Category Archives: Funding

Project Funding Application Tips – 3

This is the third in my ongoing (though irregular) series of posts on Project Funding Application Tips (see here and here for previous posts).  They are tips that I’ve come up with after reviewing an awful lot of applications for a variety of funds.

  1. I can’t believe I have to say this but leave your cutesy bios on your website (if you must).  I don’t care if you like rainbows and kitty cats and rock climb in your spare time.  I want to know if you have the necessary skills and experience to do the job.
  2. If your website is going to have a lot of videos and some of them will be exclusive and some of them will be edited footage from the television show (e.g. bloopers), the budget for video cannot be assessed unless the evaluator has an idea of how many videos will be original and how many will be edited.  Even a ballpark will help.
  3. If something that you want to produce is going to be more expensive than normal ranges, you have to explain, in detail, why it will be more expensive.  Without that explanation some evaluators will cut the budget and/or the amount funded while others will reject an application completely.  Whatever the reason for the higher expense – sell it.  If it is a digital project and the higher expense is due to more content then you have to explain just how much content will be produced. If it is a drama and the cast is huge that should be obvious in the scripts but there will be other cost categories that will not be so obvious and they need explanation.
  4. If you are applying for funding for a second or later season, don’t assume that the evaluators are familiar with your show.  An episode of the earlier season is not enough.  You need to include a bible or other document that explains who the characters are and a summary of what happened in each previous season, particularly if there are story arcs that relate to the current season’s story.  It’s hard to evaluate creative when you don’t have any clue what’s going on.
  5. Comedy is hard but applying for funding for a comedy project is even harder.  Depending on the kind of comedy it might not come across from the script (I can remember laughing out loud while reading a goofy boys animation script but that’s rare).    Communicating the funny can be particularly hard when writing an outline or a concept document.  Short clips can go a long way to communicating the funny.  If you go that route though, make sure the clips really are funny.  They should also be well performed and edited so that the evaluator isn’t distracted by things that can be easily improved in production.
  6. Be consistent when applying to different funds.  While there may be different goals, eligibility requirements and guidelines between different funds the project should still be fundamentally the same.  If it isn’t there is a strong possibility that this will be noticed.  Yes, funders talk, especially when a project is complicated or brings up unique issues.  They also sometimes use the same evaluators so you always run the risk of someone saying ‘hey, I saw this project when it applied over here and it was different’.  Don’t do that.
  7. Speaking of other applications, if you are making multiple applications be sure to have the right name on your documents.  Make sure that your cover letter does not say ‘Dear Andra’ if it is going to the Shaw Rocket Fund.  Change the footer from ‘CMF Experimental’ to ‘Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund’.  Seriously – I’ve seen this mistake made.
  8. When you are applying to multiple agencies be careful about trying to shoehorn the same documents into each application.  Make sure that you address the needs of each application separately.  Funders want to know that you have taken the time and attention to focus on their guidelines and addressed their requirements.  Sometimes its just confusing when you give a funder information that they haven’t asked for.

 

 

 

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Corus Acquisition of Teletoon, Historia and Séries+

The Corus hearing for these transactions, and the licence renewal of the services, was November 5-6, 2013.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic on social media so it looks like few people were paying attention (I did the buik of the tweeting when I wasn’t restarting my computer and downloading plugins – the CRTC doesn’t like Macs and I’d lost the plugins that worked when I updated to Mavericks – argh!), but there were a few issues raised that are worthy of mention.

As a reminder, Corus is buying these services because the Commission told Bell Media that they needed to divest of them in order to prevent dominance in the marketplace.  English creator stakeholders (CMPA, DGC, WGC, On Screen Manitoba) expressed concern that the resulting company will dominate the children’s market because Corus already has YTV and Treehouse.  Conflicting stats were submitted to show Corus dominated the children’s market (CMPA’s stats as also used by DGC and WGC) or did not (Corus’ stats).  Methodology wasn’t clear – was CMPA talking about percentage of programming or audience?  If audience, is it a percentage of all viewing by children or just of viewing on children’s services.  Corus kept saying that they had not included children’s viewing of Netflix.  While Netflix Kids is definitely competition it is exempt from the regulated system so clearly does not apply.  But what is the right measurement?  I hope that the CRTC addresses this in their decision as it can come up again when dealing with market dominance in a genre.

