Ontario film industry outperforming B.C.'s

The province's efforts to expand its film production business have helped it move ahead of B.C. as Canada's largest film jurisdiction

With recently released numbers showing Ontario displacing B.C. as Canada�s largest film jurisdiction for the first time since 2004, concern is mounting that it�s not a one-off upset for B.C.�s film industry.

While B.C.�s domestic film industry shrank to a near decade spending low of $209 million last year, Ontario�s surged by 32% to $852 million.

And while B.C.�s strong visual-effects sector and a couple of large Hollywood feature films helped drive 26% gains in the province�s film service work last year, B.C. is starting to lose U.S. productions to Ontario – a trend could accelerate when the return to the PST further erodes B.C.�s value proposition.

�NBCUniversal is taking some of the television series that would normally have come here to Ontario because the net budget there is lower as a result of the tax credits,� said Peter Leitch, chairman of the Motion Picture Production Association of British Columbia.

Ontario�s Hollywood work surged 30% last year. Ontario Film Commissioner Donna Zuchlinski chalks the increase up to the province�s tax credits, implemented in 2009, and the addition of Pinewood Toronto Studios.

�It has allowed us to attract some very large Hollywood pictures that Toronto did not have the space to accommodate in the past, like last year�s Total Recall from Sony Pictures,� she said.

Leitch said while the looming return to PST isn�t affecting B.C.�s film industry yet, the industry is bracing for it.

�It�s coming, and I think we�ll see it this year, before [the tax is] implemented.�

Leitch added that TV series� producers budget for at least a year.

�It�s something that Ontario will market against us when they go down [to Los Angeles] and say, �Hey we�ve got the advantage � [B.C. is] going to raise their prices by 7% on their goods and services whereas it�s that much cheaper here.��

Leitch added that the hit B.C.�s domestic film producers are taking, and a resulting Toronto-bound brain drain, is going to hurt the lucrative service industry.

�Any drain like that is going to have an impact,� he said. �The most talented people are very mobile and can get jobs in any jurisdiction, and you end up losing some of your best people as a result of some major projects moving.�

Liz Shorten, managing vice-president of operations and member services for the B.C. branch of the Canadian Media Production Association, said B.C.-based producers are facing both B.C.�s tax credit disadvantages compared with Ontario and industry consolidation to Toronto.

�Folks that are mostly Toronto-based are providing the greenlight for any show that would be produced across Canada,� she said. �It�s just a little bit harder at times to be out on the margins in the East and the West.�

She added that, unlike concerted efforts in Ontario to increase domestic film production, B.C. has cut back key industry support.

�Vital support that companies have received through [B.C. Film + Media] has decreased over the last number of years.�

She said another gap between the jurisdictions is the feature film funding Ontario provides to its domestic producers – and for which B.C. has no equivalent.

More broadly, Shorten said, Ontario has created an overarching strategy to support and build its creative industries, from screen-based industries to book publishing, through the Ontario Media Development Corp.

Thus far, she said, B.C. hasn�t matched those efforts and focused on the opportunities of a creative economy.

What�s the way forward for B.C.�s film industry?

For Leitch, the priority is keeping the industry�s needs in front of the government.

�It�s just a matter or continuing that dialogue and making sure that we stay competitive so that we don�t lose any of the infrastructure [through brain drain].�

For B.C. Film Commissioner Susan Croome, it�s to focus on delivering value for money.

�Whether it�s a high Canadian dollar or an HST issue or tax incentives in other jurisdictions, everybody here keeps their eye on being the best value – so an excellent production experience – so that when producers do that cost-benefit analysis, we come out on top,� she said. �Because we�re not always the least-expensive jurisdiction, and it�s not just about Ontario. This is a global industry.��

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