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The Co-Production Dilemma: Co-Production From a Canadian Point of View

This monthly series illuminates some of the mysteries associated with co-production. This is not a step-by step guide, as each co-production relationship is unique and dependent on numerous variables. Though there are often financial advantages to co-production, the content below re-enforces that co-production is first and foremost about relationships, and relationships are an art rather than a science. What’s most important is to understand that preparedness, logic, flexibility and creativity are the most vital tools when determining whether co-production is right for you.

UPDATE: See this series as a published and shareable pdf here: http://bit.ly/1W6FNHL

Canada has audiovisual co-production treaties and MoU’s (memorandums of understanding) with 54 countries. Each treaty is different, but typically each co-producing country’s stake may be no less than 20 per cent and no more than 80 per cent.

In 2014, Telefilm administered treaty status to 67 two-partner and three-partner co-productions, with project budgets totalling $526,882,164, of which $249,271,364 was Canadian. Thirteen of these productions were in the French language.

Getting the Ball Rolling

Once you have your co-producer, agreements, and financial structure in place, you can apply for treaty co-production. In Canadian, treaty co-productions are administered by Telefilm Canada, which reviews applications for the eligibility of co-production status and makes recommendations to the Minister of Canadian Heritage for either approval or denial. Applications must be submitted through the Telefilm`s online submission system at www.telefilm.ca/eTelefilm

Telefilms recommendation process is comprised of two stages:

- Preliminary Recommendation (required 30 days before principal photography*)

-Final Recommendation (required after production)

*Identifying principal photography is one of the single most common issue facing co-productions. Unfortunately if a potential collaborator comes to you in a spirit of organic collaboration, but far too late into shooting, you will not get past the preliminary recommendation stage to be approved as a treaty co-production by Telefilm.

In addition to applying to Telefilm for a recommendation, producers must apply to the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC) program, through the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO), to obtain a “Canadian Film or Video Production Certificate.” This certificate gives the production national status (a separate application to the CRTC is not necessary) and can be used to obtain a federal tax credit.

Note: A CPTC claim must be filed with a production company’s year-end T2 Corporation Income Tax Returns.

Treaty co-production allows projects to access the following Canadian production incentives, as well as similar national production incentives in their partner country:

-Federal and Provincial Tax Credits: In Canada, federal tax credits are not issued automatically and are calculated solely on labour costs. Please note, that there is often a distinction between qualified labour spending under a co-production and what can be claimed on a tax credit refund.

-Additional funding sources, such as the Canadian Media Fund (CMF) for television projects and Telefilm's Canada Feature Film Fund (now integrated into the preliminary recommendation application to Telefilm).

-CRTC’s Canadian content quota for broadcasting, which allows the opportunity for broadcast on Canadian networks during prime time and the potential for obtaining higher license fees.

Telefilm’s Essential Elements of a Co-Production Agreement

-Reference the International Coproduction Treaty and the project’s eligibility in these guidelines.

-Respective financing contributions for Canadian and foreign producers,   in Canadian dollars,  as a percentage of the total budget, and with the exchange rate.

-Copyright ownership for the Canadian and foreign producers , including ownership of the original negative or digital master.

A provision specifying what will happen to copyright ownership should the co-production fail

-Distribution, the exploitation rights of Canadian and foreign producers, and the sharing of worldwide revenues.

-The due date for the long-form co-production agreement.

In 2014, Canada’s Common Treaty Co-productions included 20 with the United Kingdom,  13 with France , five with Australia, four with Germany, and three each with Brazil, Israel and South Africa.

Digital Co-Productions

Treaty co-production agreements are typically from the 1970’s and 1980’s and they do not come with dedicated sources of digital media funding and may not cover digital media rights. In October 2013, various Canadian funding agencies released a Working Framework for Digital Media Co-Production to make digital media co-productions eligible for their programs. Learn more atwww.cmf-fmc.ca/documents/files...

Interprovincial Co-Productions 

Co-productions need not be international, and co-producers from different provinces can take advantage of more than one provincial tax credit if the project meets the requirements of each province’s funds. Each province has rules for base eligibility, and may have additional or altered rules for inter-provincial eligibility. Filmmakers should be in touch with their provincial bodies for more information on regional tax credit regulations.

U.S. and Co-Ventures

The U.S. government does not offer film or television co-production treaty agreements. Co-ventures, or co–financing occur when both companies can jointly, but to varying degrees, produce, manage and own the rights of the film. These relationships are not protected by international co-production treaties.

Co-financing can also be illustrated by ‘twinning’ in the factual series world. This is where a portion of the episodes (usually half) are produced in Canada by a Canadian company, and the remainder can stay with the U.S. production entity. A reassignment of rights is made to satisfy Canadian content, the series is packaged as a full series and if the guidelines are followed then CanCon status, and resulting tax credits, can be achieved for the entire series.

Key Requirements

-Canadian producers must have equal measure of decision-making responsibility over all creative elements.

-Canadian producers must retain 50 per cent financial participation and a 50per cent share of profits.

-Foreign co-producer is allowed to own 100 per cent of copyright.

These productions may also qualify for Film or Video Production Service Tax Credit (PSTC), which is 25 cents for every dollar spent in Canada, and production companies can seek to ensure that they are eligible by contacting their regional Film Services Unit of the CRA.

See more on twinning here: www.documentarytelevision.com/...

Thank you to Pat Ferns, Björn Jensen, Toni Kamau, Bob Moore, Josette Normandeau and Sarah Spring for offering their advice and expertise for this series. 

More Resources

For all

Introduction to Co-Productions from the Hot Docs Conference vimeo.com/117423237


For treaty co-productions and the list of countries Canada has treaty co-productions with please visit telefilm.ca

For more information on the Digital Media Co-Production Framework, incentives, and finding co-production partners visit: cmf-fmc.ca


Documentary Campus: documentary-campus.com

European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production: www.coe.int/en/web/conventions...

Creative Europe: eacea.ec.europa.eu/creative-europe_en

Eurimages: www.coe.int/t/dg4/eurimages/de...


The IDFA Bertha Fund Europe stimulates collaboration between independent European producers and producers from developing countries by supporting production and distribution realized through co-productions.


Photo Credit: Adriano Trapani

Categories: Industry Landscape


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