Can you tell us a little bit about your company, Agency 71?
We have 3 different parts to our company. The company started as a marketing agency for film and television, so we did a lot of movie posters, film trailers and websites. Then we launched a production company because people were pitching us their ideas to help them do their financing kits. We were getting lots of good ideas in the door, so we thought we might actually see if we can fund them and get them off the ground. We partnered with our friend and Producer David Miller and launched our own production company.
Once we got a film under our belts we thought – well we’re marketing them and we’re making them, why don’t we distribute them as well? So five years ago we launched our distribution company. That’s the three silos, so to speak, of A71.
As a distribution company, what kinds of films are you attracted to? Do you have a ‘brand’?
The overarching thing, especially at the beginning, was story. From start to finish – if the film tells a good story, we’re drawn to it.
Within that, we’ve looked at the odd genre film and that sort of thing, but again it all circles back to if there’s a good story. We’re pretty agnostic when it comes to themes.
I don’t think it was an intentional thing that happened with our company, but I think it certainly has come to pass that we became a bit of a champion of the ‘new filmmaker’ in Canada, the ‘new indie.’ A lot of the films we picked up and took out were first time filmmakers. Even on the agency side, we’ve always been a champion of the underdog and that’s why we’re a boutique distribution company – we try to be a bit of an alternative and do things in a different way. Now we are starting to get some films that are larger ones by seasoned filmmakers. We just had one announced at TIFF, it’s a large 10 million dollar picture, our biggest one yet. It’s called Tulipani (2017) from director Mike Van Diem, who has won an Oscar.
But we’re still really focused on the new guard of filmmakers in Canada. With new filmmakers there’s so much unbridled passion for their project and we like to work with filmmakers who are still engaged in their project; we are quite happy to involve them in the process and trade on that enthusiasm because that helps everybody to make a smaller budget film perform much better than a larger budget film that has less grassroots support.
We believe in a team philosophy: with the film landscape now it has to be all hands on deck. We’re building those relationships where we want to have the second and third films from the filmmakers we work with.
Is that why you like to get involved in the Planet in Focus annual Green Pitch session?
Yeah, for sure. There’s an opportunity there to get on the ground floor and do a project. That’s sort of how we got into film production and distribution in the first place – we work with the sponsorship program at the CFC (Canadian Film Centre). Initially we provided marketing and mentoring assistance to their residents there. We got the opportunity to see some early projects and one of them was Blackbird from producer Mark Almon. He brought it to us for a financing kit and we really liked it. That led to similar situations like that happening over and over. We have two films we’re looking at right now that are CFC grads and we know of those projects because of that same process.
How did the collaboration between A71 and Planet in Focus come together?
We met the Executive Director of Planet in Focus, Jordana, years ago. She had a few projects that she needed pitch kits for and we started working together on those. When she became part of PiF and taking on responsibilities there, she reached out to us. We were already aware of the festival anyway and thought, this is great – it aligns with our core philosophies and values and we want to be part of this project.
When you say core values and philosophies, how does environmental advocacy fit into that?
I think it falls into the category of championing the underdog and the festival feels a little bit like that. And to be honest, the environment obviously is the underdog these days. It aligns with that aspect of our philosophy.
Getting involved with PiF means we can say hey, we’re participating in this thing and hopefully creating awareness and getting people motivated for change.
Growing up in the country, we’ve both been exposed to the environment perhaps a little differently than people who have grown up in Toronto. We both have a fairly close connection with it. We also grew up watching David Suzuki on The Nature of Things, so when projects like that come up we try to latch onto them. We’ve done a few things for David Suzuki, for example. We did work on Force of Nature with David Suzuki and Flight of the Butterflies, the 3D butterfly migration movie that SK Films had done.
So I think organically we are drawn to projects like that even though we don’t have any overt advocacy mandate per se, beyond that we like to support the underdog. Certainly with the administration south of the border, the environment is the underdog now.
What do you love about working with Planet in Focus?
There’s a lot of creative freedom which is really fantastic – the team is great, they’re really open to ideas and you know, that’s what designers want. Our art director Liz is such a fantastic illustrator as well and she’s been the main designer on the two campaigns we’ve done with PiF. We get a chance to play and explore and we get to do that with something that’s meaningful even outside of the art or a film. It has a greater purpose – that always feels good.
And seeing that what we’re doing is attracting more attention to a festival that is really important for people to go to – that’s probably the most gratifying part. We’re contributing to getting the awareness out about something we believe in, that we think people should attend.
We love the messaging that PiF provides as well: it’s not all doom and gloom, there are ways to change. A lot of the films are very inspirational.
Being able to use our ‘powers’ for good – the advertising agency’s power of persuasion to persuade people to pay attention to something that’s important and that will sustain the planet, improve people’s lives, enrich people. You know, that’s rewarding, you can’t ask for better work than that.