Meet the Montreal producer behind The Power of the Dog, the most-nominated film at this year's Oscars
Roger Frappier is a Quebec industry veteran who has wanted to turn the book into a film for more than a decade
Roger Frappier says he was struck by one overriding sensation as he read the novel The Power of the Dog: "I had never made a Western, and that was something I always thought I'd want to do in life."
The film version of Thomas Savage's 1967 novel, which is directed by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion, has already picked up over 200 awards this awards season (including best picture honours from 23 critics groups). This morning it was nominated for a stunning 12 Academy Awards, including one for Frappier in the best picture category. It is widely regarded as the odds-on favourite to win that category next month (among many others).
At first glance, Frappier — one of Canada's most celebrated film producers — and the Western genre might seem an odd fit. Frappier has won numerous honours over the years, including several Golden Reel Awards (the film award given to the biggest box-office success for a Canadian feature), numerous Genies and several Oscar nominations. In 1996 he received the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government and was given a special citation at the 1996 Cannes Festival for his championing of young Quebec talent. And in 2000 he produced Maelstrom, the second feature film by Denis Villeneuve, who has credited Frappier with giving him his start in cinema. (Villeneuve's Dune got the second-most Oscar nominations this year, after The Power of the Dog.)
Frappier's first encounter with The Power of the Dog was by strange chance in 2010. "I was in a Paris hotel, having a sleepless night due to jet lag," he recalls. "I was reading a hotel magazine and there was an interview with Gerard Depardieu in which he was asked about the books he was reading. He praised the book." The following day, Frappier bought a copy and went to a cafe to begin reading it. He says he remained at the cafe until hours later, unable to put it down.
"It was the first time I read a story that was so powerful, but was matched by the power of the characters themselves, and by the intense relationship between them," he says."One of the characters has a gay experience early in his life and his repression leads to problems later in his life. That seemed like a connection to the modern world for this Western."
Frappier reached out to the publisher, only to learn that the book's film adaptation rights were already spoken for. "I told them that I was certain I was going to be the one that would make this movie, so please tell me when they become available again." Sure enough, 18 months later, he received word from the publisher that the rights were up for grabs. He scooped them up.
But a long and arduous journey would follow, in which Frappier would secure a producing partner, only for one after the other to move on from the studio they headed and for the financing to fall through. "I would go from being extremely happy to being let down," he says. "There were so many ups and downs."
Then in 2017, Jane Campion's agent called, asking if the rights to The Power of the Dog were again available. "I asked her to repeat herself: 'Are you really Jane Campion's agent? Because she's one of my favourite filmmakers.'"
After getting confirmation, a date was made for the two to have lunch at the Cannes film festival that spring.
"When Jane and I spoke, suddenly, it was no longer a commercial discussion about financing. It was about the artistic possibilities for this film. We were on the same wavelength. It was an incredible meeting. At the end of the meeting I wanted to take a selfie with her so I had proof we had met up — but I was too shy. Then she suggested we take one, so I had the proof."
Frappier is optimistic about how Quebec cinema is evolving and becoming more inclusive, but he says the fight for more funding for film and TV remains much the same as it has for decades. "A totally new generation of filmmakers are working in Quebec. There are more women filmmakers and filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. But we have many of the same problems we had 15 years ago. We have new opportunities, but we don't have the additional money to work toward them."
So, the irony: one of Quebec's most famous and experienced producers has to go abroad to get his films financed. "I work at an international level because at home I have three marks against me: I'm white, I'm male and I'm old." (Frappier is 76.) "The new obligations mean there must be more women and people of colour hired. I completely support that, but the government doesn't grant us more money to hire more people."
"I don't understand why the federal government and the Quebec government doesn't realize the need for more funding. These are very creative jobs, one that has an impact here and on an international level."
"I fully support more diversity in the business. The answer is that the government needs to step up to the increasing financial needs and recognize the jobs we create."
The Power of the Dog is now streaming on Netflix.