All In: The CMPA Turns 75
A going concern since the late 1940s, the Association has long represented and defended the interests of independent producers, even when they were thin on the ground, as was the case in those early days.
In an industry where the only constant is change, you could say that the CMPA has been a steadying force.
The CMPA has been a reliable presence in the stormiest of seasons, helping shape government policy, negotiating labour agreements with other industry stakeholders, and supplying producers with resources to grow their companies.
At the same time, the CMPA has changed as much as the world around it—and we don’t mean simply the names it’s been known by. The association today, with full-time staff in three cities and an expansive suite of publications, events and training programs, bears little resemblance to the association of 75 years ago. Even our membership looks markedly different, as we’ve made intentional strides toward increasing representation of and amplifying voices from Indigenous and equity-seeking communities.
But from the beginning, every crucial moment for the industry has been a crucial moment for the CMPA. New tax incentives, new legislation, new funding bodies, new platforms, new challenges from the elephant to the south—each of these has given the CMPA a chance to prove its mettle. Which is to say, it’s given CMPA members a chance to prove theirs. If we’ve learned anything over the past 75 years, it’s that Canada’s independent producers are made of tough stuff. In the following pages, we take a dive into our history to examine several critical moments for our members and our association, and reflect on the ways we are continuing to get better, together.
Ten establishing shots
Long-time members Stephen Ellis (since 1980!) and Douglas Barrett have invested many years and much labour into the CMPA’s success. Ellis, now at BirdDog Media Ventures, served as president in the mid-’80s and board chair in the early 2000s. Barrett (a former entertainment lawyer, president of PS Production Services and past chair of the Canadian Television Fund, the precursor to the CMF) was a board member for nearly 15 years. Here, the two reflect on key moments that have shaped both the industry and the CMPA as we know it.
1. FROM DARK AGES TO ENLIGHTENMENT
Stephen Ellis: The CMPA began in 1948, in what might be likened to the Dark Ages. The then-AMPPLC launched in a world where 85 per cent of theatrical films were black and white, and television didn’t exist. Even 20 years on, by 1968 (the year of the first Broadcasting Act), the technological debate was whether or not anyone needed a colour television set to watch the two networks available in Canada and the far more popular handful of US border stations. The content creation business was populated largely by “dependent” producers (the serfs?)—providing original films and shows for sponsors and patrons, often financed by the labs that processed them. But the association was there throughout. The groundwork for the “Enlightenment” was laid in the mid-’80s, when the number of TV channels, government incentives and creative voices rapidly expanded. The CFTA even capitalized on a new right in the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, creating the Canadian Retransmission Collective (CRC), which has grown to deliver over $200 million in royalties to Canadian indies to date.
2. THE MERGER, A NEW ASSOCIATION CULTURE AND AN OTTAWA OFFICE
Douglas Barrett: The modern era for the CMPA really began in 1990, with the merger between the CFTA and the ACFTP (see “Alphabet Soup”). Needless to say, competing producers’ associations was not an effective way to tell the independent producer story. The newly merged organization was based on a culture that was considered radical at the time: full regional representation from across the country; an agreement to pay travel expenses to board meetings to ensure all voices were heard; and an agreement to hold board meetings in all regions of the country. Once the two organizations got together, Sandra Macdonald was hired as President of the newly named CFTPA. And because Sandra lived in Ottawa, we now had an Ottawa office!
3. BREAKTHROUGH: 1991 BROADCASTING ACT
Stephen: In 1991, the deceptively simple phrase in the first update of the Broadcasting Act in 23 years—that “the Canadian broadcasting system should… include a significant contribution from the Canadian independent production sector”—set the stage for rapid growth for the indies. This win was the result of extensive recommendations and entreaties to government, and without it, many of the financing tools producers count on today would not have been possible.
4. THE PRODUCTION FUND
Douglas: In 1994, the CRTC created what it called The Production Fund, operating with resources provided by Canada’s cable operators, and governed by a board populated by the cable, broadcaster and independent production communities (each group got three seats). The ground shifted when producers came to the governance table. Out of the gate, the Fund was a terrific success; now called the Canada Media Fund, it remains a private, not-for-profit corporation. To say that the billions of dollars contributed to the cost of high-quality Canadian programming in the almost 30 years of its existence has been a regulatory and public policy success would be a fantastic understatement.
5. THE CANADIAN FILM OR VIDEO PRODUCTION TAX CREDIT
Stephen: In the late ’80s, the government had reduced the tax shelter administered by CAVCO since ’74, and many industry stakeholders were pushing for a replacement. The CFTPA was working on a successor, but was hamstrung by the lack of reliable statistics about the industry. The turning point was the commissioning of third-party studies to shore up the association’s arguments to government. The resulting Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, introduced in 1995, also became the model for parallel provincial programs that expanded across the country.
6. BC PRODUCERS BRANCH IS LAUNCHED
Douglas: 1994 was a big year for what was then called the CFTPA. In recognition of the powerhouse BC production community, the BC Producers Branch was created to operate as a semi-autonomous component of the national association. CMPA-BC has proved to be an outstanding success, and today boasts a well-established CMPA office.
