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.��