Fear of market dominance also led some stakeholders to recommend safeguards against programming being spread across all Corus stations to the detriment of each service.  The Commission pointed out that there were nature of service definitions that should prevent that as well as existing overlap limits between YTV and Treehouse but stakeholders looked for more.  In its reply phase Corus agreed to a limit of 10% overlap between Teletoon and YTV, the two services with the greatest potential of overlap given their respective natures of service.

An allocation of the benefits package to an Export Initiative was quite controversial.  It got a lot of air time at the hearing because both Corus and the CRTC seemed genuinely puzzled that the creative community in both languages was not interested in the program.  On the surface the objection was that as described (funding things like attendance at markets in order to solicit foreign sales) the program would not directly fund new production.  Stakeholders were repeatedly asked how they would amend the program so that it would be an onscreen benefit but they refused to respond.  They wanted the money allocated to production (or in the case of the WGC – development) instead.  Discussion got a little heated between the Chair and Michael Hennessy of the CMPA on this topic.  Hennessy kept saying that promotion was a broadcaster’s job and benefits should go to production so that there is something to promote.  That’s a fine argument except right now there are a lot of benefits monies in the system so it’s a bit harder to argue need (let’s revisit this in 2017 when benefits have been spent and BDU contributions to the CMF have plummeted due to OTT).  It also fails to take into account that the producer (and often the talent) share responsibility with the broadcaster to promote the show.  This isn’t service work where you just produce it and walk away.  Remember that Blais has said that under his watch the Commission would not be protectionist but ‘promotionist’ so this kind of a program that would promote Canadian programs outside the country and leverage foreign financing for domestic production is the sort of thing that he is looking to do.

Commissioner Raj Shoan asked Corus if they would consider tweaking the Export  fund so that it would finance presales or subsequent season sales to directly link to production (and be more clearly an onscreen benefit) and Corus was fine with that.  We’ll see where this one goes.

Part of the transaction involves Corus buying Shaw’s half of Historia and Séries+ along with Astral’s half.  Corus does not want to pay benefits on the Shaw half because they are related companies and Corus says no control is being transferred.  There was a fair bit of discussion of this as this transaction could be nothing more than a litmus test to see if the argument flies before Shaw purchases Corus and consolidates operations.  It prompted a reference to St. Augustine from JP Blais and I have to say that’s the first time I’ve heard such a reference at the CRTC and definitely the first time that I’ve ever heard Shaw-Corus compared to the Holy Trinity.  It’s a tricky issue indeed though as Shaw and Corus want to be treated as the same company for some purposes but not for others.  I’m looking forward to the decision on this one.

After Corus submitted their application for these transactions, and before the hearing, the CRTC released its proposal for a new benefits policy for comment.  It is open for comment till December 5, 2013.  Part of the proposed new benefits policy is that 80% of benefits would be allocated to third party funds (80% to CMF and 20% to the independent funds).  While the proposed benefits do not comply with this proposal they do not have to as there is no policy yet.  The Commission clearly telegraphed its interest in going down that route though so Corus advised that if the Export Initiative does not comply as an onscreen benefit, rather than wrap it in with self-administered programming benefits, it would transfer them to Telefilm or CMF and it would be up to one of those parties to figure out how to arrange a program that supported export and was still an onscreen benefit.

There were other issues but these are my favourite.  There is one other point to mention though.  In his opening speech, Blais reminded everyone of the Commission’s Talk TV public consultation and specifically encouraged content creators to participate.  Many of us think of public consultations as something that our non-industry friends and neighbours participate in but Blais is specifically asking us industry types to get involved too so that the CRTC has “access to the broadest diversity of views possible”.  [which can be read as ‘we don’t want to hear from just the trolls’ – reading the online forum can be painful!] So go to the online forum, join a Flash! Conference, send in your views.  Start by checking out my previous blog post.  If you are member of an organization, ask if they will be running a Flash! Conference.  [The Academy of Canadian CInema and Television is running one November 21, 2013].  This is your chance.

