Hip members give new film company helping hand

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A pair of familiar Kingstonians are set to play supporting roles with a new film production company starting up in Kingston.

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The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair are among the founding investors in Branded to Film, which intends to make movies, from preproduction right through to the musical score and the final edit, in the Kingston area, starting with a film to be shot here this summer. The longer-range plan would see the city become home to full-time film crews and a studio, among other things.

The new company is being headed by Jason Joly, a Queen’s University film school alum who moved back to the area in 2020 after spending years working in the TV and film industry in Toronto and on the West Coast.

Sinclair and Langlois agree with Joly that all of the elements needed to start a film company were already in Kingston; it was just a matter of finding a way of bringing them together. And they believe Joly is the right person to do that.

“So we started talking more about the idea and we’re just like, ‘You know what? There is going to be a film industry here, and who better to do it?’” Langlois said.

“It seems, when you see it laid out in front of you, as (though) it’s just a bunch of dots, and what it requires is someone to bring the nexus together and co-ordinate it. Like most of the arts, everything’s so siloed, right? Everyone has their own little areas that they can do,” Sinclair said. “It’s just a really great idea and it’s also about this community. When you see the success that Sudbury and North Bay are having attracting the film industry and building their own little local industry” — northern Ontario receives $25 million annually from the province to entice productions there — “and you compare the resources that we have to those two areas, no disrespect, but to me it seemed like a no-brainer.”

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The Hip members first got involved after Langlois ran into Joly on the street one day. They have known each other since the mid-1990s when Joly’s former band, Van Allen Belt, toured twice with the Hip, the second time as part of their “Another Roadside Attraction” tour.

After the pair had a chance to catch up, Joly mentioned he was starting a “hyperlocal” film production company in the Kingston area, which includes Belleville to the east, Brockville to the west and Perth to the north.

One of Joly’s selling points was that by establishing film crews here, young people will no longer have to leave Kingston for a city like Toronto or Vancouver to gain the necessary experience for a career in the film industry. Joly said that the best way to move up through the behind-the-scenes ranks is often through practical, hands-on experience of working on a film set, just like it would be working as a roadie for a rock band.

Meanwhile, having trained film crews in Kingston will lower costs for any visiting productions since they won’t have to put them up in hotels as they do now, said Joly, who was a member of the Toronto crew that shot the 2001 miniseries “The Feast of All Saints” here. For example, when the TV series “The Mayor of Kingstown” shot part of its first season in Kingston last summer, it spent around $2 million to put up the actors, directors and crew in local hotels.

Joly said he would welcome other production companies springing up here, too.

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“If we move the needle a little bit, and then all of a sudden lots of producers like me start moving here and the industry gets that, that’s a good thing,” Joly said of his high-tide-floats-all-boats approach. “People are like, ‘Aren’t you afraid of competition?’ I’m like, ‘Nope, that’s great.’ Actually, more means more.”

And while locals will get a chance to get involved in the industry, experienced crew from, say, Toronto, might be inclined to relocate here because housing in Kingston is more affordable compared to Toronto.

In fact, Joly believes Kingston could be the next Victoria, B.C., which has full-time film crews 80 per cent comprised of people who live there. Victoria has cashed in on its proximity to Vancouver, and Kingston could do the same with Toronto.

Like Victoria, Kingston is rich in historical locations with universities and colleges and a booming hospitality industry, reads Branded to Film’s business plan. Victoria, however, saw its film industry bring in $50 million in 2021 compared to $19 million in 2019. By comparison, Kingston’s film industry brought in $5 million in 2021 — the Kingston Film Office has done a great job drawing productions here, Joly noted — compared to $1 million in 2019. It’s projected that Victoria’s film sector, over the next three to five years, could grow to $100 million.

Joly said Toronto and places in northern Ontario are oversubscribed.

“There’s not enough places to do it,” explained Sinclair, whose son, Tom, is an actor. “This is a much more logical location for what the industry actually needs. The larger film industry between Toronto Montreal and Ottawa — and five hours from New York City — makes a lot more sense to do here.”

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Branded to Film is now looking to recruit additional investors. Raising private capital gives them a runway, Joly said, helps them leverage tax credits, and shows government agencies such as FedDev Ontario — the film industry is a “marriage of public and private” funding, he said — that there’s local interest and investment, something it looks for before doling out funding.

“You know what moves the needle? Private investment. ‘Oh, you’re not coming in with zero? You’ve actually got community support?’” he said. “So it absolutely helps.”

The company will start making genre films, which Joly, who served as an executive producer on the cult hits “Wolfcop” and “Another Wolfcop,” said are often in demand by streaming services. The fledgling company’s debut production — for which they have a script in hand, a producer onboard and a shooting location in mind — will be a sci-fi movie that will be shot in Kingston this summer. The first film will be a test, Joly said.

While the Hip famously sung that, “They shot a movie once, in my hometown” in the song “Blow at High Dough,” if Branded to Film’s schedule unfolds according to plan, there’ll be 10 movies made in Kingston over the next three years.

“What’s really great about this, what we’re building here, is these first 10 movies are going to be movies by us, for us,” Joly said, adding he wants to involve local actors, writers and the like.

As for what their roles will be, Langlois said he’s there to be there as a support.

“What I’ve committed to, and I think Gord has, too — but that’s Gord’s thing — is to just help,” Langlois said. “If it would help for me to come to a meeting and keep my mouth shut — you know, like the uncle in “The Godfather” that comes over from Italy — I’ll be there.”

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