Securing financing for web series is probably the most difficult part of being a producer, which made us particularly curious about what Canada is doing to build a new media business. In a groundbreaking move, in 2010, Canada’s Independent Production Fund invested $1.2 million in dramatic web series produced by independent Canadian production companies, a program they renewed again this year. As of yet, we do not have such a program in the United States, so DCTV Creative Director Daryn Strauss spoke with IPF Executive Director Andra Sheffer about the benefits of financing web series. What can we learn from the IPF?
DARYN: First of all, what is the Independent Production Fund?
ANDRA SHEFFER: The IPF is a private fund with an endowment valued at $35M, which was originally contributed by Maclean Hunter, a former Canadian broadcasting and publishing company, that was taken over by Rogers in the mid ’90′s. We use the interest from the endowment and recoupment from our investments in productions to fund our activites.
We were established in 1991 with the mandate to support television drama series, which we have done ever since, investing over $50 M in 232 TV series! The original endowment was created as a result of a regulatory decision by our CRTC that provided certain broadcasting privileges to Maclean Hunter, in return for their support of the industry through this endowment.
DARYN: In 2010, the IPF invested $1.2 million in dramatic web series produced by independent Canadian production companies. As I’m sure you know, independent web series in the US have struggled to find this kind of financial support. To my knowledge, there is no fund like this in the US. Where did the interest to support web series come from?
ANDRA SHEFFER: Over the years, the contributions that the IPF could make towards a percentage of the budgets of big television drama series has diminished. At the same time, the Board of Directors was aware that DRAMA per se, was starting to take new and different forms and on different platforms. With the funds available to the IPF annually, it made sense to encourage the development of online web series drama by providing significant financing to each project, and providing new opportunities for Canadian filmmakers. The IPF filled a gap in demand for support in this new area of production.
DARYN: I have to commend you on the tremendous quality productions that were financed through the IPF, like Ruby Skye PI, which has been quite successful in its first season! Once a show is selected to receive financial support from the IPF, what role does the IPF play in the production process?
ANDRA SHEFFER: The IPF sees itself as a partner in these projects, but the experts are the producers and their teams, so we do not just issue cheques but keep in touch regularly. In the first year of this program in particular, we wanted to learn more about the production process and requirements, and share what we were learning. So we reviewed scripts for the first few episodes and gave some creative input. We helped budgeting, ensuring all needs were covered. We gave feedback on rough cuts. We helped negotiate with sponsors and unions and other funders. We set up information exchange sessions and invited guest speakers to meet with the funded producers. We are promoting the series wherever possible, and set up the WIP DASHBOARD. We have created a “Tips and Best Practices” guide to share with all. We will soon be publishing a guide to growing online audiences (everything you ever need to know about driving traffic to your website/webseries). So we are producing a lot of support materials.
DARYN: Does the IPF retain any rights over the production?
ANDRA SHEFFER: We do not retain any rights. We do participate in recoupment from any revenues generated by the series and any potential profits. All revenues recouped are used for reinvestment in future series.
DARYN: How is the financing distributed amongst the selected shows? Does each show need to prepare a budget as part of its application project?
ANDRA SHEFFER: Yes, each applicant must submit a detailed budget and financing scenario. We do analyze these carefully. We are generally not the only funders, as there may be additional funding from the producers, from tax credits, from sponsors and some government funding agencies. We funded 50% to 80% of each budget last year, approximately. Each applicant identifies how much they need from the IPF (and their other financiers) and once the final budget is approved, we provide the amount identified by the producer as required from the IPF.
DARYN: Since monetization and distribution in web series are still developing models, why do you think it’s so valuable to for investors and endowments to support new media at this point?
ANDRA SHEFFER: This is really the R & D stage of web series development. This is still a high risk time. So it is only those investors who are able to take the risks who are in a position to support these projects. We know that it may take a few years to start seeing returns, and we know that we may have to fund quite a few projects until there is a break-out success. Meanwhile, we are developing a lot of skills and experience and financing and distribution know-how and international recognition and a solid structure for the future when monetization and distribution are more realistic!
DARYN: When will the 2011 selections be announced?
ANDRA SHEFFER: We received 160 applications again this year, and a short-list of 30 finalists has been selected and announced. They must submit their final, complete applications to the IPF by May 2. The Board of Directors of the IPF will make the final funding decisions on June 16, so the results will be announced a day or two after that.
For more on the Independent Production Fund, visit HERE.
To watch Ruby Skye PI, click HERE.