MEDIA CFO — Episode 005 — Marie-Josée Corbeil of Banque National du Canada talks to Tobias Jaeger about going from entertainment lawyer to producer to media banker
We sat down with Marie-Josée Corbeil of National Bank of Canada, or rather Banque National du Canada, to talk about how she started her career as an attorney and representing talent and productions. She became a pioneer in Canadian entertainment law before transitioning to producer and ultimately media banker in her native Montreal, Canada.
Marie-Josée joined a law firm after getting her law degree and specialized in entertainment law before pursuing her passion for production and joining a production outfit as Head of Legal and Business Affairs. Today Marie-Josée works with entertainment clients in Canada and around the world and is instrumental in making some of the most prolific projects and co-productions a reality.
“It’s really that mentor that I had in Montreal at the time when I started. The entertainment industry was very small and there were really two or three lawyers who were senior in that sector and I was working for one of them as a junior lawyer and he really taught me everything.”
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TJ: So welcome Marie-Josée, thank you for making the time for being here. How has the market been so far for you?
MJC: It’s been very productive. It’s always nice to meet existing clients in another context and meet a potential new clients and partners. So, it’s been very productive. I am quite happy. It’s always like a marathon.
TJ: It is, it is! I was about to say it.
MJC: Yes. So the first day is always overwhelming and then you get into it.
TJ: Yeah, because you see people and you’re like oh, you know, like a lot of energy in the room.
TJ: And then you’re just trying to kind of conserve this cause you’re like, oh hold on. This four more days of this. You’re obviously working as a banker now understand you initially studied law and got a law degree, but you worked in production as well. Tell us a little bit more about your journey, how you got into the business and got to see so many different sides of it.
MJC: Well, when I finished law school, I was hired as an entertainment lawyer entirely by coincidence. There was no entertainment law course at the time and except maybe for the fact that when I was interviewed by this law firm, they could tell that I was passionate about arts, about cinema and television. I had been a part of an immature troop theater for several years. So the could see that I knew nothing about entertainment law, but that at least I had an interest for this sector. So I was hired by this law firm and I practiced law for about six, seven years. At a time where really the industry was booming in Canada. It was the start of, like a high budget television drama. It was the start of the Pay-TV channels. It was really like a, a wonderful time to start in the industry. But at a point I felt that I was not nurtured enough, that I was more interested by the business side of things and by production. So, I had a wonderful opportunity to join a production company initially as head of business and legal. It was the perfect entry to production. And then really started to get more involved in deal making, attending markets, becoming more involved at the international level, being more involved with Cole productions and with production and in general, then was hired by another production company but as head of a VP of international affairs. So I was in charge. I was really hired as executive producer, but really trying to finance international productions, not working on local programming, really working on the international side of things. So really like a really gradual progression from law, to business, to production but at the international level. And then started my own company where, we were two partners and I was more the business financial strategic side, and then had the opportunity to join the bank where it was really a combination of what I had done in the past. Maybe not at the production level, but all other aspects, but from the other side of the fence. So that’s essentially how I came to the banking industry.
TJ: I mean it’s quite fascinating because it seems like you’ve got to see the industry from pretty much every angle that there is freedom from producer, from the lawyer that makes the deal. And now from the banking side, which is also… You have to put your investor glasses or hat on and really see all the perspectives you can have about… With one project you can always look at it from different angles, from the creative side, from the production side and looks like throughout the career you’ve seen pretty much all of them.
“But at a point I felt that I was not nurtured enough, that I was more interested by the business side of things and by production. So, I had a wonderful opportunity to join a production company initially as head of business and legal. It was the perfect entry to production. And then really started to get more involved in deal making, attending markets, becoming more involved at the international level.”
MJC: Yes. And I think that what also makes it interesting is that at the bank, we’re about a 45 professionals all across Canada. And most of us-
TJ: It’s a huge team.
MJC: It’s a huge team. Most of us come from the industry, but most of the bankers are accountants. So I bring and other side. We all come from production, but from different side. Some have been working for broadcasters or from, you know, like institutions like [Suddeck] and Telefilm, so it’s really interesting to bring all of our expertise together. I think that it gives us a greater understanding of our clients, of their goals.
