Why Reynolds Mastin isn’t afraid to get on a soap box

The new CEO of the CMPA talks to Playback Daily about standing up for indies and attracting new investment into the sector.

Reynolds MastinReynolds Mastin, the Canadian Media Producer Association’s former chief negotiation and legal officer who was promoted to the top job at the organization this July, seems to know he has a bit of a reputation at industry conferences.

“The last thing you want to be is some guy who gets up to the mic and embarks on some five-minute soliloquy about his pet topic of the day that he inflicts upon all the delegates in the room. I say that, having done that twice,” jokes Reynolds Mastin during an interview with Playback Daily at the CMPA’s Toronto office earlier this month.

But when panels are packed with execs from the big BDUs, he says he likes to ensure the indie-producer perspective is heard.

“We are always outgunned in that fight. They can just occupy so much more of that territory,” he said. “My hope is that I can graduate to being on the stage every once in awhile. That would be nice and save me from having to compose these soliloquies on the fly as I’m walking up to the microphone.”

Playback caught up with Mastin in the dying days of summer about what he sees as the biggest challenges for indie producers, what Let’s Talk TV got right and how the film biz fits into his plans for the CMPA.

You are taking the reins at the CMPA at a particularly tumultuous time. What do you believe are the biggest challenges it will face in the year ahead?

I think not only a challenge – I might even reframe it and say an imperative – for the organization is to identify obstacles to attracting both public and private investment in the indie production sector. This is something the CRTC focused on in Let’s Talk TV and while there may be a variety of views on how best to achieve that, there is no question that needs to be a key priority for the organization and everything that it does. Whether it be public policy advocacy, seatings in front to the CRTC, [or] providing tools to our members in terms of building businesses that will better attract capital from various sources – that is going to be one of the main areas of focus.

After the Let’s Talk TV decisions, there was a new stage set for the relationship between broadcasters and producers with the elimination of terms of trade. What role do you see the CMPA playing as those relationships are renegotiated?

Speaking specifically to broadcasters and producers, both parties need to be healthy, and that requires licence agreements and deal terms that are fair to both parties. We have been on the record for years saying that because how highly concentrated the broadcasting sector is compared to the indie production sector, that if you don’t have some kind of mechanism in place that is going to ensure a more equitable balance in negotiation power between the parties, one side is always going to prevail. The resulting deal can be very unfavourable for producers. That was the genesis and rationale for terms of trade…the bottom line from our perspective is that there needs to be a mechanism – it can take many different forms – and in order for it to be effective there must be CRTC involvement. There is no question about it.

Outside of terms of trade negotiations, are there any other areas the CMPA will focus on in the coming year?

The pilot project proposals. What other pilot projects would be able to attract more public and private investment? One area of focus for us over the next number of years is how do we better support the development phase of production. Development is our industry’s version of R & D, and it is absolutely critical for the success of shows that they get the time that they need from a creative perspective to have the best possible scripts ready to go to camera. It may be very simple things. For example, reconfiguring the various agency funding deadlines or use of CMF envelopes money.

What do you think Let’s Talk TV got right?

This is may be a bit controversial – the decision to transition to pick and pay. The jury is going to be out on that for a while. But I think regardless of the outcome, no one can question the need to transition the system to one that recognizes Canadians want more choice when it comes to their programming offerings, and anything we can do to enhance Canadians perception they get good value for money through the regulated  system, we need to support.

Recently, TV has got the bulk of attention. Can you talk about what initiatives the CMPA is pursuing on the film side?

Over the past few years Canadian broadcasters have been commissioning fewer and few feature films. Part of the rationale for that is that they prefer television series because they can build brands and audiences for multiple-episode runs, and it’s harder to do that with one-offs. So the question is, what kind of incentives can we create to recognize that reality and in some way compensate for it to get more feature films commissioned by Canadian broadcasters. We are going to be making recommendations to the CMF, and we are hopeful that the CMF…uses the recommendations as a starting point for how the [it] can better support feature films by incentivizing broadcasters to do more and license more. We have [also] been engaging in a dialogue specific to feature film with all the major broadcasters. It is early days, but we have been very pleased with the willingness to have those conversations and potentially come up with ways that will result in more feature films being commissioned by broadcasters.