AFM Q&A: Michael Paszt, partner of Raven Banner, on running a thriving genre label | Characteristics
Toronto-based Raven Banner Entertainment is part of the active genre film industry in Canada, representing films for North American distribution and the international market.
Managing Partner Michael Paszt discusses the company’s strategy and plans.
What new projects are you presenting to the AFM?
We bring the one from Rob Jabbaz Sadness, Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks’ Alone with you, Pierce Berolzheimer Crabs! and the reboot of Danishka Esterhazy from Slumber Party Massacre. All these films have been shown in the festival circuit and have obtained sales. We expect AFM to help us close most of the territory for these films and end the year on a strong footing.
Is there a specific type of genre film that’s working particularly well right now?
All that is fandom. Fandom has a camaraderie among fans who share a love for horror, epic fantasy, graphic novels / comics, and science fiction. These elements are reflected in many countries. Horror is very strong for us at the moment.
What does the genre cinema scene in Canada look like?
As always, it is flourishing. Beginning in the early 70’s with movies like Cannibal girls and Black christmas, Canada has a long history of producing genre films. When budgets are tight and you can’t get Hollywood stars, smart producers and filmmakers turn to horror. In addition, Canada is home to [Toronto International Film Festival’s] Midnight Madness, Fantasia International Film Festival and Borders [Fantasia’s genre co-production market], Rue Morgue magazine and other cool festivals like Blood in the Snow and Toronto After Dark.
How many films does your distribution division release each year in Canada?
We release about 25 films a year. Of these, approximately 20 are genre films released through Raven Banner Releasing and five are arthouse films released through Northern Banner. Whether it’s for Canadian releases or international sales, what we’ve noticed is that we need film festivals more than ever. It’s a symbiotic relationship. A strong genre festival will amplify the awareness that a film needs. Combine that with social media and we’re giving our films a much needed spotlight right now. With no real theatrical venture on the horizon, a festival premiere will not only hit fans but critics as well, giving the film the validation it needs.
Canadian broadcaster Superchannel made a brilliant move last year. They have partnered with several Canadian film festivals and have offered screening agreements to selected Canadian films. The organizers broadcast the digital part of the festival on Superchannel to present these films in advance. Filmmakers were encouraged to participate and do live discussions. The result has been a unique working relationship between the distributor, the broadcaster and the filmmaker.
Does the division only release films that the company also sells internationally, or third-party films as well?
We put out a lot of movies that we also sell, but we get about 50% from other sales agents. In some cases, for Canadian films, we simply commit to Canadian distribution and a partner will sell internationally. Goreman psychopath is a good example, just like Turbo Kid. Raven Banner is one of the only Canadian distribution brands recognized globally by consumers. Our social media followers come from all over the world and follow with rage whatever Raven Banner is attached to.
What markets and festivals do they go to to acquire films, for distribution or for sale?
We’ve met the usual suspects like Toronto, Cannes, and Sundance, but our primary focus is on gender-focused events like Frontieres. Blood Window in Argentina has grown by leaps and bounds in Latin America and we believe this is an area we need to focus on.
How did the company go into production?
We opened our production subsidiary, Hangar 18 Media, a few years ago. We have produced four feature films and have two in the works. Since the start of Covid, we’ve produced two original films and maintained two feature films because we’ve found a very unique way to produce during lockdown and keep everyone safe. We have three more productions that will be filmed in the next six to eight months.
Most recently we have pre-sold V / H / S / 94 to Shudder as the original of Shudder. The producers had to move the project from Los Angeles and we ended up producing it here in Toronto. Our goal is to eventually have 50% of our list of original content. One important thing we’ve learned is that if you listen, buyers tell you what they want.