Update:  The CRTC’s twitter account has informed me that the stream for their next hearing will be Mac-friendly.  Yay!!!

CMF 2013 Consultation Process

Yesterday the Canada Media Fund kicked off its industry consultation process leading up to the release of new guidelines for the next two-year period starting April 2014.  The consultation process informs CMF staff and board of industry issues, reacts to proposals from the CMF for changes to the guidelines and offers a forum to air grievances.  I went on a twitter rant earlier this week about the structure of the consultation process, which I will summarize here before getting into how the first Focus Group went.

I ranted because the CMF has been doing this consultation process for a few years now but there seems to be confusion about how it works.  Of all of the funding bodies, in my opinion the CMF has the most structured, open and comprehensive consultation process.  But there are a few levels with different purposes and it seems that people are getting confused.

Starting with Toronto yesterday, the CMF are going across Canada conducting Focus Groups.  The schedule is here.  Focus Groups are an opportunity for stakeholders to raise issues from their personal experience with the past guidelines and talk about local or regional issues.  CMF staff are there to listen rather than solve problems.  CMF staff also present statistics on recent performance and raise topics that they would like feedback on.  I found in yesterday’s meeting, the CMF were much more focused on what questions they would like feedback on from stakeholders than in past years.

If you can’t make it to a Focus Group then you can address the questions or raise your own issues in the online forum after reading the deck from the Focus Group presentation.  [At this point there does not seem to be an online forum – I couldn’t find it.  I’m waiting to hear back from CMF on its location and will update this when I hear]

The issues raised and the questions answered inform the Working Groups which meet in October and November.  While the Focus Groups are open to anyone, the Working Groups are invitation only.  Representatives of the producer organizations, other funders, guilds and unions and broadcasters meet with CMF staff and usually one or two CMF board members on themed meetings (e.g. Regional Incentives, Documentaries, Broadcaster Performance Envelope calculations, Funding Mechanisms).  At these meetings CMF present proposals for change, modeling on the impact of proposed changes, stats on the impact of previous guidelines and they solicit feedback.   These are roll up the sleeves and try to solve problems meetings.  Feeding into that process are Advisory Committees with subject matter experts who advise CMF staff on technical issues.  Currently there is an Advisory Committee that meets to provide expertise on digital media metrics.

Once the Working Groups have all met then there is a National Focus Group.  This is also invitation only and is comprised of many of the same people as the Working Groups but summarizes the whole process for those who may have missed a meeting or two and presents conclusions and recommendations that will go to the CMF Board.  The Board works with staff to make decisions and we then see the results in the spring before the new guidelines go into effect April 1, 2014.

It is a complicated and time-consuming process but it gets work done.

If you want to know the issues being addressed during the process then I suggest you read the deck.  There are a lot of them.  Many are being presented to see IF people care and are not serious proposed changes.  Some are presented because the CMF wants to know if they are on the right track or not.  And you can always raise new ideas.  I Storify’d tweets from the Toronto session yesterday so if you weren’t following along on Twitter you can get a recap there.  I hope that in future sessions people use the #cmfconsults hashtag so the rest of us can follow along and see if there are regional differences in opinion (I assume so).

There was a good crowd out for the Toronto Focus Group though I had the feeling that there were more videogame producers there than tv producers, or even other digital producers.  That may be because those other producers were also being represented there by the CMPA and Interactive Ontario but it is important for CMF to hear from individual producers who have had direct experience with the CMF.  I was pleased to see a contingent from the new kid on the block, the Independent Web Series Creators of Canada (IWCC) who have not previously had specific support from the CMF though it sounds like that may change in the future.  The usual guilds and unions were out in force as well as most of the broadcasters.

