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The Co-Production Dilemma: Getting Your Head in the Game

This monthly series will illuminate 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 will re-enforce 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

In the broadest sense, a co-production is a collaborative relationship between two or more parties to produce a project that benefits from the involvement of both of those parties.

Why demystifying co-production is important

  • Every co-production relationship and the benefits it offers to each party will be unique.
  • The benefits can vary widely based on the parties involved, their countries or regions of origin, and the treaty agreements between those countries.
  • There is no one right way to successfully co-produce, and each project should evaluate the potential outcomes of an agreement on a project-by-project basis.

What you will learn from this series

  • The different kinds of co-production relationships, including national, international, treaty or non-treaty, two or multiple production partners, or broadcaster co-productions.
  • The benefits that may be available to partners in a co-production.
  • That co-production can also be fraught with disadvantages, and that navigating through added production logistics, adhering to strict funding guidelines and acknowledging the reality of creative compromises is critical in prepared for inevitable challenges along the way.
  • The best practices of experienced international co-producers, from initial relationship building to post-production considerations.
  • The logistics of applying for co-production status in Canada, the benefits available to Canadian producers, and why co-producing with the U.S. is so difficult.

Two Types of Co-Production

Two or more production companies: To varying degrees, two or more companies can produce, manage and own the rights of the film. The co-production agreement must define the creative and technical details of the production, the distribution of management and responsibilities, the exploitation of rights and share of income, and the territories where the co-producers will jointly or exclusively exploit the film.

Broadcaster and producer: This type of co-production includes a great degree of involvement from a broadcaster from an early stage. A sound contract should outline minimum terms for the broadcaster’s involvement regarding script, production plan, budget and financing, terms and delivery regarding rough and final cuts, acceptance of changes in production, and the distribution of rights.1

International Treaty Co-Productions

Co-productions may or may not wish to access the benefits of treaty status (which is only possible if there is a standing agreement between both countries) and it is strongly advised that production partners create detailed agreements beyond what is covered in treaty agreement, as these do not cover the basic responsibilities and the accountability to which each partner holds the other.

An official treaty co-production (also known as a bi-lateral agreement) is a partnership between two production partners that adheres to national or regional government funded co-production requirements in order to receive the benefits of national status in the countries of both producing partners. Applications to these funds are filed separately, by each producer in their own country of origin. The requirements of the bodies that administer these benefits require strict adherence to their policies in order to receive funding, but their guidelines will vary widely depending on the country or region. In Canada, treaty co-productions are administered by Telefilm Canada and adherence to terms is assessed in two stages: a preliminary recommendation (which is required 30 days before principal photography) and a final recommendation (required after production).

Possible Benefits of Co-Production

Co-production (both treaty and non-treaty) may trigger any number of benefits for a co-production partner, including tax credit schemes, various levels of national and regional funding, national content status for broadcast, access to skilled talent and labour. A project with a broadened scope can also pique the interest of institutional funders, sales agents and distributors in various ways.  Benefits that can be accessed by a co-production partner can vary widely and depend on the funding and broadcast bodies that support co-production in those countries.

Possible Evils of Co-Production

Co-production requires a huge amount of upkeep from both sides; attempting to access funding and additional broadcasters can slow the production process immensely. If a project idea originates with one party they may have to relinquish some level of creative control. Co-production is a partnership, which means no party is the sole decision maker. Be sure to research funder’s rules for how and where their money can be spent, as funds raised in one country often must be spent in that country. It is strongly advised not to partner with a co-producer solely for access to additional funds: co-production partnerships need to make sense creatively and financially for both sides, and the project, to benefit.

If a co-production is also aiming to fall within the guidelines of a treaty co-production there is a great amount of administration necessary (possibly involving a lawyer) to ensure adherence to treaty guidelines is maintained thorough the production of the project. If a project no longer adheres to treaty requirements at the end of production it can lose the treaty-status benefits offered by both sides.

Stay tuned for more!

In February: Tips and tricks from senior producers in Canada and international consultants that reflect the nuances of international and cross-cultural co-production.

In March: International treaty co-production from a Canadian point of view and the logistics of inter-provincial Canadian co-production.

Want to learn more about co-production? Check out our 2015 Hot Docs conference sessions here.

1The EDN Co-Production Guide

Photo Credit: Christian Pena

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