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Playing in the Pop Sandbox

This feature appears in the May issue of Q&Q.

The Next Day team

As a teenager, Alex Jansen, founder of the boutique publisher and multimedia company Pop Sandbox, had one goal: to produce a feature film before turning 25. He achieved this goal with nearly two years to spare when he was hired as co-producer on the 2001 Canadian indie film Walk Backwards. But the experience wasn’t at all what Jansen had expected.

It was incredibly disappointing, Jansen says now, though it’s hard to imagine this upbeat, fast-talking entrepreneur taking a blow. Funded on credit cards, filmmaker Laurie Baranyay’s personally inspired story of sexual-abuse survival was accepted into the Toronto International Film Festival and later received a broadcast distribution deal. The producers made their money back. But despite the partnerships Jansen helped develop, Walk Backwards disappeared. I thought it would reach the audience it was intended for, he says. It just faded away.

Jansen’s early disillusionment with the film world eventually led to his first experiments in publishing. In 2008, burnt out and in need of a break following almost four years working for film distributor Mongrel Media, Jansen took a three-month sabbatical with the intention of doing nothing. But one night while shopping for a new bicycle bell, he met notorious Toronto eccentric (and brazenly prolific bike thief) Igor Kenk, owner at the time of a ramshackle bike shop on Queen Street West. Excited by the idea of documenting the Slovakian-born socialist, but understanding the financial realities of filmmaking, Jansen thought he could produce the story more quickly as a graphic novel.

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