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Marie-Josée Corbeil of Banque National du Canada on going from lawyer to producer to media banker

Marie-Josée Corbeil of Banque National du Canada on going from lawyer to producer to media banker

– [Tobias] Welcome to
the Media CFO podcast. The show where we talk to
people on the front lines of finance, business affairs, legal, and strategy in the media
and entertainment industry. I’m your host Tobias Jaeger, and when I’m not hosting
this podcast I’m the CFO of television and contents
studio Colibri Studios in London. Today we’re joined by
senior entertainment banker Marie-Josée Corbeil of
National Bank of Canada, or rather Banque National du Canada. Marie-Josée started her
career as an attorney and by specializing in representing
talent and productions, she became a pioneer in
Canadian entertainment law before transitioning to
producer and ultimately banker. 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. So welcome, Marie-Josée. Thank you for making
the time for being here. How has bank been so far for you? – It’s been very, very
productive, very productive. It’s always nice to meet existing clients in another context. – Yup – And meet potential new
clients and partners. – Yeah. – So, no, it’s been very
productive, I’m quite happy. It’s always like a marathon. – It is, it is – Yes – I was about to say – Yes, so the first days
is always overwhelming. And then you get into it. – Yeah, you know ’cause you
see people and you’re like, ah, you know, like, a lot
of energy in the room. – Yes, yes. – And then you’re just trying
to kind of conserve this, ’cause you’re like, oh, hold on, there’s four more days of this. You’re obviously working as a banker now. I understand you initially,
you know, studied law. You 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. – Well when I finished law school, I was hired as an entertainment lawyer entirely by coincidence. – Okay. – 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… – Okay – Like cinema and television. I had been a part of an
amateur troupe theater for several years. – Mmhmm, okay. – So they could see that I knew nothing
about entertainment law, but that at least I had an
interest for the sector. – Yup. – So I was hired by this law firm and I practiced law for
about six, seven years. – Okay. – At a time where really the
industry was booming in Canada. It was the start of, you know, like high budget television drama. – Mmhmm. – It was the start of big TV channels. – Okay, yeah. – It was really like a wonderful time to start in the industry. But at the point I felt I
was not nurtured enough, that I was more interested by the business side of
things and by production. – Yeah. – So I had a wonderful opportunity to join a production company, initially as head of business and legal. – Makes sense. – It was the perfect entry to production. – Yeah. – And then really started to get more involved in deal making. – Mmhmm. – Attending markets,
becoming more involved at the international level. Being more involved with co-productions. – Mm. – And with production in general. Then was hired by another
production company but as head of VP of
international affairs. – Okay. – 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. – Yeah. – So really like, really
gradual progression from law to business… – Increasing levels of complexity. – To production. To production but at
the international level. – Yeah. – Then started my own company… – Mmhmm. – Where, you know, we were two partners and I was more the business,
financial, strategic side. – Mmhmm, mmhmm. – And then had the
opportunity to join the bank where it was really a combination of what I had done in the past. – Yeah. – Maybe not at the production level but all other aspects, but from
the other side of the fence. – Yeah. – So that’s essentially how I
came to the banking industry. – I mean it’s quite fascinating
’cause it seems like you got to see the industry from pretty much every
angle that there is. You know from producer, from
the lawyer that makes the deal, now from the banking side,
which is also, you know, you have to put your
investor glasses or hat on and really see all the
perspectives you can have about, you know, with one project, you can always look at
it from different angles. You know from the creative
side, from the production side. And it looks like throughout the career you’ve seen pretty much
all of them, you know. – Yes, and I think that what
also makes it interesting is that at the bank we’re
about 45 professionals all across Canada. – Oh, mmhmm. – And most of us… – It’s a huge team. – It’s a huge team. Most of us come from the industry. – Mmhmm. – But most of the bankers are accountants. – Mmhmm. – So I bring another side. – Yeah. – And we all come from production, but from different side, you know. – Mmhmm. – Some have been working
for broadcasters… – Mmhmm. – Or you know from institutions
like Sudic and telefilm. – Mmhmm, mmhmm. – So it’s really interesting to bring all of our expertise together and I think that it gives us
a greater understanding of, you know, our clients, of their goals and what they’re trying to accomplish. – Yeah, I mean, they must
be eternally grateful. That there is someone that
has done it, you know, ’cause obviously that makes
such a huge difference if you’re working with someone that needs to help you facilitate it. I feel like often, you
know, the banking product, they’re the facilitators of
what needs to be achieved, ’cause, you know, they bring
important resources, like cash. And you know so if you’re
