of the biggest in the world.  

Don’t know what to watch? We’ve got you covered.


Blog Post by Katja De Bock for Reel West Magazine.

The rapprochement between the US and Cuba couldn’t have come at a better time for the makers for the BC indie feature 
3 Days in Havana.

Filmed in 2011 and 2012 in Vancouver and Havana, Cuba, the comedic thriller premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) in 2013 and was theatrically released in Canada in 2014 and in the US in early 2015. 

The film has been available for rent on since its launch last April and the US distributor Synergetic placed it on 140 US online platforms. 

“Our little film 3 Days in Havana really got a great push from the [US] president’s office. We really owe him a thank you,” says Tony Pantages, who directed the film with star Gil Bellows (Ascension, Ally McBeal, The Shawshank Redemption). “We have a film about Cuba coming out when the United States is suddenly very interested in Cuba,” he says, adding that 3 Days in Havana comes up in searches when people are looking for Havana. 

Pantages and Bellows met 26 years ago on the set of The First Season in Tofino, a film about fishermen killing themselves. It was the last film that Pantages acted in and the first one for Bellows. They became best friends and had been wanting to produce a film together ever since. In 2010, they sat down to write the story of 3 Days in Havana, which deals with Jack Petty (Gil Bellows), who gets more than he bargained for when he travels to Havana on business and gets caught up in an assassination conspiracy with his new friend Harry Smith (Greg Wise).

3 Days in Havana was born out of the sheer need to make a film at a time when it’s nearly impossible to make [indie] films. We just rolled up our sleeves and we put a blindfold on and we dove off the cliff. And that’s basically what it takes these days to fly,” says Pantages. “It only took a quarter century to do it.”

Working together as direction partners after the long creative process together came instinctively, said Pantages, who says his first instinct is to work technically with the camera. Bellows was in 97 per cent of the shots and prepped the actors on set until Pantages would join the conversation.  



Pantages and Bellows cast the film themselves, with roles written for their star colleagues such as Robin Dunne, Michael Eklund, Christopher Heyerdahl, John Cassini, Rya Kihlstedt and Phyllida Law. 

Pantages says Havana became one of the main characters of the film, with the team dancing the night away after grand long days of shooting in the city’s beautiful light. 

“It was such a magical place to shoot in, you can’t not be inspired there,” says Pantages. “We wanted to put into the film what people from western cultures actually experience when they get there. That kind of gasp, that breathtaking thing about the weather-beaten architecture, the beauty of the people and the kindness of everyone around us.”

The many trips to Cuba certainly paid off for DOP Pieter Stathis, who won a Leo Award for Best Cinematography in a Motion Picture for 3 Days in Havana in 2014. 

Pantages returned to acting after 23 years of concentrating as a commercial music video director and photographer. He’ll be seen as a – you guessed it – a photographer in Rachel Talalay’s upcoming CBC film about the Robert Pickton case and another photographer in an episode of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.

Read more about the making of 3 Days in Havana in Tony Pantages’ production diary – written for Reel West in 2013, it somehow never made it to publication until now.

By Katja De Bock for Reel West Magazine

Photos: Facebook


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