Canadian doc-makers fear drop in domestic support

Funding season is turning out to be tough on the nerves of the TV crowd in Canada, thanks to the nettlesome Broadcaster Priorities system at the Canadian Television Fund.
March 1, 2003

Funding season is turning out to be tough on the nerves of the TV crowd in Canada, thanks to the nettlesome Broadcaster Priorities system at the Canadian Television Fund. The government funding agency recently introduced a system for distributing cash from its Licence Fee Program; under the new rules, Canadian broadcasters are each assigned points by which to rank the importance of applicant projects. The CTF considers these rankings – they carry 26% weight – when handing out LFP money.

The first applications were submitted in February. Until the results come out in the spring, it remains unclear how broadcaster priorities will affect Canadian TV, but producers and broadcasters alike are concerned that the new CTF guidelines will not serve all genres equally.

Laszlo Barna, president of Toronto-based Barna-Alper Productions, says, ‘The biggest fear is some productions are going to suffer… Are the broadcasters going to prioritize a single documentary, which takes very little money out of the system, versus a drama series, which takes a lot?’

Doc-makers suspect they will be hardest hit by the new regulations. The fund seems to place no conditions on how priorities are spent among genres. Networks will always have a significant number of big-ticket projects that will most likely eat up the highest priorities, says Barna, so docs will get the low-point priorities, resulting in cash-starved, low-priority shows withdrawing from the networks to seek high-point priorities on fringe channels.

‘It has created an unrealistic competition,’ says Barna. ‘[Canadian pubcaster] CBC used to be a good safe place for documentary-makers to go, but now, maybe, it will be the last place you want to go.’

But, CTF does not expect a genre imbalance, partly because they assigned more priorities to broadcast groups with good cross-genre spending habits, hoping broadcasters that have previously supported small-ticket shows will continue to do so. ‘There was as much consultation as possible to make sure there won’t be a negative impact on licensing patterns,’ says CTF spokesperson Phil Serruya.

Peter Raymont of White Pine Pictures in Toronto agrees that docs and the CTF are increasingly incompatible. ‘Let’s say you want to make a documentary about the ‘Human Shield’ – those people going off to Iraq,’ he says. ‘It’s a great story, but it hit the news within days of the first CTF deadline. No one could possibly get a shoot together in that time. You get this brilliant idea and then there’s a good six-month gap before you finally know whether you’re funded.’

The CTF obviously disagrees with this assessment. ‘We feel we’ve simplified the process in that any kind of subjective evaluation happens at the immediate front end,’ Serruya says. ‘Once a production is deemed eligible the rest is pretty straightforward in terms of mathematics.’ This article originally appeared in Playback.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.