TJ: Yeah. They must be eternally grateful that there’s someone that has done it because obviously that makes such a huge difference if you working with someone that needs to help you facilitate it. I feel like often the banking products, they’re the facilitators of what needs to be achieved because they bring important resources like cash. So if you’re explaining something to someone that has done it, they probably need to speak with you for half an hour instead of several days with other people where you need to explain how the industry works and why they want to do it this way, or not that way.
MJC: Yes. And, I think maybe we have more empathy or we understand their challenges. We understand that they’re going through ups and down. We understand that it can take many years to get a project off the ground. So, yes.
TJ: So when… I just want to go back real quick. When you first kind of joined the industry, I guess by becoming an entertainment lawyer, how did you feel when you left law school and you joined that practice? How did you learn the ins and outs of the industry? Cause I… When I was kind of getting interested in being in the entertainment industry, I always found it super difficult to find… There’s not one handbook you can buy and like read this, and then you’ll know how it works. How, how did you do that? Did you have someone that was guiding you through the process? Did you read something that kind of explain it all to you? How was that for you?
MJC: I had a wonderful mentor, who spent a great deal of time with me to really teach me the ins and the outs of the entertainment industry. I also attended several conferences. I probably read a few books, but you’re right. You don’t learn that much from reading books. But, no. It’s really that mentor that I had in Montreal at the time when I started the entertainment industry was very small and there were really two or three lawyers who were like senior in that sector and I was working for one of them as a junior lawyer and he really taught me everything.
TJ: It’s quite lucky. I mean, first that someone actually took the time to recognize that you have a creative spark as well, you said you’re part of a theater group, but then have the legal training. So I’m always interested in how you can break into an industry like this where it’s already hard to break in any ways, I think. So it’s quite nice to see that you had someone that says, look, this is-
MJC: Yeah. That was a very generous of his time. Very patient. Yes.
TJ: So, from there you worked as a lawyer, worked a lot on contracting, giving everything a structure. Was there a specific event where you went this is what I want to do now?
MJC: I think I had always felt that I did not completely belong in the legal profession, that I had a kind of a double personality, that there was a part of me that was different and the really really nice thing about being in production and being in the entertainment world is that that two sides of my personality could be nurtured.
TJ: Like a yin and yang job.
MJC: Oh, completely. Completely. And I think it would be difficult for me to be maybe a traditional banker because that other side of me would not be nurtured. But, I remember when I was in production, I was missing men and women in suits. And so there was always really these two sides that I felt needed to… yeah. To be nurtured. And so it really came naturally that… Yes.
TJ: And then basically the opportunity came along and you’re like, all right, let’s, yeah, let’s do that.
MJC: Yes. Yes.
TJ: Interesting. Because when, when I was doing investment banking, I also always felt that I’ve felt a bit like I was a creative among the bankers, and the banker among the creators. Personally, I felt like I wouldn’t describe myself as creative, but I appreciate creativity. And then when you talk to bankers that work in different industries and maybe something technical and you’re always like, oh my God, this is the most boring application of banking. And I was always very happy to be on that side of the industry. You pursued a legal degree, obviously there’s plenty of good reasons to do that. Had you not done that, you wouldn’t have had the experience in the profession. For example, if you had said no, I want to be an actress, you would have never gotten around to living that side of you because he said there there is two sides. So I’m, I’m wondering how did you manage to kind of bring those two sides together?
“Unfortunately, there’s some time that you need to spend doing some admin work and preparing your recommendation to credit and really analyzing the file, and that’s also part of being a banker. There’s a part of my day really reviewing material supplied by the producers and making a determination of whether we can go forward or not. And there’s another portion that is really dedicated to really spending time with my clients and understanding their business.”
MJC: Well, when I was really practicing law, I was still performing. In my amateur troop theater. So that was the way I was nurturing my other side. And when I was more involved in production, I felt ways to really nurture my more rational side.
TJ: Well there was plenty of paperwork to go through.
MJC: Yes. But now I think it’s a perfect combination.
