Local film industry misses out on money from American filmmakers

JILLIAN MORGAN
@jilliancmorgan

The low Canadian dollar – worth roughly 70 cents US –  has sent U.S. filmmakers to Canadian cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. This dip in the dollar means U.S. filmmakers are saving slightly more than 40 per cent when they film in Canada.

Gary Vermeir, business agent for the local Atlantic Canadian Motion Picture Technicians union, said in an email that U.S. filmmakers are shooting in “places as far flung as Sudbury and Newfoundland. And yet Nova Scotia … has nothing on the books for 2016.” Vermeir attributes this loss to the province’s decision to alter the film tax credit in April 2015.

Sheila Lane, a casting director and former owner of Filmworks, a casting agency in Halifax, closed the doors to her business in December, after 30 years.  She said Nova Scotia has missed out on big money.

“Toronto can’t keep up. Hamilton can’t keep up. Vancouver is licking their lips at the money rolling in … That’s not just employment, that’s cold hard cash coming into an area,” said Lane.

King’s journalism students Sean Mott and Sindi Skenderi film a TV segment (Photos: Jillian Morgan)
King’s journalism students Sean Mott and Sindi Skenderi film a TV segment

Producers of Haven, a five-year TV series shot in Nova Scotia, were set to bring their business back with The Code starring Jason Priestley, but the $20 million dollar production moved to Hamilton.

“2016 is currently shaping up to be an utterly quiet year – despite the availability of crew, equipment, locations and the lowest Canadian dollar in over a decade,” said Vermeir.

Jobs in film, television and digital media in Nova Scotia have dropped 82 per cent from this time period last year, the local Atlantic Canadian Motion Picture Technicians union reported.

The union reported a loss of 510 jobs since the previous fall for all of N.S.

Marian Mancini, NDP MLA for Dartmouth-South, said the provincial government’s “draconian” cuts to the film tax credit in April 2015 are to blame.

The film tax credit previously covered 65 per cent of production labour costs but the changes to the credit mean only 25 per cent of those costs are covered.

“These cuts are a problem, these job losses are a problem. The evidence continues to mount as to the devastating effects the tax cut has had,” said Mancini.

Filmworks had two full-time employees as well as part-time staff hired during busy season to assist in organizing and editing auditions. In August, Sheila Lane laid off her staff. She said when the McNeil government announced its decision to alter the film tax credit, she knew Filmworks would have to close unless the situation changed quickly.

“It’s been very heartbreaking for me,” said Lane.

Lane said with limited job opportunities for casting directors in Canada, she has begun teaching English in Mexico. She’s also looking into opportunities to work in film in the Middle East.

“I’m a born and bred Nova Scotian. I am waiting in the wings for things to be corrected and will come back in a minute, a heartbeat. I love Nova Scotia,” said Lane.

Other businesses that have closed because of changes to the film tax credit include Special Effects Atlantic, Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, SIM Group and most recently Arcadia.

Photos: Jillian Morgan
Photos: Jillian Morgan

“Nobody in government is getting, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the film industry in this province has been pretty well devastated,” said Mancini.

Business Minister Mark Furey said in a statement that several factors have lead to a decline in film jobs, including the cancellation of Haven and the closure of Egg Films – both of which he said are unrelated to the tax credit.

“We want this industry to be successful and globally competitive,” said Furey in the statement. “We are addressing some of the gaps industry identified, and providing the tools to be successful.”

Furey said despite changes to the tax credit, the film industry remains one of the most heavily subsidized industries in Nova Scotia – with the government paying up to 32 per cent of a production’s eligible costs through the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive Fund.

“We have talented workers, beautiful scenery and a long history of success. These assets add to our competitiveness internationally,” said Furey.

Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia brought in $130 million worth of productions in 2014 but since changes to the tax credit were implemented, “the last half of 2015 was a disaster,” said Gary Vermeir.

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