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CanCon 101

When the Canadian Screen Awards are announced each year (and before that the Geminis), there are always some people who wonder why their favourite Canadian show wasn’t nominated. Sometimes, well, it just didn’t make the cut, but some of those shows aren’t actually Canadian.   So here’s a primer on what makes a show Canadian both for funding and CRTC regulation and for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television (not actually completely the same thing).

Government-related or CRTC-mandated funding (e.g. Canada Media Fund, Independent Production Fund) and provincial or federal tax credits all rely on the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (“CAVCO”) to determine eligibility. CAVCO has a set of rules that can be summed up generally as Canadian-owned, Canadian-controlled, 75% of the budget spent on Canadians and a minimum of 6 out of 10 key crew. Those key crew are director, writer (one of them must be Canadian), top two lead actors (one has to be Canadian), composer, editor and production designer. Director and writer are 2 points each so it adds up to 10 points.

[To complicate matters a little bit more, the CRTC has its own certification process for programs that will qualify as Canadian for CRTC-purposes when broadcast. All CAVCO programs are Canadian for the CRTC but not all CRTC-certified programs are necessarily Canadian for CAVCO. Trust me – you don’t want me to go there.]

However, different funds have additional rules so a show could be minimally Canadian but not qualify for funding. For example, among other additional rules, the Independent Production Fund requires 8 out of 10 points and the Canada Media Fund requires 10 out of 10 points. These additional rules are to ensure that Canadian taxpayers and cable subscribers are funding truly Canadian shows.

People get confused when they see shows like “Supernatural” and the “Arrow” and they know that they’re shot in Canada so think they are Canadian. What about “Beauty and the Beast” and “Haven”? There is a difference between the two types of shows. “Supernatural” and “Arrow” are American-owned and controlled and hire very few Canadians in key creative positions. They are known as ‘service’ productions because often a Canadian production company is hired to provide the service of producing the show for the American studio.

“Beauty and the Beast” and “Haven” however fall in a middle ground often called Industrial Canadian. They are owned by Canadian production companies and qualify as minimum Canadian productions. They can earn the Canadian production tax credit and count as Canadian for a broadcaster but are not eligible for CMF or other such funds.  While both kinds of shows hire a lot of Canadians in crew positions and often in smaller performing roles, generally only the Industrial Canadian show will hire Canadians in any of the key creative roles.

In the past the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television only required that a television show qualify as minimally Canadian under CAVCO or the CRTC in order to be eligible for consideration for awards. However, the result was that minority co-productions with minimal Canadian involvement, such as “The Borgias” and “The Tudors”, were being held up as examples of the best of Canadian television. Frequently that involvement would be post-production and a few actors and possibly a director.  While the treaty co-production system is based on Canada equally being the minority partner as it is the majority partner and both kinds of programs qualifying as Canadian, some people did not think it was right that a minority co-production should compete in the best program categories and lobbied the Academy to change the rules.

So now these international co-productions can only compete in the “Best Drama” or “Best Mini-Series” categories if at least 50% of the episodes were both written and directed by Canadians. If a minority co-production has less than 50% of its episodes both written and directed by Canadians then it is eligible under Best International Drama. Any Canadian who has worked on the International drama will still be eligible in their craft category.   That explains why “The Great Martian War” and “The Vikings” are competing for Best International Drama and not Best Drama or Best Mini-Series but crew from “The Vikings” are nominated for Best Director, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects and “The Great Martian War” has a Best Production Design nomination.

So that’s why service productions like “Supernatural” are never nominated for Canadian Screen Awards (they aren’t Canadian) and why “The Vikings” is Canadian but is sitting in the International Drama category.

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Kelly Lynne Ashton

Kelly Lynne has over twenty years of experience on the business side of Canadian film, television and digital media as an entertainment lawyer.She took a slight departure to produce children’s digital media. When it was time for something new, moved back to business affairs but now in film, television and digital media. More recently she discovered that all along her true calling was as a Canadian media policy wonk. Now she assists clients with research projects, policy and strategy development, government and government agency submissions and social media consulting.
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9 thoughts on “CanCon 101”

  1. I think I get it now. Thanks for explaining further. It’s interesting to me that both Reign and Beauty & the Beast are essentially co-pros and qualify. I really like Reign so it makes me happy to hear that there’s so much Canadian involvement. Is there a place we could see an official list of what is fully Canadian and what is International Canadian? I’m curious now.

  2. If I was going to be pedantic I’d say Reign and Beauty & the Beast aren’t co-productions because they are Canadian-owned, but they do have significant U.S. involvement. Sorry but there is no one place to see an official list of Canadian productions. If you were a real keener you could check broadcast logs on the CRTC website, where they identify how many points a program has, but only the very brave try to navigate the CRTC website ;).

    1. Interesting. So then Bell Media can use Reign as Cancon for M3 and Shaw can use Beauty & the Beast for Showcase? I was wondering where Shaw was hiding their content…

  3. Stay tuned for another post on how the CanCon obligations of the broadcast groups work. It’s sort of CanCon 102. The short answer is that it’s complicated but yes, those two shows do count as Canadian dramas.

  4. Although it’s a less scientific than this article and, admittedly, prone to inaccuracy, one thing I’ve noticed is the end credit “This is protected under the copyright laws…” blurb. If I’m curious about whether something is actually Canadian or if it’s simply filmed in Canada, I’ll check to see if it lists Canada at all (“ie: This production is protected under the copyright laws of The United States, Canada, and other countries”) and if it does it’s probably Canadian or a co-production.
    .
    If it doesn’t mention Canada, that doesn’t prove it isn’t Canadian, but I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a blurb that did mention Canada that wasn’t for a Canadian production.
    .
    Admittedly you have to be the sort of person who freeze-frames at the end credits, or even skips to the end credits first, which, y’know, probably is little too obsessive for most people :)

      1. I was gonna say the same thing. The closing credits for shows nowadays are pretty much illegible.

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