NFB/ONF Creation issues formal denouncement of the commissioner, decrying as misleading his recent comments on production funding budgets.
NFB/ONF Creation, a group comprised of 250 NFB filmmakers, including Oscar-winning animators Alison Snowden, David Fine, Torill Kove and Chris Landreth, has issued a formal response to protest what they claim are inaccurate statements made to the press last week by NFB Film Commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur, in a dispute over representations of the amount of NFB funding that actually goes to filmmakers.
In a June 27 interview with The Globe and Mail, Joli-Couer was quoted saying, “Unfortunately, with over two years of discussions with them [NFB/ONF Creation members], we haven’t been able to convince them that we’re telling the truth. That’s sad, but what can I do? Based on official figures that have been audited by the auditor-general, I can say that 50 per cent of our money goes to production, 34 per cent to distribution and 16 per cent in overhead, depending on the year. … The number of meetings I’ve had with them is enormous, and my door has always been open.”
A statement from NFB/ONF Creation claims, “The newly reappointed Commissioner, Claude Joli-Coeur, has made a number of public statements which NFB/ONF Creation, an organization of more than 250 NFB filmmakers, believes misrepresent the true situation at the NFB.”
The organization’s response continues as follows:
On June 27, Joli-Coeur was quoted in the Globe and Mail: “Based on official figures that have been audited by the auditor-general, I can say that 50 percent of our money goes to production, 34 per cent to distribution and 16 per cent in overhead, depending on the year…”
NFB/ONF Creation asserts that this figure is highly misleading. The Commissioner is including Internal Costs, such as administration, office overhead and executive salaries. These are costs that are incurred regardless of whether films are made or not and, according to the group, should not be part of the calculation.
A more appropriate measure of support for production is External Costs. These are the monies spent on all film directors, writers and other freelance creative personnel, as well as materials, equipment and other outside services used for NFB productions. This is the figure that has dropped precipitously over the past 15 years and it is this figure that is a true indication of the NFB’s failing support for film and media production. Mr.Joli-Coeur is not acknowledging this.
Between 2002-2017 we have seen:
- 56% drop in spending on production budgets.
- 21% increase in spending on non-filmmaker salaries.
- 45% increase in spending on Institutional, Legal and Human Resources Services.
The NFB currently receives $62 million tax dollars annually. Last year:
- $50 million went towards executive salaries, marketing, admin and internal expenses, including the move to the new building.
- $12 million was spent on external production costs, which includes director fees.
These figures are based on financial data provided to us by the NFB through Access to Information requests.
On May 6, 2015, Joli-Coeur stated the following before the Standing Committee on National Finance: “Audiovisual production is our core business and accounts for almost two thirds of the actual expenditures of the NFB...” Mr. Joli-Coeur said this in 2015, but in 2019 he states that 50% of NFB funding is allocated to production, so, even by his own standard of measurement, the proportion of funding for production at the NFB has declined in recent years.
Allocations to production studios have clearly been reduced. For example, between 2003 and 2018, internal NFB sources confirm that the acclaimed English Animation Studio budget dropped from $1.5 million to $1.1 million. Indexed for inflation, this represents a decrease in funding of approximately 56% This year, the relocation of the NFB Headquarters has gone significantly over budget and it is expected that further cuts to studio allocations will be made to compensate.
"Over the last five years the number of productions that we've been doing has been increasing," Joli-Coeur said to the Canadian Press on June 28. The Commissioner’s quote, however, does not reveal the full story. The fact is, budgets today are much lower and films often shorter. His calculation also includes projects that are co- productions in which the NFB has a minority investment.
In the June 27, Globe and Mail article, it was reported that “Mr. Joli-Coeur acknowledged that it is a difficult time to be a filmmaker in Canada, but said that the organization provides a relatively safe harbour for artists compared to the private sector, and that “in the field of documentary and animation, we can be shown as an example of how to treat people.” In fact, filmmakers are paid less now at the NFB than they were twenty years ago--far less than most NFB staff employees and with no pension or benefits. This practice is nothing short of exploitative and is particularly shameful in a non-profit federally funded institution.
On June 3rd, NFB/ONF Creation joined forces with DOC Canada (Documentary Organization of Canada), DGC (Directors Guild Canada), and ARRQ (Association des réalisateurs et réalisatrices du Québec). A joint letter was sent to the Heritage Minister expressing deep concerns about the current state of the National Film Board. The following proposals were made to ensure the NFB maintains its essential role within Canada’s film and digital media landscape:
Restore investment in new original content. Since 2002, we have seen a precipitous decline in NFB funds dedicated to production budgets. Our goal is to see 44% of its total allocation committed to the creation of films and digital media.
Adopt a policy of greater transparency in regards to expenditures, particularly those directly related to the production, marketing and distribution of NFB content.
Modernize the NFB governance structure by separating the roles of Film Commissioner and Chair of the Board of Trustees. This is consistent with the government’s approach to other agencies and crown corporations and is necessary for proper oversight of NFB management.
Engage in meaningful, regular consultations with film and digital media directors and other industry stakeholders. Input from the creative community is critical—not only to the decision-making processes related to Production, but also to Distribution, Communications, and Marketing.
NFB/ONF Creation has released this video by Oscar-winning NFB filmmaker Chris Landreth which illustrates the 56% drop in production budget funding in the last 15 years.
NFB/ONF Creation cares deeply about the NFB, in part because the collective remains fiercely attached to its ideals, but also because this unique institution has nurtured them as artists. If the NFB is to continue to lead the way--to break new ground in animation, documentary, and new media--change must happen. Its very survival is at stake.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.