In the last few years, Canadian documentary filmmakers have raised the alarm about how difficult it is has become to make documentaries. At first, complaints were waved off. Documentary filmmakers, rightfully or wrongfully so, are perceived as “cantankerous”, “argumentative” and “whingy”. The view is that they’ve always complained, so why should anything be different this time?
Well, things are different this time. Today, DOC published the 5th volume of Getting Real: an Economic Profile of the Canadian Documentary Industry. The report is an in-depth look at the state of Canadian documentary production up to the end of 2010/11 in both the English- and French- language markets.
The numbers contained in this report bear out what filmmakers and producers have known for years. The decline in Canadian documentary production volume is not the trumped up fabrication of a curmudgeonly producer’s imagination.
It is real.
Jobs are being lost. Professionals are leaving the field. Projects never make it beyond development – if they get that far. Financing has atrophied, in some cases, disappeared.
Under the current system, broadcasters have become the king makers of whether or not a project sees the light of day. The documentary one-off has been abandoned in favour of documentary series that, in some cases, are really factual entertainment series contorting themselves to meet the definition of documentary series for financing and regulatory purposes.
It is a bitter irony that it is the documentary one-off that is disappearing off the television screens when it is exactly that very format that is driving audiences to festivals, to theatres, to university campuses, to community centres and church basements, because they offer the very kind of stories that audiences crave but that broadcasters refuse to offer.
Documentary filmmakers and producers are a creative and resilient lot. Many a time, their projects are fueled by passion. They will do the series, they will work on factual programming because:
- it allows them to pay the bills and send the kids to school;
- it is work that uses their strengths as documentarians;
- maybe in two or three years, it will allow them to do the one-off, the feature, the theatrical, the holy grail of documentary.
Media production is a rapidly evolving area of economic activity and, unless swift action is taken to address the radical changes happening in the marketplace, what has been a vibrant segment of the Canadian film and television industry will be reduced to a cottage industry and marginalized.
It would be a sad day for what is, ostensibly, the quintessential Canadian art form.
A few of the (stark) facts and (alarming) numbers:
- Overall documentary production volume has declined by $100M since 2008/09 going from $495M to $390M
- 4,000 jobs (full time equivalents) have been lost
- 457 documentary projects were produced in 2010/11 compared to 591 projects in 2008/09
- Documentary production in the English-language market declined by 25% from 2008/09 (with almost all regions of the country being affected)
- While French-language documentary programming was managing a modest growth rate of 3% at the time of the last report, total French-language documentary production volume has decreased by nearly 12% since 2008
- Total English-language private broadcaster licence fees dropped from a high of $117 million in 2008/09 to $74 million in both 2009/10 and 2010/11, a decrease of 37% overall
- Since 2008, French-language private broadcaster licence fees also fell 28% to $13 million in 2010/11
To read DOC's press release regarding Getting Real 5, click here.