Production company pioneer new business model with film ‘Diablo’

Alberta’s diverse landscape ranges from the jagged badlands of Drumheller, to the rolling knolls of the foothills and majestic peaks of the Rockies — not to mention the cosmopolitan flare of the big cities.

Edmonton-based film producer Shana Wilson sees not only the potential in Alberta’s natural backdrop for film and television projects, but also the potential of tapping into Alberta’s big businesses to contribute to the film industry.

But in the land of oil and gas start-ups and ventures, how does one go about asking for cash to fund such projects?

 Wilson says you target big Alberta businesses and provide them with a business proposition.

The business of making movies

“(People) think about the movie business being all glamour — it’s not,” Wilson says.

“I tell people, turn it around and call it the business of movies. We are in the business of making movies and the business means we are in the business of doing this for money — we are in it to win it.”

Wilson has teamed up with Hollywood producer Lawrence Roeck to create Space Rock Studios. The Edmonton-based studio has created what it calls “movie tourism.”shanaLawrenceIMGShana Wilson and Lawrence Roeck bring a slice of Hollywood to Alberta with investments from provincial business.

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Movie tourism gives big businesses the option to invest money into the film. For their contributions, entrepreneurs receive producer credits and lifestyle packages that include the opportunity to spend time on set during filming or spend time with some of the movie stars.

The first movie to use the movie tourism business model is Diablo. The western, starring Scott Eastwood, will be directed and funded primarily by Albertans. Diablo will follow a long history of westerns filmed in Alberta, including Unforgiven, starring Scott’s father, Clint Eastwood.

Repeatable business investment

This crowd-sourced business model is catching the attention of investors, including Calgary oil and gas executive Steve Smith.

Smith is a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas scene and says he believes there is potential for Wilson and Roeck’s idea. Smith didn’t put an exact number to his contribution, but Space Rock Studios confirms the minimum investment is $150,000.

“What I’ve seen in Alberta over the last 30 years is a conscientious effort… to diversify our economy,” Smith says. “It’s had fits and starts in the movie industry before but what it really lacked was a solid business plan.”

Although Smith was offered the lifestyle package, he says he was not interested. He says more than anything he contributed to Diablo because it seemed like a good business model that has potential for repeatability.

“The way Shana and Lawrence approached the money side, I’ll say it was innovative,” says Smith.

“There’s a tourist aspect and a lifestyle flair to it, I’m not really super interested in that. I’m more interested in if I put my money in — this almost sounds like Dragon’s Den here — how much money do I get back?”

Wilson says that if Diablo succeeds, the project will spawn further projects from Space Rock Studios and the possibility of further profit.

Alberta film industry pride

Matt Watterworth produces local independent films under his own Full Swing Productions banner. The prospect of Alberta-owned movies excites him but he says there are things to think about when trying to get people to take the plunge.

“The reality is that film investment is an incredibly high-risk bet,” says Watterworth in an email.

“Finding people who are willing to get behind a film — more because they love the people involved or could participate in ways that they’ve always dreamed of, and less because they want a return on their investment — is going to be a challenge.”

Watterworth says the economic boost adds to both the entertainment industry in Alberta and the province as a whole, which makes it a worthwhile attempt.

“For me, great productions that have shot in Alberta like Inception, Passchendaele, and Unforgiven provide a lot of pride for me as a filmmaker, but also as an Albertan.”

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