TJ: Interesting. Okay. So now in banking you feel like you’re exposed equal amounts to paperwork and creative work that you need to have look at.
TJ: So talk to me a little bit about kind of how does a day in your life look like? Cause obviously you’re involved in so many different projects from the banking side, and it’s the same for you as everyone else. You come to the office, you open your email and there’s like a hundred messages waiting. How do you make sure you spend… How do you divide your time between the different activities and make sure you stay on top of the projects that you’re working on?
MJC: Well, an ideal day would be a day where you spend most of your time either spending time with your clients or in business development meeting potential new clients, and also reading about the industry to be better equipped to serve your clients. Unfortunately, there’s some time that you need to spend doing some admin work and preparing your recommendation to credit and really analyzing the file, and that’s also part of being a banker. There’s a part of my day really reviewing material supplied by the producers and making a determination of whether we can go forward or not. And there’s another portion that is really dedicated to really spending time with my clients and understanding their business.
TJ: I mean that’s such a valuable thing because I always feel like a banking for the entertainment industry is a lot about translating the ideas that someone has to fit or be properly explained within the framework of an organization like a bank.
TJ: Cause obviously there’s lots of internal rules as you said.
MJC: Yes, you’re absolutely right. And before I became a banker, I was a client of the national bank, and I had absolutely no idea what was going on behind the scenes. All the work that needed to be done in order for a file to be approved. I had absolutely no idea.
TJ: So you went from being frustrated that you were asked for so many documents in this and that and can you please provide that.
MJC: No, to the contrary. For me it was seamless. They were fast, they were flexible. I was even more in admiration after I joined the bank because I realized that what amount of work and…
TJ: Interesting. So, they realized the black box you were seeing was actually much bigger.
MJC: Oh, absolutely. And all the regulations and all the reporting and so no, no. I was even more impressed. Because I think it’s one of the things that makes us different maybe as a bank as compared to other banks, is that we tend to be really a more agile, more flexible. We want to be the bank of entrepreneurs in our motto. That’s what we’re trying to do. And so that’s our daily challenge.
TJ: I was about to say that’s actually a great motto because as if being an entrepreneur isn’t hard enough, then if you have to comply with someone has a system, which exists for good reasons. As an entrepreneur, you already have a mindset where you want to achieve something, you want to make something work, you want to create something. So I think it’s always a metro of like, hey, I’m happy to work with you, just tell me what you need. And so it’s great to have an organization that has that spirit. How do you feel that works? So when you’re an entrepreneur and you work with the bank, how does the relationship usually start? How do you go from just understanding the problem to solving it?
MJC: We meet new clients in very different circumstances. It can be at a market that can be to our referral. I think that the first thing we’re really trying to do is understand their business and understand their needs. But, they usually come with a project.
TJ: Something specific to work on.
TJ: I was just wondering when you were a client, and you said you were working with the bank, how you had met them and then worked with them when, when you were still on the production side
MJC: The fact that I was a lawyer by background made it really easy because I knew exactly what type of documentation they would be requiring. I knew exactly.
TJ: You were the perfect client.
MJC: Well, yeah. I was kind of a good client for them and now that I’m on the other side, it’s always the case. I need to explain to the clients why this document is required or why we’re asking x, Y, z question. So it’s a bit different.
TJ: Having seen this from both sides, is there something you wish people would understand better or maybe even now that you’re on, let’s say, the inside that you had known when you were a client, something to understand the bank better?
MJC: They know that we’re highly regulated, but they don’t necessarily understand all the repercussions. But it’s not necessarily for them too understand.
TJ: When I was in investment banking, and I would speak with potential clients or clients about fundraising, for example. But actually very few of them I felt would take like the mental perspective of the investor and think about like, what, what does the investor want? For me, that’s always a great way to anticipate how that process is gonna look like. And then you would speak with people and say, look, but an investor works this way. That means we have to present this so that they can understand that you don’t have to translate it in banking. And obviously working with banks myself, I asked myself the same question, how does that process look like and what can I do to facilitate that. I feel like often people especially that are on the creative side, they maybe underestimate of bureaucracy that is there. They always perceive it as something that works against them. I always tried to say, no, no, it’s there to work for you so it works properly in terms of structure, too.