explaining something to someone that has done it, you know, they probably need to speak
with you for half an hour instead of, you know, several
days with other people where they need to explain
how the industry works and why they want to do it
this way or not that way. – Yes, and I think maybe
we have more empathy. – Mmhmm. – Or we understand their challenges. We understand that they’re
going through ups and down. We understand that, you know, it can take many years to
get a project off the ground. – Yeah, yeah. – So yes. – So when, I just wanna
go back real quick. When you first, kind of, you
know, 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 am, you know, when I
was kind of getting interested in being in the entertainment industry, I always find it super
difficult to find, you know, there’s not one handbook you can buy and it’s like read this and
then you’ll know how it works. 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? – I had a wonderful mentor
who spent a great deal of time with me to really teach me the ins and out of the
entertainment industry. – Mmhmm. – I also attending several conferences. – Mmhmm. – 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, – Mmhmm. – That I had in Montreal at the time when I started the entertainment
industry was very small. – Mmhmm. – 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 like, taught me everything. – Well that’s quite lucky. First that someone actually
took the time to recognize that you have a creative spark as well. You said you part of a theater group. – Uh-huh. – But then with the legal training, I’m always interested in how
you can break into an industry like this where it’s already
hard to break in anyways, I think. So it’s quite nice to
see that you had someone that says look, this is. – Yeah, yeah, that was
very generous of his time. Very patient, yes. – So from there, you worked as a lawyer, worked a lot on contracting, you know, giving everything a structure. Was there a specific event where you went, like, oh no, this is what I wanna do now? – I think I had always felt
that I did not completely belong in the legal, like, profession. – Mmhmm. – 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 the, in production and being in the
entertainment world is that, that two sides of my
personality could be nurtured. – Yeah. – And that. – Like a yin and yang job. – 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, you know, men and women in suits. – Yeah. (laughing) – So there was always these two sides… – Mmhmm. – That I felt needed to,
yeah, to be nurtured and so, it really came naturally that yes. – Then so basically the
opportunity came along and you’re like, alright. – Yes. – Let’s do that. – Yes. – Interesting ’cause, when I
was doing investment banking, I also always felt that, felt a bit like I was
creative among the bankers. – Yes. – And the banker among the creators. Personally I felt like, you know, I wouldn’t describe myself as creative, but I appreciate creativity. And then when you talk to bankers that work in different
industries, you know, like maybe something
technical, you’re always like, oh my god, this is the most
boring application of banking. – Yes. – And I was always very happy to be on that side of the industry. You know you pursued the 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, you know, the professions. So 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. ‘Cause you said, you
know, there is two sides. So I’m wondering, how
did you manage to kind of bring those two sides together? – Well when I was really practicing law, I was still performing. – Oh okay. – In my amateur troupe theater, so that was the way I was
like nurturing my other side. – Interesting. – And when I was more
involved in production, yeah, I felt ways to really nurture
my more rational side. – Yeah, well there’s plenty
of paperwork to go through. (laughing) – Yes. – Interesting. – But now I think it’s
a perfect combination. – Interesting, okay. – Yes. – So now in banking you
feel like you’re exposed like equal amounts to
paperwork and creative work. – Yes. – That you need have a look at. – Yes. – 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 banking side. And it’s the same for
you as everyone else, you come to the office,
you open your e-mail and there’s like 100 messages waiting. How do you make sure you spend, like 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? – Well an ideal day would be
a day where you spend most of your time either spending
time with your clients, – Mmhmm. – Or in business development. – Yeah. – Meeting potential new clients. – Yeah. – And also reading about the industry – Mmhmm, yeah. – To be better equipped
to serve your clients. – Yeah. – Unfortunately, (laughing) – I was about to say in an ideal day I would go to the gym in the morning. – Unfortunately, there’s some time that you need to spend
doing some admin work. – Yeah. – And you know, preparing
your recommendation to credit. – Yeah. – And really analyzing the file and that’s also part of being a banker. There’s you know, like yeah, 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. – Yeah, yeah. – And understanding their business. – I mean that’s such a valuable thing because I always feel like banking for the entertainment industry
is a lot about translating, you know, the ideas
that someone has to fit, or be properly explained within the framework of an
organization like a bank. – Yes. – ‘Cause obviously there’s
