Six men, two dories and the North Atlantic

And then, of course, there’s the significant percentage of any show’s budget that gets plowed back into local shops, restaurants, hotels, bars, car rental agencies, house and office leasing agencies, contractors and on and on.

As in Nova Scotia, Republic of Doyle may be Newfoundland’s most iconic success story but it’s far from the only one.

Best Boy Entertainment, a Mount Pearlbased, vertically integrated film, television and digital media company that recently built its own studio, employs 50 people and is selling its mix of documentaries (Soccer Shrines, a 13-part documentary series about soccer fans and their stadiums), docudramas (Pet ER), animation/live kids shows (Mickey’s Farm) and even mobile games (Math Fun 123) in 60 countries around the world.

In June, the company won a provincial export award for creating “new opportunities through innovation.” The company’s goal, founder Ed Martin told the St. John’s Telegram, is to locally create products “specifically designed for global consumption.

“It doesn’t matter that we’re an island in the North Atlantic that inhibits so many other industries,” Martin explains. “It’s a matter of having great ideas and great talent, which we have in abundance, and then the ability to take these products to market.”

And it all begins, of course, with an idea.

The idea for The Disappeared begins on a dock in Sambro, N.S., in 2002. Mitchell, already a veteran of the Nova Scotia film and TV scene, was directing a small shoot for television. During the lunch break, she decided to stay on the dock by herself to plan her afternoon’s shooting.

At some point, a 92-year-old local sea captain wandered onto the dock and began to chat. “I was a prairie girl,” Mitchell recalls. “I didn’t know anything about the ocean.”

Were you ever scared, she asked him at one point?

“I remember he looked away, then said very quietly – ‘Once’ – and walked away.” Later, he returned with a five-page typewritten account of his own ordeal after his fishing vessel sank 300 miles from shore. The writing itself was dry – “Day 4. The winds were…” – but the larger story captured Mitchell’s imagination. “What could that be like?”

Four years later, in the middle of writing her own first novel – the acclaimed Under This Unbroken Sky – Mitchell was fighting a mysterious illness and thinking about “my own fears about mortality.”

She took a break and, in 15 whirlwind days, turned out what would become the first full draft of The Disappeared.

Little did she know it would take six more years, 14 more complete drafts (plus too-many-to-count “sub-drafts”) and more setbacks than she cares to think about before the film finally found its way to the big screen.

“If it’s Canadian and it comes from here,” Gordon Whittaker explains simply, “we’ve been there since Day 1.”

Whittaker is the Atlantic regional director, Industry Promotion and Feature Film, for Telefilm Canada, the federal funding agency that invests in film, TV and now new media projects.

Canada’s film industry – like those in most developed countries except the United States – depends for its success, and its survival, on a combination of public and private financing.

Telefilm, which invested close to $120 million in Atlantic feature film productions in the first 25 years since it opened its Halifax office in 1984 (shortly after the Donovan brothers set up shop), is the key federal funding agency, providing up to 49 per cent of the budgets for approved projects, “though not often that much,” Whittaker says.

Although Ottawa has lately been squeezing Telefilm’s budget, the agency has still managed to invest an average of more than $2 million a year for the last eight years into a total of 30 regional films, 18 of them helmed by first-time directors like Mitchell.

It helps that most regional films are low-budget affairs, often costing less than $2 million to make.

The rest of a film’s budget comes from a cobbled together combination of investments from provincial funding agencies, tax credits, distribution deals, broadcast licenses and private investors.

Telefilm’s own investment in The Disappeared began in 2007 when the agency provided seed money to allow Mitchell and her initial producing partner, Halifax-based Walter Forsyth, to polish the script and production plans.

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