B.C. movie business feeling the squeeze

The B.C. government is working on ways to hold onto movie, TV and video game production.

  • Jan. 15, 2013 10:00 a.m.

Tom Fletcher

VICTORIA – The B.C. government is working on ways to hold onto movie, TV and video game production, as Hollywood shifts work to other provinces and countries that give attract them with generous subsidies and tax breaks.

But that won’t involve matching generous tax credits offered by Ontario and Quebec, said Bill Bennett, B.C.’s minister of community, sport and cultural development.

“I understand why the film and TV and digital media industries are concerned,” Bennett said in an interview Monday. “What the film industry seems to want mainly is for us to match the tax credits that are available in Ontario, and we can’t do that.”

Bennett said he is working on a new policy that will “clean up and simplify” the business environment for the industry, which is looking at further costs as B.C. prepares to phase out the harmonized sales tax in March.

Movie industry insiders say most of B.C.’s movie crews are out of work as 2013 begins. One of those is Lee Cleary, assistant director on such B.C.-made movies as The Hurt Locker, Fantastic 4 and the first X-Men movies.

“The last project that I worked on in B.C. was in 2009, on The ‘A’ Team,” Cleary said from his home in Vancouver, where he has lived for 10 years. “Since then the blockbuster films have not been coming here.”

In 2009, Ontario stepped up its tax credit for film and TV production to 25 per cent of all spending by foreign companies in the province. Since then, Ontario has passed B.C. as the third largest entertainment production centre in North America, after California and New York.

B.C. gives the industry a 33-per-cent refundable tax credit on labour spending only.

Quebec has also stepped up its incentives, resulting in 20th Century Fox moving later movies in the X-Men series to Montreal.

Bennett said the B.C. government provided $1.2 million last year to BC Film + Media, a non-profit society that offers financing, marketing and skills development.

Another $947,000 went to the BC Film Commission, a provincial government office that helps producers secure permits, crews and shooting locations around the province. Another $235,000 was provided to regional film commissions last year.

Cleary said the rise of computer image techniques reduce the appeal of B.C. scenery to filmmakers. B.C.’s spectacular mountains can be added to a scene “with a brushstroke,” and Hollywood studios are shopping the world for the best deal, he said.

B.C. still has a reputation for quality crews, beautiful locations and easy access to Los Angeles, but those things alone aren’t keeping big studio projects coming. Cleary said B.C. residents are still finding work, but leaving the province to get it.