CTF overhaul puts docs on firmer financing ground

Canadian doc-makers and their international partners
May 1, 2004

Canadian doc-makers and their international partners have two things to cheer about. More money, and a more streamlined funding process.

The federal government in late February replaced cdn$37.5 million (US$27.2 million) a year in support it had withdrawn in 2003 from the Canadian Television Fund. The CTF is projected to have $264 million for fiscal 2004/2005, so now CDN$43.6 million (US$32.2 million) is set aside for docs – up from cdn$35.8 million last year. The production-assistance program boost coincides with a revision of the application procedure that should provide more certainty over a project’s funding status, theoretically making it easier for Canadians to work with international broadcasters and coproducers.

The ctf changes come at a critical time for Canadians seeking foreign cofinancing, as figures compiled by the Documentary Organization of Canada indicate the volume of Canadian treaty copros fell by 32% to cdn$36.3 million ($26.8 million) in 2003, with Canadian financing accounting for cdn$13 million ($9.6 million). Sandy Crawley, the national exec director of the doc, points to the rise of reality formats (funded domestically by license fees and tax credits), as well as to changes to content rules in treaty countries, for the drop. ‘Europeans are regulating more indigenous programming to address the Hollywood-ization of the world,’ he says.

The new funding system is a vast improvement over a process that previously left treaty copro partners unsure when their Canadian counterparts would receive funding, if at all. It merges two previously separate ctf funding lines (the License Fee Program and the Equity Investment Program), and bundles funding approval directly to broadcast greenlight. Now, a broadcaster’s ‘yes’ to a pitch also triggers a ‘yes’ for domestic funding, giving Canadians a leg up on negotiating with the international market, observes Ira Levy, co-owner and exec producer at Toronto-based prodco Breakthrough Film and Television.

Under the new process, which began in April, a broadcaster commits to give a license fee to a producer’s project and assigns a portion of its ‘Broadcaster Performance Envelope’ (it’s CTF account) to that doc. The producer then applies to the ctf for the funding allotted to the project and – once she’s lined up sufficient commitments to cover the budget – the CTF issues the funding. Also, producers can now apply any time. Under the old system, producers had to apply by one of two deadlines, and applications were ranked with a major consideration being the size of license fee commitment. Inevitably, too many applications were filed, and some projects would be rejected.

‘Previously, there was a third party [the ctf] that was making the assessment and…it sometimes meant that a project that a broadcaster wanted, and that a producer had originated, could go down the toilet,’ Levy points out. The uncertainty of the old funding system made lining up copro partners and international broadcaster commitments that much harder for Canadians, he continues. ‘What the changes do is give broadcasters and producers with eligible doc coproduction projects more certainty that the project can be properly financed from the Canadian side,’ Levy notes. ‘It allows me to tell my coproduction partners that the system here will allow me to come through with my financing, so they can go ahead and get their financing,’ he says.

Loren Mawhinney, VP of Canadian production at Global TV, says the evolution of the ctf helps domestic broadcasters make clearer short-term decisions about which projects they will license. ‘With the Broadcaster Performance Envelopes, it is far more efficient; broadcasters will make their [production] decisions on the basis of what is fundable,’ she says.

However, the comparatively easier system may have no impact on broadcasters’ immediate copro strategies. Jerry McIntosh, director of docs at the CBC, acknowledges that the CTF changes reduce the complexity of the commissioning process somewhat, but due to a focus on domestic docs, he will only occasionally support projects that need foreign money.

‘Our dilemma is figuring out the most effective way to spend the ctf envelope,’ McIntosh says. ‘Are we continuing to do international copros? Yes, we think they are important because funds are limited,’ he concludes.

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