New Development Funding RequirementsComplications Ensue
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

[Cancon] Elvira Lount has posted a Facebook Note objecting to the new proposed Telefilm requirements for development funding. According to her synopsis:
1. In order for Canadian producers to access Telefilm feature film development funds they will have to have produced a feature film in the past 5 years.
2. Producers will be graded using the new 3 point performance criteria of box office, festivals/awards and private funding as presented at the recent Telefilm public meeting. It seems that your grade will affect the amount of development funding you will be able to access -- in what seems to be a much expanded development performance envelope.
3. Telefilm won't be providing creative input. It will be up to the producers to handle the development.
4. Producers who aren't eligible - haven't produced a feature film in the past 5 years - will have to partner with a producer who is eligible. There is no info on which partner will control the funds, but most likely it will be the eligible producer since they'll be getting the money - I'm assuming. No info on whether they can be just an executive producer or have to be an actual co-producer with part ownership of your project. No info on whether your TV or service production credits will count, or whether if you've produced films without Telefilm involvement they will count or be assessed under the new performance criteria and render you eligible.
5. A producer can apparently apply for an exception exemption- for instance if you have feature film credits but not in the past 5 years -- you may be able to convince Telefilm that your should be eligible. But, that would be very limited - exceptional circumstances only.
6. There is likely to be a 1st & 2nd time producer development stream - but no indication of how much will be allocated, the assessment process etc. Given that most of the funds will go to the much expanded development "performance" envelope this stream is likely to be heavily oversubscribed.
Her main objection is that this will squeeze inexperienced producers out of development. Why would an experienced producer team up with an inexperienced when they have their own projects?

I'm not convinced the new regulations are a bad idea. Doesn't it make a whole lot of sense to evaluate a development money request not only on the strength of the script or story, but the producer's track record? If I bring a TV project to a network, they are certainly going to judge the project not only on its creative merits on paper, but on my ability to execute, and the producer's track record. Same goes if I bring a project to a studio. Why wouldn't the government be equally careful with taxpayer money?

I disagree that eligible producers will ignore ineligible producers. I spent about 8 years as a development exec before I made my living writing, so I have some experience in production companies. Bigger producers team up with little ones all the time. Why? Because it keeps their overhead low. If I'm E1, say, and a smart emerging producer brings in a project she's nurtured, then I've saved myself a lot of headaches. I don't have to sift through 1000 scripts to find one good one. I don't have to do a deal with the writer. I don't have to give the writer notes. And I have someone who will shepherd the project for me. All I have to do is leverage my relationships with distributors and beat up on talent agents, which is something I, E1, can do better than an indie producer.

Why do you think studios have producers on the lot? Because producers who have everything riding on the project are better at picking winners than employees are.
And, keep in mind that the 40% allowable producer fees/overhead on the development funds will have to be divided between the 2 producers/production companies (most likely 50/50) with the balance going to the writers and story editors. So, on a development budget of $25,000 that combined producer/overhead fee will be $7000 split 2 ways - $3500 per producer/production company - and with that you are expected to devote months or years of your life to developing the project that you no longer own or control and to run your office. Plus, of course you will need to pay a lawyer to draw up the co-producer contract -- so this is an additional expense that will eat into your $3500 share -- let's say it will cost you at least $1000 to make sure you don't get screwed by the other producer. So, now you're left with $2500 and you've given away half your project, or maybe even the whole project.

First, what eligible producer is going to be willing to take on someone else's project for that paltry sum of $2500 when they can keep the whole allowable 40% fee by developing their own projects?
Here's the thing. The development overhead is not supposed to be how you pay the rent as a producer. It's supposed to tide you over. You are supposed to make your living producing movies. I've heard it said too often that many producers make their living developing scripts. Meaning, that's all they do. The Telefilm development money is not supposed to be there to support people working in the industry. It is supposed to support movie making.

I've often noticed that many producers, particularly in Québec, do not seem very interested in reading my, and other writers', material. What they want to do is develop their own pet projects. An exec friend of mine recently tried to forward an interesting script to a producer I've worked with. He wrote back, "What makes you think I'm interested in reading other people's scripts?"

And frankly, if you're an emerging producer, you ought to be able to negotiate a reasonable deal for yourself with an established producer.

