Co-productions and collaborations
By Susanne Danig
This section will take you into the area of co-producing in an international realm. It is one of the most interesting aspects of working internationally and can give you many benefits. But it is also a demanding process. So you have to prepare for international co-producing by knowing the international market well, and preferable by having done some touring. It could even be a great idea to start out with co-producing in Denmark. When you get the expertise there are many possibilities and ways to collaborate and co-produce – scaling it up to large scale EU supported networks of touring and creating.
This is how the IETM/KAMS Co-Production Manual defines a co-production (link follows to this essential publication bellow): A co-production in the performing arts involves two or more producing partners entering into a contractual agreement to support the creation and distribution of a production or process orientated project. The term co-production is often used quite loosely to describe many different types of collaboration.
Words of advice before you begin
It is always a choice you do to collaborate and co-produce. The primary aim might seem to get money to produce and tour, but to succeed there should always also be a curiosity for your partners, a wish to collaborate and challenge yourself. “It starts with a conversation” as the excellent title to another very good introduction to this international work states (see below for link).
It is important to consider your experience and capacity to undertake international co-productions before you launch yourself into a large, ambitious project. Start small if it is your first engagement.
Collaboration and co-producing is built on relationships and trust – often on long term interest in each other. In a co-producing relationship there should be an underlying mutual respect that motivates the interest in working together. This relationship has to be nurtured by having a continuing dialogue. But is also needs to have very precise agreements for the collaboration in order to succeed – or avoid falling into pitfalls. Both parts of the work need to be attended to.
The artistic content should always be in centre and be the priority. This means getting partners in the collaboration, who is genuinely interested in your work as an artist and respect you and your creative flow. This does not mean however that you can go your own way and change a project you have agreed on.
Don’t give up on your home base because your focus is on the international work. The most successful companies have a strong connection to their national platform and gets support for creation locally – because they prioritize this foundation for their work. As a general rule only estimate for 30-50% of co-financing from co-producing.
There are no set rules on how to co-produce, you will have to find your own way, trust your common sense and seek advice if necessary.
There are different models and understanding of co-producing – here is 5 common ones (and one uncommon), that we will go deeper into below. In most cases there is only one producer who takes all the responsibilities (artistic, financial, legal, etc.…) with a number of co-producers supporting or facilitating certain aspects of the production process.
- Pre-financing – one company finding partners to finance a production and a following tour
- Residencies – one company producing by using residencies around the world
- Commissions – one (or more) companies being commissioned to create a new work
- Network producing – several presenting partners developing and producing work together
- Artistic collaborations – two or more companies producing together
- Commercial models – cash for a production is seen as an investment
This is the classical model of co-producing, that the biggest companies in the world have used for many years to create large scale productions connected to an initial tour premiere. This means the co-producers gets to be the first presenters of the work and adds the value of that to their festivals and organizations. The producer of the work keeps all rights for presenting and touring the work further on.
The investment of co-production money from the presenters is a form of pre-financing the production costs of the actual performances. The budget should always be more or at least equal to the actual fees you would take for the performance – don’t undersell yourself for a co-producing agreement. Costs for travel, accommodation, per diems related to presenting the performance are best kept outside the co-production agreement, since this will vary from place to place. This should be part of a separate performance contract.
The performances guaranteed in advance by the co-producers are often the stepping-stone around which the rest of the international tour is being built and organized. And you will be able to use the first presentations to invite presenters to come and see the work (remember to address this in the agreement).
This a variation of the first where focus is not on cash but creating space and facilities for the work to be developed. This model is often easier for younger less experienced artists to engage in, and often it will start a “new conversation”. It is a form of in-kind value to the production, as such it should be translated into the budget and residency places should be credited as sponsors for the production. And clear agreements should still be made on obligations and rights for the performance.
Make sure the facilities for the residency supports the artistic creation in different phases – you need a specific space for research and something else for setting up the production in the end. Look at the UPgrade section “Guide to international platforms” for more information on requirements and recommendations for residencies as well as the Upgrade video “Residencies”.
Another possible model of co-production is commissioned work, which defines another relationship between a company and an organiser. In the commissioning model it is not the artist, who has the responsibility, but the organiser who is economical responsible. Organizer can be anything from another artist, a venue, a festival, a public authority or a private sponsor. Initiative is formally on the organisers side, but of course it is important for an artists to work towards getting commissions by lobbying and taking responsibility for making great artistic suggestions for the organisers.
