Evokative Films is a brand-new Canadian film distributor founded in early 2008 with a fresh perspective on the distribution business. With a strong online presence (a bilingual blog, YouTube channel and Facebook page), its mission is “to bring clever, entertaining and original international genre features to film enthusiasts across Canada.”
I contacted founder Stéphanie Trépanier, based in Montréal, to find out a little bit more about this exciting new player in the Canadian market.
James McNally (JM): Stéphanie, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and what brought you to start Evokative?
Stéphanie Trépanier (ST): Ah, where to start. Well, I’m a French-Canadian born and raised on the south shore of Montréal. Having parents who travelled, I was raised to be curious about the world and other cultures. From as far back as I can remember, I was always interested in cinema and international film. The smallness of the international section of the local videoclub always depressed me. My little brother was an avid film-watcher too, but more on the horror side. During my teenage years my interest in independent cinema and animation grew and I started going to the Fantasia Festival in its second year. That festival was such a relief, bringing to the screens so many films that we would just never see otherwise.
My parents started their own business in packaging machinery distribution when I was eight years old, in our house’s garage. Over the past 20 years, it has grown to become one of the most important companies in its sector in Canada. Evidently I learned a lot from watching them work and the company grow. I was also involved in the company for a number of years and learned about the many aspects of its administration. But after a while, I realized I needed more passion in my work and that what I really wanted to do was to work in film.
So I quit the day job and went back to school to get a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, with a minor in Marketing and some Film classes. I figured PR was going to be my foot in the door of the film industry. While I was still in university I started working for the Fantasia Festival, which was then in its 9th edition and had grown to become one of the major cinematic events in the country. People who don’t think there is an audience for international genre film need to go to Fantasia and see the line-ups of people excited about what they’re about to experience. It made me see how much the genre film audience is curious, passionate and loyal, which makes them the best “customers” there can be, if they are listened and catered to. Which is not always the case in the film industry.
I then went on to work for Christal Films, then a major film distributor in Québec, where I mostly took care of the PR for the English releases. Eventually I got a promotion to the DVD department, and it’s there that the Evokative seed got planted. I was never too sure of the theatrical potential of international genre film, but in DVD it can definitely work. About a year ago, the company started not going so well and I decided it was time I tried going on my own.
JM: Are you the only employee so far? What are your plans to grow the business in the next year, especially in light of the looming economic recession?
ST: Yes, I’m the only person in the company at the moment, save for my mother who lends me her accounting expertise. But it’s gotten to be too much work lately so I’m actually in the process of hiring an assistant. Distributing films is a lot of work, much more than what can be expected, but I’ll try to keep the team as small as possible. The small overhead is what makes Evokative possible, not having to meet the same numbers the other bigger distributors need to keep things rolling. For sure the looming recession brings some uncertainty and I’ve experienced the weakening dollar, but I think/hope the film industry won’t be too affected. We all need to be entertained when things are not going great!
JM: What’s the focus of the portfolio, other than “genre” films? Do you skew toward thrillers, or horror, or are there plans to cover other genres as well?
ST: The term “genre film” is one that has so many different definitions. For a lot of people, it means horror and thrillers. For me, genre films are films that respond to the rules of a particular genre, but also have an edge. I like diversity, so I intend to have just as many comedies as horror films. I also like it when the genres are mixed. Le Tueur is a thriller, but also a psychological drama. Hansel and Gretel is a fantastic film going towards horror. Adrift in Tokyo is a blend of walking road movie, comedy and human drama. My main focus, when it comes to choosing films for Evokative, is that the film has to be original, clever and entertaining. There will always be a characteristic that will be more important than the others, but the three have to be there. It also has to be a film that no other Canadian distributors have been interested in bringing here, but fans of the genre have been asking for, such as Crying Fist and Hazard.
JM: What’s your strategy for theatrical distribution versus DVD? I find genre films (and most other films) are more fun to experience with an audience, on a large screen. Have you been able to build relationships with the cinema chains across the country, or are you focussing on the independent cinemas more?