Of course, I worked in LA for 10 years. There was a year where I was exactly an emerging producer with no credits trying to sell my projects to established producers. So all of this seems extremely normal to me, except for the part where the government helps people fund their projects.

I think it makes sense to get Telefilm out of the business of giving notes. I have many friends who are Telefilm analysts, and they're pretty sharp folks. They've often helped me make my scripts better. But doesn't it make sense that the notes should come from the person who lives or dies by the critical and/or commercial success of the movie? No Telefilm analyst was ever fired because their notes made a movie less commercial or less of a festival winner. If Denise Robert wants to make another potential Oscar winner, shouldn't she have the final say on whether the script is perfect the way it is? If Muse wants to make the next big dumb comedy, you know the analyst is not going to say, "we need more fart jokes." But sometimes you just need more fart jokes.

I guess the only quibble I would have with the guidelines is that 5 years might be short. It takes a long time to develop and produce a feature. I think you could be a very good producer and not necessarily have a feature in the past 5 years for entirely legit reasons. I think 7 years might be more reasonable.

Look, I'm as scared of the big bad Conservatives as anybody. And I keep waiting for some terrible drastic change to the creative landscape. But these seem like entirely reasonable and fair new guidelines.

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Hi Alan, I appreciate your comments, but believe me, there's no way you can make a living in Canada developing scripts - unlike in the US - there's very little money in it. So you take the little crumbs that you can get. If a producer is lucky here you might get 2 projects into development in 1 year from various sources -- with allowable producer/overhead fees at about $7,000 per project you won't get very far...

I guess you really can't appreciate my comments unless you live and work in Canada under this public funded system. It does not work like it does in the L.A. I can assure you that the "eligible" producers here will not want to be bothered with the ones who do not qualify. There's too little production money to go around. Also, most companies who might be eligible who've made one feature in 5 years would not have the funds to run a development dept and to read a lot of scripts from other producers. And it's more likely under the proposed new system that the writers will go directly to them and forego the ineligible producers, who are not necessarily inexperienced.

We're really talking about 2 groups of filmmakers here who will be excluded under the new system if it comes in - the newbies with little experience and the experienced who have lots of credits but haven't produced a feature film in while - maybe they've been teaching, working on service productions, ill, whatever - there are lots of reasons. Doesn't mean they don't have great projects. Why should they have to team up with someone with perhaps less experienced who Telefilm has blessed with production financing in the past 5 years? And keep in mind - these English films made in Canada over the past 5 years have made only 1% of the box office. So, now these producers are going to be deciding what new scripts get developed based on this dismal track record. It's just not the same system as the US where commercial success is paramount.

There has to be changes, and yes indeed, having Telefilm bureaucrats make creative decisions about scripts is not ideal and often very frustrating as many would not know a great script if it stared them in the face. And the readers, well that's another story. We won't go there. But, the proposed new system is unworkable in Canada. This is government money that is being distributed and it has to be distributed fairly and not to just a select chosen few whose track record is pretty dismal and who keep getting funded over and over because they have been given the opportunity before - even if their films don't make money. This is my main complaint -- this new system will just be reinforcing the funding of the producers who are forever drinking out of the trough and wanting it all for themselves and starving out everyone else.

Perhaps, once a producer has been funded a few times in Canada they should be cut off and told to look elsewhere. As it stands it's the ones who aren't being funded for whatever reason, and often having nothing to do with the creative merits of the projects or the experience of the filmmakers, who are being told to look elsewhere.

Anyway, it's great to open up this dialogue and get input and suggestions. I hope more people will join in the debate.

By Blogger Utopia Pictures, at 9:00 PM  

Actually, I should say it's taxpayers money, not Government money...

By Blogger Utopia Pictures, at 10:57 PM  

I'm confused about how the rest of the creative team's track record figures into this rubric. If a project has a top director, top writer, or top star, that should count for something too, no?

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 11:03 PM  

This is for development only. Production remains the same for 2012. Any producer can apply.

By Blogger Utopia Pictures, at 11:21 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 11:24 AM  

Oh, then I think I know what will happen. Producers will tell writers, "I like the concept. Let me know when you have a finished script." Then, "It's good, but not quite 'all there' -- I'd be happy to consider it again if you do a revision..."

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 11:25 AM  

The TFC 1% - 1% of the box office, 100% of the money.

By Blogger Utopia Pictures, at 12:34 PM  

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