Matt Toner: B.C.’s creative industries don’t need more “theatre”

Earlier this week, the B.C. government made a bit of splash with an announcement concerning the inaugural Times of India Film Awards, which will be hosted in Vancouver in April. There will be Bollywood stars at this new event, plenty of photo ops, and the chance for the B.C. Liberals to shine in front of a prized voter demographic.

All for a mere $11-million spend on the part of our government—I’m sorry, but I really can’t quite bring myself to call it an “investment”. This would mean some kind of tangible profit or material result, and that really isn’t the case here.

What we have instead is a direct spend of $11 million for a slushy indirect return that could be as low as $13 million, according to the government’s own figures. We might as well call it what it is: an ad buy.

It’s a cynical move and, as economic policy goes, it’s really just theatre.

Sure, it will be a flashy event and everyone will have a good time on the night. But the province will wake up with an $11-million hangover while we wait for an expected economic return, one that will take years to manifest (whatever its true value).

So let’s cut from this bit of theatre to our own film industry.

On the same day as the government announcement, thousands of under-employed people from across the industry came together in North Vancouver under the banner of Save B.C. Film. Judging from the tenor of those who spoke that night—and I really didn’t hear any dissenting voices—their view is that the B.C. Liberals have fallen asleep in the front row.

The Bollywood announcement made that very morning just added insult to injury. The industry has been stirred and is now counting the days before the upcoming election.

That—if nothing else—has finally gotten the Liberals’ attention. They plan to strike another committee and review the numbers yet again. But we’ve seen this show before: it’s just more theatre and the audience is starting to leave their seats.

I speak from experience when I say that I understand the value the industry brings to British Columbia and the struggles that many now face. I’ve produced a television series here and made games, apps, and other digital extensions for entertainment properties. And I know that the problems confronting our creative industries didn’t pop up overnight—over the past four years, they have begun to multiply.

The good news is that there is still time to reverse this trend. In fact, NDP Leader Adrian Dix and arts and culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert just spent two days in Los Angeles advocating for B.C. film and getting a better understanding of what we need to do to effectively address the issues facing our industry.

We have a terrific talent base in this city, no shortage of production infrastructure, and plenty of people with the business smarts to make it happen. If you have any doubt, take a look at homegrown success stories like Nerd Corps or Thunderbird Films or Next Level Games; I’m sure these folks could put that $11 million to much better use.

But it seems that the B.C. Liberals would rather forgo the actual work required to build our own creative industries and instead just bask in the reflected glory of Bollywood’s best. That’s not an investment and it’s certainly not good economic policy—and it isn’t even good theatre. It’s time for this show to close.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
Actually, Vancouver does need more theatre. The theatre scene here sucks. And we have all this talent. Going begging in LA is stupid--a race to the bottom. It's time to make our own film industry. If you're unemployed in the film industry why not start a film production company? Where's that entrepreneurial spirit?
Rating: +9
I support working people.

These are the Cuurent Tax Credits in BC more than most Industries.

Tax Incentive May Be Stacked:

BC Based: Federal 25% + Film Incentive BC 35% + Distant Regional 18.5% = 78% Tax Credit Rebate (plus D.A.V.E. 17.5%)

Service: Federal 16% + BC Production Services 33% + Distant Regional 12% = 61% Tax Credit Rebate (plus D.A.V.E. 17.5%)

What specific amounts & solutions are you asking for Matt?

At least tell the Tax Payers of BC how much more specifically you want for the Film Industry so that we as Voters can be made fully aware.

Would a 100% Rebate be sufficent than what about small business in BC within other Industries why are they not worthy of the same Rebates as Film?

Matt can you or your Industry provide specific solutions and proposals with hard numbers for Rebate levels requested?

I am no fan of the BC Fieberals they have grossly mismanaged the finances of this fine province.

I am voting for another party other than Crusty and the Fiberals.

Rating: -1
What a joke, the NDP will play patron saint of the Arts to curry votes only to announce that there is no money available to give the "Artistes" what they're demanding. All businesses could benefit from lower taxes, but he's already promised to raise business taxes. What's Adrian hoping for - movie star photo ops? Why should all the rest of us have to pay for that?
Rating: -1
Michael Castanaveras
You lost me at, "I’m sorry, but...". That's whiny teenage girl-voice writing.
Rating: -6
Nerd Corpse is a success story for the owners... What it really is is a sweat shop that prey on the hopeful graduates because that's the only place that will hire nowadays, and their wages are as low as 550 a week.
Rating: -7