7. FROM “BLITZ” TO PRIME TIME IN OTTAWA
Stephen: By 1993, the annual pilgrimage of members to Parliament Hill (known internally as the “blitz”) had grown into a conference, then called Independent Production Towards 2000, featuring keynotes by the Heritage Minister and the CRTC Chair. The rest, as they say, is history, as what went on to become Prime Time in Ottawa is now the pre-eminent conference of its kind.
8. THE POWER OF PNI
Douglas: In 2015, the CRTC proposed that each major broadcast group spend a percentage of its gross revenues on PNI, or Programs of National Interest, defined as drama, documentary and certain awards programs. When the formal licensing decisions were eventually made, the percentages were established in a range of 5 per cent to 9 per cent. The development and implementation of this policy has had a dramatic effect, as part of the requirement is that no less than 75 per cent of PNI spend must be allocated to independent producers.
9. ADAPTING TO DIVERSITY
Stephen: Membership diversity has always been a hallmark of the organization’s credibility, in terms of the wide range of storytellers and the nationwide geographical sources of their stories. Reflection of Canadian society at the board level has been another story. The first woman to hold the volunteer position of President of CFTA was Alison Clayton, in 1986. The first volunteer board chair, to be elected for three consecutive terms, was Linda Schuyler, from 1998 through 2001. Today, the board election process has a built-in mechanism to address underrepresentation of certain voices and ensure the board is truly representative of the industry and Canada as a whole.
10. FINALLY, THE ONLINE STREAMING ACT
Douglas: The culmination of a laborious process that spanned almost six years (so far), Parliament passed the Online Streaming Act to replace the 1991 Broadcasting Act and usher in a new age of digital regulation. Of critical importance is that the 1991 language supporting the central role of the independent production community remains part of the key policy sections of the Act. That being said, the process is far from over. At the time of writing, many, many issues remain up in the air. The CMPA’s history is a rich history, populated by many successes—the handiwork of dozens and dozens of industry leaders over three quarters of a century.
Moving forward together
Jennifer Holness (Hungry Eyes Media) was adamant that she would only join the CMPA’s board of directors if she was brought on as an agent of change. On the CMPA’s 75th anniversary, she reflects on her experience, and how the CMPA is evolving and pushing change across the industry.
I’ve been a CMPA member for as long as I’ve been making film and television, but I have to say: I was really skeptical about joining the board. I didn’t want to be the token Black person. I know people aren’t operating out of meanness or a deep-seated desire to keep other people out, but when you’re the only person of colour and you’re bringing up concerns that other folks have not thought about—ever—then you’re on an island. That’s been my experience for most of my time in the industry. And I hate that experience. But then I was told the CMPA was going to change the configuration of the board, and ensure a significant a number of board seats would be filled by producers from groups historically underrepresented in the industry. And I thought, I can get on the board for that.
And when I joined, I was really pleasantly surprised on many levels.
One, I finally really understood what the CMPA does! How they advocate for producers, how policy is impacted by the work that they do—the landscape of the Canadian industry looks the way that it does largely because of the CMPA. Second, I quickly learned that the CMPA is incredibly committed to diversity. They understand that producers from equity- and sovereignty-seeking groups have been kept out in many ways, and that, historically, they haven’t advocated for us well enough to make any real change.
I was invited to chair REDIAC (Restructuring, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Committee), along with co-chairs Ira Levy and Darcy Waite. And the committee is not there just for optics. Upper management told us that it wants everything the CMPA does to come through REDIAC, so that everything—its policies, how it does business—is steeped in inclusivity and diversity. That’s what they said, and true to their word, that is what has happened. So I don’t feel like I’m just window dressing.
We started at 25 per cent, and now we’re at 35 per cent of board seats going to members of equity-seeking communities. And that’s the floor, not the ceiling, of what we’re looking for in our board. Now I definitely understand that the CMPA is an industry leader, and I want that understanding to filter down into these communities, so that individuals from these groups will clamour to be a part of the organization.
I do think the CMPA has to get the narrative out that independent producers are not the wealthy fat cats, rolling in money, that people think we are.
Independent producers, especially the small ones, are really under siege in some cases.
Funding development out of their own pocket, getting no payment—it’s a struggle, and it’s all in order to get the green light. On our productions, writers and directors are above-the-line positions that have to be paid. We need something like that for producers, where we receive the 10 per cent that we are due, as opposed to paying development costs out of pocket and making next to nothing on our projects. There should be more money in the system, and with the implementation of the Online Streaming Act, there will be. I believe that more money should filter down to all of us—equity-seeking or not, established or emerging. Yes, I want more opportunities and funding for Black and equity-seeking and sovereigntyseeking producers, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of other producers. That is how we cannibalize each other. Give us enough so that we can all do this thing.
Ultimately, I believe that when you give all of us the same opportunities, we will rise like cream to the top.