Christian Pitchen

Christian Pitchen

September 21, 2021 12:03 pm Published by

What position do you hold at the NFB and what are your duties? 

According to the Thesaurus of Governmental Office Operations (a work that stirs literary passions everywhere), a legal counsel is a law specialist whose practice mainly involves providing advice. That definition, which one might view as an apt one for civil servants on the verge of being pronounced clinically dead, does not do my role at the NFB justice.

Admittedly, in the course of my duties, I am not required to launch into grand oratorial flights of fancy as eloquent as they are persuasive, before a merciless magistrate tasked with adjudicating adversarial proceedings. I do, however, maintain lively and collaborative relationships with my colleagues on the production, distribution, education, marketing, finance and of course legal teams—relationships that shift with the winds carrying the seeds of Film Board projects.

What does a typical day look like? After reviewing with in-house clients their needs and expectations, I draft, revise, negotiate, facilitate and conclude agreements for the development, production and exhibition of works, and provide legal advice on the use of content of all kinds. This can involve co-production, distribution, presentation, creative services, literary optioning, music licensing, release forms, etc.

I also help the Production and Distribution teams gain a better understanding of the various legal aspects of a production, stemming from copyright, civil law, framework agreements with artists, image rights and defamation. That means I study concepts, treatments and scripts, and view works, to make sure the NFB won’t be exposing itself to lawsuits. Sometimes I play offence as well, meaning that I initiate or supervise legal proceedings (lawyer’s letters, claims, litigations, and the like) required to protect our intellectual property against unauthorized use by third parties.

How long have you been with the Film Board? Tell us about your journey. 
After finishing law school, I aroused much astonishment and curiosity by doing a bachelor’s degree in film (see below for the origin story of that career choice). Through the lens of the seventh art, I forged a new view of the world, so it was perfectly normal that I should amalgamate two of my interests, law and cinema, and pursue a career that suited me. After floating down a long, lazy river that included happy stints at Telefilm and CBC/Radio-Canada, I wound up at the NFB, where I’ve been employed as legal counsel since 2008.

What makes the NFB unique in your eyes? 

I’m privileged to work with amazing colleagues and creative personnel who care about the Film Board, their projects and social progress. It’s no small thing to have the opportunity to work with impassioned people who want to make a difference in the world by sharing original, authentic and meaningful artistic perspectives. If I were to suddenly leave the NFB, we’d need an extra-large bucket—the kind found in the Products for Sensitive Construction Contractors aisle at Home Depot—to collect all the tears induced by my farewells to the one-of-a-kind colleagues with whom I adore working.

What aspect of your craft brings you the most pride? 
I’m proud that I can help my colleagues and our creators profit from my advice, from the idea stages of their project to their full maturity, with no loss to their artistic momentum. I try to free myself from the burden of the constraints stemming from legislation, but without transgressing them, without going against the interests of the NFB, of the projects or of those colleagues. In seeking what I call the sweet spot, I can’t be under any illusions about the obstacles we’ll have to overcome together, but I like to think that finding that balance brings great satisfaction, to both my colleagues and myself.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? 
My reflection on my future trade began at my neighbourhood gas station in the 1980s, back when Samantha Fox reigned supreme at the top of the Billboard charts. As a teenager working the night cash register, I had ample time to ponder my career prospects, between ringing up a pack of King Size Du Mauriers and a full tank of unleaded. I carefully reviewed all my options: “Do I want to become an alchemist? True, transmuting lead into gold would make me rich, but I’d probably pollute a river in the process. Not cool. Rap superstar? Nah, gold teeth aren’t my thing. Stuntman? The insurance premiums are through the roof. Wide receiver in the NFL? I may be lightning-fast, but I can’t escape the laws of physics: being bowled over by a 300-pound behemoth hurts like hell.” After 19 unforgettable shifts at that swanky local Ultramar, with no satisfactory answer forthcoming about my future, I decided to cut short my budding career in the oil and gas industry. To get a clear picture, I needed a change of scene. Now facing an uncertain fate and bereft of my dream of black gold, I set out to wander alone through the woods. The air was frigid but warmed by the wintry silence, broken only by the crunch of my boots against the thick carpet of virgin snow. And there, I came upon a red fox with a graceful demeanour and an enigmatic gaze. He bade me sit on the trunk of an old birch tree that had collapsed under the weight of years of snow and ice. As a sign of friendship, he offered me Cheetos (I would later learn that they were his favourite snack, for their puffy orange sheen reminded him of his late mother’s lustrous fur). Then this most curious beast proceeded to question me at length about my dreams and aspirations, declaring finally that I should work in show business. “In Vegas?” I asked. To which he replied: “No, dumb-ass. In the movies. Go now. Your destiny awaits you at 24 frames per second.” He slowly got to his feet (well, paws) and said he had to go pick up his cubs at the daycare and make supper. Bewildered, but grateful for this unexpected and life-altering encounter, I said goodbye admiringly and watched as he gradually disappeared into the snow-mantled glade.

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This post was written by Jimena Romero