As promised in 2004, Telus Corp.’s funding programs for content producers have been streamlined and reintroduced in partnership with director Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre.   The Telus Innovation Fund will provide up to $100,000 per project for three projects drawn from the film, television and new media production communities. However, says Caitlin O’Donovan, one of the fund’s managers, "we’re not beholden to one film, one TV, one new media. If there’s a very strong new media group, perhaps two of them get funding a maximum of $100,000 per project. But, we’re very excited to see what the industry is pushing forward, and what’s innovative and happening." Previously, Telus sponsored three separate funds – the Telus Broadcast, New Media, and New Media Learning funds – administered by its Telus Foundation, a charitable organization set up by the telco to administer its production funding commitments. However, the Telus Foundation was limited to servicing production projects from British Columbia and Alberta, the two provinces where the corporation was founded, and where, until recently, it held a monopoly on telecommunications services provision. The decision to transfer the fund from the Telus Foundation to the CFC was announced late in 2004 (CNM, Dec. 6/04). At the time, Telus had committed to a $3-million endowment to kickstart the fund and help finance its activities. Other particulars of the deal included changing the name of one of the buildings at the CFC’s north Toronto campus to the Telus Studio, and creating an educational component called the Telus Interactive Art and Entertainment Program within the CFC’s Habitat New Media Lab. With convergence between more established forms of audio-visual production and emerging digital media finally gathering steam, one might think that it would be hard to determine which of the three silos a project might fall into. But CFC executive director Slawko Klymkiw says such distinctions are far less important than the strength of the content itself, and may even prove an obstacle to recognizing a truly innovative effort. "Our sense is, whatever projects we pick, they inevitably are going to cross all those lines," he says. "What we’re looking for here is innovation…as defined as a kind of content that isn’t going to replicate in some ways…the kinds of things you already see." Even approaching the task of evaluating entries with a pre-set checklist for "innovation" is problematic, Klymkiw continues. "We were very careful not to overly define this fund – we could actually define it so much that inevitably our criteria becomes the definition of innovation, and we actually didn’t want to do that," he says. "We simply thought that the industry itself, the creators out there, needed to have as much scope as possible. In my job at the CBC before this, and a few other things I’ve done, I almost got tired of the word ‘innovation’ – I don’t know what it means. And, it is often put on every boiler-plate set of objectives you see in your life." However, the fund will be looking for projects that aren’t derivative of existing offerings, while at the same time presenting a strong and sustainable business case. While other sources of funding have adopted more of an "art-for-art’s-sake" stance, Klymkiw feels it’s important for the Telus Innovation Fund to emphasize the potential for profitability. "Unless you’re just going to be a theoretical lab – and there are places for that, and there are schools that sort – I think we are doing both our funders and our students a disservice if we don’t have a commercial component as part of the criteria," he says. The emphasis on business viability is understandable, Klymkiw notes, in light of its leading role in the strong pedagogical approach the centre offers through its Habitat New Media Lab. "Habitat has historically been very clear that they’re out there providing programs and creating prototypes and putting courses together that are inevitably going to have a strong business plan attached to them, and are inevitably going to be sustainable," he notes. "We have to be in the sustainable business: when we have writers and producers and directors in this place, we want them to go out there and create content that is sustainable." According to the fund’s guidelines, all entries must be "content based with a narrative focus, but must not fall within categories of news, reporting, and actualities or sports." However, O’Donovan says, the main purpose of the stipulation is to avoid committing funds to the kinds of projects that film and television studios would normally undertake and fund themselves. "So, if you’re doing a documentary and it involves real footage of people involved in those activities, that’s very different than paying for a film crew to go and document," she says, explaining why the latter would likely not meet the criteria. The fund is also skewed towards small and mid-sized businesses, with priority given to those entries hailing from firms with no more than 40 employees and less than $4 million in annual revenues. "Often the smaller companies have just incredible creative chops," says Klymkiw, explaining the rationale for the SMB focus. "Not that big companies don’t, but as companies get bigger they become a lot more consumed with stock, shareholder value, infrastructural issues and generally running a company." While Telus’ name is on the funding that content projects will benefit from, there is no exclusivity or ownership of the content. "Obviously we’re working very closely with them, and they have representatives on our steering committee. But, we haven’t defined any kind of distribution deal or partnership for our customers," O’Donovan says. Conditions on copyright ownership and other similar issues plagued the old Telus Foundation funds in the past: Toronto’s Marblemedia rejected funding from the New Media Learning fund for its Deafplanet.com project after Telus restricted the firm’s ability to pursue additional funds elsewhere for subsequent seasons (CNM, Nov. 7/03). With such missteps in the past, Klymkiw isn’t ruling out the possibility that the telco might someday look to become a partner in the productions it funds through the Telus Innovation Fund. "My view is that inevitably they’re going to look for leverage, because it’s important to them when they make these investments to see, even theoretically, other things that make sense for their business," he says. "We haven’t had that talk with them, but my own guess is that talk will take place one day. It seems to with everybody….If they see something that is interesting, I suspect they might want to invest in it." As with other similar funds such as the Bell Fund, television- or broadcast-based projects will require a partner with a broadcast licence. The fund’s first deadline for expressions of interest is February 27; so far, O’Donovan and colleague Gillian Stanton have fielded more than 150 inquiries about the fund, and accepted two expressions of interest in the first 24 hours alone. "I think we’ve received interest from all across the board, and from all across the country," O’Donovan says.