By George Heyman
British Columbia became known as Hollywood North in the late 1970s, when rapidly growing foreign film production built infrastructure and developed experienced, well-trained crews to work in our province. To promote our talent, beautiful locations and proximity to Los Angeles, we established our first film development office in 1977.
Today as the industry is faltering, with skilled workers following their jobs to other provinces, the B.C. Liberal government continues to stall, claiming that little is really known about the industry’s economic benefits. Yet a new study (commissioned by the Motion Picture Association – Canada and the Canadian Media Production Association, and conducted by Nordicity) has quantified this economic benefit across the economy. It makes an undeniable case for government action to support and strengthen B.C.’s film and television industry.
By any measure, the B.C. film and television industry has been hugely successful. By 2000, B.C. exceeded the billion-dollar mark in production. In 2002, the province led Canada in foreign film production with 44 per cent of the total.
This growth was significantly fuelled by tax credits for labour costs — credits first granted to the industry by a New Democrat government. But in 2009, Ontario and Quebec significantly raised the value of their tax credits — aggressively pursuing, and successfully luring, film and television production work from B.C.
In 2011, B.C. fell behind Ontario for the first time since 2004 — from first place overall in Canadian production, and third in North America behind New York and Los Angeles. And in the year ending March 31, 2012, B.C. saw a $134 million drop in production and lost 3,500 film-related jobs — while Ontario gained $450 million of new production and almost 8,000 jobs. North Shore Studios, which accounts for about 20 per cent of B.C. film production, reported their worst first quarter ever in 2013, 35 per cent below last year’s production.
Just last week, Fox announced it was moving the filming of its Fantastic Four reboot from Vancouver to Louisiana to take advantage of its more attractive tax breaks.
The Nordicity study reaffirms what the industry and its supporters have always known: that the industry is a boon to local economies, generating support and jobs for a multitude of local small businesses and suppliers, new construction and film-induced tourism. In addition, significant tax revenue flows to provincial and federal governments.
The study found that the film and television industry generated $20.4 billion in Canadian economic activity in 2011. This translated to 262,700 full-time jobs. While these figures are for Canada as a whole, B.C.’s share of production in 2011 was 27 per cent and applying this figure to national totals gives us a good picture.
The industry also contributed $2.65 billion in provincial taxes — 27 per cent is over $700 million. In contrast, B.C. granted $288 million in tax credits for film and television production last fiscal year.
Now that there are hard numbers that demonstrate an even greater overall economic and clear jobs benefit than previously assumed for film and television, the case is clear. We must ensure this source of green, sustainable, well-paying B.C. jobs regains its competitive position in North America and continues to thrive.
Finance minister Mike de Jong has refused to consider bringing B.C. tax credits closer to Ontario and Quebec’s, instead proposing to develop an inter-provincial position on credits. But there is no incentive for the other provinces to have this discussion when they are winning the battle to attract productions. De Jong’s counterparts in Ontario and Quebec have already rejected this idea, pointing out that they also have to compete internationally.
British Columbia-based production companies are building a creative, sustainable industry in the province by developing content as good as any in the world. By offering these companies greater support we add to the stability of B.C.’s creative economy by ensuring that decisions about where to shoot film and television shows are made here in B.C.
Without action now, we risk losing trained and skilled crews as they leave B.C. and take their families with them to locations where they can find work. We risk losing infrastructure if idle sound stages are sold or leased away. Our crews and infrastructure have been built with significant investment over many years, and they are a big part of B.C.’s attractiveness as Hollywood North.
We cannot afford to lose an industry that supports so many workers and small businesses. The film and television industry’s hugely important contribution to B.C.’s economy is now clearly documented. It’s time for this government to take a second look at the state and value of our film and television industry, and reconsider its stance on the tax credits that helped the industry thrive.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.