Given the federal government’s decision to lop off a quarter (US$18.5 million) of its annual contribution to the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) earlier this year, producers and broadcasters knew there would be more losers than winners among those vying for assistance from the country’s largest television subsidy program this spring. But that foresight didn’t make the reality any less painful when crown corporation Telefilm Canada released the results from the Equity Investment Program’s spring application period in May.
At the end of the day, Telefilm awarded US$11.8 million to 19 children’s projects – 32% fewer projects than it ponied up funding for during the same time period in 2002.
Since most producers require funding from both the Equity Investment Program and the License Fee Program (together they comprise the CTF) to get their projects off the ground, Telefilm’s decisions further complicated matters for companies that were successful through the LFP process, but were shut out of the EIP sweepstakes. In order to retain LFP monies earmarked for their projects, producers needed to prove to the CTF that they had the necessary financing in lieu of EIP investment before May 20.
That left several kids producers, including Toronto-based Shaftesbury Films, scrambling to find other funding sources. Shaftesbury’s spooky tween-targeted The Strip (13 x half hours) had already received US$760,000 from the License Fee Program, but got zilch from EIP.
‘We’re still sorting ourselves out,’ says Shaftesbury executive producer of children’s and family programming Suzanne French, who adds that the company had contingency plans in place in case the EIP funds didn’t come through. ‘The Strip is a commercial project,’ she adds, ‘so [EIP] is certainly not the only way to bring the financing together.’
According to French and other producers, the biggest surprise with the EIP this time out was how little the broadcaster priorities factored into Telefilm’s decisions. The CTF introduced the priorities this spring to replace the visibility of Canadian elements as part of the criteria it evaluates in scoring a project’s funding eligibility for the LFP. Telefilm was supposed to give these priorities weight in its assessment, but many felt that it completely overlooked them.
‘The idea behind the broadcaster priorities,’ says Corus head of programming Peter Moss, ‘was that it meant broadcasters got the chance to say, ‘this where we put our weight. These are the projects that we’re giving priority.” Moss says that Corus had one series for which it had given a sixth priority (its third-highest in the kids genre) that didn’t receive EIP money, while another that went into the process with a 12th priority did. Only two of the series that YTV has greenlit – 15/Love (Galafilm and Telefactory) and Being Ian (Studio B) – were successful in attaining both LFP and EIP funding. ‘You have to wonder what Telefilm was thinking,’ says Moss.
The EIP results also left Family Channel’s manager of original production Sandra Walmark perplexed. Family submitted third and second priorities respectively for its only two children’s series – King (Funbag and Decode) and Whistler 4 + 1 (Mogul Productions and AAC Kids) – and was shut out on both counts. ‘We were surprised,’ says Walmark. ‘We provided Telefilm with a lot of information that would allow them to feel comfortable with the return on the projects.’
While a sky-is-falling rhetoric is not uncommon among Canadian producers and broadcasters where funding matters are concerned, some believe the havoc that the government cuts have wrought could give international studios pause when looking to Canada as a go-to co-production territory.
‘A lot of international co-pros are going to go down,’ says Corus’s Moss. ‘I think in the next round, people will be a little more hesitant to look to Canada. Think of it from the other side: If you’re a French animator with a presale to France 2, you have a September delivery and you’re waiting on 40% of your financing from Canada, you may be feeling a little bit insecure right now.’