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Canadian Producers React to $38 Million COVID-19 Production Backstop: ‘Not Enough in the Big Picture, But It’s a Start’

Variety — Amber Dowling

The Canadian government’s CAD$50 million ($38 million) backstop scheme to support homegrown programs and co-productions unable to obtain insurance for COVID-19 filming interruptions and shutdowns has been met with relief from producers, though pressing questions remain about how exactly the fund will function.

“This is going to open up the door and the floodgates for a number of productions, smaller productions and producers with less financial means to get their shows up and running again,” says Aren Prupas, VP of business and legal affairs at Muse Entertainment, whose The CW-acquired “Coroner” is currently in production in Toronto. The executive highlighted, however, that the scheme is still woefully “thin on details.”

“Right now it’s pretty unclear what the premiums are. It’s still the elephant in the room. If this is as expensive as the secondary market [private sector], which we know to be very expensive because of what we did with ‘Coroner,’ then it won’t help those producers. But I suspect the government will find a way to make the premiums much more affordable than what the secondary market provides.”

The scheme, announced Sept. 25, followed lengthy campaigning by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) and the Association québécoise de la production médiatique (AQPM). Although it’s still unclear what the fund’s final terms are, the proposed scheme, first revealed by Variety, finds producers paying a premium to obtain COVID-19 insurance coverage, with those premiums then pooled into a reserve that can be accessed to pay out any insurance claims that may be filed. The government only steps in where the pot of money isn’t sufficient to cover the amount of payouts.

According to the AQPM, the temporary fund, which will be administered by Telefilm Canada along with the Canadian Media Fund, runs until March 2021. The deductible for COVID-19-related stoppages is 15% (a max of CAD$100,000 [$75,000]), and 20% for shutdowns (a max of CAD$350,000 [$263,000]). Additionally, the fund is only available to those productions that meet eligibility requirements before the start of production. As such, projects that have restarted following the pandemic, in theory, can’t access the fund.

Productions in the crosshairs could include “Heartland,” the long-running Calgary-shot CBC series, which experienced significant delays in filming and eventually had to figure out a costly solution using an American insurance policy in order to make its broadcast deadlines for season 14.

“It’s not ideal for a show like ‘Heartland’ but I understand the need to roll out the program in such a way that benefits those in most need,” says Tom Cox, executive producer and managing partner of Seven24, who is also a past chair of the CMPA. “It is a limited pot and therefore it’s going to have to be carefully administered. So I get the constraints. Are they ideal? No. Is the number ideal? No. But is it useful? Absolutely. It’s crucial. I’m not for a second going to say it isn’t good enough. It’s fantastic. We know there’s an awareness that there may need to be a further conversation and refinement. So that’s welcome as well.”

In Winnipeg, “Burden of Truth” kicked off production on season 4 in late September, right before the fund was announced. Eagle Vision partner and executive producer Kyle Irving says that although that series may not qualify for the fund, they — like Seven24 — have projects in the pipeline that have been unable to get off the ground.

“Most Canadian productions, 80%-90% of them, fall into that category. We don’t have a studio system like the United States does,” he says. “There are a handful of players that have the ability to underwrite the amount of risk that we find on a scripted primetime series. This is a lifeline for a lot of Canadian production companies and shows. Hopefully once we see how it’s going to work and the rules around it, we’re going to be able to get those shows up and running.”

Ahead of the federal fund announcement, two separate surveys by the CMPA and the AQPM found a total of 214 camera-ready Canadian films and TV projects worth CAD$1.1 billion ($830 million) were at risk due to a lack of insurance. Those projects translate into nearly 20,000 jobs at risk.

Christina Jennings, chairwoman and CEO of Shaftesbury and chair of the Canadian Film Centre Board of Directors, reveals there are new projects her company has also had to hold due to the pandemic. Now she is eagerly awaiting the details of the new fund to help get the nearly CAD$13 billion economy back on its feet.

“Canada is one of the first countries to step up,” she says. “There is a big problem and I was incredibly proud that the federal government did this in time to still allow some productions to get going this year. Is it enough? Maybe not in the big picture. But it’s a start.”

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