There were long discussions about how the Experimental Fund doesn’t work for videogame producers who just want start up money for their commercial titles.  I have to admit to only half listening because I’ve heard this one every year and it ignores the fact that the mandate of the fund is innovation first.  But CMF seemed willing to discuss ways to tweak the Experimental Fund, including a pilot program to work with incubators and VCs, provided that they do not lose sight of their mandate.

A line of discussion that I was much more interested in was the declining BDU revenues and the growth of new digital platforms.  There’s a real push-pull there.  Producers want to be able to trigger CMF funding through digital broadcasters (particularly but not limited to independent web content creators) because increasingly Canadians are choosing to enjoy their content through these new channels and they have become viable business models.  But if those digital broadcasters are not also contributing to the system then they will be benefitting from an ever-shrinking pool of BDU money while leaving less for the traditional broadcasters.  To make it worse, those digital broadcasters are in part the cause of the shrinking pool of BDU money.  The CRTC has previously said that it will not regulate OTT (ie digital broadcasters) as the business models were still evolving and they saw OTT as complimentary to traditional media.  A review of the Digital Media Exemption Order isn’t even in the current CRTC 3 Year Plan though the Order suggested that it would be up for review in 2014 when it was renewed in 2009.   The CMF has started to see a decline in BDU revenues so it seems pretty clear that OTT is having a negative impact on mainstream broadcasters and the CMF’s ability to fund its programs.  It was good to hear CMF say that something needs to be done and CMF alone cannot make the necessary changes.  CRTC we’re going to be looking to you.

A Toronto-specific concern raised was about how regional incentives might be negatively impacting Toronto.  There was an interest in keeping analysis to the quality of the project and away from postal code but the CMF has a mandate to promote the regions and the Convergent Fund is not a subjective fund.  Film Ontario questioned whether CMF stats were able to identify if Toronto-developed television is being regionally produced in order to take advantage of the regional incentives.  Pre-development was introduced for regional producers only last year so it does skew the charts and make that analysis difficult.  And someone at the back of the room raised the question few are willing to say out loud – ‘does every jurisdiction in Canada need to be a production centre?’  That wasn’t up to the room to decide as support for the regions is within the CMF Contribution Agreement with Heritage and the CRTC has come down hard on broadcasters to support regional production.  Regional incentives aren’t going away.

There was much more discussed in the over 3 hour meeting – check out the Storify.  I’m also hoping that Sasha Boersma does a blog post about the consultations from the perspective of a wonky digital producer as she has promised (poke!).  If you are not in Toronto then I encourage you to participate in an upcoming Focus Group near you.  Even if you are not a client or potential client, the meetings are a great way to hear what’s going on in the tv and digital media industries – pretty good schmoozing too!

CRTC S.9(1)(h) Hearing (Mandatory Carriage) Decision

For background, last March I wrote a post that explained what mandatory carriage means and talked about the applications that I was most interested in.  The hearing took place the week of April 23, 2013 and the decision was released today.  13 of the 22 applications for mandatory carriage were denied as the CRTC reiterated that mandatory carriage was reserved for services that ‘make exceptional contributions to meeting the objectives of the (Broadcasting) Act’.  See Fagstein’s blog for a good chart form summary.

Most of the mainstream media and social media focus has been on the Sun TV application for mandatory carriage (which was denied) – see Simon Houpt and Steve Ladurantaye of the Globe and Mail for excellent coverage of the topic) but I have always been much more interested in the other applications which had the potential to impact the Canadian content part of the broadcasting sector – APTN, VisionTV, Starlight.  There were also several licence renewal applications of interest, particularly Superchannel and Blue Ant, but those have not been released.  There was however, one aspect of the Sun TV decision that I think is worth noting (in addition to the upcoming policy hearing on Canadian news services which will address the bigger picture of whether all Canadian news services need regulatory assistance).  The Commission noted that not only did Sun TV not demonstrate how its service would make an ‘exceptional’ contribution to the objectives of the Act – it never referenced the Act in its application.  #duh (sorry – couldn’t resist).  Further, the service didn’t make ‘exceptional’ expenditure and exhibition commitments to Canadian programming beyond what other Canadian news services, which do not have mandatory carriage, make.

