Quebec invests $51M to offset COVID production, insurance costs

The funds will give temporary relief for the province's domestic productions, while the CMPA made a renewed call for a nationwide solution to the insurance problem.

The Quebec government has invested $51 million to help jumpstart production as the provincial screen sector grapples with additional costs and the absence of insurance for COVID-19-related risks.

The new fund, the first insurance-related solution by a provincial government, was announced on Monday (July 13) and will be distributed by SODEC, is part of the $91.5 million that was allocated to the province’s audiovisual sector through the province’s 2020/21 arts and culture budget.

The financial aid will be divided into two components. The first will help offset increased costs due to safety and prevention measures due to COVID-19 and the second component will compensate producers who may be forced to shut down production and aren’t covered by insurance. The first component will cover 5% of budget costs for animation, documentaries or variety shows and 8% for features and TV series, according to the AQPM. A representative from SODEC confirmed to Playback Daily that the assistance is for domestic productions only. Further details on how the funds will be allocated will be announced tomorrow (July 15).

Quebec has the second-highest level of domestic production in Canada, encompassing 29% of produced Cancon in 2018/19 – coming in below Ontario at 47% – according to the CMPA’s annual Profile report. The province generated $831 million in domestic production in 2018/19 and a total volume of more than $2 billion.

“These sums will relieve a significant part of the pressure that rested on independent producers while the budgets for French-language productions are already suffering from significant underfunding,” said Hélène Messier, president and CEO of the AQPM, in a statement. “Thanks to this new program and to the confirmation of the commitments of the Government of Quebec in the March 2020 budget, independent producers will be in a better position to offer the Quebec public quality production with high potential for influence on national and foreign markets.”

Jason Brennan, president of Gatineau-based prodco Nish Media, says the news is “exciting” for Quebec producers that “are anxious to get things going again,” although they’re waiting to see what the allocation details are, including if the funds are only going to SODEC clients.

The prodco is slated to go to camera on an Indigenous horror feature in October after postponing its original start date in August due to the pandemic. Brennan says they had set up insurance before the postponement, but were informed that any production mounted during the pandemic would have to assume the financial risk. In the case of their upcoming feature, half of it is filmed with only one actor, which will naturally mitigate risk, and the company will block shoot its two filming locations – one of which is an isolated bush area – with 14-day gap between as an added safety precaution.

Nish Media had also planned on filming a drama later this year about residential schools, which was greenlit by Radio-Canada, but the number of children on set would make safety measures “unmanageable,” according to Brennan.

Brennan estimates that safety measures will increase their production budget by 15% to 20%, so the new financial assistance won’t fully cover the financial strain. He does note that additional aid from the Indigenous Screen Office and the Canada Media Fund for Indigenous producers had helped to further offset costs.

The CMPA applauded the $51 million fund in a statement released today (July 14) to call on the federal government to provide “a comprehensive, cross-country, short-term solution to the lack of COVID-19 insurance coverage.” In June, the CMPA sent a proposal for the government to form a backstop for COVID-19 insurance claims where producers could pay a premium for coverage and form a funding pot for potential claims. The government would then step in and contribute if the premiums could not fully cover the claims made.

“The CMPA, in partnership with the AQPM, is continuing a constructive dialogue with the Trudeau government regarding a federal indemnification fund that would enable Canadian productions to resume shooting this summer,” read the statement. “We stand ready to work with the government to put this national program in place, and reopen productions from coast to coast to coast as soon as possible.”

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