November 5, 2011 Jill

Are the streets of Canada paved with gold for transmedia creators? According to Carrie Cutforth-Young Storyworld was all abuzz with the notion. I heard exactly the same thing repeatedly a few weeks ago at Power to the Pixel‘s London Forum.

When Nuno Bernardo, in his address on financing transmedia projects, said “move to Canada,” I shook my head and snorted. Clearly this is the view of an outsider. Not a Canadian. After all, this Canadian was in London looking for financing partners. And just days before, I’d been in New York looking for money there.

I sat down to write a rebuttal to this silly notion using my project Ruby Skye P.I. as a case study. And by the time I finished the first draft, I realized that… actually, maybe the hype isn’t so far off after all.

We have a great community here and I know lots of people who are making super stuff without money. I was once one of them. Not anymore.

Ruby Skye P.I. has had and does have the benefit of Canadian financing dollars. The wonderfully forward-thinking Independent Production Fund was a financing partner in our first season and is committed to our second, as well. I plan to access Ontario tax credits on season 2 of Ruby Skye P.I. and have figured them into my financing plan.

The Ontario Media Development Corporation has supported the project with an export grant which is what enabled me to travel to both the New York Television Festival and the Pixel Market. Export grant money will take me to two other markets in the coming year as well. Telefilm Canada supported my trip to SXSW last March.

But before you call the movers, you should know that the reality of the transmedia money is that there isn’t enough to go around or enough to complete financing, plus, as Carrie ably points out, it’s hard to get.

On the hard-to-get and not-enough-to-go-around side of things, there’s the pot of gold known as the CMF Experimental Fund. I’ve applied three times. Or more correctly, I’ve tried to apply three times. The first two times ended in tears and an incomplete application. Applying to the Experimental Fund is a lot like writing a PhD thesis in terms of size and detail. Plus, they are looking for something very specific. The third time I applied — with the support of a team of smart, able professionals — I felt we’d succeeded just by completing the application with our souls (mostly) intact. We didn’t get the money and we weren’t the only ones. Far more projects were turned down than funded. But who knows? Fourth time could be the charm. With an investment of up to a million dollars at stake, I’m already checking for the 2012 deadlines and guidelines.

Equally awesome and equally oversubscribed is the aforementioned OMDC’s IDM Fund – Interactive Digital Media Fund. A cool $150K — if you can get it. What makes this money particularly lovely is that it is a grant. Yes, my friends, you heard correctly: nonrefundable. Which is why so very many people are lined up to drink from this limited and glorious fountain. (Keep your fingers crossed for me, the results for this year haven’t yet been announced.)

Even the IPF, which I’ve had great success with, has passed over many other worthy projects. It’s simply not a very big pot and lots of people want a piece.

Cry me a river, right? At least there is some money, even if it is finite and you have to put in some effort to get it. But before you point your compass north, I want to make it clear that you can’t depend on getting ALL your funding in this country.

To complete your financing the logical places to look are to broadcasters and brands and their agencies. But don’t count on Canadian companies for these partnerships.

Most of what we do as transmedia artists is aimed at a global market. Geo-blocking is an anathema to many of us. And worse still, might prevent the natural spread of the work through the world wide web. Potential Canadian financing partners aren’t interested in a global audience. They only want to reach Canadians. This is true for our broadcasters and for our local arms of international brands and their agencies.

Many of our big brands are really just branch offices of international corporations. They are set up to serve the Canada and their agencies market within our borders. Often they don’t have the decision making power to create content that goes worldwide. For that you have to speak to HQ — which inevitably isn’t here in Canada.

And our broadcasters? They have little interest in anything that isn’t convergent — which is Canadian for “a TV project with a second platform.” (“Second platform” being Canadian for website or web-based game.)

In either case, they are unlikely to be help finance your original IP transmedia project.

Which is why I’m out on the streets of London and New York, looking for more money. (If you’ve got any, Ruby Skye P.I. is, by any standards, a top notch project. For season 2, I’ve got smart business and marketing plans, scripts and a cutting edge concept for 360 audience engagement. And I’ve got something else: most of the financing in place. Thank you, Canada.)

After talking to creators from many countries at the New York TV Festival, the Pixel Market and the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds, I know that there aren’t many places in the world where a creator with big ideas can get her hands on money to try them out.

Although I set out to write a piece about how Canada is no haven for transmedia, I have convinced myself otherwise. I have to agree with Nuno and anyone else who says the key to financing transmedia is moving to Canada. We can certainly get most of the way there.

Plus we’ve got health care, maple syrup, autumn leaves, mountains, lakes, vibrant and safe cities and a whole lot more. I love my country. I spend a lot of time discouraging my screenwriter friends from moving south, even as I write them letters to support their green card applications. So maybe with the bleed of screenwriters across the border to the US, it’s only fitting that transmedia creators flock to Canada.

We already have a brilliant, experienced, innovative and close-knit community of transmedia artists building this new industry. Come join us. You’ll fit right in.

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