But enough about Sun TV.  APTN received a renewal of their mandatory distribution order on the basis that its service was consistent with the objectives of the Act, it was important that the service be widely available across the country and that APTN is ‘exceptional in its contribution to Canadian expression and reflects attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity that would not otherwise be seen on television’.  As well, should the BDUs only carry the service where concentrations of aboriginal populations warranted it, then many who were spread out around the country would not have access.  This is a good description of the bar required for a service to be entitled to mandatory distribution – exceptional contribution to the objectives of the Act, and anticipation that the market would not provide the service consistently across the country.

However, APTN also asked for an increase in their subscriber rate from $0.25 per sub to $0.40.  It requested the increase to keep up with inflation, improve programming and make more programming available on multiple platforms.  The Commission accepted that an increase was warranted but given that an increase in the subscriber rate will mean an increase in the cost of the basic package, decided that a $0.06 increase would be a good balance between APTN’s need and the consumer’s reluctance to pay more for basic cable.

The Commission used the same balance language when it agreed to an increase for CPAC.  The $0.01 increase ‘represents a good balance between the impact on the price of the basic service for Canadian consumers and the ability of CPAC to improve its programming’.  This is the consumer filter that we have been told will be applied to all decisions clearly at work.

There were two proposed youth-focused services that applied for mandatory distribution – Fusion and Dolobox.  It was interesting that both had significant user-generated content and online components and both were denied at least in part on the basis that there were enough existing alternatives in the online world that the Commission did not see a need to issue mandatory distribution and broadcasting licences.  I heard both presentations and I could not understand why they were at the CRTC as it seemed like a backwards looking business model for forward-looking services.

Speaking of which, then there’s Starlight.  While I strongly support the idea of finding a way to make it easier for Canadians to find and watch Canadian feature films, I was part of the camp who thought that Starlight for all of its good intentions, was not the solution because of its reliance on mandatory carriage in its business model (See also Denis McGrath’s Facebook post on the subject –- sometimes a former blogger has a relapse).  As you can see from those services that received or maintained mandatory carriage, the Commission looked very closely at whether a service was exceptional enough to warrant increasing the cost of basic.

The Commission did not feel that the proposed service was exceptional enough because Canadian VOD and pay services are required to licence all Canadian services that are available so Canadian films are not unavailable.  [Now, as Mario Mota pointed out in a tweet, pay is about $20/month on top of basic, which is not very accessible to Canadians so there is a flaw in that argument.]  Starlight would to some extent duplicate the offering on pay and VOD so would not provide additional diversity to the system.  I would agree except to the extent that Starlight was planning to reach into the back catalogue to films not currently or rarely available (some rightly so of course).

Part of Starlight’s strategy was to show general support for the service and it conducted a survey to demonstrate a high level of interest.  Unfortunately that strategy seems to have backfired as the Commission felt that the high level of interest demonstrated that Starlight could be successful as a discretionary service.   However, Starlight applied for mandatory distribution because it not only wanted to be sure that it was available in every home but also it needed the revenue to fund its original feature film financing plan.  This plan could not be financed without a mandatory distribution order.  The Commission felt that Starlight had not demonstrated that the existing funding for feature films was insufficient.  I think that another way of putting that is ‘don’t force consumers to solve the problem of insufficient feature film financing’.

Over the years Vision has applied for mandatory carriage several times on the basis that its multifaith programming and its focus on its 55+ audience offers needed diversity in the broadcasting system.  Vision expressed concern that as an independent service it runs the risk of vertically integrated companies moving it from a basic package to a discretionary package in order to make room for their own services.  A move like that would draw fewer subscribers and therefore reduce Vision’s revenue.  The Commission accepted the arguments of BDUs that the BDUs would not want to risk the wrath of Vision’s audience if they moved Vision out of basic (and warned the BDUs that the Commission would need to see good reasons if they ever did so).  Vision also has recourse to the Commission should the BDUs treat Vision unfairly.  The Commission also pointed out that Vision is no longer the only other faith programming service so there is no extraordinary need for Vision’s particular service.  Or in other words – it’s all good so there’s no need to regulate.

