Any actor, writer, director, or producer will tell you the film and television industry is unstable: The feed bag is either overflowing or has just enough grains to sustain you through the lean months. But with the B.C. film industry on the verge of collapse, as Hollywood productions head to Ontario and Quebec to take advantage of better tax credits, many of its workers are facing an outright famine.
Governments across North America understand the economic power of the film and television industry, and literally give all they’ve got to attract activity: across the board tax cuts, labour relief, production incentives. Producing a film or TV series is a monumental financial undertaking and naturally the studios take their projects to whoever offers them the best deal.
Industry professionals knew what they were getting themselves into when they decided to pursue a career in film and television — that when there are 17 jobs on a production and 700 people wanting them that chances of success in the industry are slim. But there’s a big difference between 17 jobs and no jobs, which is the way things are heading in B.C.
If nothing changes, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark is giving every indication that they won’t so long as she is in office, eventually artists will have to find greener pastures, and Hollywood Northwest — an economic and cultural powerhouse — will cease to exist. And it’s not just a concern in BC; Saskatchewan has also left its film and TV industry to languish, while Ontario and Quebec could at any time turn around and decide to do the same.
It begs the question: What can Canadian filmmakers do to escape this game of tax-credit tennis, in which they’ve become the ball?
How about some good old-fashioned Canadian communitarianism? Sound radical? That’s because it is, but it’s not like it hasn’t been tried — and worked.
The Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative has been around since 1975 and helped produce over 300 films. It has its own equipment and post-production facility, occupying an entire block of downtown St. John’s, which is used by, among other productions, the hit CBC series “Republic of Doyle.” Since 1995, it has helped to attract $150 million in film and video production to the province. It even hosts “Camera Car” workshops.
Similar co-ops exist in Ottawa and Edmonton. And while they tend to be focused on the technical side of things, there’s no reason they couldn’t be opened up to include the complete range of film professionals — actors, directors, writers, and so on — a package deal of sorts.
And what’s to stop them from building relationships with cash-heavy American studios, thereby bringing in more money for members? A co-op has more pull than any one individual or single company, and could offer studios incentives and deals outside of the provincial system. If anything has been learned from this tax struggle, it’s that, no matter how deep the studios’ pockets are, they’re always looking to expand their profit margins.
Would co-ops be able to maintain film professionals in the middle-class living to which many of them have become accustomed? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s the difference between walking around a stone wall and bashing your head against it.