Ferns Productions brings high-quality programming to world markets

Portrait of Pat

Pat Ferns has produced some of Canada’s finest award-winning programming and the world’s leading media events. Pat presents his signature pitching sessions worldwide. Called “the father of independent production”, in 2006 he was awarded the Order of Canada. Pat is a Principal in the International Institute for Television Leadership, providing executive training and strategic consultation around the world. Pat is consultant to the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival, the CNEX Chinese Doc Forum and the China International Conference of Science & Education Producers.

Pat is President of Ferns Productions Inc. and a Principal of the International Institute for Television and Media Leadership. He is the Overall Planner and International Consultant to the CNEX Chinese Documentary Forum. He also consults to the China International Conference of Science and History Producers. For the past 16 years he has been the Host/Moderator of CoPro in Tel Aviv. Over the past decade he guided the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival, China to become the country’s official national documentary event. Ferns was instrumental in the launch and development of RomaFictionFest.

During his career, Ferns has produced some of the world's leading television and new media industry events. These include the Banff Television Festival, the World Congress of Science Producers, the World Congress of History Producers, the World Congress of Arts Producers & Performance, nextMEDIA-The International New Media Festival, News World International and the Alliance Atlantis Banff Television Executive Program as well as IITL’s Media Executive Leadership Programs in Asia, Australia and Europe.

In 2004, Ferns launched Ferns Productions Inc., focusing on blue chip factual mini-series, the first being a four-hour Australia-Canada co-production Captain Cook: Obsession and Discovery, which was produced by Ferns’ son Andrew, winning the Leo Award as Best Documentary Series and the Gemini Award as Best History Program. Pat and Andrew’s most recent collaboration is Darwin’s Brave New World, another award-winning drama-documentary co-production with Australia. In 2010, Ferns Productions also had a strategic alliance with CultureLink Media of Beijing for whom Pat wrote China’s Hollywood.

Pat was born in Winnipeg in 1945 and educated in England, graduating from Cambridge University, with a First Class Honours Degree in Economics. He was elected to the Wrenbury Scholarship and went on to complete his M.Soc.Sc. at Birmingham University. He returned to Canada in 1968 to join the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In 1972, Pat Ferns and Richard Nielsen left the CBC to form an independent production company, Nielsen Ferns Limited, which, in 1976, was acquired by Torstar Corporation. Nielsen Ferns produced such series as A Third Testament, with Malcolm Muggeridge, Cities (with John McGreevy Productions) and the Newcomers/Les Arrivants. Ferns was Executive Producer on Portraits of Power (with the New York Times) and two series featuring Gerald Durrell, The Stationary Ark and Ark on the Move. Other specials included Karen Kain: Ballerina and Lynn Seymour: in a class of her own.

During the 1970’s the possibility of an independent production industry emerged. Pat Ferns was a leader in its development, particularly through his activities at the Canadian Film and Television Association from 1977 to 1981. He was instrumental in lobbying for and in the creation of an independent production department within the CBC and for acceptance of independent production by private broadcasters. His arguments in front of the CRTC and other representations have been credited with sowing the seeds from which the Broadcast Fund of Telefilm Canada was born. As a result of these efforts, commentators have referred to him as “the father of independent production” in Canada. During his time as President of CFTA, he also made the first steps towards the combining of various television awards in Canada, a movement which culminated in the creation of the Gemini Awards and the expansion of the Academy of Canadian Cinema to include television.

In 1981, Ferns and Nielsen left Nielsen-Ferns to form a new company, Primedia Productions Limited. In early 1985, Nielsen left Primedia to pursue his writing career and Pat Ferns took over the company.

Among Ferns’ drama credits for Primedia are Billy Bishop Goes to War, Countdown to Looking Glass, The First Circle, Frontier, Glory Enough for All, Going Home, Heaven on Earth, Labour of Love, Lifeline to Victory, Love on the Run, Northwood, Passion and Paradise, The Sea Wolf, Stage on Screen, Waiting for the Parade and Young Catherine.

Primedia’s arts programs include the ballets Alice, Big Top, La Ronde, The Merry Widow, Newcomers and Onegin; the operas La Boheme, The Makropulos Case and Tosca; as well as numerous arts specials including Karen Kain: Prima Ballerina.

Primedia continued Ferns’ association with Gerald and Lee Durrell in three natural history series: The Amateur Naturalist, Durrell in Russia and Ourselves and Other Animals. His documentary credits include The Life Revolution, Brain Sex, Born Talking with Jonathan Miller and Return Journey. Subsequently, he executive produced Dinosaur! with Walter Cronkite, Blood and Belonging with Michael Ignatieff, and Anatomy of Love with Helen Fisher.

