How Union Pressure Forced Take 5 Productions into Developing Homegrown Series

4:37 AM PST 09/06/2011 by Etan Vlessing
Showtime

Former American Zoetrope president Fred Fuchs takes Canadian indie producer of The Borgias and Camelot into new TV venture after pressure over lost jobs at home.

TORONTO -- Former American Zoetrope president Fred Fuchs has done a good job figuring out how to structure internationally co-produced TV dramas of out Canada.

He's just had to deal with Canadian guilds and unions upset over lost jobs at home to make period dramas in Europe.

Early tries included securing more international financing for Canadian Broadcasting Corp. shows, including co-production financing and tax breaks.

More recently, Fuchs became executive producer of Toronto-based Take 5 Productions, which participated in co-productions like Showtime’s The Tudors, The Borgias, also for Showtime, a new version of Camelot for Starz Entertainment, and World Without End, the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth, co-produced with Tandem Communictions and Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free.

That’s what got Take 5 Productions in hot water with the Canadian unions, and the federal government revisiting its co-production policy.

"Co-pros clearly bring a lot of tangible financial benefits to our industry, but the problem is that we're seeing too many deals being done where Canadians are taking a back seat," said Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, Canada’s actors union.

"The goal here needs to be employing Canadians, not simply using the co-production treaties as a source of financing for foreign investors who only pay lip service to using Canadian talent,"he added.

Fuchs and Take 5 Productions principal John Weber long hinted that multi-national TV series driven by Canadian creative were on their way.

It was just the fad with North American broadcasters, and TV audiences, were European costume dramas, they argued, and the pendulum would surely swing back to North American dramas.

Maureen Parker, executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, argued the system, meanwhile, “was out of whack,” with minority co-productions like The Borgias employing mostly non-Canadians and taking limited space on the Canadian primetime dial not taken up by U.S. shows.

In answer to to the industry criticism, Take 5 Productions is launching a TV development arm, Take 5 Development.

The joint venture is led by Fuchs, Weber, and Berry Meyerowitz of Phase 4 Films, who will distribute finished TV series.

And leading Take 5 Development creatively is Brett Burlock, who recently left Canadian broadcaster CTV as vp of development, where his credits included the top Canadian dramas Flashpoint, The Listener, and The Borgias.

Burlock has been charged with hiring emerging and established Canadian screenwriters to show-run homegrown dramas for local TV networks that can also be sold internationally.

Take 5 Development will pursue locally-made TV series that broadcast a high percentage of “Canadian-content,” while securing soft money available to such qualifying projects.

And the joint venture will structure Canadian TV series as international co-productions, or as industrial series that have a lower percentage of “Canadian-content,” while still tapping local tax credits and retaining some rights associated with the production.

Fuchs said the joint venture will pursuie a new financial model that can make locally-made TV shows profitable.

He argues Canada is already a ready destination for U.S. TV series that are shot in Vancouver or Toronto with local talent and crews.

Fuchs said criticizing minority co-productions like European costume dramas is short-sighted because it offers the expertise and experience that can allow Canadian show-runners to develop high-quality TV shows for the local and world market down the road.

He added Los Angeles has a studio system that gets behind the creative show-runner and supports their effort to bring their creative vision to a project.

Canada, on the other hand, has no studio system.

So Fuchs insists indie producers, politically adept at tapping government money and public/private funds, step into the role of show-runner after hiring a writers’ room to produce scripts.

Take 5 Development intends to hire Canadian screenwriters as equal partners in a TV series as a show-runner that is financially and creatively invested in a project.

“If we can provide the studio function, and all the production financing and relationships with networks, and some creative, then we can put the show-runner in the position to do what they do best,” Fuchs argued.

He knows Canadian union and guilds will remain skeptical, until Take 5 Development spawns a locally-made TV show that makes as big a splash at home and abroad as The Tudors or The Borgias.

“We… believe that the Canadian audience also want high quality shows, and that to reach that bar, to compete with American shows, we need higher budgets and the solution is to take the project and develop with the Canadian networks and bring in financing from outside Canada, so we can compete on that level,” Fuchs argued.

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