Andra Sheffer is by far, a pioneer in the digital media industry. Serving as the CEO for both the Independent Production Fund (IPF) and the COGECO Program Development Fund, she alongside her team are responsible for bringing projects such as How to Buy a Baby, White Ninja, Inhuman Condition and more to life. We had the pleasure of getting to speak with the CEO to learn more about the IPF, the importance of funding web series and more. Check it out below and let us know what you think!
netTVnow: Could you please provide a brief background on yourself and your experience in the industry.
Andra Sheffer: For the past 25 years I have been an arts administrator. I am the CEO of two private funds supporting the Canadian digital media, television and film industries: the Independent Production Fund (IPF) which invests in drama series created for digital platforms; and the COGECO Program Development Fund for the development of digital drama and production of television drama. I was also the founding Executive Director of the Bell Fund (1997-2014) which supports interactive digital media projects associated with Canadian television programs.
Previously, I was the founding Executive Director of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television producing the annual Canadian Screen Awards and I served as Managing Director of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). I have edited publications about the business of TV and digital media production and I have been awarded several awards including Digital Media Trail Blazer award (ACCT) and the Champion of Digital Innovation (Merging Media) and I am on a couple of Boards of Directors - Interactive Ontario (IO) and Women in Film and Television.
netTVnow: For those who aren’t aware, can you provide a brief explanation of what the IPF is and what they do, as well as your role/how long you’ve been in that role?
AS: I have been CEO of the IPF since its inception in 1991! The IPF was originally established in 1991 as a charitable Foundation supporting Canadian television drama, with an endowment of $29M Cdn. and a Board of Directors representing the industry. In 2010 the mandate was changed to support the production of scripted series specifically created for digital platforms (web series), in recognition of this new, developing storytelling format. The IPF now makes equity investments averaging $150,000 in approximately 15 scripted web series per year. Funding comes from the interest generated by the endowment (now valued at $35M Cdn) and recoupment from project investments.
netTVnow: I understand you’re also the CEO for the COGECO Program Development Fund, can you tell us more about that?
AS: The COGECO Fund was established in 1993 and it invests in Canadian television drama production - series, Movies-of-the-Week, mini-series. It also has a small program to support the development of scripted web series.
netTVnow: What is it about web series that attracted you to them?
AS: In 2010 the IPF was re-examining its mandate "to make a significant difference" and was concerned about the limited funding available to invest in big budget television drama series. At this time scripted web series were in their infancy and there was so much potential to experiment and to launch Canadian producers into this new production format and to take a leadership role in creating content for the web.
Our funding would really make a difference and make these projects possible in Canada. We were in a position to take risks, to develop new skills, to be creative, to compete internationally and to establish the reputation of Canadian producers in this new field. So, we convinced our Board of Directors to take a leap of faith and to be visionary!
netTVnow: The community in Canada, especially, is so supportive of these types of projects, why do you think that is?
AS: Canadian producers really seized the opportunity that IPF funding provided to them. It opened doors for a lot of people with great concepts who were frustrated waiting for the broadcaster gatekeepers to greenlight them. Web series provide unique opportunities to auteurs and encourage their creativity. The annual application for funding deadline at the IPF receives nearly 200 applications from coast-to-coast – there really are no barriers to submitting good projects.
Over the past six years, Canadian series have been award-winning internationally and have established Canada’s outstanding reputation as leaders in this area. So, producers are proud and enthusiastic. Everyone is pioneering to try to figure out what works best with audiences and business models. The IPF provides invaluable evaluator feedback to all applicants, successful or not. We have created a climate of “shared learnings” - we gather tips, experience and lessons learned and ensure that the community can access this and build on it. So, the community (at least for now!) is supportive and encouraging.
netTVnow: Where do you hope the web series industry will be in the next few years?
AS: We are all still struggling to find the elusive business models. And “discoverability” is a big issue now. Budgets are increasing. A series of niche, specialized apps for different genres and demographics may resolve some of the issues. Hopefully, there will be new sources of financing. Canadian web series will continue to stand out on the world stage and will be more self-sufficient with loyal fans and influencers.
netTVnow: Why do you think digital media projects like web series are becoming more and more popular?
AS: Web series are relatively reasonably budgeted, they do not require broadcaster approvals, new inexperienced talents have great opportunity to prove themselves, and anything goes! And they get immediate feedback from their audiences. Which is very attractive to producers. For audiences, small bites on their mobile devices are an attractive alternative to the commitment required of television series, and the quality and talents involved are comparable.
netTVnow: What sorts of projects are you hoping to bring to life through IPF?
AS: Our goal is to support projects that attract big audiences and to develop new talents. The IPF looks for content specifically designed NOT to be for television. We want content that is innovative and creative. We would certainly like the big breakthrough – the web series that everyone is talking about and sharing and following.
netTVnow: What is the submission/judging aspect like for those who submit to IPF?
AS: We have one annual call for applications each year – March 1. It is a two-stage process. In this first stage applicants must submit a two-page creative document and one-page audience engagement plan as well as a two-minute video proof-of-concept posted online.
A 40-person selection committee composed of industry professionals and advanced students of media/communications review all the material and score the projects on various creative and business elements. The highest rated projects are discussed by the group and a short-list of approximately 30 finalists is made. The short-listed projects have one more months to finalize detailed applications for phase two – scripts, budgets, financing, distribution, business plans. These applications are evaluated by an international jury – to give lots of perspectives – and the projects are ranked. The evaluations and recommendations are submitted to the Board of Directors of the IPF which discusses all of the projects and makes final funding decisions.
netTVnow: Does IPF take part in any web series fests, if so in what capacity?
AS: The IPF is a small sponsor of several web fests – Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Marseilles. We usually sponsor the conference/training aspects of these Fests. We also participate on panel discussions or moderate sessions. IPF-funded projects are submitted by producers to another 20-30 festivals and awards events a year.
netTVnow: Where do you see IPF in the future?
AS: I suspect that our leadership position as a funder may diminish as budgets grow and new sources of financing are made available. So, we will seek other “gaps” in the industry as new platforms develop and will continue to try to make innovative and exciting projects possible.
netTVnow: Do you have any personal web series favorites?
AS: Of course not! There are lots of great ones that can be accessed here!