Kim Todd, Part 3: Producers and Regulatory Environment

Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Banff World Media Festival on June, 2011

Fraser. As a producer, you have to negotiate with the bankers, regulators, funders, and guarantors: you need all those people to make a movie happen.

Todd. But they’re a group of people that I respect highly. Even so, I only do the negotiating and financing because I want to get the story made. I would never have become an accountant, or a businessperson; it's not my first love. If negotiating a great deal is going to get me the best director, cast, and writer, or help to finance the film we all want to make, I have learned to negotiate that deal. Yes.

F. How do you find the regulatory environment  as it has evolved today?

T. Well, here I am in Banff pitching two writers who are Canadian, but have spent their lives in California and are more familiar with the American system. I was interested to hear them say how impressed they were with the Canadian system. It has its baggage: bureaucracy, delays and other frustrating things. But in Banff we come together with a common purpose. We try to make things work. That's partly because we live beside America and realize the need to keep our cultural voice available to our audience. The Canadian system is the envy of the world. We say, “Yeah…. It takes Telefilm 12 weeks to answer you and by then you could have written the script four times.” But, Telefilm exists. It exists to support Canadian writers, directors, and producers to develop feature films. And so does the CMF for television.

You can always make the system better. I'm on the Board of the CMPA, which is the producers’ association. And I was part of the team that worked on the Terms of Trade agreement that was just negotiated for producers. I appreciated Paul Robertson from Shaw, the other day in his panel, saying that he felt good that we have the agreement. Now we can move forward with a better-defined relationship between producers and broadcasters: it says, for example, what a broadcaster can buy and for how much.

Producers in Canada have felt very vulnerable, just like producers around the world.  Broadcasters can say, “Take our deal or take a hike. We won't air your show.” So, it’s great living in a country where producers and broadcasters have finally agreed on fair-dealing practices. That’s necessary these days, with so many programs, streaming, downloading, and all the different ways we deliver our shows to the audience. We need to work together so that the audience gets the best possible stuff, the independent production industry is alive and well, and the broadcasters have an audience.

F. Highlight the major features of the Terms of Trade agreement.

T. It outlines what producers and broadcasters can expect. If they agree that the producer has a project that the broadcaster thinks would do well on their channel, then the broadcaster offers a license for that show. But before that happens, the broadcaster often, especially if it's scripted drama, or scripted at all, has to develop the show. The producer has to pay writers to write the script. In Canada, we have a system where the broadcaster will put in a certain amount of money to help pay the writers and other entities and the government will put some money in too, so the producer isn't left on their own. Now, there are terms: if a broadcaster wants to develop the show, they put it into development, but they have to respond to the producer, in a certain amount of time. They can't leave the producer hanging for months and years. They have to answer and if they don't answer in that time, the producer can move on. It's a very simple thing, but it hasn't been the case in the past. Producers have gone bankrupt waiting for broadcasters who are busy with other things ...

F. It used to be the Wild West.

T. Exactly. When a producer sells a series to a broadcaster, there are some terms. There’s a minimum license fee; the broadcaster can always pay more but there is a minimum and that license fee only includes certain rights. So, the producer retains the rights to sell the show internationally, which is necessary in order to finance the rest of the show. The producer retains the rights to certain Internet usage, streaming etc. The terms are well defined. As a producer, you now know what you're selling. Broadcasters, because of the weight they wield, used to be able to say to the producers, “We'd like everything, please.” It was hard. Our broadcasters, unlike Americans, aren't writing a cheque for the whole cost of the show. The Canadian broadcast license might be 15-25% of the total budget. It's the producer's job to find the rest of the money; but, if they haven't got anything left to sell, they can't find the rest of the money. So that was pretty important.

F. A lot of that money goes to the lawyers.

T. Yeah. Lawyers and accountants make a lot of money on the film industry. Increasingly, lawyers make more money because of the litigious atmosphere in which we live. Everything has to be clear. If we use a name, or photograph, or picture, it has to be cleared for use, or we have to have clearance forms signed by the people who created it. Yes, lawyers are a big part of our day now.

F. So, has this agreement, and the impact of technology, made some things a lot easier, certainly at the production level? Are we getting anywhere?

T. The mountain is still pretty high for feature films in Canada. The producers’ group is trying to work on that. Broadcasters have not been buying feature films in the way they used to. They used to say that once a film had its theatrical run, they’d run it on Pay TV, or free TV. But that's really dried up in the last four years, which has made it very difficult to make features. That's something we're trying to address with the broadcasters, audiences and filmmakers, too. You must make commercial film if you want a wide audience to see it. It's not that filmmakers are perfect and everybody else has to adapt. Television producers have also had a really rough couple of years; the broadcasters were hit hard by the recession and by new technology. They're worried about the future and what it holds, whether they can continue, and whether the Wild West will enter their lives through the Internet. They're worried about Netflix and the brothers and sisters of Netflix.

We all need to work together. What we cannot do is turn on each other. It was significant that one of the things that Terms of Trade gave the broadcasters was the ability within their license to get the streaming rights to a show. It means that I, as a producer cannot sell my show to a broadcaster and then sell it to Netflix to stream, which would undercut the broadcasters’ right in Canada. The producers recognized that this was important for the broadcasters who, of course, being negotiators, had said, “Give us something.” So we did. It only works when we understand each other's point of view.

F. The wonder is that, despite all the obstacles and difficulties, that people like you just keep on doing it.

T. My daughter, who wants nothing to do with the industry, having grown up in it, said to me when she was little, “Mommy, don't change jobs because you so obviously love this one.” That's really the heart of it, isn't it?