The challenge

 If you’re like many Canadians who unwind at the end of the day binge-watching shows and movies on your favourite streaming service, then you may have already seen the work of Montreal-based REAL by FAKE. 

Founded in 1999 by Marc Côté, REAL by FAKE is a specialized film production company that creates “invisible” digital visual effects and post-production work for movies and TV series.

Quebec’s vibrant TV and film industry has been a major source of talent for the big and small screens for many years. Quebec-born writers and directors like Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) and Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer’s Club, Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects) have earned international acclaim and big box-office dollars for their compelling stories told with exciting images.

Still of Real by Fake’s work

When most people hear the term special effects, they might first think of explosions, monster makeup or other big-budget movie magic. But most TV shows and movies today use a variety of subtle digital special effects to make the images more interesting or to heighten realism. That can include using green screen effects so that the back drop behind Nicole Kidman’s character in Big Little Lies looks like a marina on a sunny day or re-creating the interiors of an entire house for Sharp Objects.

REAL by FAKE’s expertise includes adding digital cosmetics to scenery, matte painting and “gore increase,” such as in Zack Snyder’s swords-and-sandals epic 300 or on Netflix’s Canadian-produced zombie show, Black Summer

Côté studied engineering in school and likes to think of REAL by FAKE as problem solvers for filmmakers. “We work with the writer to retouch scenarios to see if we can provide solutions to locations and find ways to make the story more interesting. Sometimes it’s with special effects and sometimes just simplifying the scene,” says Côté.

“I think we all want to gain recognition and to create a product that will leave its mark,” he explains. “The great thing about a film or a television series is that it’s made once, but it can last a lifetime.”

Still of Real by Fake’s work

When Côté started the company in the ’90s with some friends in a garage, they knew then they could stay in Montreal or move to Los Angeles. Since they didn’t have the money to set up in California, they decided to stay put. They built a successful business over 20 years, working on a number of Hollywood productions. But the idea of having a base in California lingered. 

“We have a small local market but we target the American market for the most part,” explains Côté. “We decided to have an office in Santa Monica, not only to be in the sun, but also so we could be closer to our clients like HBO, Fox, Disney and Netflix.”

Côté and REAL by FAKE’s vice-president of finance, Marc Rousseau, knew there were two ways they could go about getting a foothold in California. They could start a new company from scratch and build it up or they could acquire a company already based in the local market. They decided to make an acquisition.

Still of Real by Fake’s work

“It was less expensive and much more dynamic, much more aggressive in terms of breaking into the market right away,” says Rousseau.

How EDC helped

To get the financing they needed to make the acquisition, Côté and Rousseau turned to REAL by FAKE’s financial institution (FI). The FI was supportive of the acquisition but was not prepared to take on all the risk itself, so their FI representative brought EDC into the equation.

“As soon as we spoke with our financial institution, we realized that we would need EDC’s support to conclude this transaction,” says Rousseau. “The people at EDC quickly understood the nature of the transaction we were conducting, as did our financial institution. So collaboration came easy.”

EDC’s Export Guarantee Program gave the FI the backing it needed to extend the financing and REAL by FAKE completed the acquisition in May 2018.

Every time REAL by FAKE signs a contract to work for a major firm like HBO or Disney, and we’re mentioned in the credits, it’s fun to see our name for big productions in the U.S. That wouldn’t have been possible without EDC and our financial institution.

Marc Rousseau  —  Vice-president of financeREAL by FAKE

The result

“With EDC’s and our financial institution’s help, the transaction was successfully carried out last year, and we were able to achieve growth at high speed,” says Rousseau. “We started thinking, ‘This is the year—this will be a record year for us.’”

Having a footprint in Tinseltown has provided REAL by FAKE with every advantage they hoped it would. 

“Having a presence and flying our flag enables our president, Marc Côté, to meet with local decision makers over coffee. They’re all right there. They’re all present. All the major studios that are big decision makers in our industry are in Los Angeles. Being able to meet face to face goes a long way when it comes to getting new contracts.” 

Rousseau says the company has signed its biggest contracts since making the acquisition. “That wouldn’t have been possible without EDC and our financial institution.”