Many films come together though collaboration of several producers. Such collaboration can be between producers from the same country or region, or between filmmakers from different countries. A specific form of collaboration is the co-production.
Especially many non-US films in fact are co-produced, often if the film is produced for global markets. This can be noticeable if the story takes place across multiple countries, or because various languages are spoken, or actors from different nationalities can be recognized.
In this article we will look at how co-production works, what the role is of co-production treaties, which requirements may be applicable for co-productions, how production partners match, and the which are the benefits of co-producing content.
A co-production can be seen as a joint venture between two or more different production companies for the purpose of producing a film (or in a broader sense, an audiovisual project including also television series, animation projects, and video games).
A co-production can be national, between production companies from the same country, or international, whereby producers from two or more countries team up to create content together.
Types of International Co-Production
There are several ways to classify international co-productions.
For example, one can speak about a majority, a minority or a parity co-production (UNESCO Institute for statistics).
Another distinction is introduced by Parc: corporation-led co-production versus state-led co-production.
In practice I would interpret this for all practical purposes, as the distinction between:
- A commercially viable, equity or debt financed co-production whereby the nationality of the co-producers as such is irrelevant; as opposed to:
- A government supported co-production, whereby in practice nationality of the co-producers is key, as it determines the kind of government resources the production partners can tap into in order to finance the film.
Another way of defining is by making a distinction between an official and a non-official co-production.The difference is whether or not there is a formal inter-government agreement between the countries of the co-producers involved.
Thus, official co-productions are made possible by agreements between countries. Generally speaking, co-production agreements seek to achieve economic, cultural and diplomatic goals. For filmmakers, the most essential attraction of a treaty co-production is that it qualifies as a national production in each of the partner nations and therewith, the production can access multiple benefits that are available to the local film industry in each country.
As stated above, filmmakers also co-produce outside the framework of official co-productions, for example with countries that do not have an agreement in place, or projects that do not satisfy official qualification criteria.
An official treaty co-production is a partnership between two production partners that adheres to national or regional government funded co-production requirements in order to receive the benefits of national status in the countries of both producing partners.
Many countries have bi-lateral or multi-lateral co-production agreements.
Cross-border co-production treaties are multi-party agreements between multiple countries, often all member countries of an international or intergovernmental organization.
Examples of cross-border co-production treaties are:
- The Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production (Council of Europe), aimed at “promoting the development of multilateral cinematographic co-productions, safeguarding creation and freedom of expression and defending the cultural diversity of the various countries that are party to the Convention”, initially adopted in 1992. Eurimages was established as the cultural support fund of the Council of Europe;
- The Nordisk Film & TV Fond, established in 1990, and based in Oslo, Norway, with a primary focus on promoting high quality film and TV productions in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), by providing support for the financing of feature films, TV fiction/drama series and creative documentaries; and
- The Latin American Co-Production Treaty, signed on November 11, 1989, in Caracas, Venezuela, between several Latin American countries formalizing co-production arrangements between them to impulse cross-border Latin American film production. Following amongst others the above-mentioned treaty, The Ibermedia program is co-production initiative between most of the Latin American countries, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Ibermedia provides grants and soft loans.
A film will need to meet certain requirements in order to be acknowledged as an official co-production. Such requirements vary per country, region, treaty or organization, and it is often a combination of:
- A cultural test;
- Domestic creative and technical participation in the production;
- A domestic or international distribution deal;
- An important part of the financing must be in place;
- The co-production partners must be from countries with a bilateral or international co-production treaty in place.
Factors to Determine Co-Production Partners
As per Stephen Follows’s research, there are many potential factors which affect whether filmmakers from one country are likely to match with those of another country.
These factors include:
- A shared language;
- Culture and historic ties;
- A similar approach to making movies;
- The logistics of moving money, people and equipment across borders;
- If there are tax breaks or other country-specificbenefits on offer;
- The locations, services and people available in each country.
Some nations are much more likely to co-produce than others. For example, of the top film producing nations, Belgium has the highest rates of co-productions, with 72% of their films also being from another country.
The countries with the lowest levels of co-productions include India (3%), the Philippines (4%) and Indonesia (6%).
Another example of natural co-production partner choice based on language and historic and cultural ties, is shown by the foreign sources of co-production in Colombia assessed over a number of years: Spain: 61%, Argentina: 8%, Mexico: 7%, Panama: 7%, France: 4%- 83% or more of such sources are from other Spanish speaking countries.
Benefits of Co-Production
Co-producing can offer multiple benefits to filmmakers.
The following are the most notable:
- The ability to pool financial resources (equity from several countries and inclusion in domestic television broadcast quotas, for example);
- Access to the co-production partner’s government’s incentives and funding sources (government-based financial assistance, tax concessions);
- Access to the partner’s domestic market;
- Access to a particular project initiated by the partner;
- Access to desired locations;
- Opportunities to learn from partners.
We discussed sorts of co-productions, how co-producing works, bilateral and cross-border treaties, requirements for co-producing, factors to match production partners, and benefits of co-producing.
Co-productions have been and will continue to be an important, and for some counties, even an essential instrument for content creation, as part of national production infrastructures.
Without doubt, international co-production will remain an attractive way of cross-border collaboration and financing of film projects.