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A film crew on the set of “Bates Motel,” in Aldergrove, British Columbia. NDP Leader Adrian Dix had promised a 40 per cent tax break for the province’s film industry. (STUART ISETT/NYT)
A film crew on the set of “Bates Motel,” in Aldergrove, British Columbia. NDP Leader Adrian Dix had promised a 40 per cent tax break for the province’s film industry. (STUART ISETT/NYT)

On Culture

Election upset has B.C. film industry reeling over lost tax breaks Add to ...

When you were watching the election results roll in on Tuesday night, you were not alone. Hollywood was watching too.

“They were shocked. It was as if they were here,” says Peter Leitch, president of North Shore Studios and Mammoth Studios. “They knew more about the election in the major studios in Los Angeles than a lot of people on the street in Vancouver.”

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The studios were watching for one reason: the NDP had promised to increase tax credits for film and TV production to 40 per cent.

When the result became evident – the NDP in opposition, the tax credits off the table – the gloom in some social media circles was palpable, with production workers saying they were leaving town and declaring the local industry dead. Actor John Cassini urged everyone to take a deep breath and warned not to make Vancouver look like a ghost town. “I got on Facebook and everything was just so apocalyptic all of a sudden,” he says. “I just felt like I needed to say, ‘Hey guys, slow down.’ Because first of all, we don’t need to be propagating the situation. We don’t need to be raising a red flag and scaring service industry people off. This city still has a lot to offer.”

The election coincided with a crucial event in the production industry: the announcements from the big U.S. TV networks of their fall schedules, including pilots picked to become series. Several pilots were shot in Vancouver, and potentially headed this way as series.

It’s unclear what impact – if any – the election results will have on studio decisions, but Wayne Bennett, a production manager who is an organizer of Save BC Film, a non-partisan advocacy group, recounts a story that may be telling.

“The day the NDP announced that they would raise the incentive, I hit send on an e-mail to nine different production executives, and by the end of the press conference, I had two studios reply saying, ‘That’s great news; when can we expect this?’”

The plan now, to quote the group’s motto, is to “keep calm” (and carry on). Mr. Leitch says the production industry needs to do a better job at making its case, and plans to reach out to the Liberals again. He will also continue developing a national strategy on tax credits so that B.C., Ontario and Quebec are not competing – which was part of the Liberal platform. “The dialogue with the Liberals never ended,” Vancouver Film Studios president and COO Pete Mitchell points out. “The one thing you can say for sure is they were always, always willing to talk to us.”

Vancouver Film Studios was the site of the NDP’s tax credit announcement and its final major rally. These days, the lot is pretty quiet, with some series on hiatus. The production office has re-opened for season two of the A&E Psycho prequel Bates Motel. A couple of features may beheading to VFS as well.

In North Vancouver, Mr. Leitch has had a quiet year too: his worst first quarter ever, at 25 per cent capacity. It’s now at about 60 per cent, with the CBS show The King & Maxwell, and Psych shooting its final season. The target is 85 per cent year-round.

“We’ve seen a few series get picked up, so we’re optimistic that things are going to improve. Will they improve to the level that allows us to sustain and grow the business? We’re not sure yet and we’re concerned about it obviously,” says Mr. Leitch, who is also chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association in B.C.

A handful of new shows are expected to head to Vancouver: J.J. Abrams’ Almost Human for Fox; the post-apocalyptic drama The 100 and The Tomorrow People for Fox; and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, a spinoff of the ABC hit Once Upon a Time, which also shoots in Vancouver. The pilot for Intelligence was made in Vancouver, but may shoot elsewhere.

Series returning to Vancouver include Bates Motel, Supernatural, Arrow and Once Upon a Time. Season three of The Killing is shooting, as are the final season of Psych, season two of Continuum and a new series, Cedar Cove, starring Andie MacDowell.

On the feature side, highlights include Godzilla, now shooting, and Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney, scheduled to begin production in August. Mr. Bennett has heard that Vancouver is being considered for two other features, but Louisiana and Montreal, where the tax credits are more generous, are also in contention.

But the bottom line is not everything. B.C. has experienced crews, good infrastructure, and proximity to California. Pronouncing the industry dead is unreasonable and alarmist, Mr. Cassini says.

“I think we’ve just got to hang in there. I honestly think it will start to balance out,” he says, adding that U.S. productions have fed a lot of families – he himself has done well by it. But more recently he has had recurring roles on two Canadian series – Continuum and Blackstone (which is shot in Edmonton), and has been using the lull in service work to produce features (Hit ‘n Strum, with another film coming up) and develop a TV series. “I think the answer is not to run, but to create.”

Editor's note: An earlier version incorrectly said the films Godzilla and Nautilus were currently shooting in Vancouver. Nautilus is the working title of the Godzilla fillm. This version has been corrected and removes the Nautilus reference.

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