One of the few new mandatory orders granted is worth mentioning.  It went to The Legislative Assemblies of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories for a geographically limited broadcast of recorded and live coverage of proceedings in their Assemblies in aboriginal languages, English and French.  The service clearly supports the objectives of the Act, there was a demonstrated demand and a demonstrated market failure.  Bell ExpressVu stated no plans to carry the service and Shaw agreed to but without any time commitment.  And possibly most importantly, the service did not ask for a subscriber fee.

The general feeling about this hearing was that the Commission would not grant many or possibly any new mandatory orders but would maintain the existing ones in order to keep a lid on the cost of basic cable and this is pretty much what they have done.  The decisions were clear so if any service seeks to apply for a mandatory order in the future they will definitely know what issues to address in their application.  There will be an increase to the basic cable rate but it should not be significant (Fagstein came up with wholesale increases of $0.31 per subscriber per month in English and $0.63 in French, which Mario suggests may be used by the BDUs to justify $1 increases in your bill).

In many ways those of us who watched the hearing felt that it was a throw back to an earlier era when broadcast television was the only way that you could reach an audience.  That is so not the case any more.  Now the question is whether the rejected applicants, and those contemplating new services in the future, turn to digital platforms to reach audiences and whether the CRTC needs to be there to ensure that the objectives of the Broadcasting Act aren’t being undercut by these new platforms.  Yeah, I went there.

Investing in Culture is Good Business

This morning I read an interesting article in The Atlantic “Does Art Help the Economy”  (H/T to Sasha Boersma) which talks about how the UK Culture Secretary used economic arguments to prevent cuts to her department’s budget.  Their political situation so mirrors our own that I feel that it’s worth sharing and commenting on.

The UK culture department had already survived a 30% cut in spending in 2010 but they were expecting more cuts due to the recession.  The 5% cut for this year was seen as a reprieve.  Culture Secretary Maria Miller had been making the argument that funding arts should be seen as venture capital that invests in the British brand that could be leveraged to deliver economic growth:  “Culture should be seen as the standard bearer for [Britain’s] efforts to engage in cultural diplomacy, to develop soft power, and to compete, as a nation, in both trade and investment.”

Those in the Canadian cultural industries who lobby the federal government for funding, policies and programs have had to learn the economic arguments for culture since the Conservatives became the government.  The argument that culture was intrinsically an important part of citizenship resonated with Liberal governments but wasn’t enough with Conservatives.  Slowly we all started compiling statistics and analysis (Note the most recent study released July 10, 2013 by the CMPA and Motion Picture Association – Canada on the economic contribution of film and television in Canada) and making economic arguments to show why culture should not be considered an unnecessary frill in recessionary times but an actual economic generator.

From my perspective, it’s been a tough sell and I don’t know whether it’s just that the Conservatives aren’t buying the argument or whether we’re not doing a good enough job in selling it.  I find The Atlantic argument interesting because it also points to a division within the cultural community in Britain that I believe we also have here.  In the UK there were advocates who fought against the economic argument because “directing our investment in culture for its commercial potential” will result in “worse art” and a “worse commercial outcome”.  I’m not sure what Dame Liz Forgan of the Arts Council of England was referring to but the Canadian equivalent would be the really bad movies that were produced as a result of very aggressive tax shelters in the 70s and 80s.  I have my name in the credits of a few of those so I know what I’m talking about.  But I do not believe that any of our current economic-focused programs such as the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit have produced bad art.  Quite the contrary.  Unlike in the tax shelter days, no one produces film or television programs just for the financing so the creative has to be good enough to generate other production financing and find an audience.

