Collin Friesen is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, from Winnipeg. This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
With all the recent campaign talk about outsourcing, insourcing and what Mitt Romney did or did not do while he was or was not in charge of Bain Capital (A company name that would make most screenwriters blush with its complete on-the-nose-edness by the way; what, was Scourge Investments already taken?) it got me thinking about how outsourcing in Hollywood has a slightly different feel than in the rest of the U.S. of A.
As a reporter for the CBC, I attended a "Stop Runaway Production Rally" some years back, and various tough-looking union types were walking around with signs that had a maple leaf adorned with a circle with a line through it. They were clearly not happy about the tax breaks various provinces and the feds were handing out to folks who wanted to shoot movies and TV shows north of the border.
I was a little put off that they were desecrating my national symbol, and wondered aloud – albeit quietly given the locale – what gave them the right to claim movies needed to be made in southern California. Yes, jobs were being lost, but Hollywood originally took those same jobs away from New York when filmmakers realized it was always sunny out here, and a little less mafia-esque. Yes, the industry came of age in LA – I live just up the street from the original Disney studios – but so what? It's not like there are celluloid mines under the Hollywood hills were they harvest the raw materials needed for this "art" form. You can film anywhere. You can act anywhere. You can stay in your trailer doing blow until the director admits he was wrong to have only soy lattes at the craft service table…well, you get my drift.
In my very humble opinion, no area, no country owns an industry. If it can be done cheaper and properly elsewhere – yes, that was a call service center reference – then it will be. All governments subsidize businesses. They do it in agriculture through price controls and crop insurance, they do it in manufacturing through tax breaks and other incentives, and they will only stop doing it when it costs them an election or the cost/benefit stops working in their favor. So if a film brings in $100 more in tax revenue than it cost to bring the film to Canada in the first place, then it's still a good deal. Be it a hi-tech server farm or Brad Pitt, it makes not a lick of difference.
I'm the first to admit my home country has benefitted from the race to the financial bottom, and I'm okay with that. (We even shot my first feature in Winnipeg back in 2005, which allowed me to return home in triumph…at least until the film went straight to DVD.) Seeing as how we've given over most of our screens to American films and TV shows, it might be tempting to say it's the least the studios can do, but that's not how you should look at it. There is no morality at play, or any sense of guilt. Studios don't care about anything but the bottom line. Why? Because corporations aren't people, they're opportunistic sharks who like blood in the water and not on the balance sheet. These are the rules, now go play as hard as you can.
You want to blame Canada for being the prettiest girl and the dance? Okay, do something about it.
And people are. As the Loonie rallies and more and more states get into the tax credit game, it's only a matter of time before many of these productions get re-outsourced right back across the border. New Orleans is apparently the "it" place to go at the moment, and not just for the post-apocalyptic vibe, drive-through bars and strip clubs. It pays to shoot there. Are you listening Saskatchewan?
So let me sum up this rant by saying if the government, any government, wants to subsidize my career, I'll get in line behind the corn growers, solar industry and the oil sands with my hand out and a smile on my suntanned face.
As they say far to often in this neck of the woods, it's not show-art, its show-business.