lots of internal rules, as you said, you know. – You’re, yes, you’re absolutely right. And you know, before I became a banker, I was a client of the national bank. – Oh okay. – And I had absolutely no idea what was going on behind the scenes. – Interesting. – All the work. – Yeah. – That needed to be done in
order for a file to be approved. – Yeah, interesting. – I had absolutely no idea. – So you went from being frustrated that you were asked for so many documents, and this, and that, and can
you please provide that. – No to the contrary, you know like, 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 what amount of work. – Oh interesting. – Yes. – So you realized the
black box you were seeing was actually much bigger. – And all the regulations,
and all the reporting, and so, no no, I was even more impressed. – Interesting, yeah. – Yes, because I think
it’s one of the things that makes us different, maybe as a bank as compared to you know other banks, is that we tend to be really
more agile, more flexible. We want to be the bank of,
you know, entrepreneurs. – Yeah. – It’s our motto. That’s what we’re trying to do. And so that’s our daily
challenge, you know, like. – Yeah, which is actually. Yeah, 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, you know, someone else’s system, which
exists for good reasons. – Yes. – As an entrepreneur, you
already have a mind set where you know, you
wanna achieve something, you wanna make something work. You wanna create something. So I think it’s always a matter 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? – We meet new clients in
very different circumstances. – Mmhmm. – It can be at a market, it
can be through a referral. I think that the first thing, we’re really trying to do is
understand their business. – Mmhmm. – And understand their needs. But they usually come with a project. – Something specific to work on. – Yes. – I was just wondering when
you were a client, you know, and you said you were
working with the bank, how you had met them and
then worked with them, when you were still on
the production side. – You know, like the
fact that I was a lawyer, by background, made it really easy. – Yeah. – Because I knew exactly
what type of documentation they would be requiring, I knew exactly. – Yeah, you were the
perfect client. (laughing) – Well yeah, I was kind
of a good client for them. And now that I’m on the other side, it’s not always the case. – Yeah, mmhmm. – I need to explain to the clients why this document is required, or why were asking x, y, z questions. – Yeah, having seen this from both sides, is there something you wish
people would understand better? Or maybe even now that
you’re on the inside, that you had known when you were a client? Something to understand the bank better? – They know that we’re highly regulated. – Mmhmm. – But they don’t necessarily understand all the repercussions. – Yeah. – But it’s not necessarily
for them to understand. – 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 the mental perspective of the investor and think about 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 that we have to present this so that they can understand it, you know, have to translate it. And in banking, and obviously
working with banks myself, I ask myself the same question. How does their process look like? And what can I do to facilitate it? And I feel like often people, especially that are on the creative side, they maybe underestimate the
bureaucracy that is there and they always perceive it as something that works against them. And I always try to say, no,
no, it’s there to work for you. You know, so it works properly
and takes a structure. – Yes, yes, well I think
maybe that sometimes the clients tend to underestimate the time that it requires to really
go through the process and they underestimate maybe the risks associated to their project. (laughing) – It’s gonna be amazing. It’s gonna be best thing ever. – Yes, 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 ammunitions to really act on their
behalf and show the project or show their financing needs
in the best favorable light. – Yeah, cause that’s the thing, right. Like you have to actually
make their case internally. – Yes. – Almost like an internal trial, so it helps you’re a lawyer. You can, you know, present the case, and then most organizations it’s 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, you know, has a very different perspective. – And in a way, you
know, we’re their agent. We’re their agent. – Oh that’s a great word. – In the sense that
we’re representing them. – Yeah. – And we’re representing
them to a credit committee. – Interesting, yeah. – And we are the intermediary. And that’s probably the most
challenging aspect of the work because we really want
to help our clients. – Yeah. – And we make recommendations. – That’s such a beautiful
way to describe it actually. The financial agent of the
company or the producer. ’cause yeah, that’s exactly
what you’re doing, right. – Yes 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. – Mmhmm. – We can also help them
with their personal needs. – Yeah, which is always helpful and if you bring everything under one roof it always helps you as well, as a client. – Yes, yes, you have one contact person. – 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 the bank? Do you feel like there have
been any like, major changes, apart from the regulations that were put in place afterwards? – I think there is
definitely more regulation. – Mmhmm. – But all the Canadian banks were extremely solid and were extremely… – Conservative. – Conservative, like before
the financial crisis. – Mmhmm. – So I haven’t seen, you