As we often do in Canada, we need to take a hybrid approach.  Gone are the days when we can say that culture needs to be funded only because it presents a social benefit to Canadians.  It is important to Canadians that we have access to our own high quality cultural product, but when we only make that argument too often culture is seen as a charitable activity and is the first thing cut when times are tough.   Investment in culture is not a frill or a charity.  It is an investment in jobs, in the Canadian brand, in international trade and economic growth.  However, we can’t lose sight of the Canadian values part of the argument because that is how you avoid “worse art”.

I hope that new Minister of Heritage Shelly Glover reads The Atlantic article.  Either way, it’s up to those who lobby in Ottawa to craft those hybrid arguments and keep trying to convince the powers that be that investing in Canadian culture is a smart investment for the country.

Funding Application Tips – Partnerships

I probably should have done this post on Partnerships before last week’s post on how not to screw up your funding application but there you go.  I’m doing it now.

One of the biggest ways that a project can fail (in general, not just with funding applications) is in picking the right partners to work on the project.  This is co-producers or digital media and television producers or creative partners.  The same rules/guidelines apply.

Audio-visual media is a collective work.  None of us can create (high quality commercial) film, television and digital media on our own.  We need to work with other people to bring complimentary skills together to get the end product completed.  I think that we all understand that a screenwriter, producers, director, actors and crew are needed to produce but this also applies to the producer.  Sometimes it is skills that are needed, for example when a smaller production company or series creators partner with a more experienced production company to take on a bigger challenge.  Sometimes it is financing as when a Canadian production company partners with a treaty co-production partner.  And then there are the partnerships between formats when a tv producer partners with a digital media producer to create affiliated digital media content for a television program.

Early on in my career I learned a few key rules on partnerships from a tv producer who became a broadcaster and then a winemaker and is back to being a broadcaster.  I like to sum them up as ‘can you get drunk with your intended partner?’  It may seem frivolous but bear with me.   You get drunk with people you like (most of us do anyway).  Production is hard and you should only do such hard work with people you like and trust, can talk to and feel that you can rely on.  This means spending time with people and getting to know them before signing an agreement.  Put the relationship ahead of the deal.

How do you do that?  Meet lots of people and companies before decided which one you want to work with.  Attend markets and conferences where you can meet a lot of people (and socialize with them!).  Talk to your friends and colleagues about their experiences with those companies.  Yesterday I told a story about the reactions of two different companies to an event that I was trying to set up and the person I told it to heard the story as more evidence that one company was a better potential partner for her than the other company.  It wasn’t the point of my story but it definitely informed her opinion about which one she would rather work with.

It is more than likeability and ethics though.  What you look for in a partner depends on what you need but you need to be certain that your partner has it and isn’t just BS’ing you or entertaining magical thinking about their abilities.  That’s the due diligence part that you have to do.   Can they bring that financing to the table – check out their past projects.  Can they produce the digital media component – check out their past projects.  Do they have the distribution skills or marketing skills that you lack – check out their team.  Right now possibly the biggest problem in convergent media production is tv producers partnering with digital media companies who do not have the skills and experience to produce what the tv producers are looking for.   For example, if a convergent project is going to be about developing and supporting the television audience with content then a digital media shop that has only created websites that sell products will not have the necessary skills.   The result, if it can be funded, just may be garbage.

If you don’t know the sector that you’re exploring for a partner then consider hiring a consultant who works in that area to help you find potential partners.  Yes, it does sound like hiring a matchmaker but it can work.  Some organizations are partnering with other organizations to facilitate matchmaking, for example WIFT’s Digiscape in partnership with CMPA, CWC and Interactive Ontario.   Go to funders’ websites and check out what they’ve funded and who produced it.

