Recent news that the BC Liberals discounted B.C.'s film industry in preparing the B.C. Jobs plan has ignited industry backlash, including last week's #SaveBCFilm rally, which drew thousands of concerned industry workers.
But the force of that backlash comes from more than a political slight.
While B.C.'s 2012 film spending figures have yet to be released, the service part of the local film industry is reporting a sharp drop in jobs as B.C. loses Hollywood blockbuster production to Ontario and other rival jurisdictions.
"By the time the [2012 spending] numbers come out, it could be too late for our industry," said Peter Leitch, chairman of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C.
Leitch, who said that the province's film service industry is facing a precipitous decline, estimated that employment in B.C.'s film sector is down as much as 50% from last year.
He said a number of factors, including an at-par Canadian dollar, are driving the industry decline. But he said the chief problem is B.C.'s film incentives, which trail well behind the aggressive 25% all-spend film credit that Ontario introduced in 2009.
"We're burning all the good will that we've built over the last years, where we had a level playing field on the tax credit," Leitch said. "Now I feel the numbers are dictating more where productions are going than they used to. Part of it's the dollar, obviously, but the tax credit differential becomes magnified when we have got a dollar at par."
Crawford Hawkins is executive director of the Directors Guild of Canada, B.C. District Council.
He said just 100 of the union's 800 members are currently working and added that B.C.'s uncompetitive film incentives are killing local jobs and driving down wages for B.C.'s directors, assistant directors and production managers.
Hawkins added that while the industry's fortunes have worsened over the past six months, they've been declining for some time.
Paul Klassen is the business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees(IATSE) local 891, which represents approximately 5,000 film industry workers in B.C. and the Yukon.
He said the union's payroll dropped 15% in 2012's second half compared with the first.
"More telling is that we show almost a 30% drop compared to the [second half of] 2009, which was our last strong year and the same year that Ontario and Quebec increased their tax credits," he said.
Klassen attributed the B.C. decline to rival jurisdictions' more aggressive efforts to lure film.
Both Leitch and Hawkins argued that, with the April 1 PST return set to further widen the gap in production costs between B.C. and Ontario, B.C. needs to up its film incentives or face erosion in B.C. film infrastructure.
From bad to worse – PST 2: The return of the tax
B.C.'s April 1 return to PST, which adds 7% to film production costs, is set to further widen the incentive gap between B.C. and rival film jurisdictions.
For the industry, the tax change promises a further loss of Hollywood business.
"It's going to send a signal that we are getting further behind," said Crawford Hawkins, executive director of the Directors Guild of Canada, B.C District Council.
The Bollywood factor
After Vancouver was rejected last week as the 2013 host for Bollywood's "Oscars," the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards, Premier Christy Clark announced that B.C. will host an event that's being attacked as a "copycat."
In what is being described as a last-minute announcement, the city will welcome the inaugural the Times of India Film Awards in a three-day extravaganza this April. The government says the event will have a live audience of more than 30,000 and will be telecast globally.
The province will pay $9.5 million toward producing the awards, plus an additional $1.5 million for various host events in B.C., including the B.C.-India Global Business Forum.
Jobs Minister Pat Bell called the awards "a catalyst for building awareness of B.C. to Indian businesses."
Supporters of the #SaveBCFilm campaign are widely criticizing the government for setting aside $11 million of public funds on the awards instead of on saving the ailing B.C. movie industry.
And the annoucement is already a pre-election issue, with public social media reaction largely condemning the use of taxpayers’ money.
Simon Fraser University political marketing expert Lindsay Meredith told press that B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix couldn’t want for a better political windfall than this spending announcement. “The government’s decision to spend $9.5 million on hosting the Times of India Film Awards in Vancouver won’t look good to many taxpayers,” said Meredith.
The province estimates that the awards will create an economic benefit of $13 million to $18 million in direct spending from tourism and event production.