ESIO reveals how it will spend part of rejigged fund

· The Pulse

The Edmonton Screen Industries Office is now spreading the word on three new streams of funding as part of its $4-million Strategic Initiatives Fund for capacity-building.

"It's the spark that's starting the engine; it's not the fuel that's going to run the engine," ESIO CEO Tom Viinikka told Taproot the day after unveiling the new fund at CKUA on Sept. 27. "We're trying to buy fishing rods, not fish, and those fishing rods should be able to be used for decades after this."

The three new streams account for $1 million of the $4 million in the fund's portfolio. They are called the Elevation Program, for "a significant step forward in the career of the producer" of a film or TV project; the Early Stage Program, for short films and game concepts by fresh talent; and the Underrepresented Initiatives Program, for non-profits working to improve diversity and equity across screen industries.

The fund began as the Edmonton Screen Media Fund in 2018 and was previously focused on projects expected to result in a return on investment. Council approved the change in name and focus earlier this year. "Our goal is not to make money," Viinikka told Taproot ahead of the vote in February. "It's to make an industry that then makes money."

The ESIO, an arm's-length body established by the City of Edmonton in 2017, has a goal to grow the value of the Edmonton region's screen industries to $300 million in the long term and to $100 million in the medium term. Viinikka estimated their current value at $30 million to $40 million, depending on levels of activity in production.

"Money attracts money," Viinikka said. "That's what the SIF needs to be, it needs to be helping something happen that otherwise wouldn't happen."

That logic applies particularly to the Elevation stream. Applicants can receive up to 10% of a project's total budget, to a maximum of $100,000. The hope is that this spurs investment by additional parties.

Four smiling people in business attire pose in front of a banner reading "ESIO."]

(From left) Edmonton Screen Industries Office board chair Peggy Garrity, CEO Tom Viinikka, Coun. Keren Tang, and Coun. Jo-Anne Wright attended the announcement of the ESIO's latest funding streams on Sept. 27. (Supplied)

The name change is important to Viinikka because it helps communicate that the ESIO wants to help the industry grow, not turn a short-term profit or focus on just individual projects.

"We really wanted to make sure that that people felt the difference in what we're trying to do, and that we're trying to make a bigger impact," he said.

Unlike funding opportunities offered by the province or Telefilm Canada, the Strategic Initiatives Fund was designed not to be replenished. It is meant to be spent by 2029.

"The city doesn't have endless money for us to spend on something like this," Viinikka said. "Hopefully, I can come back four years from now and say, 'Hey, look at what's happened, and look at the benefit that has come from this.' Maybe then there's another thing that we can spark or start, and if so, then maybe we would have an ask for that."

Applications for the funds are not yet open. Information sessions on the Underrepresented Initiatives Program and the Elevation Program take place on Oct. 11 and 18, respectively. Similar events for the Early Stage Program will follow towards the end of the year and/or in early 2024.

More programs will be announced in the coming months. The report ESIO submitted to council suggests those programs may focus on things like infrastructure or attracting foreign productions to Edmonton, though Viinikka said their exact scope is still to be determined.