Thousands of B.C. film workers filled North Shore Studios Tuesday evening to discuss plans to help save the industry that representatives say is facing rising unemployment.
At the centre of the town hall meeting in North Vancouver was a call for B.C. to entice more film and television productions back to the province as higher tax incentives increasingly draw studios to Ontario and Quebec.
“Unfortunately, one of the reasons we are gathered tonight is that it’s been pretty quiet here in B.C. lately—uncomfortably quiet,” Jackson Davies, the vice-president of the Union of B.C. Performers, told a standing-room only crowd at Stage 7, and an overflow crowd watching by live feed from Stage 1.
A social media campaign was launched this month to give film workers an avenue to share their views on the state of the local motion picture industry. A Facebook page called Save B.C. Film has drawn more than 4,800 likes, and a petition calling for B.C. to change its tax incentives has surpassed 24,000 signatures.
Wayne Bennett, a film producer and organizer of the social media campaign, said the site was set up after close to 800 posts on Premier Christy Clark’s Facebook page from unemployed B.C. film workers disappeared.
“That 24,000 on that petition is a number large enough to show that we cannot be ignored, and we’re not going to be ignored, and the politicians need to hear us and need to recognize that we matter,” said Bennett to cheers from the crowd.
Peter Leitch, the chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of British Columbia, which organized the town hall meeting, said the industry is faced with “what looks like a pretty scary 2013”.
He noted that Ontario and Quebec have both seen an increase in production and employment, while B.C. has faced “empty sound stages [and] growing unemployment”.
Cheryl Nex, the vice-chair of the MPPIA and president of Entertainment Partners Canada, said she’s predicting employment rates will be down at least 40 percent from last year in the first quarter of 2013.
The MPPIA is calling for increased tax incentives to allow B.C.'s production industry to be competitive with Ontario and Quebec, and for a manufacturing exemption on the provincial sales tax, which will return in April.
“Ontario and Quebec have taken advantage of their larger incentives to build more infrastructure and to build on their human capital,” said Leitch. “This additional capacity is now a real threat we are facing in 2013, and that is why it is essential that we had this meeting now and are becoming vocal now. If we lose production, we will lose infrastructure. It will not return.”
Leitch said the organization has a report in the works to outline the economic benefits generated from the production industry in B.C. It also launched a social media campaign Tuesday night intended to highlight the value and contributions of the industry, and the stories of people who work in the creative sector.
“We need to tell our story,” said Garin Josey, an organizer of the new Facebook and Twitter campaign We Create BC. “The richer our story, the more voices that support it, the more we can demonstrate what is truly at stake here, and the better understood our contribution and future potential will be.”
According to Nex, 25,000 people are employed in B.C.’s production industry, and collectively contribute $1.8 billion to the annual economy in B.C. About 85,000 people are employed in the province’s creative industries.
Nex noted that in Ontario, production companies receive a 25 percent tax incentive on every dollar spent, compared to a 33 percent tax credit offered in B.C. for each dollar spent on local labour. She indicated once the PST returns to B.C., that difference will translate to a 12 to 13 percent gap.
“That is a very powerful number and a very meaningful number when you look at the U.S. studio decision-makers and they say where am I going to take this production?” she said in an interview. “And when they can take it to Ontario and have a 12 to 13 percent savings effectively over coming to British Columbia, it’s meaningful.”
Producer and production manager Warren Carr said last year translated to a “four-month year” for him.
“I had one picture go to Toronto, two pictures go to Louisiana, and one to North Carolina—like, $265 million worth of production, because it was just a better price for them over there,” he told the Straight.
He added the industry generates “a stunning amount” of revenue for local businesses.
“I did a movie not that long ago where we did a vendor count—1,100 vendors we did business with, on one movie,” he noted. “That’s in everything from fiberglass to food.”
B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix told reporters outside the town hall meeting that he is meeting with producers at film studios in Los Angeles this week to hear their perspectives on what’s required to sustain the sector.
“We cannot allow short-term considerations in other provinces to permanently damage an industry that’s so valuable to British Columbia,” he said. “That would not happen in other industries. It would not happen in forestry, it would not happen in mining, it cannot happen in film and television and the creative industries.”
Leitch noted that industry representatives met with Bill Bennett, the B.C. minister responsible for film, just before the town hall meeting, and have also met with B.C.’s premier and finance minister on the issue.