B.C. government signals possible changes to help film industry
January 24, 2013
Facing mounting pressure from a vocal film community, Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett cracked open the door Wednesday for the possibility of changes that could help the industry.
Speaking in an interview, Bennett continued to play down the possibility of any immediate increases to the province’s estimated $285 million in annual film-related tax credits, but he said other solutions are in the works.
“I have some irons in the fire that I think will help in the short term,” said Bennett, adding he plans to announce a new policy change as early as next week “that will be well received by the industry.”
“I have some longer term things that I’m working with the industry on, and we’ll keep working with them until we figure out how we can ensure that the industry will stay in British Columbia,” he added.
“Our government believes we are at a place where we just can’t justify additional incentives. So we’re really working hard to try to find things we can do that will make a difference.”
Among the measures, Bennett said, was a committee he agreed to form Tuesday night between government officials and members of the film industry. He said the goal of the committee would be to determine the exact costs and benefits of the film subsidies for the province.
Bennett said government numbers now show the province loses revenue for every job created in the film industry, making it hard for the industry to make a case for any significant increases to the tax credits.
But, Bennett added, those numbers may be wrong.
“My intuition is that is probably not accurate, but the information that we have makes it looks like it’s accurate,” he said, adding there are irregularities in how some data is collected that may need to be corrected.
He said the committee will come together soon, and its work could help the industry if it determines the benefits are more than current numbers suggest.
“If we could show that we are not buying these jobs, it would be helpful,” he said.
Bennett’s comments come amid a high-stakes back-and-forth with the film community, and on the eve of an election that Premier Christy Clark wants to make about job creation and the economy.
On Tuesday night, about 3,000 workers in the B.C. film community gathered at a rally at North Shore Studios to express their concerns and seek public attention.
Chris Fritzsche delivered 1,500 bumper stickers and about 2,000 posters to the rally, and he was printing more all day Wednesday.
“We’re just going to kind of keep doing it until we don’t have to do it any more,” said Fritzsche, who is paying costs out of his own pocket.
The owner of Fritzworks boutique sign shop said 80 per cent of his work comes from the film industry, printing signs, decals and scenic backdrops seen in shows.
Lighting technician Milton Loo helped set up the stage for the rally and said he intends to keep taking action ?— including phoning reporters — until the message is heard. His colleagues were filming a series public service announcements Wednesday to further the cause.
“We think this is a battle of public opinion and we need residents of B.C. to support us,” Loo said.
There’s a misconception that film industry folk are “rich Hollywood types” seeking subsidies, he said.
“I’m not even a filmmaker. I’m a film worker. A lot of us are blue-collar types,” Loo said.
Peter Leitch, Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. chair and president of North Shore Studios, said the premier needs to take the issue seriously.
“She is supportive of this industry, there is no doubt about that. She wants to balance the budget. I understand that. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to balance the budget if a lot of people are out of work.”
Leitch said he expects to release an economic report within a week or two that shows how the film industry is revenue positive for B.C.
“We”re just interested in continuing the dialogue…. I don’t think we’ve done a good job of showing the benefits of the industry ….”
Vancouver-based first assistant director Lee Cleary started a grassroots movement two weeks ago when he challenged Facebook friends to post comments on the premier’s Facebook page. “I just put out that I may be misinformed, but I am under the impression that 80 to 90 per cent of my colleagues are unemployed right now. Where are you? Where are your voices?” Cleary said. “I said, here’s her page. Let’s tell her.”
About 400 industry workers responded, and when their comments were deleted from Clark’s page, it became the impetus that led to Tuesday’s rally.
Cleary wants B.C. to fully match incentives in Ontario and Quebec. “Anything less than equalling the tax incentives of Ontario and Quebec is nothing less than being naive,” he said.
Bennett said he was at Tuesday night’s rally, and understands the concerns of people in the industry.
“The folks at the meeting (Tuesday) night were largely folks who are worried about their jobs or worried about their small businesses,” he said.
“It’s a legitimate thing for them to do to say publicly, ‘I’m concerned about my job, I’m concerned about my small business.’ There’s nothing wrong with that and I don’t blame them for doing that.”
But, he said, he does not think the solution is to add what he estimates would be an extra $100 million in subsidies by directly matching the programs that are available in Ontario.
“The public shouldn’t be expected to subsidize one industry way more than … other industries,” he said.
Premier Christy Clark offered a similar message.
“It may be that over the years you’ll see other jurisdictions fighting to get to the very, very bottom in terms of taxpayer support for the industry, but much of that work will still be done here in British Columbia because this is where we’re training the talent,” she told reporters in Vancouver.
“I have sat down with members of the film industry and talked to them about where we plan to go and what we plan to do,” she continued.
“As I said, $285 million in tax credits from the citizens of this province is a very generous amount of support in very tough economic times.”
New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix could not be reached for comment Wednesday, as he was in Los Angeles.
A news release said Dix was there to discuss “current challenges facing B.C.’s film and television sector, and how to restore B.C. as a thriving production centre within North America ….”
It was a trip Bennett called “grandstanding.”
“Everyone he needs to talk to is right here in Vancouver,” said Bennett.
Source: Times Colonist