Strategic Partners: Noreen Halpern on building successful copros

02-23-12Noreen-Halpern

With a savvy eye toward international coproductions, Canadian producers are well-positioned to take advantage of the “golden age of TV,” Halfire-Core Entertainment topper Noreen Halpern told the Strategic Partners conference in Halifax on Friday.

During her keynote address, the former eOne exec highlighted the success of Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, Haven and Call Me Fitz, and more recently, Motive and Orphan Black, as examples of Canadian success in the international coproduction marketplace.

It’s an opportunity only set to grow bigger with the growth of cable networks and alternative platforms, she said, and Canadian indie producers willing and able to partner up with U.S. and U.K. partners are well-poised to take advantage of it.

The 6/10 coproduction model is especially advantageous for Canadian prodcos, she says, as Canadian talent is secured key creative positions, like director, first and second lead, writer, editor, and DOP. These productions have a smaller financing gap, and receive bigger promotion across the networks involved.

The combination of tax credits and cross-border licence fees significantly lowers risk, and leaves producers with a low deficit going into the international marketplace, she explained.

As an example, she noted, a deficit of between, $500,000 to $800,000 per one-hour episode is much more attractive to the international marketplace compared to some of the U.S. one-hours launching this fall, which enter that marketplace at between $1 million and $1.5 million per ep.

“So you can see the difference – if you’re producing a 6/10 financed between the U.S. and Canada, you’re probably in profit the first year. If you’re not in profit the first year, there’s something really wrong with the show you’re making,” Halpern added.

The idea of sharing risk with other partners as a pragmatic biz model was echoed by fellow producers during Saturday’s TV Series Collaborations panel, moderated by veteran producer Fred Fuchs of Berkshire Axis Media.

Haven, which is filming its fourth season in Chester, Nova Scotia, was an early flagship copro show from eOne that skipped the traditional pilot pitch and followed a straight-to-series model.

Exec producer Shawn Piller’s L.A.-based prodco Piller/Segan/Shepherd partnered with eOne to bring the sci-fi thriller series, to screen. They sold the series to Syfy in London and Syfy in the U.S., and brought on Nova Scotia’s Big Motion Pictures as the local Canadian indie producer. Each broadcast partner is spending a fraction of what they’d normally spend for a show they’d normally distribute and own.

It’s just smart business, said Piller. “You’ve got Europe in, Canada in and the U.S. in. I like to joke that our shows are kind of impossible to cancel because they’re so cheap and good.”

Working with a Canadian partner has become increasingly important for U.K. producers, given the changes in that marketplace, said Justin Thomson-Glover, exec producer and co-chairman of Far Moor Media.

In the past, most U.K. series were made by securing the majority of the financing (90 to 95%) from BBC, and the remainder from BBC Worldwide. Now, however, the BBC is offering 40 to 60%, and BBC Worldwide won’t finance such a big gap, so working with other sources has become part of the new TV structure.

Thomson-Glover, who has worked on 12 copros with Canada, including Combat Hospital, the Thorne franchise, and the upcoming Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, says while the copro structure has become more a part of the norm for U.K. indie producers, the network attitudes have been slower to change.

However, the U.K. nets are starting to see coproductions as a “necessary evil,” driven by an ambition to lock in big, international shows.

Plus, added Thomson-Glover, the new TV tax break in the U.K. has led to an influx of new material into the U.K. from potential cross-border partners, which broadcasters want to take advantage of.