Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The climate change of Canadian production

R.I.P. "Producer/Writer"

I just spent the past two days at the NSFDC "Business Issues 2007" meeting (was it a seminar, or a conference?), where I learned more about the business of television in two days as a producer than I did in 12 years as an actor.

The event, moderated by Paul Kimball, was a fascinating discussion on "Maximizing Revenue for your Production Company" that began with Michael Donovan (who was compelling, if not jaundiced, in his stream-of-consciousness take on the industry which was decidedly unencouraging to the "little guy"...perhaps to save us a lifetime of heartbreak), and ended with Stephen Comeau telling us "how easy" it is to promote your wares on YouTube and MySpace (seriously...that's what we call in the acting world - "phoning it in" - no disrespect to the NSFDC intended; they put on a great forum for discussion, but we didn't need two full days of focused discussion to culminate in a "pep talk" of how YouTube and MySpace are "free" and "easy" ways to promote "your property").

What I found most stunning, and ultimately disappointing, was the utter lack of mention for the state of the Canadian Televison Fund under the current circumstances of Shaw Communications and Videotron withdrawing their funding from this fundamental source of financing for all Canadian independent producers. It wasn't until the last moment of the last day when the moderator asked, "any last comments?", that one producer piped up to ask Claude Galipeau of his opinion of the actions by Shaw & Videotron. Galipeau gave an answer befitting a broadcaster (that is ulitmately owned by an American investment bank - and of course, it's shareholders), without burning any bridges within either the private or public sphere, and erred on the side of saying "it's scary for all of us", knowing full-well that his publicly traded company owns a controlling interest in the CSI: Franchise. (Translation: Alliance Atlantis doesn't rely on CTF funding the same way that independent producers do - they have access to capital when the proverbial "shit hits the fan")

How can it be, that "industry experts" (it truly was an impressive gathering of knowledgeable speakers), get flown all the way to Halifax on the taxpayers dime and not one of the discussions were focused on (arguably) the most important issue facing the industry today? How can we even begin to discuss "maximizing revenues" when the funding is "dead" and "gone"? How is it even possible to get a room full of producers to *NOT* talk about the ramifications of the death of the CTF? Why was the CTF not considered a "business issue" in a forum titled, "Business Issues 2007"?

This fund provides 20-30% of an independent producers budget. To be clear, it's not that producers or the presenters didn't have opinions on the matter (some could be overheard in corners during the coffee-breaks), but it wasn't a talking point on the agenda. Apart from Claude Galipeau giving a small (and welcomed), rant on the topic the only other utterance on the subject was Michael Donovan suggesting that we should "be thinking about it morning, noon and night". (uh...we do...why didn't we talk about it?)

The age of "Producer/Market Analyst"

Producers aren't being asked to find good stories anymore; they're being asked to find "their target audiences". Those audiences that we can figure out how to monetize and ultimately seduce advertisers with which to coax the dollars out of. Capiche?

As wonderful as it was to be sitting in a room with people facing the same problems and looking for the same answers, it struck me that we were learning to speak the language of advertisers instead of learning to speak with our own voices. Perhaps I'm slow in coming around to this understanding, while the rest of the producers in the country are miles ahead. I'm young(er), I'll admit that.

Financial Risk Transfer

At the end of the day, all financial risks have to be accounted for by the producer. Who will watch this? Who will pay for advertising around this? Who owns the rights? Who pays the copyright holder? Who has to be paid more and who can be talked into taking less? Who pays for the E&O insurance?

Maybe this all feeds into the CFTPA's resentment of ACTRA since the actor gets an "upfront fee" as opposed to a "backend profit". (translation: the actor is guaranteed payment for a day's work while the producer who has spent years developing the project has no guarantee of payment and all of the responsibility for the finances)

It was truly fascinating to watch Stephen Comeau lecture the room on the new and exciting ways to capitalize on internet-based models for promoting and distributing content throughout the world of new media and still maintain that actors are unreasonable for expecting to negotiate a fair payment structure within this new framework. It's like an Industrialist saying to a labourer, "I've just discovered a way to make a cheaper product and reach a wider consumer base...in light of this, you're getting a pay cut." Sure, the CFTPA's position is that the new media landscape is still too new and unknown, but they are certainly aware of the possibilities on the horizon and are doing *everything* within their power to exploit those possibilities (read: advertising revenue).

There's something happening here, but you don't know what it is.

1 comment:

Paul Kimball said...


Since you asked, here's my answer to the CTF question:

Get rid of it.

And the provincial agencies too.

Replace them all with a greatly enhanced tax credit regime, where the money received is directly linked to the amount of Canadian labour employed, and where all producers, including commercial producers, are eligible, and receive the money, once they have obtained a broadcast license.

There are other changes I would suggest as well, but that's the main one. The "trough" system that we've had for years doesn't work, stifles really good ideas, and leaves us with a backwater-type industry that can't compete in the rapidly changing global marketplace.

Nice blog, by the way - I'll keep an eye on it!

Best regards,
Paul Kimball

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