MJC: Yes. Well, I think maybe that’s, sometimes the clients tend to underestimate the time that it requires to a truly to really go through the process. And they underestimate maybe the risks associated to their project. I think it’s the two major challenges and yes. And that’s why we need to explain. And I think that if they gave us also ammunition to really act on their behalf and show the project or show their financing needs in the best favorable light.
TJ: Yeah. Cause that’s the thing, right? Like you have to actually make their case internally.
TJ: Almost like an internal trial. So it helps your lawyer. You can present the case. And then, I mean most organizations is probably more than one person making the decision whether to move forward with this. So not only do you have to convince one or more people, but someone that also has a very different perspective.
MJC: And in a way, we are their agent. We’re their agent in the sense that we’re representing them, and we’re representing them to a credit committee and we are the intermediary, and that’s probably the most challenging aspect of the work because we really want to help our clients. And we make recommendations.
TJ: That’s such a beautiful way to describe it actually. Yeah. The financial agent of the company or the producer because that’s exactly what you’re doing, right?
MJC: Yes. And, and we’re really also trying to be a one stop shop in the sense that we’re not only financing projects, we can finance their equipment, their building. We can also help them with their personal needs.
TJ: Which is always helpful. I mean if you bring everything under one roof, it always helps you as well as the client cause-
MJC: Yes, yes. You have one contact person and-
“We have wonderful talent and more and more in Montreal. People come for you know, talent and visual effects talents, and artificial intelligence and in production. And it’s a nice like combination between U.S. and Europe, a nice way for Europeans to maybe get into a the U.S. and get into North America. So we’ve seen many European companies coming to Montreal to set up a division and servicing their clients from the U.S. and from Canada out of Montreal.”
TJ: And the bank knows what you’re up to, so that’s always helpful. I’m wondering, you’ve obviously been doing this for a while. Do you feel like since for example, the global financial crisis, things have changed dramatically in banking or for producers in how to work with a bank? Do you feel like there have been any major changes apart from the regulations that were put in place afterwards?
MJC: I think there is definitely more a regulation, but all the Canadian banks were extremely solid and were extremely-
MJC: … Conservative like, before the financial crisis. So I haven’t seen you like a dramatic change in the way we’ve been handling business in our sector since the financial crisis.
TJ: No. Most of the regulation has been to find new ways of dealing with the financial sector, especially like financial products.
TJ: But I mean every once in awhile you come across something that changed. You mentioned Canada. Do you feel there’s a special advantage of being in Canada? Cause obviously you said you’re going to markets everywhere, you have clients everywhere. Do you feel like there’s something special about Canada that lets you do things differently?
MJC: I think in terms of banking, we’re probably not that different from other banks except again, as I said, that we really tend to be more maybe agile and flexible, and we have this really deep understanding of the industry. I think that what really attracts people to Canada is the talent. We have wonderful talent and more and more in Montreal. People come for you know, talent and visual effects talents, and artificial intelligence and in production. And it’s a nice like combination between U.S. and Europe, a nice way for Europeans to maybe get into a the U.S. and get into North America. So we’ve seen many European companies coming to Montreal to set up a division and servicing their clients from the U.S. and from Canada out of Montreal.
TJ: I mean I think that’s something that put Canada or, or Quebec as well on the map. It’s just like the level of service production, but also talent that is there and you got tax rebates, got a bank like you, got the infrastructure, got very talented people on the ground.
MJC: And I think we were extremely nice. It’s funny because recently a tour was organized to welcome some American producers, and one of the producers that came told me that it was next to America. His trip was next to America. I said, oh, my God, you came and it was about, minus 20 and it was-
TJ: Came at the worst time.
MJC: You can have the worst time. And what did you enjoy that much about Montreal? And it’s essentially like the level of talent and the people, it felt like so like a welcome.
TJ: It makes such a huge difference. And I think when you look at stuff on paper, you forget that component. You know that none of the projects you work on are short term, these are all multi year projects.
MJC: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.
TJ: And you will have to deal with these people.
MJC: Yes, yes. Do I feel like, spending three, three years of my life is in this place.
