Changes at the CMF: an interview with Janine Steele

Changes at the CMF: an interview with Janine Steele

June 13, 2024

On March 6, 2023, the Canada Media Fund announced the addition of Janine Steele to its team. Valerie Creighton, President and CEO of the CMF, said: “With her help, we will continue to find unique and exciting opportunities to serve the interactive digital media industry.”

How was Janine Steele going to tackle this major challenge?

We caught up with her to answer that question, but also to find out more about her background, her first year on the job, and how the CMF’s programs will be enhanced in 2024.

*The following interview has been edited for readability and femininity.

You were appointed Director, Interactive Digital Media, in March last year. Can you tell us a bit about your background before joining the Canada Media Fund?

I’ve worked in the field for almost 20 years, both at the provincial and federal levels. I had a lot of experience in developing grant programs and administering funds, albeit for much smaller sums.

Also, in my role at the National Film Board, I’ve worked on the production side. I like to think I understand what producers are going through on the ground, and I try to evolve our policies at the CMF to support the work they do. 

How was your first year at the FMC?

It’s been an exciting year! It’s a very influential organization, both in Canada and around the world. There are only a handful of public funders who invest heavily in interactive media. That’s why I don’t take this responsibility lightly. 

My main goal is to make the funding process more in tune with the way producers and creators work. So I’ve tried to look at what works, what doesn’t, and where we can start to implement changes that support the industry.

What are the most important changes concerning interactive digital media programs for 2024?

We’ve restructured and reformatted our program tree, eliminating the terms “convergent” and “experimental”. We’re now focusing more on the “linear” and “interactive digital media” axes. In fact, these changes are intended to better reflect the current reality. The forms and genres that were once considered “experimental” are no longer so. They constitute an important sector and industry that has the full support of the CMF. 

If you think about how the information is presented, there have also been changes. In total, we have between 25 and 30 programs at the FMC, and several policies are common to all of them. We have therefore grouped these guidelines into three main modules of core guidelines: two on the linear side (development and production) and one for interactive digital media. In addition, there are specific guidelines for each program.

As far as interactive digital media are concerned, there have been no major changes to our programs. We continue to exchange with the Quebec Video Game Guild, Xn Québec and members of the Canadian Interactive Alliance to assess the needs of the industry. In general, the programs are extremely popular, and we don’t want to change what is not broken. Discussions are ongoing with the government and with our Board of Directors, with a view to having more money at our disposal to develop new programs.

That said, there have been a few minor changes. We have three selective programs and one “first come, first served” program. For the selective programs, decisions are made on the basis of an evaluation grid, which includes a number of points relating to cultural and social responsibilities. In this respect, we have changed the way we evaluate narrative positioning. Specifically based on feedback from the industry, we made the evaluation more objective, and less subjective, by adding the delivery of a Community Engagement Plan. We want the projects we support to be carried out responsibly and without prejudice, particularly when they involve people from vulnerable communities. Also, for IDM projects, this can include engagement with communities in the intended audience, marketing and release of the project, not just in the production of the content.

We’ve also added points for the delivery of a Sustainability Plan. We want to encourage the digital media industry to be ahead of the curve in terms of adopting environmentally sustainable best practices in IDM.

With regard to the innovation and experimentation program, the definition of “innovation” seems to have changed. Can you tell us more?  

This is just a small clarification. Our vision of innovation in the program has always been innovation in all its forms.

That said, when we took a closer look at our evaluation criteria, we noticed that the wording specified the use of innovative technologies. So we wanted to make sure it was clear that we are open to innovation in the broadest sense of the word. This includes novel and sophisticated approaches to storytelling, made possible by new technologies.

Speaking of innovation… I noticed that the CMF has also established guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence

Yes, AI is undoubtedly a huge disruptive force. The FMC is in a position where it wants to listen, learn and make sure that it encourages innovation, without limiting its possibilities. It’s also important to protect people, especially in the creative sector.

That’s why we’ve drawn up a set of guiding principles for this year. It was our duty to follow the demands of industry and government regulations. We’re not trying to lead the conversation on the subject. We’re trying to be cautious and reflect what’s happening in reality.

We just want to say to our candidates: “if you work with generative AI, make sure you use it responsibly and ethically, and be transparent about its use”. Starting this year, all applicants who apply at the final production stage of their project will be asked to disclose the use of generative AI in the completed work.

Interactive digital media programs include video games and immersive experiences. How do you compare these two types of project?

We encourage the use of the technology that best fits the story or experience you’re trying to create. I think our programs reflect this desire to be form agnostic.

We make a very concerted effort to ensure that the juries who evaluate these programs are representative of both sides of the industry.

We don’t necessarily expect the numbers for an XR project to be the same as for a full-scale video game. Rather, it’s a question of assessing how you’ll be able to achieve your own objectives. In other words, are your targets realistic for the type of project you’re doing, and what actions will you take to reach them? 

At the end of the day, I’d say that historically, 70-75% of our funding has gone to traditional video games, and the other 30% to immersive XR projects and software applications. So we continue to see them competing within the same program and achieving good results. For example, the CMF funded The Roaming, by Normal Studios, an interactive immersive experience recently selected for the inaugural Immersive Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. We also supported PHI Centre’s Sex Desire and Data, which just won a NUMIX AWARD for Best In Situ exhibition (International).


Avatar photo   David Lamarre

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