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SODEC mixes cultures to reach success

In the first of our multi-company C21 Digital Screenings, presented under the umbrella of Quebec cultural agency SODEC, we take a look at programming from six French-Canadian companies to see how they punch above their weight on the international market by combining American and European styles.


The production industry in the Canadian province of Quebec has achieved international success with many of its shows. Recent examples include Montreal-based Productions Casablanca’s drama series Happily Married, presented at Berlinale 2020 and acquired by the French SVoD platform Salto, and Datsit-Sphère’s medical comedy Transplant, which was recently sold to NBC in the US.


Those two production companies, as well as fellow Quebec companies Encore TV (Boomerang, For Sarah), HGagnon Distribution, KOTV (Plan B) and Pixcom (Victor Lessard, La Faille) are part of Quebecois culture-focused government agency SODEC’s presence on C21’s Digital Screenings this week, showcasing their wares to the world to continue the roll-out of French-Canadian content worldwide.


The sector’s success comes despite having significantly lower budgets than the industry in the rest of Canada, which according to Louise Lantagne, CEO and president of SODEC, has helped the French-speaking province to develop its own “strong style,” boosted by its connection to both North America and Europe.


Louise Lantagne, SODEC

“We have a strong domestic market with a TV star system of its own, which provides a stable foundation. But, overall, lower production and human resources costs mean our creators have to develop their own strong styles,” Lantagne says.


“We don’t have the deep pockets that Americans have to make their shows in Hollywood, or Europe, or even the money they have in the rest of Canada. So with our domestic market, our star system, our low budgets and stories that can travel around the world, we have succeeded in establishing our own very strong style.


“What could define this style is a distinct culture combining elements of North American and European sensibilities in our stories, which have a broad resonance in international markets because we are living in the middle of two worlds – the American world and the European world. We are strongly connected to Europe because of the French language that connects us with France, Belgium and all the Francophone countries. Quebec relies on the specificity of its culture while telling universal stories.”


Quebec’s best-selling genre is fiction, which Lantagne points out is in line with elsewhere in the world, followed by content for younger audiences, while variety shows, documentaries and web series are also doing well.


“The best-selling content in international markets is, of course, fiction series; fiction is booming and has been for the last 10 years. So number one is fiction and number two is content for young people, which is about the same for every country. Documentaries are also important, and there are lots of coproductions in that field,” she says.


According to Lantagne, nine of the top 10 most popular series in Canada in 2019 came from Quebec, even though the province works with budgets of around C$600,000 (US$442,431) per hour, versus an average of C$2m per hour in English-speaking Canada. Despite success with low budgets, Lantagne would like to see more money going to the sector and SODEC has set up a new initiative to help achieve this.


“We are still able to shine in the international market [despite low budgets], but there is a limit to it. I do believe we have to increase those budgets, so we thought we could help to provide productions with money on top of the usual money they get to provide them with greater production values,” says Lantagne.


“The new programme we have just opened for television projects is for primetime series and docuseries that are intended for the international market. We have received C$15m (US$11.1m) from the government to distribute to those series. It is not a lot, but we can do a lot with a bit more.”


At present, Quebec’s production sector, like those around the world, is facing significant headwinds caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which Lantagne thinks will make production more expensive and potentially lead to a lower number of projects, but with bigger budgets.


“Producing with Covid-19 is going to be more expensive; are we going to see fewer productions with bigger budgets? It might happen that a lower number of productions are going to be made, so we might find ourselves with fewer series,” Lantagne says.


“But having the money to give more to each series might be a good thing. I don’t want to say that it’s not a good thing to have many productions, because you develop many creators and directors while doing it, so it’s not necessarily good to have fewer productions. It might be an opportunity to reach the international market better for a small window of time.”


The pandemic may also lead to more M&A activity, with Lantagne predicting a rise in “smaller companies merging together to survive the economic crisis.”

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