In this model the patron commissions the artist to realise a project or part of a project within a very specific model of production or presentation defined by the patron.
It is often agreed that the artist keeps the right to represent and tour the production. This can be combined with a more commercial model (described below).
In more and more cases some of the bigger EU networks (such as Insitu) has commissioned works to be presented at a range of festivals.
Artists have also initiated production collaborations with several partners in Creative Europe projects. See the UPgrade video CASE Asterions Hus.
In both cases we are talking about very complex collaborations where the legal issues and communications on agreements demands a high level of expertise.
This model is a co-production between two or more artists/companies – often with different aesthetics/practices of genres (an example could be dance and music theatre). In this model each partner brings in part of the required artistic competence, human resources as well as the economy. It may be with a collective and shared responsibility (which is the ultimative understanding of co-producing), but this requires companies that know each other well. Normally some degree of distributed responsibility will be agreed upon, like which part of the budget who is responsible for, if one person has the right to final artistic decisions, who will organise the touring and when. Who owns the rights to the performance – and what will be paid to whom of the sales income. Great care on detailing contracts is adviced.
The benefit of this model for smaller companies is, that such a collaboration will open two/several home markets at the same time for the companies involved, and there will be a sharing of competences and networks.
After premiering in the two (or more) home countries, the normal procedure would be that one part is responsible for taking the production on further touring.
The Upgrade case video with Teater Refleksion is a great example on this kind of co-producing internationally. Several Danish theatres also have competences in artistic co-producing nationally.
Most co-producers will normally not ask a cash return on investments as is for instance the case in more commercial genres such as pop music, musicals or films. But in recent years more commercial models have been seen in international projects within the musical area – the Co-producing Manual touches on this in an appendix (see below).
It might be a possible and very interesting model to explore for the more commercially sustainable performances in the future. A percentage of the performance fees acquired during touring can for example be negotiated as a return of investment.
BENEFITS OF CO-PRODUCING
For the artist organisation
- The pre-financing of productions eases cash flow challenges
- The possibility of undertaking large scale or complex productions
- Guarantee for touring internationally after opening
- An extended life of the production – opening to new touring markets
- A more committed relationship with presenters
- Access to technical and logistical support from venues
- Access to knowledge on marketing, audience development and PR
- Research and rehearsal spaces offered
- Funding for material that supports the international touring (translations, sub-titling, testimonials etc)
- Access to new markets and new audiences
- International media coverage and profiling on online medias
- Prestige from positioning/branding as being international in scope
- Feeling of understanding local and global discourse
- Internal value for the company of appreciating the ventures done together
For the artistic development/collaborations
- Work with international collaborators with distinct aesthetic/practice
- Association with international reputed peers
- Provocation and stimulation that refreshes own aesthetics
- Experiments away from home audience
- Exchange of skills and ideas
- Acquiring new skills/techniques for future productions
- Experience of intercultural and interdisciplinary exchange
For the presenter
- Closer relationship with high profile or innovative artists
- Presenting new and differently rooted cultural work to local audiences
- Relationships with peers in co-producing networks
- Prestige from being part of a club of venues
- Association with projects with a long successful life – important to be credited
- Exposed to new ways of working/producing internationally
- Benefitting from other funding via national or EU funding to projects
Usually it starts with a conversation – an exchange of ideas and expectations. The co-producing partners have usually met or even worked together before the co-production begins. Often this meeting has been facilitated by an intermediary such as a cultural institution or through a network meeting. In most cases there is an established dialogue that precedes the commitment to the co-production. It helps a lot if the partners know each other already well or even better have already collaborated together in a less engaging partnership. For venues or festivals which both present and co-produce, the co-production engagement is often the next stage after they successfully invited or presented the artist or company in their program.
International co-productions are much more complex and challenging than regular productions, therefore it is critical to assess your internal capacity and allocate time and money to sufficiently cover your roles and responsibilities within a project. A co-production engagement is a far reaching engagement that often involves serious investments and risks. It demands a lot of confidence and thrust of the partners in each other and they’d better anticipate (also legally and contractually) possible future crises or unsuccessful results.
Naturally, there will be a number of unforeseen elements to any ambitious co-production process.
These should be considered when planning the project, so that the agreed schedule is as realistic as possible. As a rule, co-productions take time and should be planned thoroughly so it allows each stage to overcome any obstacles and reach its fullest potential.
