Will Canada “Score” with “A Hockey Musical?”
Canadian-born directors have created blockbusters time and time again, and big-budget movies filmed right here in Toronto have scored with audiences all over the world. So why have many of our homegrown features not been a force at the box office? I’m hoping this will all change with Michael McGowan’s TIFF ’10 opener Score: A Hockey Musical, which starts playing in limited release this Friday.
Earlier this year we had the financial and critical disappointment of the Paul Gross vehicle Gunless. I don’t mean to sound cynical when I say this, but the reason why Gunless didn’t do better at the box office is simply because buying a ticket meant you had to see the movie. The production was estimated at over $20 million, which included the admittedly impressive creation of an old western town in BC, but this action-comedy was ultimately laughless and pointless.
The Toronto-shot sci-fi thriller Splice barely made back it’s $30-million budget. Despite moderate star power and mixed, but sometimes very positive critical response, it failed to make a splash either here or across the border. A small, but immensely powerful project like the Hamilton-shot Defendor rightfully should have found a bigger audience, but in the end was sadly overshadowed by lead actor Woody Harrelson’s work in the overrated, yet Oscar nominated The Messenger just a few weeks earlier. Edgar Wright’s immensely entertaining Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was shot entirely on-location in Toronto, but sadly tanked at the box office.
To name only a few, we can’t forget the work of such notable directors as David Cronenberg, Bruce Macdonald, and Atom Egoyan, as well as Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman, and James Cameron – who work primarily making movies for American studios. But too often Canadian cinema is associated with dreary melodramas or only mildly interesting quirk fests. Because of this stigmatization, enough audiences aren’t taking note of the many more appealing features.
With the speed and cost of filmmaking reduced to a consumer-level budget, even TIFF co-director Piers Handling recently said that there are simply too many movies getting produced, and many of them could just be considered expensive home movies. What audiences are these countless features reaching? The thing is, and this is true of all indie cinema – not just Canadian, is that there simply aren’t enough people who want to go and see them.
I think of it this way: There are thousands of novels getting published every year, many of which never make it to hardcover. At what point does it stop being legitimate artistic expression? A lot of independent films go straight to DVD or are shown on demand, which is fine, but the problem is that the majority of projects are government-funded, and if they keep failing to bring in revenue, it’s going to be even harder for the best stories to be properly told.
Which is why Score: A Hockey Musical deserves to be a hit. Sure it’s not a quintessential Canadian masterpiece like McGowan’s previous feature One Week, but in some ways he has taken a chance with this one, because he’s done something that’s never been done before. Will people respond to a sports-themed musical? With the right publicity from distributor Mongrel Media and word of mouth amongst audiences, I think they will.
Audiences haven’t yet embraced the fact that they don’t only have to rely on Hollywood features for satisfying entertainment. Maybe once people experience this crowd-pleaser, they’ll be more curious to check out other quality home-grown features, and studios will be more discerning as to what gets produced. We’ve already gotten many great Canadian films, and there are even more directors with worthy stories waiting to be told. What I want is for audiences everywhere to start lining up to see them.