Understanding the International Landscape for Canadian Documentaries: Treaty Coproduction, Promotion and Sales

June 1, 2021

Coproductions are an increasingly important part of documentary financing. In 2019, DOC commissioned MDR Communications to research and write this in-depth report to understand how Canadian documentary producers are using coproductions in their financing, and how foreign pre-sales and distribution sales are impacting revenues. 

The result is “Understanding the International Landscape for Canadian Documentaries: Treaty Coproduction, Promotion and Sales”

This was made possible with the generous support from Ontario Creates, Heritage Canada, Rogers, and the CMPA.

Here are some broad take-aways:

From 2015 – 2019, Canadian companies produced a total of 99 documentaries as official treaty coproductions, 19 of which were feature documentary films. 

  • 80 were television documentaries, and of these 35 were series and 45 were one-off documentaries

Canada’s biggest coproduction partners are France and the UK

  • There were 32 Bi-partite (two country) and three Tri-partite (three country) coproductions with France
  • There were 29 Bi-partite coproductions with the UK

Most English-language Canadian documentaries were minority coproductions

  • In the English market, 56% of all television coproductions were majority foreign financed
  • 64% of theatrical documentary films were majority foreign financed 

French-language Canadian television documentaries were majority financed in Canada, while French-language theatrical documentaries were majority foreign financed.

  • In the French market, foreign financing accounted for 42% of total overall budgets for television coproductions, while foreign financing in theatrical documentaries was 63%.

Canadian independent documentaries attracted $96M in foreign pre-sales from 2012/2013 – 2016-2017

  • Foreign pre-sales account for 7% of all production financing of Canadian documentaries. 
  • These pre-sales are predominantly in English-language productions, and of these, mostly documentary series (11%).
  • 6% of the total financing for English-language feature documentaries was foreign pre-sales and distribution advances, and 5% for one-off documentaries. 
  • In the French market, foreign pre-sales and distribution advances accounted for just 0.3% of total documentary series production budgets, 0.5% of one-off budgets, and 0.5% for feature documentaries. 

Projects financed by the Canada Media Fund & Telefilm have a higher proportion of foreign pre-sales 

  • Of the 45 documentaries funded by the CMF between 2014-2015 – 2018-2019 that had foreign pre-sales, these sales accounted for 17% of their budgets. 
  • These 45 projects generated $8.9M in foreign pre-sales with production budgets of $54.3M
  • Of the 9 documentaries funded by Telefilm between 2013-2014 – 2018-2019 that had foreign pre-sales, these sales also accounted for 17% of their budgets.
  • These 9 projects generated $1.6M in foreign pre-saes with production budgets of $9.7M

142 Canadian documentaries supported by the CMF generated $15.9M in foreign sales from 2015-2016 – 2018-2019

15 Canadian theatrical documentaries supported by Telefilm generated $1.6M of foreign sales from 2013-2014 – 2018-2019

International markets are key to putting together international coproductions:

  • Sunny Side of the Doc, the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, MIPCOM, Realscreen, Jackson Wild, the European Film Market, Hot Docs, the RIDM, and IDFA are key markets for coproductions.

Marketing support helps elevate Canadian productions abroad

  • Dedicated documentary promotion initiatives at key markets and festivals will help with international sales, and help finance producers’ ability to attend and effectively pitch at these markets. More financing is needed to attend multiple markets to develop relationships with foreign buyers and coproducers, and more investment is needed for BIPOC-owned production companies to increase their participation at these international markets.