TJ: Exactly. That’s exactly it. It’s your lifetime.
MJC: And apparently what he was also telling me is that if he tells his crew, his DOP, and his line producer and his cast that-
TJ: We’re going to shoot in Canada. Yay.
MJC: Yes, yes. Exactly.
TJ: That’s quite lovely.
TJ: So we spoke a lot about the past. And before we wrap this up, I want to know your thoughts on the future. Is there something, some trends or something you’re watching right now that you feel, people should pay attention to? Do you foresee any big changes in the industry?
MJC: If I look at my clients and what is probably true in Canada, but I’m sure it’s probably true elsewhere in the world is the fact that our clients are really evolving and not only doing traditional TV and motion picture production, but they’re also getting into VR and to live shows entertainment. And in fact, that’s why a few days ago we announced that we were changing our name from Motion Picture and Television Division to Creative Industries Group. Because I think our multi… Our clients are also getting more into multimedia and or mixed media. So that I think is definitely a trend that we’re seeing. What is also interesting is seeing countries that then use to develop IPS like India and Indonesia and China now really developing their own IPS and sending work to Canada, whereas before it was completely the other way around.
TJ: I was about to say it was the other way around, right?
MJC: Yes, yes, yes.
TJ: Went there to take care and take advantage of the cost savings and…
MJC: Exactly. And, and now I finance a lot of service tax credits where the copyright owners are Asian, Indian. So that’s really, really an interesting a trend. I guess the other thing I’m seeing is the market is quite mature, at least again in Canada, indigenous local programming is quite mature, so people are really trying to take advantage of international corporate actions. Also more a high budget TV series being produced with international players.
TJ: It seems like the lines are blurring everywhere, whether that’s from medium or country or where a product is being disseminated eventually that you’ll have a show that’s a Canadian UK French co-production and will actually air in all these territories.
TJ: Instead of just like it used to be back in the day, and it was either Canadian show or a French show or a US show, that there’s definitely more collaboration. I mean, it’s never been easier before in history to collaborate with someone on the other side of the planet. So, yeah. Thank you so much for your time. It was Wonderful speaking with you. Looking forward to the next time, and I hope you have a fantastic market.
MJC: Thank you very much.
THANK YOU to this episode’s sponsor AXIOM Venture Capital!
Marie-Josée’s company can be found at https://www.nbc.ca.
If you like to learn more about her division, the Creative Industries Group, you can find them here: https://www.nbc.ca/business/banking/sectors/tv-motion-picture.html.
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Editor — Christina Voigt (http://www.christinavoigt.com)
Audio Engineer — Athanasios Karakantas
Executive Producer — Bridget Scarr (http://www.bridgetscarr.com)
Design — Daniel Cottis (http://www.danielcottis.com)
Music — ‘Kickshot’ by Gyom (https://twitter.com/gyomamphoux)
Special thanks to everyone at National Bank of Canada for helping to make this conversation happen.
Special thanks for their creative review go to Anouk van Ghemen and Frederik Jaeger.
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ABOUT MEDIA CFO
Media CFO focuses on the finance, strategy, business affairs, and legal side of the global media & entertainment industry. The guests on the podcast range from veteran studio executives to new, disruptive market entrants. MEDIA CFO takes a look under the hood of the global entertainment industry and talks to the unsung heroes: dealmakers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, financiers, service providers, bankers, investors, and agents. The podcast offers unique insights into the daily work and life of those, who run and build this industry by visiting them on location and having in-depth, in-person conversations.
ABOUT TOBIAS JAEGER
Tobias started his first own firm during his studies at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and has lived, worked, visited, and studied in over 43 countries on 4 continents. Tobias loves to connect people from around the World to make great things happen. Previously, he has done so at Business Associates Europe, SAP AG, StrategosPoker, Aramark, and entrepreneur academy. Today he is a Managing Partner of AXIOM Venture Capital, a family office focussed on the media & entertainment industry and Tobias serves as the Chief Financial Officer of London-based television and content studio Colibri Studios.
The conversation was originally recorded in Berlin in February 2019.
© 2019, Colibri Studios of London