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October 31, 2016

Small Screen: Canadian talent in demand at Cannes market



CANNES, France — In the new borderless business of television, Canada is emerging as an ideal partner.

That was the word from several buyers and sellers at MIPCOM, the international media content market that concluded last week at Cannes.

“I think all the borders have gone down in television because there’s such a huge demand,” said Frank Spotnitz, executive producer of the upcoming CBS/Global series Ransom. Best known as a writer/producer on The X-Files, Spotnitz has spent 22 years making American network TV shows in Canada, including three X-Files spinoffs. He cites the “huge talent pool” and “beauty and diversity of the landscape” as reasons he keeps coming back.

Ransom stars Luke Roberts (Game of Thrones) as a top hostage negotiator jetting around the world to deal with deadly crisis situations. Spotnitz and his Canadian collaborators shot the series in Toronto before recently shifting production to France. It will air in the New Year.

The TV veteran said Peak TV is real.

“There’s an unquenchable thirst for drama,” he said, adding the driving force is platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu as well as cable networks in the U.S.

“They can’t afford to do [all this production] on their own, they need partners,” he says, “so they look to Canada and to Europe.”

One such production is Versailles. Heading into a second season, the historical epic was one of three series showcased at MIPCOM by Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund. The lavish costume drama was originally a France-only production until costs swelled toward $54 million Cdn per season.

“Canada enjoys production treaty deals with France and we were able to offer the talent and resources to make this series happen,” says Ian Whitehead, executive producer and head of production and development at FOX Incendo.

There are currently 54 treaties between Canada and other producing countries, according to the CMF.

Besides international co-productions, the CMF supports domestic dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries. Shaftesbury CEO Christina Jennings came back from MIPCOM buoyed by demands from broadcasters in the U.K. and France for more episodes of the CBC drama, already in its 10th season. Murdoch is one of Canada’s top TV exports, appearing in over 110 markets worldwide.

“It’s a great crime series featuring wonderful characters and an alternative to dramas out there that are quite dark,” says Jennings.

“Murdoch can play daytimes, prime times — it’s very schedule-friendly.”

Jennings says international buyers are telling her they want the next Murdoch. Shaftesbury is partnering with France and the U.K. on a series of Aimee Leduc movies for TV. The mysteries were inspired by true crime novels by Cara Black set in Paris. Production will begin in France in 2017 with a Canadian cast in the lead and Canadian writers and directors also involved.

Another company making deals at MIPCOM was Vancouver-based Thunderbird Entertainment, makers of Kim’s Convenience and Beat Bugs. An alliance with Skybound North, the creative force behind The Walking Dead, was announced during the TV marketplace.

“They’re looking to expand beyond the traditional way of making shows in the U.S.,” says Thunderbird CEO Tim Gamble, a veteran MIPCOM player. “This gives them an opportunity to access Canadian talent and the benefits of producing shows in Canada. It gives us access to high quality creative talent.”