Editorial: Saving Hollywood North

Vancouver and B.C. in general have been major contributors to the film industry for some time. Pick a blockbuster off the shelf at Pic-A-Flic and chances are you can recognize a B.C. landmark, whether it’s Britannia Mine standing in for an alien lab in The X-Files or the heart-pumping ’80s car chase through Vancouver’s waterfront district in Shoot to Kill. But in light of the current economic climate and rampant cost-cutting, the much-vaunted Hollywood North is at risk.

B.C. has a number of natural advantages that have made it a hotbed for filmmaking over the past several decades. Our proximity to Los Angeles and shared time zone allow for easier and cheaper communication and travel, and though we might revile our oft-overcast weather, it makes for great light diffusion. We also have well-trained and experienced crews with decades of filmmaking chops.

But we now live in an atmosphere of low budgets and tight spending, and our comparatively low rate of provincial government subsidies for film is driving many productions east or south. The Globe and Mail reports that productions in Vancouver have been on the decline for three years now, and that up to 90 per cent of film production staff in the city might be facing unemployment.

It used to be that the Canadian dollar’s low value was a boon to U.S. industry, but now that the dollar is stronger, both Ontario and Quebec have increased their film subsidies to compensate. B.C. subsidies are not as generous; we offer a 33 per cent tax incentive on only labour, while those two provinces offer a 25 per cent rebate on all spending — and states like Louisiana offer up to a 30 per cent film tax credit in addition to a five per cent labour tax credit. These tax credits appear to now be the most critical element for deciding where to film a show or movie; B.C. political columnist Bill Tieleman tells a story on his blog of an L.A. producer who would happily shift a $2-million TV movie from Vancouver to Toronto just to get an extra
$10 000 in credits.

It would cost a lot to match the incentives given by the larger provinces, and we shot ourselves in the foot by doing away with HST, which, according to Peter Leitch, the chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C., will prevent filmmakers from claiming as many of the expenses as they could previously.

As concern builds for the B.C. film industry’s future, calls have been made not just for monetary aid, but also for political aid. One of the industry’s problems is that it isn’t consistently protected by a specific ministry. Now, the industry just wants one ministry to govern it — one that doesn’t yet exist. Film industry members are calling for a ministry to deal with the creative sector.

Adrian Dix is one politician who’s on board, saying that such a ministry is a good idea. He’s even flown down to Los Angeles to advocate on behalf of the B.C. film industry. And the industry better hope it does some good, because it doesn’t sound like B.C. Premier Christy Clark plans to throw any more money at it any time soon. She says that a tax credit that’s any higher than the existing annual $285-million one would be unsustainable.

This is a tough situation for British Columbians. On one hand, the film industry represents so much potential in terms of income, job creation and creative output. But does letting the industry skip out on a third of its taxes make sense when producers are willing to leap from one location to another just to keep costs down?

Where’s the loyalty?

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