Taxpayer money goes in — what comes out?
Allan Hawco and Krystin Pellerin in a scene from “Republic of Doyle.” — Photo courtesy of CBC
“The Republic of Doyle” earned an average 1.2 million viewers for the 13 episodes of Season 3, but for the show, 65 is a magic number.
That’s how many episodes, says Chris Bonnell, the executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corp., a show typically needs before it can be sold into syndication, opening the door for more networks — especially in the U.S. — to buy the rights and, hopefully, more profit.
“By getting to Season 5, they’d get there,” Bonnell told the Telegram.
With funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador government for CBC’s show about a
St. John’s private eye announced in each of the last two provincial budgets — $3 million over two years in this year’s budget announced for Season 4, which starts shooting July 4, following a similar amount last year — the program has come under fire from critics who ask why a show seemingly as successful as “Doyle” needs government largesse at all.
The reason, explained Bonnell, is that without specific funds set aside for “Doyle,” the show would soak up the entire fund set aside for all television and film productions in the province.
“This is the biggest production we’ve ever had in this province,” he said. “Our annual equity investment program is only $2 million per year, so that’s why this $3 million that was announced comes from government and is administered through our office. Because if it wasn’t, then no other productions would be happening in the province other than ‘Doyle.’”
Bonnell cites “Hold Fast,” a film based on St. John’s author Kevin Major’s debut novel that is currently in production, as a project that would have difficulty getting funding with Republic.
“The problem when these things are announced and people see $3 million, it’s not just throwing $3 million at Republic of Doyle,” said Bonnell. “This is an equity investment from the province, so at a certain point, when production revenue comes back — hopefully after they get to five seasons and there’s syndication and money coming back, the investment gets paid back. So it’s not money getting thrown away.”
The government’s investment is one of several sources that make up the show’s $22-million annual budget, touched off by the CBC’s broadcast licence and including funding from the Canadian Media Fund equity and the broadcast licence top-up fee. Three-quarters of the show’s budget is money funded from outside the province spent on the show’s salaries and production, pointed out Bonnell. About $16 million of that is spent directly in Newfoundland, he said, and some of the rest spent indirectly, to say nothing of intangible spinoffs for, primarily, tourism, which benefits from a weekly hour-long St. John’s postcard airing on CBC every week during the broadcast season.
“This is money that would not be here otherwise,” he said. “It would be spent in another jurisdiction, so this money leverages that money coming into the province.”
Some of the money does come from private investment, but Bonnell acknowledges that the bulk of it is provincial and federal government funding — a necessity, he said, to produce works to compete with the culture-exporting juggernaut that is our neighbour to the south.
“Every successful show in Canada has the same situation,” he said. “Succeeding on its own merits is really misleading, because all successful programs — like Heartland, in Alberta, same thing — have very similar financial structures. That’s how the financial structure comes together for productions.”
About 50 to 60 per cent of the show’s budget is spent on labour — employment in the province that wouldn’t be here, said Bonnell. “The full-time jobs, just on Doyle alone, are about 110,” he said. “And if you spin those off into indirect and induced, you’re talking about 200 jobs. And these are high-paying jobs, on average, almost $59,000 a year.”
The show is also building a knowledge and talent base, paying off as fewer workers from outside the province — mainly from Ontario — need to be brought in with each successive season, and as Doyle vets parlay their experience into better jobs with different productions such as “Hold Fast.”
Co-creator and star Allan Hawco, who is also the show’s executive producer, says building that local talent base is important — as is the economic benefit that the government funding helps trigger — not just for his show, but for the provincial industry as a whole.
“Investing in the film and television industry, investing in the cultural community, is not just good business — because the economic impact is scrutinized and the payoff is obvious — but outside of business, you’re contributing to the cultural identity of the place, which ultimately leads to spinoffs to other countries, other cultures, other people wanting to come to this place, other people wanting to know more about this place,” he said, laughing when the Telegram points out that this is despite the St. John’s on the show having a homicide rate far higher than it does in reality.
“Our show is on in 97 countries right now. And the investment that the province makes, with equity, the benefit is not only right now as it airs in, say, January,” he said. “The show will be on for 20 years in Bosnia. The show will be on for 30 years in France. When I’m in London, England — a friend of mine just tweeted me over Twitter, saying our commercials are on all over London, England.”
Cultural investment isn’t always done — nor should it be — with an eye on the bottom line, said Hawco, but it’s great when it works out that way.
“I believe that it’s not always about dollars and cents, that a lot of time it has to do with what message you’re sending to the rest of the world about who you are,” he said. But luckily for Republic of Doyle, he said, it can also coincide with making money.