The question of whether to beef up tax incentives for the film industry officially became an election issue this week, with NDP Leader Adrian Dix promising improved tax credits should his party win power next month. The Liberals countered by repeating that they won't increase subsidies in an unsustainable race to the bottom.
Meanwhile, at Vancouver City Hall, council heard this week that the local industry is struggling to retain jobs as it tries to compete with a growing number of jurisdictions offering superior tax incentives. While recent production figures out of B.C. indicate an increase in spending over 2011, industry types point out that the spending includes visual effects work, and they argue it therefore does not accurately reflect a situation they still describe as dire.
In the midst of all this, a change is under way in the agencies that manage the production industry. In a move aimed at bolstering their work, the B.C. Film Commission and B.C. Film + Media are amalgamating to become Creative BC, effective Monday.
The BC Film Commission has largely dealt with location services, while BC Film + Media handles development funding for the domestic industry and administers the provincial film and TV tax credits. The new agency will incorporate all of these functions, but is meant to be much more than the sum of its parts.
"We're not simply replicating the two organizations. We're trying to build a new organization," says Richard Brownsey, who becomes president and CEO of Creative BC, after holding the same title at BC Film + Media.
Not unlike the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), Creative BC will deal with funding for the film, television, digital media, music and publishing industries, and also serve as a resource for policy development, tax credit administration and promotion. It is to develop a five-year strategic plan for the creative industries, and is meant to champion those industries.
Mr. Brownsey says it's premature to say exactly how the new organization will be structured; he is planning "a very thoughtful process" of integration and rebranding over the next few months. But he stresses that in no way will attention be taken away from film, TV and digital media at this critical time.
"That's job one for us – to take care of the sector that we have traditionally had responsibility for. Over time, we will build in other areas as well, but we're not going to take the same resources and divert them," Mr. Brownsey says. "We have no intention of taking our eye off of the film and television industry."
He would not say whether a new film commissioner will be appointed. Susan Croome is retiring after 25 years in the business, with just over 10 of them as film commissioner. "The formation of Creative BC is a very positive development," Ms. Croome wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Creative BC was announced in January as part of a government response to escalating concern about the production industry. A grassroots group calling itself Save BC Film had been established, born out of anger – that the production industry had been left out of the BC Jobs Plan – and fear that the work was disappearing, much of it heading to Ontario and Quebec, where the tax credits are more generous.
Hoping for a move toward tax credit parity, film industry workers who showed up at that January news conference were unimpressed. "Insulting," concluded Wayne Bennett, a Vancouver-based production manager, then unemployed, who has become a spokesperson for Save BC Film.
On Friday, Mr. Bennett – who is now working on the eighth and final season of the U.S. production Psych – was more positive. "I think it was a step in the right direction," he said. "But it has to be done properly … with the proper funding to be able to carry out that agenda."
Creative BC was originally promised $1-million in government funding, which was boosted to $2-million last week. In Ontario, the OMDC received $24-million from the province for 2012-13.
Meanwhile, Ontario recorded its best year for film and TV production spending in 2012 at $1.28-billion, up 90 per cent from 2008. B.C.'s production expenditures clocked in at $1.216-billion. But the B.C. figure, critics say, is misleading, because it includes the growing amount spent on visual effects – often for projects that were not filmed here. Work like that doesn't benefit all those film set crews, not to mention lighting equipment companies, caterers, and others.
Further, Mr. Bennett says, things are looking worse in 2013. He points to figures that show direct film and TV production payroll was down in the first quarter by 36 per cent over 2012; and 2012's first quarter was down 32 per cent over 2011.
Even with the likes of Godzilla and George Clooney (in Tomorrowland) coming to town, as well as eight pilots and several other projects, Mr. Bennett continues to worry. "At the high time in B.C., we would have 40 to 42 shows going at the same time. Now we have more like 10 to 12."
Creative BC, it seems, has its work cut out for it.