OK, so you’ve found your dream date, now what?  An effective partnership comes out of both parties clearly understanding the strengths that each bring to the partnership, the roles they will each perform and being completely on the same page about what is being produced.  You can do this in a co-production or services agreement but you also need one or more meetings where you can talk about the big picture and all the little details that it will take to get there.  I cannot tell you how often I have been able to see in a funding application that partners appear to have completely different ideas about what they are producing.   An effective partnership involves constant communication – which of course isn’t difficult because you do like each other, right?  [see above re getting drunk together]   You do not carve up the responsibilities and go off and do your thing, assuming that your partner is off in their corner doing their thing and somehow magically it will all get put together and end up being fantastic!

Ideally you want to have such a fantastic working relationship with your partner that you can work with them again and avoid all of this hard finding your partner work.

Project Funding Application Tips

I have been evaluating project funding applications for various funds for many years. You may find this an odd thing for a policy wonk to do but I’ve also been a producer of websites, was active in children’s television and was the business manager for a fund so have a wide-ranging set of skills that allow me to assess creative, business and marketing potential for projects. I’ve seen a lot of applications in my day and have a few tips that I’d like to share to make my life and yours easier. They apply to applications for television and digital funding applications.

  1. Read the guidelines. Read them again. Prepare your application and then double check the guidelines again. If you’re not sure about something, call the funder. They almost always are happy to talk to you though perhaps not on the deadline date.
  2. Every application requires a synopsis. This is a brief, one paragraph description. Forget the blah blah and focus on writing a tight, accurate description of the project that will set the stage for the rest of the material in the application. A properly written synopsis will set the tone for the rest of the application and strongly influence an evaluator’s attitude as they set out to read the rest of the application. Often the synopsis is the only creative that a jury or board member will read before they make a decision based on the evaluator’s recommendation.
  3. Do a search for exclamation marks and delete same. This didn’t used to be an issue but is increasing. I blame Twitter and texting. My daughter tells me that all adults overuse exclamation marks in texts and tweets. It may be becoming a bad habit. Don’t use them in funding applications but put your emphasis in your words! Otherwise it feels like you’re shouting at us! See what I did there?
  4. Spell check. Seriously. You have no idea how often the phrase ‘and I was irritated by all the typos’ comes up in an evaluation.
  5. If you are referring to past work as being ‘landmark’ or ‘groundbreaking’ or using other such ‘never been done before’ adjectives then it better be. Describing previous work as hugely innovative when it isn’t will just undermine your current application.
  6. Make sure that your budget reflects the work proposed. If the budget preparer is fully informed of the creative then this should not be a problem but sadly often is.
  7. If you haven’t figured out your story or your project then you are not ready to apply yet. Do not rush the application and try the ‘trust us, we’ll figure it out’ argument. If the words aren’t there on paper then the funder has no idea what it is being asked to fund and won’t.
  8. You need a business model, marketing plan, distribution plan. The funder needs to know that there is audience demand and a way to make money, even if the funder doesn’t take an equity position. If there is no international market or revenue potential but there are other goals then explain that. The goal of a funding agency is to build the industry and not just fund good ideas.
  9. Try very hard to avoid buzzwords. First, a buzzword has a limited lifespan and if you are new in the sector you could easily be using a buzzword that is no longer in use (e.g. mobisode) or has negative connotations often because of overuse (e.g. transmedia). If you must use a buzzword, use it properly and only when necessary.
  10. Make sure that the bios of your team show that you can do what you propose. If your main team is new or new at what you propose, hire a consultant with relevant experience. If you partner with a company to provide more experience make sure that your partner really can do what they say they can do. Include examples of relevant past work in your bios. Do not make the evaluators use google.
  11. Describe exactly what you plan to do with social media. Mentioning Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are not enough. You actually need a strategy and each strategy is different depending on the program and the audience.
  12. Use pictures, sketches, illustrations and mockups. You know, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The evaluator knows that they are just sketches, illustrations etc. to help communicate the idea but pictures do help communicate that visual idea. That means character sketches for animation, mockups and wireframes for websites but also stock images for live action characters and photos of possible locations or sets.

Hmm. I could go on but I think 12 are a good number for you to digest and think about. Most of these points are not going to make the difference between funding or no funding but they each in their own way can influence the evaluator’s assessment.