… in a sea of paperwork.
Perhaps you’ve been wondering, over the past few weeks or even months, what I’ve been super busy with. It is equally possible that you have not noticed that I’ve been especially busy, because you have your own lives to worry about. Either way, here it is.
In addition to programming The Royal and continuing to consult with REEL CANADA (especially on the exciting National Canadian Film Day initiative), I’ve also been trying to get some film projects off the ground. You already know this (because you are my fan and dedicated blog reader).
What you might not know is the elaborate shenanigans I’ve been engaged in for the past several months as I try to patch together financing for one of the films I’m working on.
I’ll keep it anonymous for now because I don’t want to jinx any of the money we are waiting to hear about in the next few days and weeks, but the film is a Canadian production with a fluctuating budget that’s gone up and down over the past year from anywhere as low as $1M CAD up to $1.6M CAD.
I’ve done countless versions of the budget (sometimes with the help of more experienced producers and/or line producers, sometimes muddling through on my own even though I don’t actually know how things like “union tiers” and “tax credits” and “f*@#ing film budgets” really work.
I’ve had to learn a lot of film-specific lingo! Like, when someone says “don’t do X because it will grind your tax credits” what they mean is, it will reduce the amount of tax credits you’re eligible for. New use of word “grind”: learned!
Let me back up. Quick lesson on tax credits:
To encourage film productions to do their business here instead of elsewhere, the province of Ontario offers a refund of up to 35% on the money you spend on labour in Ontario. There are eligible and ineligible costs, and lots of rules, and blah blah, but basically, you get a fat cheque back from the government after you’ve made your film, and that’s pretty great.
Each province has their own (or in some cases, they don’t). Many US states also have similarly competitive tax credit schemes. It’s a popular thing. But you don’t get the money until several months, or even a year, after your film is made.
That means that if you raise a million bucks to make a film, and you make it for that amount, a year later you might get a bonus cheque. Hurray!
But if like most people you can’t raise the full budget amount up front, you end up counting those tax credits in your financing plan even though you won’t get the money until after the film’s been made.
How does that work? Lots of possible ways, but a common one might be to get someone (like a bank) to loan you the money in advance, so that you can use it to make the film. And then when you get the tax credit money a year later, you pay the bank back. With interest. Which you calculate into your budget, of course. It’s complicated. And feels like you’re pulling a fast one. It feels like “FILM HACK: You Can Do This One Incredible Thing to Increase Your Budget By Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars!”
And yet, somehow, it is totally above board and normal and everyone does it.
Anyway. Back to my story.
We’ve received confirmation of funding from one government entity. Hurray! Where do we sign for our money?
Slow down little pony. You don’t get the money. Yet.
First, you prove that if they gave you the money and you didn’t manage to raise even a single penny more, you’d still be able to make the film.
Some government funding bodies say that you have to have 100% of your financing tied up before you approach them. Or 100% minus whatever you’re hoping they’ll pitch in, anyway. Others don’t have that kind of requirement, but at a certain point, they want to know that if they give you the money you’re not going to fuck it all up and end up not shooting the film, which will in turn make them look bad.
Okay, fair enough.
Except, in order to prove to them that we’d be able to go forth and shoot even if we didn’t raise any more money, we’ve had to slash our budget by about a quarter, from $1M to $750K, and we’ve had to adjust all kinds of things in various fairly insane ways (cutting the shooting schedule from four weeks to three, for example, and nixing the idea of a highly paid “star” in favour of an “everybody gets the same piddly fee” approach – hey, it’s piddly but at least it’s fair). All of this has taken a lot of time and effort. More time and effort, perhaps, than should be required to present what we actually consider a worst case scenario Plan B.
But who am I to complain? I just want them to please give us the money. In the meantime, I’ll be over here silently weeping into my fifth cup of coffee.
Now, all of that effort might not have taken the equivalent of two full time jobs’ worth of hours (for weeks if not months on end) if I knew what I was doing when it came to the world of tax credits, deferrals, recoupment schedules, budgets and financing plans. I’m learning a lot (and fast!) but it’s my first time around the track and I have been drowning without help.
I have a very creative, smart Director (who unfortunately also doesn’t know how this stuff works – not on the level required for The Government, anyway) and a very helpful Exec Producer (who does know how it works and provides useful advice when needed, but doesn’t have time to coach me through everything step by step – which is fine, he was upfront about that when we first agreed to work with him).
All of which is to say (I’ve buried the lede, I know) that I may have found the magical unicorn who can actually help me make sense of this nonsense: a line producer. Thank you, oh film gods, for smiling upon me in my hour of need and sending me a line producer who knows what he is doing and is willing to help out even though we won’t be able to start paying him for another few months. I am truly blessed.