With a little help from my friends: Cineflix’s Simon Lloyd

Even with 250 hours of production on the go this year, and a bevy of international clients and partners to keep happy, Cineflix president of production Simon Lloyd manages to keep everything in perspective by sticking to a strong strategy... and bringing on lots of competent help.
August 17, 2009

The first thing you’re struck by when you enter Simon Lloyd’s Toronto office is the number of white boards hanging on his wall – each covered in neat rows of colored ink, warding against the chaos that accompanies a 250-hour-strong slate. And it’s not just a volume thing. Lloyd, who serves as the president of programming for Cineflix, also finds himself juggling the demands of a global production lineup and partners around the world. Short a whip and a chair, sometimes white boards will have to do.

Since 2000, Cineflix has grown from a small Montreal-based indie into an international concern, with offices in Canada, the UK and Ireland – Cineflix Productions and post are anchored in Toronto, head office and administration in Montreal, and international sales/distribution and development in two London-based offices. A Dublin office handles distribution contracts and administration. The company has plans to make its first footprint in the U.S., with an office opening in New York this fall. In total, Cineflix employs about 400 people.

With such a high volume of production constantly churning, retaining in-house talent is a priority. Cineflix employs two full-time production talent coordinators (one in Toronto and another in London) to staff shows. Lloyd estimates that 80% of his production staff has worked on more than five consecutive shows for the company.

When it comes to attracting new talent, he admits that it helps to have a distribution arm providing a constant cash flow, even in recessionary times when commissions are harder to come by. And the company has added some high-profile international names to the roster lately – including a new EVP programming in Charles Tremayne, a new director of coproduction/exec producer in Ian Russell, and an SVP of programming in Joe Houlihan. That security is a key selling point, notes Lloyd: ‘They are not going to walk away from a nice stable job and have to go and get commissions immediately because we’re living hand to mouth.’ Lloyd should know, having joined the company himself in 2005, after leadership positions at London’s Outline Productions, Wall to Wall Scotland and English/Welsh concern Prospect Pictures.

One of the most notable of the white boards in Lloyd’s office offers an expansive list of broadcasters the company is partnering with, and has targeted. Being able to offer potential partners access to internal distribution and Canadian funding resources helps Cineflix table ‘a hell of a deal when money is tight,’ admits Lloyd. ‘The fact that we are a Canadian company really allows us to be more aggressive in terms of price points in America and Britain.’

In a recession, that offer might be too good to pass up. In fact, Lloyd notes that the last five green lights have been led financially out of the U.S. or Britain, with much of that investment coming back into Canada.

Because of the many variables, Lloyd says there is no such thing as a ‘standard financing model.’ Sometimes Cineflix does straight 10-point projects – like Conviction Kitchen (fall pickup for Citytv), where all the talent is Canadian. Sometimes coproductions will dictate local versioning with foreign shoots and talent, as is the case with a show like The Unsellables.

‘None of us come into TV saying ‘We’re going to be businessmen.’ We’re all program makers,’ says Lloyd. ‘[But] because Canada has copro treaties with so many countries, unlike Britain and the U.S., people are very entrepreneurial here about finding ways to finance new shows… There really is a strong culture here of making financing models work.’

In evidence of that, Cineflix is about to do its first Brazilian copro for an eight-part series called Nazi Hunters for History.

Perpetually finding new financing models and new partners is a complicated business, and it is not without cost. Lloyd says Cineflix shoots a sizzle reel for about half the pitches they make. (‘It’s very hard in America to pitch off paper,’ he explains. ‘In L.A., people don’t even take paper pitches.’) Last year, when they spent more time knocking on familiar doors, they had a pitch success rate of about one in eight. Because they have targeted new broadcasters this year, including seven broadcasters they have never worked with before, that has dropped slightly to about one in 11.

When it comes to pitching, it’s obviously a huge advantage to have a library of 1,000 hours to draw upon (roughly 700 hours of original productions and the rest acquisitions), both as evidence of production competency and as pitch material. For example, when Cineflix initially pitched the BBC on the idea for The Unsellables, the broadcaster passed. The format went on to be commissioned by HGTV in Canada, and has since been picked up by both HGTV in the U.S. and the Beeb.

Lloyd believes Canada is perfectly placed to be a leader in the factual world, as producers can tap into the U.S. and British markets and have financing scenarios unavailable to others.

‘We can create formats here,’ he asserts. ‘The Dutch do it. The Swedes do it. The Japanese do it. It’s not just Britain.’

So what’s next for the producer/distributor? After two years of frenetic growth, Lloyd is looking for more conservative, sustainable growth – with an emphasis on bringing on new broadcast outlets and international copro partners. (One of the reasons Russell was brought on was to copro with France and Germany.)

And is he worried about the economy? ‘I think the market, long term, will be fine,’ he notes. ‘Long term, these channels are really healthy.

‘In a recession, cable is the last thing people get rid of because it is a cheap night’s entertainment.’

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.