Article by Jenn Brown
Nova Scotia’s film and digital industries are in jeopardy. They are very worried, and here in St. John’s, we are worried too.
It’s hard getting film productions to come to the east coast. Yes, we have amazing people, welcoming communities, talented and well-trained professional crews, and the most breath-taking landscapes. However, it’s pricey to get here, we are at the whims of the North Atlantic weather, and we have limited resources in comparison to big cities such as Toronto or Vancouver. All of our perks are certainly weighed against the needed forethought and preparation by any potential production company, yet over the past twenty years more and more world-class companies have eagerly headed east because those benefits outweigh the cons. The tipping point is a strong film tax credit.
A Film Industry Tax Credit is a refundable tax credit for costs directly related to the production of films. In Nova Scotia, companies can take advantage of a 50% to 65% fully refundable corporate income tax credit by developing, training and hiring Nova Scotia film personnel of any discipline. Other benefits include no limit to the size of their production budget, no Canadian content or copyright ownership requirements, and no corporate or asset cap. This very attractive support allows production companies to set up shop and hire local filmmakers (who pay property and income taxes). The province reaps the rewards of a huge influx in business to local shops, food services, venue and equipment rentals, accommodations, real estate, tourism and so on. Similar although different tax credits exist here in Newfoundland & Labrador, administered by the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation for our Department of Finance.
Nova Scotian filmmakers were told that their current tax credit was good until 2020. It was a huge shock when Finance Minister Diana Whalen made disparaging and misleading comments about the Film Tax Credit in her pre-budget speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. This signaled to these industries that changes were being contemplated in the upcoming budget.
“It became very clear very quickly that the Department of Finance didn’t understand how the industry really worked.” says Gary Vermeir, Business Agent of Locals 849 and 709 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). “We have a number of productions that are holding off shooting in Nova Scotia, waiting for the ruling on the tax credit.”
In 2007, an alliance of local media producers, service providers, unions and filmmakers formed an advocacy group called the Nova Scotia Motion Picture Industry Association (NSMPIA). They played an important role in lobbying for the extension and expansion of the existing film and digital media tax credits. In May 2014, a new board of directors was elected to revitalize NSMPIA. Now called Screen Nova Scotia, they serve as a unified voice for the screen-based industries of Nova Scotia, campaigning about the contributions of the industry to the province’s economy and culture. Many members are young filmmakers with a large stake in the future of the industry.
Immediately following the Minister’s speech, Screen NS requested to meet with Whalen to give their recommendations. After their suggestions were not taken into account, the government insisted that 99% of companies that receive the film tax credit do not owe taxes in Nova Scotia. Screen NS Chair Marc Almon believes this is “a terrible distortion,” and the organization has made an urgent appeal to Nova Scotia’s Premier, Stephen NcNeil, to stop distributing misleading information. They then moved to social media to take action on a bigger scale.
Asking industry professionals, friends and supporters to send letters and emails to their MLAs and spread the word via Facebook and Twitter, their action to save this tax cut has been getting notice. Snoop Dogg, Axl Rose and Mel Rafuse from Dog the Bounty Hunter have all joined in the fight after a video by the Trailer Park Boys asking to preserve the tax credit went viral. The reality is that if the tax credit goes, so may that television show.
The Film Tax Credit itself costs the government of Nova Scotia $24 million dollars, but in 2014 it generated more than $150 million and employed over 2000 workers. Nova Scotia’s film industry has been growing, with over 50 documentaries, feature films and television series being shot in the province recently, including Relative Happiness, Lizzy Borden, Haven, Book of Negroes, Mr. D, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Hope for Wildlife, and Call Me Fitz. Without the tax credit, all existing companies and future films are in jeopardy.
“Our concern is that they’re going to give our tax credit such a cut that essentially it’s not going to be worth anything. It’s so hard to lure productions this far east. All viable film productions in the world, including Hollywood, have a tax incentive. Nova Scotia will no longer be competitive without this. All we’re asking is that government hit the pause button and recognize what we all contribute, and let’s do it so that we still have a viable industry that will continue to contribute to Nova Scotia when it’s all said and done,” says Vermeir.
Vermeir’s concerns are not isolated to Nova Scotia. We have seen this happen already to New Brunswick (who reinstated their credits less than a year after the original cut) and Saskatchewan with their recent film tax credit cuts. There is no guarantee that Newfoundland & Labrador will not be presented with this same dilemma in the future. This would mean a cut to our economy, our labour force, our thriving and necessary cultural tourism, as well as the way we share our stories.
“The presence of Screen Nova Scotia enabled us to hit the ground running when we learned of the potential threat. This organization enabled us to marshal the community and its resources immediately and pull together a powerful social and traditional media campaign which the government heard loud and clear. Between crises, we are able to do research on other incentive programs around the world, work on training and recruitment initiatives. Because every film industry is vulnerable to the whims of provincial governments and no finance department is in love with tax credits, I would certainly recommend that Newfoundland and Labrador establish an industry association as soon as possible!” says Vermeir.
This potential tax credit cut threatens all Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. So what can we do to help?
Please support Canada’s film industry.
Nova Scotia Finance Minister Diana Whalen will release the Nova Scotia provincial budget today- watch the live broadcast here: http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1279461-live-blog-nova-scotia-budget-2015