How International Co-Productions Work

How International Co-Productions Work

How International Co-Productions Work

David Zannoni
David Zannoni
4 years ago

Many films come together through the collaboration of several producers. Such collaboration can be between producers from the same country or region, or between filmmakers from different countries.

A specific form of collaboration is the co-production. A big part of non-US films in fact consists of co-productions, especially if the film is produced for international markets. Often this is noticeable as the story takes place across two or more countries, because several languages are spoken, or we recognize actors from different nationalities.

In this article, we will discuss the types of co-productions, how co-production works, what co-production treaties mean, which requirements are applicable for co-productions, the factors to determine co-production partners, and the benefits of setting up a co-production.

How International CoProductions Work

What is a Co-Production?

A co-production can be seen as a joint venture between two or more different production companies for the purpose of producing a film (or in a broader sense, an audiovisual project including also television series, animation projects, and video games).

A co-production can be national – between production companies from the same country – or international, whereby producers from two or more countries team up to co-produce.

Co-production as a production format has been around for a while and may even date back to post-WW2 Europe or earlier.

International film co-production became common in the 50s, 60s, and 70s between mostly Italian, Spanish, and French production companies. Most of the “Spaghetti-western” and “sword and sandal” movies were in fact Spanish-Italian co-productions.

How International CoProductions Work

How Does International Co-Production Work?

There are several ways to classify international co-productions.

From a single producer’s perspective, the co-production can be considered a majority, a minority, or a parity co-production (UNESCO Institute for Statistics).

Another distinction is introduced by Parc: a corporation-led co-production and a state-led co-production.

In practice, I interpret this for all practical purposes, as the distinction between:

  • A commercially viable, equity or debt-financed co-production whereby the nationality of the co-producers as such is irrelevant; as opposed to

  • A government-funded co-production, whereby in practice nationality of the co-producers is key, as it determines the kind of government resources the co-production can tap into in order to finance the production.

Another way of defining co-productions is by making a distinction between an official and a non-official co-production. The difference is whether or not there is a formal inter-government agreement between the countries of the co-producers.

Thus, official co-productions are made possible by agreements between countries. Generally speaking, co-production agreements seek to achieve economic, cultural, and diplomatic goals. For filmmakers, the key attraction of a treaty co-production is that it qualifies as a national production in each of the partner nations and therewith, the production can access multiple benefits that are available to the local film industry in each country.

As stated above, international co-productions also occur outside the framework of official co-productions, for example with countries that do not have an agreement in place, or projects that do not satisfy official co-production criteria.

How International CoProductions Work

Official Co-Production Treaties

An official treaty co-production is a partnership between two production partners that adhere to national or regional government-funded co-production requirements in order to receive the benefits of national status in the countries of both producing partners.

Many countries have bi-lateral or multi-lateral co-production agreements.

Cross-border co-production treaties are multi-party agreements between several countries, often all member countries of an international or intergovernmental organization.

Examples of cross-border co-production treaties are:

  • The Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production *(*Council of Europe), aimed at “promoting the development of multilateral cinematographic co-productions, safeguarding creation and freedom of expression and defending the cultural diversity of the various countries that are party to the Convention”, initially adopted in 1992. Eurimages was established as the cultural support fund of the Council of Europe;

  • The Nordisk Film & TV Fond, established in 1990, and based in Oslo, Norway, with a primary focus on promoting the high-quality film and TV productions in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), by providing support for the financing of feature films, TV fiction/drama series, and creative documentaries; and

  • The Latin American Co-Production Treaty, signed on November 11, 1989, in Caracas, Venezuela, between several Latin American countries formalizing co-production arrangements between them to impulse cross-border Latin American film production. Following amongst others the above-mentioned treaty, The Ibermedia program is co-production initiative between most of the Latin American countries, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Ibermedia provides grants and soft loans.

How International CoProductions Work

Requirements for Co-Production

A film will need to meet certain requirements in order to be acknowledged as an (official) co-production. Such requirements vary per country, region, treaty, or cross border organization, and it is often a mixture of:

  • A cultural test, to qualify nationality
  • Domestic creative and technical participation (cast and crew) in the production
  • A domestic or international distribution deal
  • A significant part of the financing must be in place
  • The co-production partners must be from countries with a bilateral or international co-production treaty in place

Factors to Determine Co-Production Partners

As per Stephen Follows’ research, there are many potential factors that affect whether filmmakers from one country are likely to team up with those of another country.

These factors include:

  • A shared language
  • Culture and historic ties
  • A similar approach to making movies
  • The logistics of moving money, people, and equipment across borders
  • If there are tax breaks or other country-specific benefits on offer
  • The locations, services, and people available in each country

Some nations are much more likely to create co-productions than others. For example, of the top film-producing nations, Belgium has the highest rates of co-productions, with 72% of their films also being from another country.

The countries with the lowest levels of co-productions include India (3%), the Philippines (4%), and Indonesia (6%).

Another example of natural co-production partner choice based on language and historic and cultural ties, is shown by the foreign sources of co-production in Colombia assessed over a number of years: Spain: 61%, Argentina: 8%, Mexico: 7%, Panama: 7%, France: 4% - 83% or more of such sources are from other Spanish speaking countries.

How International CoProductions Work

Benefits of Co-Production

The co-production framework can offer multiple benefits to producers.

The following are the most notable:

  • The ability to pool financial resources (equity from several countries and inclusion in domestic television broadcast quotas, for example)
  • Access to the co-production partner’s government's incentives and funding sources (government-based financial assistance, tax concessions)
  • Access to the partner's domestic market
  • Access to a particular project initiated by the partner
  • Access to desired locations
  • Opportunities to learn from partners


We discussed sorts of co-productions, how co-production functions, bilateral and cross-border co-production treaties, requirements for co-productions, factors to match co-production partners, and benefits of co-production.

Co-productions have been and will continue to be important, and for some counties, even essential instrument for content creation, as part of national production infrastructures.

Without a doubt, international co-production will remain an attractive way of cross-border collaboration and financing of film projects.

Should you like to know more about co-productions, feel free to reach out!

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About the Author

David Zannoni

David Zannoni

Business Affairs Consultant, Business Development/Sales

I have been working in film and TV since 2007, as an international consultant, representative and executive producer. I run my consultancy firm Zannoni Media and am consultant for North America for Freeway Entertainment, global leader in collection account management and escrow services for the inte...

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