ST: I totally agree that films are much better to see with an audience, on a large screen. Everybody agrees with that, but fewer and fewer people walk the walk, in terms of actually going to see a film in a cinema regularly. So screening films in a theatre has become less and less profitable. Prints and advertising costs are so high that it’s very easy to lose money in the venture. So it is understandable that an increasing number of films are released directly onto DVD.
I’m just beginning, so I have to start a relationship with the theatre owners. I’m going just as much for the chains as for the independent cinemas. What’s important for me is the location of the cinema, the quality of the screen and the comfort of the chairs. For the Montreal release of Le Tueur (The Killer), I went with the Ex-Centris, an independent cinema, and the AMC Forum, a chain. In Toronto it will play at the AMC Yonge and Dundas, which is huge. But for Vancouver I’m looking into one of the Festival Cinemas.
I’ll have about a 50/50 ratio of films going to theatres or going straight to DVD. I don’t really want to get too involved in the high costs, the work and stress a theatrical release brings, but I also want to give the audience a chance to see the film on the big screen. Also, the DVD needs to have some buzz and good reviews to get a proper career, and most of the reviews are obtained through a theatrical release.
JM: Tell us a little bit about Le Tueur (The Killer), the French thriller that was your first acquisition. What was the process of acquiring the film like? Were you nervous about negotiating? Were there other contenders for the Canadian rights?
ST: The company only incorporated in April, and by May I was at Cannes. I didn’t know anyone and all I had to represent myself was the Evokative Manifesto printed on a postcard. I booked as many meetings as I possibly could on-site and I just had to deliver the Evokative pitch convincingly. Some meetings were disastrous, with the sales agent clearly looking at me as if I came from another planet. But others got the Evokative vision and found it very refreshing. UGC was one of those. There were no other distributors contending for Le Tueur and it was already programmed at Fantasia, so it was perfect.
The first buy is obviously the most difficult, [because] you have nothing to show for yourself except your willingness to make it. Just a few months in, it is already much easier. The fact that a big distribution company like UGC trusted a newcomer with Le Tueur opened doors. I have many more contacts from the festivals I attended (TIFF, Pusan) and the films acquired. I also got some nice industry press in the last few months and the line-up I’ve created speaks for Evokative.
I’m not in the business of fighting with other distributors for the rights to a film. Starting up, I don’t have the funds to get into bidding wars. Also, the goal of Evokative is to bring films that otherwise wouldn’t get distribution in Canada.
JM: I love Evok, your “mascot”. Can you tell us a bit about his story, who designed him and what your plans are for him in the future?
ST: I dealt with Upperkut, a marketing agency here in Montréal, for the development of the visual identity of Evokative. It was a long and arduous process, but I’m extremely happy of the result. I told them I wanted some kind of character and Antonin Brault, one of their creative directors, came up with Evok. He even made a real-life puppet for the pitch.
Evok brings a bit of comic relief in this very “serious” business of distribution. He also translates in a funny way the emotions that genre films bring about. He already has his own animation and we’ll see what we can have him do in the future.
JM: Tell me how you’re using the web as a small company.
ST: I very much believe in the future of the web for film promotion. It allows us to reach the audience directly, much more than with the mainstream media. I founded Evokative for international film fans, so I want to get them involved and start a dialogue.
The last few months have been very exciting for me and I liked the idea of being able to share in the progress of the business, as well as giving as much information on the films as soon as they’re acquired, to help start the buzz and word-of-mouth. A blog-based website like I have now and Facebook are great platforms for that. A new website, developed by Philosophy Factory in Toronto, will soon be launched. We will also have a web store so that international film fans can have access to the Evokative DVDs from anywhere in Canada. Web-based distribution is also something I want to look into as soon as possible.
For me Evokative is much more than just another film distribution company. It’s about increasing the awareness and love of international genre films and also making a point that we are not prisoners of the mainstream film system, that one can go and stand up for the passion of a different genre of cinema. Of course I’ll need the company to become profitable to keep running, so hopefully film fans across Canada will respond to Evokative’s mission and will take it upon themselves to spread the good word!