Playback Indie List 2014: Going Glocal – Part 1

From our print issue: This year's Indie List survey shows many of Canada's top producers are using a global-local (glocal!) business model to expand revenue opportunities.
Bitten

The 2014 edition of Playback’s annual Indie List survey showed that many of Canada’s top producers are using a global-local (glocal!) business model to expand revenue opportunities beyond domestic borders. Here, Playback takes a closer look at the trends emerging from the survey. 

There’s nothing new in Canadian producers trying their fortunes with foreign partners to make movies and TV series for the world market.

But the frequency and velocity of the Canadian industry’s internationalization reached new heights in 2013, as homegrown series like Orphan Black, Bitten and Motive popped with foreign audiences and critics and Vancouver-based Lionsgate soared with its Hunger Games franchise worldwide.

As the results of this year’s annual film and TV production survey reveal, producers not so much shifted the Canadian paradigm as their geographic focus, opting to pitch new concepts in Los Angeles, London and Munich as never before.

“It does expand our reach, giving us access to buyers and creative talent we didn’t have before,” Thunderbird Films CEO Tim Gamble says of his Sea to Sky Entertainment joint venture with Lionsgate and Germany’s Tandem Communications to develop and produce one-hour dramas.

Their co-venture’s first project is Sex, Lies and Handwriting, a straight-to-series project that Vancouver-based Sea to Sky will produce.

Gamble explained Lionsgate knows the needs of U.S. buyers, Tandem, backed by Studiocanal, knows Europe and coproductions, and Thunderbird has the Canadian market covered.

That puts Thunderbird better placed to identify projects for international co-financing, coproduction and pre-sales before they are produced in Canada for global distribution.

Gamble isn’t alone in eyeing a chunk of the world market.

Toronto-based Temple Street Productions, which earlier sold Being Erica into 160 territories in 2013 picked up another international calling card series with Orphan Black, which airs on Space, BBC America and BBC Worldwide.

“The success of Orphan Black has definitely helped us forge even stronger relationships with our broadcast partners and financiers on that series,” Temple Street’s David Fortier and Ivan Schneeberg said in an email.

Given domestic headwinds only growing in strength, and digital platforms proliferating worldwide, rival producers like Entertainment One, Muse Entertainment and Shaftesbury also trod an increasingly well-worn path by traversing borders to find their next film and TV coproduction and co-financing partners.

“With the tremendous amount of opportunity created by the opening up of new windows and the increased fragmentation of the marketplace, we think partnerships are more important than ever,” Margaret O’Brien, president, Canada and CEO of Entertainment One Television, insists.

Here eOne remains pragmatic about where those partners, whether broadcasters, producers, writers and directors, will come from.

Series like Rookie Blue and Saving Hope were developed and produced in Canada, Discovery’s Klondike and AMC’s Hell on Wheels were financed from the U.S. and shot in Canada, while projects like Welcome to Sweden and Dates were financed and produced outside of North America.

“We think the key is great content,” O’Brien adds, echoing other indie players.

As in recent years, producers that venture overseas to finance and make movies and TV series, often via international treaties, topped Playback‘s league table.

Indies further down the table, eyeing a world market where viewers require only a good Wi-Fi connection to consume content, continue to piggyback on larger players with global heft to get their series sold beyond Canada.

Vérité Films did just that when it signed an overall first look deal with Muse Entertainment, as did Call Me Fitz producer Amaze Film + Television and ICF Films with eOne.

In part, saving money is the focus.

Rather than just produce for the Canadian market, and look for after-sales internationally, it’s about bringing on board international partners as early as possible to share the risk and financing in production and maximize the return on foreign distribution.

Here Canadian TV producers are doing what their nomadic movie-making colleagues have done for a generation – first securing pre-sales and coproduction coin internationally before closing a U.S. distribution deal, for example.

Going early to foreign buyers means no longer relying solely on Canadian broadcasters to drive the creative and finance TV projects.

“We can’t finance out of Canada exclusively, and the U.S. market is a natural driver,” says marblemedia co-founder executive producer Mark Bishop, after he and business partner Matt Hornburg opened a Los Angeles development office to get the kids producer into the teen and primetime scripted space.

Marblemedia also acquired full ownership of Distribution360 last year so that it could weigh the potential for international co-financing, coproduction and pre-sales on projects from the get-go.

“These conversations are now happening at a very early stage, even during development, so we can make these assessments of how we’re going to finance a show for production, and what the impact on our sales strategy could be,” Bishop explains.

Click here to read Part 2

This article originally appeared in Playback‘s Summer 2014 print issue