When speaking to producers around the world, many mention Canada as a model for coproduction opportunities - provided you're not afraid of a little paperwork. Canada has an enviable number of copro treaties (53 to date), but the system for funding opportunities within the country is confusing, at best.
January 1, 2008

When speaking to producers around the world, many mention Canada as a model for coproduction opportunities – provided you’re not afraid of a little paperwork. Canada has an enviable number of copro treaties (53 to date), but the system for funding opportunities within the country is confusing, at best.

For coproductions, one of the most important agencies is Telefilm Canada. Telefilm is a federal cultural agency responsible for ensuring the development and promotion of the country’s film and TV productions. In this role it administers the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) and decides what qualifies as an official coproduction.

For a film to be considered an official copro, the Canadian prodco must submit an application for preliminary approval 30 days prior to the beginning of principle photography. The application for final approval must be submitted no later than 19 months following the end of the Canadian producer’s taxation year. (Take a deep breath…) The minimum financial responsibility and regional spend required from each country ranges between 15% and 30%, depending on the agreement. The document on Canada’s official copro policies – really only an overview of how Telefilm defines a coproduction – is 18 pages long, so this is just a taste of how much reading and paperwork you must undertake to coproduce with a Canadian company.

However, all this paperwork does result in many opportunities for funding. Recognition as an official coproduction means being treated as a Canadian production, and access to federal and regional funding and tax credits. Telefilm’s CTF is the federal government’s way of promoting the development of Canadian programming. A public/private partnership that was created in 1996 which Telefilm officially took responsibility for in 2005, the CTF has contributed over CDN$2.2 billion (US$2.2 billion) to Canadian productions in its 11-year history. With funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canadian cable industry and the direct-to-home satellite industry, the CTF gives money to productions in a number of ways. One is through a program called the Broadcaster Performance Envelope, through which the CTF gives money to broadcasters that support Canadian programming. This money is then designated to eligible projects through the broadcasters.

The CTF tends to fund only traditional documentaries. Factual programming such as how-to, lifestyle, reality and travel programs are not eligible for funding. For more information on what is eligible for CTF funding, visit

The federal government also offers tax credits co-administered by the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO) and the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA); these are the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPCT) and the Film or Video Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC). A production can only take advantage of one of the two, so it’s important to distinguish the difference. The latter was introduced by the federal government in 1997 to encourage the employment of Canadians in the film industry, and equals 16% of total Canadian labor spend, though there is no cap on the amount that can be claimed. It is mostly used by foreign producers shooting in the region because it is easy to qualify for and the work doesn’t have to be considered officially Canadian to receive the credit. The former is a refundable credit of 25% of eligible salaries and wages that do not exceed 60% of production costs. The production must pass point and expenditure tests to qualify, and must be considered Canadian content. CAVCO is also the judge of what meets Canadian Content criteria. When doing a copro for television with Canada, it helps to have your program considered Canadian Content not only for tax credit purposes, but also because Canadian channels are required to air a yearly total of 60% Canadian programming during the day (6 a.m. to midnight) and 50% between 6 p.m. and midnight. Sixty percent of public broadcaster CBC’s daily programming must be considered Canadian.

While the federal government offers grants and tax breaks, individual Canadian provinces have also been making strides to combat the weakened us dollar with larger tax breaks for producers working in their region. In October, British Columbia announced the extension of its 30% film and TV tax break into the year 2013. The break is on qualified labor costs, while there is an extra 12.5% credit for productions filmed outside of the Vancouver area. Nova Scotia made a similar move in September, announcing a tax credit of up to 65% on eligible labor costs, and an extra 10% for projects filmed outside Halifax and 5% for companies that have filmed three or more productions in the area in less than two years.

Opportunities for Canadian program sales exist under strands such as the CBC’s ‘Doc Zone,’ ‘The Passionate Eye’ and ‘The Lens;’ TVO’s ‘The View From Here’ and ‘Human Edge;’ and Global’s ‘Global Current,’ though Screen Siren Pictures’ president Trish Dolman suggests that many channels (such as the CBC and TVO) are turning to in-house production rather than acquisitions and outside commissioning. She also notices less desire from the broadcasters for docs on global issues. ‘For documentaries, the big change in Canada is that we’ve lost slots for international documentaries,’ says Dolman. ‘The challenge for coproductions is that, from a content perspective, you have to have a subject that appeals on a local level.’ She points out, however, that CTV is receptive to documentaries, though not for a specific strand.

In 2002, a poll taken by Strategic Communication indicated that the majority of Canadians feel the country’s media ownership is too concentrated. Last year media ownership concentrated even further with the acquisition of Citytv by Rogers Media, Chum by CTVglobemedia, Alliance Atlantis Communications by CanWest Global Communications and Goldman Sachs, and The Canadian Documentary Channel by the CBC. While The Documentary Organisation of Canada supported some of these moves, it objected to the acquisition of Alliance Atlantis because Goldman Sachs is not a Canadian company and it set a precedent of non-Canadian companies holding ownership of Canadian media.

Some broadcasters and other private sector funders offer grants aimed at Canadian documentaries. One of the most important is the Rogers Documentary Fund which puts $1.5 million into documentaries each year through a core funding plan that supports a minimum of three documentaries each year (two English, one French) with a maximum grant of $10,000, and a top-up program that gives a maximum of $50,000 to each project. When Rogers acquired Omni TV, it made a commitment of $1 million over seven years to fund religious documentaries. As a result, the Omni Television Documentary Fund offers up to a maximum of $250,000 per year to faith-based programming that is made by a BC- or Manitoba-based producer. The Quebecor Fund offers up to $500,000 per project to educational programs with an Internet component and an existing broadcast license. There are also countless other government and privately funded opportunities for producers in Canada, but the majority of them require a Canadian partner in order to access the funds.

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.