Jeff Nadalin is a man with a vision, but interestingly, he’s also a film producer who doesn’t always envision the final product until he sees the finished cut. He describes himself as a business-oriented producer, rather than a creative producer. “I’m really finding my footing in that you need every kind of producer [on a film],” says Nadalin. He does have a strong vision, though, about building a sustainable film industry in the Windsor Essex County region, and he’s working hard to try to lead the way in a challenging and changing industry.
Nadalin’s second feature project, working with producer Gerry Lattman, is The Birder. It’s a revenge comedy set in the world of birding. “There are 40 million birders in North America,” says Nadalin, and one of the top birding destinations in the world happens to be Point Pelee, a major migratory stopover for all kinds of species. The producing duo has steadily built their track records, and this project has received support from Telefilm Canada, which helped make photography possible just this past summer. For Canadian filmmakers in past decades, Telefilm’s involvement in a project was akin to winning the lottery. It meant that you were on the easy road, and the path to a place on Lake Telefilm—an old industry joke—had opened up for you.
That was then, this is now. For The Birder, the Telefilm path has taken over six years to trek, and it’s not paved with gold. “The money isn’t what it used to be,” says Nadalin. “No one even gives advances.” The project had hoped for support from other large industry organizations such as the Ontario Media Development Corporation and The Harold Greenberg Fund, but that didn’t happen. So, they put together a private funding package of nearly $300,000. “We pitched. We sold that we were trying to grow a film industry in this region,” says Nadalin. And it worked, enough to get the film shot with well-known Hollywood actors like Tom Cavanagh, Graham Greene, and Fred Willard. How did they access that kind of talent? “These guys didn’t do it for the money,” says Nadalin. “They believed in the script.” Along the way, Nadalin learned a lot of things, from fun facts such as Graham Greene used to live in Windsor in the 1970s to how to run a really tight financial ship to the intricacies of the film tax credit system, an advanced degree in itself.
The lessons are continuing. Now that the project has been shot, the producers still need finishing funds to pay for the film editing, music, color correction and so forth, and they need in time to get the project out for film festival season this year. Festivals are important, because that’s where you get seen by—and hopefully make deals with—international distributors. The project has already secured distribution in Canada, which was instrumental in getting support, but for Nadalin, Lattman, and those behind the scenes on the project, the best shot at getting paid for all of their work rests on getting U.S. distribution, as the States represents between half and three-quarters of the market for the film. “We have to sell it there,” says Nadalin. The team is pursuing several areas to secure the post-production funds, including a crowd funding effort at kickstarter.com. “We’re not relying on the kickstarter funds,” admits Nadalin. They do have other active campaigns, but don’t think that they don’t need the funding from the kickstarter campaign, which is all-or-nothing and at Christmastime, no less. “We have to have a submittable cut in four to six weeks.” The kickstarter.com campaign for The Birder is a good way for local film industry professionals and other interested parties to move beyond words and take action to support not only this film, but the regional industry, too, all for the price of a DVD. Or as Nadalin puts it, “If you want to see more film in Windsor, help us get this one out.”
It sounds good, but if The Birder is a big success, won’t he be lured to Toronto to be closer to the centre of the Canadian film universe? “I have a family,” says Nadalin, who’s married and a new father. “I just want to be able to practice my craft in my own backyard.” He realizes that “it might be 50 years before I see it come back,” but he’s willing to put in the necessary time and effort to create positive change and industry growth in the region. “I have no plans to move to Toronto. I’m there enough anyway.” He also has a compelling business model for his vision: He wants to make films in the $2 million to $5 million range, telling good stories on a small, repeatable scale, keeping projects moving through the pipeline three at a time, finishing one a year. “It’s about the script,” he says, echoing a film truism, but sometimes truisms become so because they’re actually true. He and his team already have several projects in development, some with Telefilm interest.
Nadalin says that the most daunting thing about producing a feature film, a huge leap of faith, is “not letting them see the fear behind our eyes.” But he also cites strong reasoning for his faith in Windsor’s potential for more film production, including his own experience, after two films, of making the advantages of the region work for the project’s bottom line, the superior location, and the fact that more international film pros live in the area than most people realize. Even this region’s background in manufacturing can be viewed as a positive; it’s called film production for a reason. “It’s a dangerous world, Hollywood and the arts,” says Nadalin, but he’d love to do a film here again, and there’s a good chance that he will. “If we make a film that makes distribution, we did what we said we’re going to do,” says Nadalin. “People invest in people. More so than projects.”