On March 7, 2013, during a speech by Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra to the CMPA Prime Time audience, the government announced that it would now be implementing its new film and television co-production policy. Most of the audience went ‘huh?’ and a few directed the ‘huh?’ at me.
I don’t have all the answers but I’ve been able to dig up a few – sorry but it took me a while.
Here’s the context. A new co-production policy framework was released February 2011. It basically said that after declining treaty co-production volume, the policy framework would set the big picture goal of making Canada a more desirable co-production partner. Co-productions bring more foreign investment to Canada and make it easier for Canadian productions to get access to foreign markets. The industry was asked to consult on the implementation of that new policy framework – the details of how it would be accomplished. There were questions and possible solutions that we were asked to address such as lowering the minimum participation from Canada, a new set of minimum key creatives and frequency of review (I’m going on memory as none of the materials are on the Heritage site any more). These details would inform the specifics of each treaty as it gets renegotiated or for the negotiation of new ones. That was another question – should Heritage start implementing the new policy with new negotiations or by updating the existing treaties.
So when I heard that the new policy would now be implemented I went to look for the details of the implementation. Perhaps there would be a report that said how the industry consultation had been considered, or not. There is not. Heritage staff advised me that details on the provisions of the proposed treaties (one of the more significant aspects of implementation) cannot be released as they could jeopardize or confuse negotiations. Heritage did release today a document entitled: “Selection Criteria for entering into negotiations or renegotiations for an audiovisual coproduction treaty with Canada” and it provides a little more insight.
A treaty agreement governs how the two countries which are party to the agreement will treat a co-production and what the minimum requirements are for a co-production to be eligible. The primary benefit is that the co-production can be treated in each country as a domestic production, qualifying for support and meeting quotas.
The new treaty agreements will be more conceptual and less detailed than the existing agreements so that they can be more easily amended to adapt to changing production realities and to allow for more negotiation flexibility between co-production partners. I honestly do not know what this means in reality. In theory it makes sense because amending a treaty agreement between two governments is very time-consuming and complex but there is still a risk that too much has been left outside the agreement. We just don’t know yet.
The new rules will not come into play until new treaty agreements are negotiated. The Selection Criteria document says that the government will prioritize countries with a strong track record of co-production, with government support for co-productions, are good trading partners for Canada, are in a position to offer opportunities to Canadian productions and a variety of other factors. In reality I think that means UK, France, Germany, Australia and Ireland to start but there are so many factors including ‘have a significant demographic presence in the Canadian population’ that they could throw India or China into the top list as well, even though there hasn’t been the same volume of co-production with those countries.
All we appear to be able do at this point is wait for new treaties and revised treaties to be announced and compare them to the old treaties. Most (but not all) treaties follow the same format and terms and conditions. If you are considering a co-production right now I would suggest checking in now and then with Telefilm (who administers the treaties on behalf of the government) to see if there is a new governing treaty that might change the rules that govern your project. But it won’t happen any time soon – treaty agreements are notoriously slow to negotiate and ratify because they are agreements between two governments.
And for those of you who are wondering if this new policy or its implementation will have any impact on the number of minority co-productions on the CBC? Wrong venue – that’s an issue for the CRTC which may end up being part of their upcoming licence renewal decision.