Due to the complex nature of international co-productions, it is vital to establish clear roles
and lines of responsibility for each partner from the outset. It is important to meet and explore the current capacity of each partner and how their contribution can be expressed in the contract and throughout the process of co-production. It is important also to examine the requirements of the allocated roles, as aspects of jobs commonly assumed to be the same the world over, can be quite different in reality.
It is common to have one lead partner in the co-production, that takes the lead throughout the project, co-ordinating the other partners and acting as sort of hub for communication, dealing with challenges and adjusting roles and responsibilities as the project progresses. The lead partner usually takes an overall responsibility for fundraising, seeking additional grants and other co-producers from their networks. In some cases, the lead producer may carry the financial risk for a co-production, covering costs not achieved through fundraising or, in extreme cases, making a loss.
The role of each contributing artist needs to be clearly mapped and regularly reviewed to avoid conflict in the co-production process. Often the initiating artist becomes responsible for the overall direction of the co-production, assigning different aspects to collaborating artists. It is important to establish protocols for how to select design contributors and other artistic collaborators and to stick to these with clear communication throughout the process.
Contracts and Fees
It is important to create a legally binding contract for every co-production, no matter how strong the informal relationship is between the partners. A contractual agreement should include all co-producing partners, regardless of the stage of creation at which they enter into the co-producing relationship. This ensures that all communication is clear and legal and the expectations of all parties are managed. Be prepared to negotiate in detail and do not neglect the time required to finalise your contract before starting the project.
The contract should be clear about every aspect of the co-producing process and should allocate the roles and responsibilities of each partner throughout the creation, presentation and touring periods. It may be necessary to revisit a contract as a project changes over time. Items to discuss with every partner include practical arrangements and other issues such as: Access to spaces, production meetings, communication, opening/guests, tech requirements, fees/per diems, ticketing, press/PR, touring, rights and royalties, tax issues, social security issues, VISAS and work permits, insurance. Of course we have some advantages working within EU, that will ease some of these issues. Be aware that it becomes much more complicated outside EU – VISA and work permits constitute a large problem with collaborations with 3. World countries because of national regulations.
Depending upon the scale of the co-production project, there may be more than one contract. For example, a complex project could require separate contracts for development of the performance and rehearsals, future touring, workshops and associated activities.
It is important to disclose the overall production budget to all co-producers and to establish from the outset what their contribution entitles them to. For example, additional contributions may be required for supplementary activities such as workshops or talks.
In-kind resources should be included in the budget – such as time in rehearsal and production spaces and staff, press and marketing support, ticketing and sales of collateral products such as DVDs, books or CDs.
When creating your budget for an international co-production, you need to plan well with all partners to ensure that every expense and contingency has been considered.
There are risks for co-producers entering into an agreement with artists to deliver a performance outcome that is not guaranteed. Requirements for presentation on a certain date, technical limitations in the co-producer’s venue and a range of challenges regarding content, quality, casting, language etc. are all unknown at the moment of signing the co-production contract.
Collaborating artists may differ in their cultural approaches to collaboration. They may have distinct and complicated approaches to attributing rights, honouring traditions, seeking permissions etc.
It is easy to underestimate the overall cost of an international co-production. Some logistical aspects, such as the need for international planning meetings are often neglected in the initial budgeting.
Communicate frequently and with cultural sensitivity
Let the partners hear from you and be close to the projects the whole way through, so they feel included. Establish a methodology for checking progress, clarifying confusions and dealing with changes, so you have a plan that can guide you through most challenges. Consider that there might be language barriers, and different ways of communicating based on cultural differences. Be sensitive to conflicts rising and think about your partner’s obstacles.
Do not take for granted things that may be culturally or geographically specific. For example, you may have a completely different approach to rights and royalties in your country. Or you may be used to working for a concentrated six to eight weeks rehearsal period, whereas you find that other collaborating artists work with other schedules.
It may be important to have face-to-face meetings throughout a project, especially if there are unexpected issues. Meet at network gatherings to adjust or use a good online meeting-tool.
There are several really good guide and toolkits for this topic, that we also reference in the above – here are links for them:
Lene Bang & Ása Richardsdòttir: IT STARTS WITH A CONVERSATION – a workshop format that contains lots of advice and exercises to help the conversation get going
International_Coproduction_and_Touring by Guy Cools (PDF) – contains cases and an example of a co-production contract.
International_Coproduction_Manual by IETM & KAMS (PDF) – contains introduction, lots of cases and resources for contracts and financing models