This is the story of a guy with a particular talent for spotting the potential for comedy stardom. A man who has chosen to work behind the scenes while putting others front and centre.
François Rozon, President and CEO of the Encore Company, plainly admits that he had no particular career plans when he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Administration, some 30 years ago… and he still doesn’t! But here he is, at the head of a major entertainment company that manages an impressive roster of artists, including Mario Jean and Martin Matte. The company also produces shows for the likes of Mike Ward and Claudine Mercier, not to mention hugely popular series, such as Caméra Café and Les beaux malaises.
François Rozon’s first job, out of UQAM, is thanks to his brother Gilbert, who offered him the position of Communications Director for the Just for Laughs Festival in 1985. Then came an opportunity to manage artists, and that was pretty much that. “It was a complete revelation. I was smitten by the whole challenge of marketing: how to showcase comedians and make them known.” At just 24, he found himself in charge of promoting Michel Courtemanche and Daniel Lemire. Looking back, he now says he was a bit naïve, but fortunately, success was in the stars, even on the international stage.
A dozen years later, he made the leap and started his own company, François Rozon Management, in partnership with producer Richard Bleau. It was a “happy marriage,” he says. In fact, throughout our interview, he mentioned repeatedly how lucky he has been to be work with such an amazing collection of talented people – the ones he collaborates with directly, and the artists he produces. When asked if there’s a common thread running through his career, he answers that it has been his ability to surround himself with smart, capable individuals who “have good hearts and are intellectually honest.”
This explains the natural, yet controlled, growth of his company. “I can’t tell you how many employees I will have in ten years. I just don’t work like that. I’m not running a multinational corporation, and that’s fine with me. I have created something more handcrafted, more like family, and it works well.” The megastructure model holds little interest for this man, who likes having a finger in every pie and has a hard time letting go. Or maybe it’s because his challenge is to find a different, more human style of management. He insists that the successful manager is the one who surrounds himself with the right people, adding in the same breath that he detests the solitudeof the lone entrepreneur. He talks of shared projects and team work, and our conversation is punctuated by anecdotes illustrating the qualities of various artists and colleagues. Like the time Antoine Bertrand convinced him not to abandon his project to remake the French film Intouchables. “I was about to give up, and he gave me the shot in the arm I needed to carry on. Everything just fell into place naturally after that.”
François Rozon has built part of his career on humour, almost by chance (a happy accident!), but he has never wanted to limit his options. Since nobody was there to say no, he decided to move from show production to television production, although the transition was not easy, he recalls. As a child, he never really liked school, but he did enjoy history class. That passion has stayed with him and is behind his desire to produce a remake of Les Belles Histoires des pays d’en haut (one of the longest-running programs in the history of Canadian television, Ed.). It’s just one of many projects he has in mind, not including the ones that are almost finished and will soon appear on the small screen. He admits with a chuckle that he would need several lifetimes to get everything done.
While he has no doubts about the relevance of his work and the need to continue promoting his artists and his projects, he confesses having some doubts about this interview. Talking about himself is clearly not his cup of tea. But you can’t stop him when it comes to people or causes he cares about, such as youth awareness for responsible driving and the creation of Cool Taxi, which he came to be passionate about after his daughter was involved in a serious accident that has put her on a waiting list for an intestinal transplant. L’École nationale de l’humour, Quebec’s comedy academy, has also benefited greatly from the efforts of this fine businessman, who in just three years has helped refill the coffers of the once struggling establishment. François Rozon is an intuitive man who is fine living with doubt and leaving certainty to others. The day before we met, a director who was meeting him for the first time called him a “producer-poet.” We think it’s a fine way to describe someone who, we have no doubt for sure, understands what people like.
By: Sylvie Michelon
Photo: Yves Lefebvre