Canadian producers stymied by Brexit waiting game

Canadian producers looking to navigate the fallout of Brexit fear future restrictions for U.K. talent.

Uncertain future, looming travel restrictions have TV producers calling for government assistance

The cast of the TV show Vikings, a Canadian-Irish co production. The series is shot in Ireland but depends on many U.K. actors and crew members whose participation could be affected if Britain exits the EU. (Take 5 Productions)

Like navigating through a thick London fog, Canadian TV and film producers trying to understand the changing terrain of Europe see only uncertainty.

The results of the EU referendum, where a slim majority of Britons voted to leave, caught many Canadian producers off guard. John Weber is the CEO and president of Take 5, the company responsible for a string of European co-productions including the The Tudors, Camelot and Vikings, currently shooting its fifth season.

"We're obviously very excited about it. We'd like to see it keep going for a few more seasons, so we want to make sure none of this stuff is going to impede our abilities to finance the show," Weber says.

Losing the U.K. talent pool

Vikings is shot in Europe as a co-production between Canada and Ireland. As part of the agreement, productions can access cast and crew from other European Union member states, including the U.K.

But an exit from the EU could change that, says Weber.

"Not having the U.K. fall under that definition anymore, that's a significant loss of talent pool. We have a number of U.K. cast members. Our writer is [from the] U.K., our directors," he said.

Losing British cast and crew members would have a serious impact on Vikings. Weber would like to see Telefilm or other government agencies intercede to amend certain provisions.

A man holds a banner during a demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London, July 2. Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum. (Paul Hackett/Reuters)

Vince Commisso, the CEO and president of 9 Story Media Group, is also hoping future agreements could be changed to ensure the free flow of talent.  He believes given the importance of their industry, certain allowances permitting participation of U.K. employees in the EU could be written into new treaties. 

A powerhouse of children's programming, 9 Story creates and distributes familiar children's brands such as Peep, Barney and Arthur. Last year, it acquired Brown Bag Films, a European-based animation studio that produces the hit show Doc McStuffinsWith facilities in both Manchester and Dublin, they have a foot on both sides of the Brexit dilemma. (The Republic of Ireland remains a member of the EU, but Britain has voted to leave).

Doc McStuffins is an animated children's show available on Disney Junior and produced by Brown Bag Films. The Dublin studio is owned by the Canadian 9 Story Media Group. (Brown Bag Films)

While this gives 9 Story a hedge against potential Brexit developments, Commisso is also worried about travel restrictions.

"That's our biggest concern actually. It's true certainly of Dublin, it's also true of our Manchester facility where we have 20 employees that come from other parts of Europe."

CBC News contacted Telefilm and the Canadian Heritage department for a statement on Brexit and the consequences for Canadian creators. Telefilm described the issue as a "macro treaty level issue," which falls under the jurisdiction of Canadian Heritage. As of publication time, Heritage has yet to respond.

The Canadian Media Producers Association is also monitoring the impact of Brexit. In a statement released to CBC News, the group highlighted additional factors that could impact producers, including:

  • The ability of Canadian-U.K. co-productions to access EU funding support.

  • Currency exchange rates between the British pound, the euro and the Canadian dollar

Falling British pound, rising opportunities? 

Some have suggested a plummeting British pound (currently at its lowest point since 1985) could be a silver lining, making Britain a more attractive location in the eyes of producers.

Take 5's John Weber says they already get a lot of calls from British producers and broadcasters looking to partner with Canada. Weber thinks the lower currency could elevate interest, but he points out that only being able to access talent and financing in one country, as opposed to all of the EU, isn't as attractive. 

In the short term, most Canadian productions are moving ahead with plans, while hoping if Brexit does come to pass, a new round of negotiations will continue the free flow of talent that has made Europe such an attractive location for producers.


Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars red carpet and beyond.