Telefilm tweaks plan in order to help producers

MONTREAL — When Carolle Brabant took over as executive director of Telefilm Canada early in 2010, she promised to try to make the Canuck film and TV funder more responsive to the needs of the country’s producers.

That’s the impetus behind a recent change to the agency’s film-financing rules that may appear small, but figures to have a significant impact on making films easier to sell for producers.

The org is now offering producers a “recoupable advance” rather than an equity investment in a project. In the past, a Telefilm investment meant acquiring part of a pic’s copyright. This would often lead to legal headaches when the producers were trying to sell the film abroad or sell remake rights.

“The sole difference is in the ownership of the product,” says Michel Pradier, director of project financing at Telefilm. “All the revenues will be distributed the same way. It’s just that for films they want to spin off or remake or sell to another country, it was very difficult (under the old system) because copyright from us means copyright from the Crown. And I guess the Queen does not have much appetite to sell what she owns. So for the producer, it’s a big advantage (to not have that obstacle).”

The new policy doesn’t change Telefilm’s revenue stream. The org still shares profits from the film. The main difference is that with the old method, it would take a lot of time and money for a producer to acquire back the copyright from Telefilm.

In the past, if Telefilm financed 20% of the film’s budget, it received 20% of the copyright. In the new system, Telefilm does not get any percentage of the copyright. It would still get 20% of the revenue but the copyright remains entirely with the producer.

Producers can still opt to have Telefilm classify its stake as an equity investment, but most will likely go for the new approach. “Our (executive director) is really looking to have a client-focused strategy,” Pradier says.

Initial reaction from filmmakers has been positive.

“It was a problem for producers because they co-owned their assets with the government,” says Pierre Even, producer of “Cafe de Flore” and Berlin prize-winner “War Witch.”

Brabant, who has a financial background, realized it was a problem for the government to deal with. “Legally, (the change is) much easier. In the long term, a production company can deal with its own assets without having Telefilm Canada as a co-owner of these rights.”

The new rule goes into effect April 1.

On March 2, Telefilm also announced two new programs for film funding.

It has created a new private donation fund to support promising young filmmakers and to help established filmmakers both in Canada and on the international stage. Via the fund, private companies will be able to invest in Canadian films and receive proportional tax deductions or credits. Once up and running, Telefilm estimates the fund could have an annual budget of around $5 million, and that coin could be used by filmmakers to leverage other funding.

“It shows that Telefilm is open to financing in a different way,” Even says. “To look at more private financing, to look at different types of recoupment — that’s good news for us.”

Brabant also unveiled a pilot program to produce and market microbudget films for filmmakers who’ve made shorts and are ready to move to features. The program will have an annual budget of $1 million, and Telefilm will back between eight and 10 pics annually. Qualifying projects will have a maximum budget of $250,000.

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