know, like a dramatic change in the way we’ve been handling business. – Okay, interesting, mmhmm. – In our sector since
the financial crisis. – Now most of the regulation
has been to find new ways of dealing with financial sector, especially like financial products. – Yes. – But, I mean, every once in a while 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 know, you go into markets everywhere,
you have clients everywhere. Do you feel like there
is something special about Canada that let’s
you do things differently? – I think in terms of banking, we’re probably not that different
from other banks except, again as I said, we really tend to be more agile and flexible. – Mmhmm. – And we have this really like deep understanding of the industry. I think that what really
attracts people to Canada is the talent. – Mmhmm. – We have wonderful talent
and more and more in Montreal. – Mmhmm. – People come for, you know,
talent in visual effects. – Mmhmm, yeah. – Talent in artificial
intelligence and in production. And it’s a nice, you know, like combination between US and Europe. – Mmhmm. – A nice way for Europeans to maybe, – Yeah. – Get into the US and
get into North America. – Mmhmm. – So we’ve seen many European companies coming to Montreal to set up a division. – Yeah. – And serving their, serving their clients from the US and from
Canada out of Montreal. – Yeah, I mean, I think that’s
something that put Canada, or Quebec as well, on the map. It’s just like the level
of service production, but also talent that is there. And you know, you got tax rebates. Got a bank like you. You know, go infrastructure, got like very talented
people on the ground. – And I think we’re extremely nice. (laughing) – That’s true, that’s true. – No, but it’s funny because, recently a tour was organized to welcome some American producers. – Mmhmm. – And one of the producers that came told me that it was next to America. His trip was next to America. And I said, oh my god, you know you came it was about
minus 20 and it was like. – You came at the worst time. – You came at the worst time. And like what did you enjoy
that much about Montreal? – Yeah. – And it’s essentially like, the level of talent and the people. He felt like, so like, welcome and. – 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. – Yes, exactly, exactly. – And you will have to
deal with these people. – Yes, yes, yes. Do I feel you know, like spending three, three years of my life in this place? – Exactly, yeah yeah. That’s exactly it, you
know, it’s your lifetime. – And apparently what he
was also telling me is that if he tells his crew,
his DOP and his line producer, and his cast, you know like. – We’re gonna shoot in Canada, yay. – Yes, yes, exactly. – That’s quite lovely. – Exactly. – So we spoke a lot about the past and before we wrap this up, I wanna 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? – If I look at my clients, and what it’s 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. – Mmhmm. – But they’re also getting into, into VR, into live shows entertainment. – Okay, mmhmm. – 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. – Ah, that’s smart. – Because I think, or multi, you know, our clients are also getting
more into multi media. – Mmhmm. – Or mixed media. – Mmhmm. – So that I think is definitely
a trend that we’re seeing. – Yeah. – What is also interesting
is seeing countries that didn’t used to develop IPs, like India and Indonesia and China now really developing their own IPs and sending work to Canada. – Interesting. – Whereas before it was
completely the other way around. – I was about to say, it was
the other way around right? – Yes, yes, yes. – Went there to take care, take advantage of the cost savings and. – Exactly. And now, you know, like I finance a lot of service tax credits where
the copyright owners are Asian. – Interesting. – Indian. – Yeah. – So that’s, that’s really
really an interesting 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. – Mmhmm. – So people are really
trying to take advantage of international co-productions. – Mmhmm. – Also more high budget TV series. – Mmhmm. – Being produced with
international players. – It seems like the lines
are blurring everywhere. – Yes. – Whether it’s from medium or country or where a product is being
then disseminated eventually, that you’ll have a show that’s Canadian, UK, French co-production and will actually air in
all these territories. – Yes. – Instead of just, you know, like it used to be back in the day. There’s, it was either Canadian show, 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 you time, it was wonderful speaking with you. Looking forward to the next time. And I hope you have a fantastic market. – Thank you very much. – [Tobias] Thank you so
much for listening everyone. We’d love to hear from you now. Please let us know what
you think of the show and this episode, leave us a comment, send us a message or tweet. And we’re looking forward to welcoming you on our next episode. By the way you can follow
Media CFO on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to this
podcast on Apple Podcast and rate and review this podcast. Again thank you for listening and bye bye. The media CFO podcast is
hosted by Tobias Jaeger. Our executive producer is Bridget Scarr. Digital editing by Christina Voigt and Anthanasios Karakantas. Design by Daniel Cottis. Many thanks to Anouk van Ghemen and Frederik Jaeger for
their creative review. The notes for the show can be
found on Copy right 2019 Colibri Studios.

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