It is very difficult to start your own film company here because rent and housing is... well... 2nd least affordable in the world right now.
Rating: -2
Lots of industries and even individuals could use some free government money. What makes the film industry special?
Rating: -1
Rod Haney
The public needs to be educated in the difference between a TAX CREDIT and a SUBSIDY. Far too often the BC Film TAX CREDITS are referred to as subsidies in the media, thus confusing the public.
The tax credits are rebates. $285 million credited back is %33 of the total taxes paid in labor by foreign production companies is rebated to those companies. A major point that is hardly ever made in the media is that in BC vast majority of all the of the tv/film productions made in BC are foreign projects. That is new money being brought into the province. To the tune of $1.2 BILLION annually (on average, until now).
A subsidy would be if the industry were granted the said $1.2 Billion, and only generated $285 million. Big difference!!!
The liberal government can bury their heads in the sand and do nothing and watch all that revenue disappear as it is now going to other jurisdictions. And with it they will see the privately owned and locally built film industry infrastructure and talent in BC disappear.
As a film worker, I am proud of the work we do here. It would be a shame to see all the locally produced TV shows and movies be a thing of the past.
Rating: +6
" If you're unemployed in the film industry why not start a film production company? Where's that entrepreneurial spirit?"

You basically can't start a film production company without some kind of distribution deal. No investor will underwrite a producer without a distributor and there aren't any sizeable domestic distribution companies. Hence, the entire Canadian film production industry relies almost entirely on foreign (and most of that is American) productions.
Rating: -11
It's difficult to start a production company because... Where do I begin.

1) all the Canadian production is done out east because the networks are based there (I'm not gonna explain why this is an issue!).

2) in order to get any production going, one needs to get a broadcast license (see #1 reason!). Without the license, you cannot get to the next level of funding.

3) our Canadian tax system is not very friendly to private investors. An investment into a film or tv production is considered to be a high risk investment (Venture capital investment) so if there is no return on investment, there is also no tax deductions and so the investment becomes a total loss. Hence, why we have Telefilm and the Canadian Media Fund. Plus, those funds are hard to get by (see #1 reason for explanation!).

4) American television networks and film distribution companies are overwhelmingly dominant in English Canada and the US is practicing protectionist policies so it makes it very difficult for Canadian productions to get any traction. In Québec, the film and television industries are profitable as there are networks and the audiences necessary in order to make those profitable. The reason for this; Bill 101!!

Those are some of many more reasons.
Rating: -8
Danman and other,

Thanks for the education. OK, so how do we create film and TV talent in Vancouver that CANNOT be replicated elsewhere? So that they have to come to us?

Because fighting over tax credits makes it clear that we are begging, and the people with the money will just play one side off the other. The point is, we want to negotiate from a position of strength, and we can only do that if our film people are the best in the world. So why not invest in that?
Rating: 0
I thought it was insane the Christy Clark thought bollywood would be lucrative for BC. Did she make some sort of deal we do not know about? It's cute that Bollywood is holding their awards in Vancouver, but why? India is a massive country, billions of talented people to run a film industry, labour is cheap, locations up the yin yang, why would they spend a fortune to film here?
As for Canadians starting their own production companies, how many canadian films have you seen? Almost all the theatres are owned by Cineplex, so they want to maximize profits, and have no time for small independent, foreign or heaven forbid canadian films.
Canadian films are harder and harder to see because of this. They lack funding, have trouble getting distribution so usually have that lack of production value which makes them look sad compared to Hollywood. We've got talent and make great movies, but the money is just not there. Ditto for canadian tv. Because we are so used to watching american tv and movies with high production values, our eyes think canadian film and tv looks bad because it doesn't often have that high polish or whatever it is.
The issue is that Canada does not have the private investment from corporations or individuals to fund a film industry. This is true for most countries so local film makers have to rely on grants, tax breaks etc.. The USA however has many many rich people who like to fund things like the arts and film. Hollywood film and television has a massive pot of magical, possibly laundered money to work with. Some rich people even fund films entirely themselves. Zero Dark Thirty and The Master were funded by one very rich woman.
So, you can see how reliant BC is on Hollywood, and how even if we have a huge pool of talent, facilities and skills, we can't afford to make our own movies.
Rating: 0
Sandra Montgomery
Here's the thing... not only is the 33% a tax rebate on BC labour, that 33% makes up part of the productions budget - in other words, THEY SPEND IT RIGHT BACK HERE... they actually pre-spend it because it takes time to get it back, but that 33% is used to add to the budget of the production... it is SPENT. HERE. So how is that a loss????
Rating: -3
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