Future of Film Industry in Canada: Will it Pit BC against Ontario & Quebec?

January 24, 2013

The state of film and television in BC is a very controversial subject right now with a lot of people getting very concerned in the local industry.  4000 people showed up yesterday to a North Vancouver movie studio, reinforcing the notion that Hollywood North is having trouble.  The multi-million dollar industry, previously one of the top in the province, is now estimating 90% of people in the BC Film industry are unemployed.

  

Calling on the BC government to update tax incentives to help save the BC film industry, they are saying they need the help to stay competitive. In Ontario, for example, recently increased incentives have pushed Toronto, according to CTV, to a record year for film.  Large studio spaces are re-opening, not sitting empty like Vancouver.  Some are saying the Ontario tax credits are not sustainable, but that BC still needs step up somehow.  (Hollywood Reporter says that other provinces like New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have stopped or lowered their refundable film tax credits.)

CBC news articulates the differences in Canada’s provincial film tax breaks.  In British Columbia films are eligible for a tax credit of 33% of labour costs, while Ontario and Quebec provide an overall 25% credit for all production costs.  “We understand how important it is…” says Bill Bennett, Minister of Cultural Development, “but we are not going to increases the tax credits when there are so many other priorities.” Peter Leitch (president of North Shore Studios and Chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C) says the industry is trying convince the provincial government that it is a manufacturer, which would allow PST exemptions, which Bill Bennett says is a promising idea.

A new Facebook Page Save BC Film states in slightly pointed terms that they are “a place for BC Film Workers to gather and work together to save our industry, giving us a voice that WON’T be deleted”.  This is in response to Christie Clark (the current BC Premier) deleting a number of comments about the topic posted to her Facebook page.  Global News confirmed this, saying that “During the weekend a flurry of messages flooded onto the premier’s Facebook page, most of them from unemployed or soon to be unemployed workers in the film industry.  Then suddenly they were all deleted: about 800 messages.”  Save BC Film joined facebook on Jan 12, 2013, and already has 5,069 ‘likes’, so it sounds like people are listening!

There is also a SAVE BC FILM  petition calling on the provincial government to create or improve tax incentives (non-specific) for film in BC to remain competitive.  They quickly reached their goal of 25,000 signatures and have increased it to 30,000, all of which are destined for Christy Clark’s desk.

Actor and Producer Mark Wahlberg is throwing his weight behind Canadian film, though he doesn’t specify Vancouver over Toronto.  He told The Globe and Mail “We are really trying to encourage the government to reinstate these tax incentives to bring film and cinema back to Canada”.

There are a few contentious points overall, some illustrated in the wording of the petition fineprint: “We need your support. Without it, you jeopardize not only our industry standards, but our livelihoods as well leaving many of us with no alternative but to draw upon social programs like employment insurance and welfare.”  If you read the online comments on numerous online articles from readers not in film, there seems to be a genuine trend, of “why should they get a tax break when my life/job sucks too!” It oversimplifies the issue, but in an industry where appearances can make or break you, perception of the public matters.

On the flip side, some (including minister Bill Bennett) worry that the majority of talented and skilled workers in the province will simply pack up and leave, taking their cinematic dreams with them.  In a live chat from B.C. Almanac on CBC, Sandra Montgomery, one of the organizers of Save BC Film, says “there is a misconception that we want a hand-out from the government. We don’t. When a production comes here and wants to spend $100 mil on a movie… that adds up to a HUGE amount of tax they are giving to our government. They just need the tax to be reduced so that they can put that money into the movie which means spending it on wages, .. support businesses etc.”

Current BC film tax credit information can be found here if you want to get some details for yourself.

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