During this period he developed a stronger presence for independently produced Franco-Ontarian material, in particular with TFO. The first series, a collaboration with Les Productions du Sept Avril, was Transit 30/50.

Comedia Productions was formed in 1987 as a cooperative venture with Don Taffner of DLT Entertainment, one of the most innovative producers of situation comedy in the United States. In its first two years of operation Comedia produced over 150 hours of high-quality entertainment programming.

In 1989, Primedia formed partnerships with Annette Cohen in the creation of Primedia Pictures, Montreal filmmaker Claude Heroux in Primedia/Heroux Productions and Nick Orchard in Vancouver in Soapbox Productions. In 1991, a distribution venture Primedia Releasing was added to the Primedia Entertainment Group.

In 1994, Primedia was purchased by P.S. Production Services. Pat Ferns then executive produced The Transatlantic Sessions for BBC and Global Television and The Fifties, a seven-hour documentary series for Disney and CTV. This was his last independent production of his “first career”, as, in 1995, he joined the staff of the Banff Television Festival.

During the 80’s and 90’s Ferns had served as a volunteer Board member, and subsequently for 5 years, as Chairman of the Banff Television Foundation. Under his leadership, the Banff Television Festival emerged as one of the major world-class festivals on the television scene. He was appointed an Honorary Director for life in recognition of his contributions to the Festival.

From 1996 to 2004 Ferns served as President and CEO of the Banff Television Foundation, during which time he doubled attendance and fundraising, and created several new events staged around the world, as well as a unique, highly regarded leadership course for senior executives in the media industries. Following a financial and organizational restructuring, he was appointed President Emeritus and joined the new management team under CEO Robert Montgomery, whose company had acquired a long-term license to present the Banff Television Festival and other events.

Pat Ferns’ industry activities during the Primedia years included the founding of the Association of Canadian Film and Television Producers. He became its first Co-President in 1984.

Among his national and international awards, Pat Ferns was the first recipient of Canada’s prestigious Chetwynd Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement (with Richard Nielsen), and was awarded the 1987 winner (with Allan Kroeker) of the Quebec/Alberta Prize. In 1990, Ferns was awarded a Personal Achievement Award by the newly formed Canadian Film and Television Production Association. In 1989, Primedia was associated with the sweep of the Geminis by Glory Enough for All (the Gemstone-Primedia collaboration, winning nine awards) and Passion and Paradise. Other Geminis followed including Young Catherine and Letter From Wingfield Farm. Pat Ferns earned Emmy nominations for Newcomers and Onegin, the ACTRA Award for Best Television Program for Billy Bishop, a main prize at Padua for Bold Steps and both First Prize at the Venice Film and Television Festival and the Ace Award in the United States for Best Dramatic Special for Countdown to Looking Glass. Heaven on Earth won the Chris Award in Columbus and Gold at Houston. Northwood won the Award of Excellence from the Alliance for Children and Television. In 1989, The Life Revolution won the Science in the Media (Television) Award from British Association Promoting Science and Technology for the Best Science Program of the Year. Other documentary awards include an ACE Award for Dinosaur!, Gold in Chicago for Brain Sex, Gold in New York and the Silver Hugo in Chicago for Blood and Belonging.

Pat Ferns is a well-known speaker at events in Canada and internationally. At Banff he created ‘public pitching’. His Market Simulation format will celebrate its 30th Anniversary in 2014. This became an international event at NATPE (’93), MIPCOM (’94) and MIP-TV (’95), and was subsequently picked up or adapted by industry events around the world, including IDFA and Hot Docs. Ferns has moderated pitching events across all media genres on five continents, in over thirty countries and some sixty cities. For the past fifteen years as Host/Moderator for CoPro, the Israel Documentary Screen Market, he has assisted Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers in building a substantial industry. Two of the five Oscar nominees for Best Documentary 2013 emerged from this initiative.

A pioneer both off and on the screen, he continues to fight for a strong Canadian presence in the highly competitive world of television. He was the first Canadian producer on PBS’ prestigious Masterpiece Theatre and on the BBC’s award-winning Screen Two as well as having the first Canadian mini-series on U.S. network television. He served as Television Advisor to both The Canadian Opera Company and The National Ballet of Canada.

Ferns is a member of the Board of Directors of the Victoria Film Festival and a director and Treasurer of the Royal & McPherson Theatres Society. He is a member of the Honorary Circle of the National Ballet School and an Honorary Trustee of Wildlife Preservation Trust Canada.

In 2000 the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television made Ferns only the fifth recipient of the prestigious Academy Achievement Award for “exceptional contribution to the Canadian television industry.”

Ferns was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his contribution to film and the arts in Canada. The Order of Canada is the centrepiece of Canada’s Honours System and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.