Starting-up in Canadian Art & Film

 

Below is a transcript of a conversation I've had with Mr. Levitan, a Toronto-based media-lawyer, film and television producer, on the topic of the peculiarities of the Canadian film industry.

A conversation with Steven Levitan, founder of Protocol Entertainment.

A conversation with Steven Levitan, founder of Protocol Entertainment.

So you are both a lawyer and a television producer. That seems like an unusual path to tread, can you please tell me about the relationship between media law and film production here in Canada?

It isn’t unusual at all, once you understand the nature of the Canadian film industry. See, no other developed nation in the world, that I can think of, spends as much tax-dollars on cultural production, on a per-capita basis, than Canada. And we have so little to show for it.

Of course, one could point out to the roaring success of the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) and the record-breaking sales, year after year, at Art Toronto.

Of course. And there is plenty of talent here, no doubt. And if you look at the fact that most Canadian talent has to travel south of the border in order to gain notoriety and reach, you’ll start to see what I’m talking about.

How so?

Well, any creative project requires, first and foremost, start-up funding. And every creative project is, in many ways, a gamble.  

As Canadians, we share a border with the single largest machine of cultural imperialism in the world. And this, of course, makes the Canadian government quite uneasy, to the point that we pour untold amounts of money into creating and sustaining cultural industries of our own.

This sounds like good news.... ?

Well it is for Quebec, where these subsidies have given rise to a distinctly unique flavor of french-Quebecois culture in art and film.

The same does not hold true for English Canada, where we seem, by and large, more than happy to consume American entertainment. We ultimately do not see the same cultural threat as the Quebecois.

So English Canadian productions have to compete with American ones?

Basically, when you take cultural identity out of the equation, cultural works become popular because they are good. There is no formula for success. Something is good if it is good.

Now, in the funding scheme that we spoke about, the government is basically the main patron for the arts. Much like the Medici family in Venice during the Renaissance.

The problem with having a governmental body acting as a private patron, however, is the distribution of limited resources among many applicants. Issues of equality and fairness come into play. Because funding is awarded by government officials and government employees, objective guidelines have to be put in place to determine who gets funding and who does not. And objectivity in the arts is poison.

Objectivity in art is poison. May I quote you on that?

Please do. Because funding for the arts is awarded by people ultimately not involved in the arts, and because the criteria have to be objective. The official stance of the Canadian government is to fund projects that uphold Canadian values.

And in English Canada, these distinct cultural values are...

Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps expect a few more hockey movies. 

Thank you very much for this conversation.

Based in Toronto, Steve Levitan is a Canadian Media & Entertainment Lawyer and the President of Protocol Entertainment.  has produced 4 feature films, over 675 episodes of TV drama, and 5 TV movies which have enjoyed widespread success all over the world.