What was billed as a town hall meeting to kickstart British Columbia's sagging film industry drew thousands of concerned people to the North Shore yesterday evening.
More than 4,000 actors, directors, producers and technicians packed two soundstages at the underused North Shore Studios January 22 under the #SaveBCFilm banner to discuss how to boost the industry and encourage the provincial government to help.
B.C.'s $1.19 billion industry employs 25,000 people but has fallen behind Ontario, which has generous tax incentives for producers that offset the at-par Canadian dollar.
"Unfortunately one of the reasons we are gathered tonight is it's been pretty quiet here in B.C. lately – uncomfortably quiet," said emcee Jackson Davies. "I was at a meeting here on Friday and I actually had my choice of parking spots."
The #SaveBCFilm social media campaign was launched in reaction to a Business in Vancouver story based on internal government documents that claimed film, TV and video gaming were unworthy of inclusion in Premier Christy Clark's B.C. Jobs Plan.
Film industry workers saw the story and flocked to comment Clark's Facebook page, but 400 of their comments were deleted. When they tried reposting, they were either deleted again or the users blocked from viewing the page altogether, so a new Facebook page #SaveBCFilm was created as a platform for people to voice their concerns.
"Our premier claims she wants to hear from us," #SaveBCFilm spokesperson Wayne Bennett told the crowd in soundstage 7. "We tried, we were not rude, we were not belligerent, we were crying for help and we were dismissed."
Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. president Peter Leitch, who is also North Shore Studios' general manager, proposed the B.C. government reclassify film production as manufacturing and grant it an exemption under the returning Provincial Sales Tax, just as Ontario did before it adopted the harmonized sales tax. In 2009, Ontario offered a 25% "all-spend" tax credit. B.C.'s 33% refundable tax credit applies only to labour costs.
"Everyone's got a screen, everyone's looking at content, nobody produces content better than the people in this room tonight," Leitch said. "If we lose productions, we will lose infrastructure, it will not return. We can't afford to be sidelined as a result of Ontario and Quebec tax policies."
The event came hard on the heels of yesterday's announcement by the B.C. government that it will spend $11 million of taxpayers' money on hosting the Times of India film awards in Vancouver this April. The news was met with dismay by the #SaveBCFilm supporters, who widely criticized the government for not spending that money on saving the B.C. film industry.
The meeting also heard that there are 85,000 people employed across the wider $4 billion creative economy, which also includes publishing, music and theatre, and that a new We Create B.C. campaign has been launched to "humanize" the industry and tell the stories of how it benefits families and communities.
Attendees heard that if a solution is not forthcoming, then provincial support for the industry will become an issue during the campaign for the May 14 provincial election.
Canadian Media Production Association chair Brian Hamilton said the "prospects are bleak if the public views film as a special interest seeking handouts." He proposed the B.C. government open a body similar to the Ontario Media Development Agency to foster industry growth and even appoint a dedicated film minister.
Bill Bennett is B.C.'s minister responsible for film, but his cabinet portfolio is the broader Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
Bennett attended the meeting to "show support" for workers and businesspeople suffering from the lack of feature film productions.
"We're not able to match the tax credits that are available in Ontario," Bennett told BIV. "That doesn't mean we don't care about the industry – we care lots about the industry."
He said there may be incremental measures that the government can introduce. The provincial budget is scheduled to be announced February 19.
"I've actually presented twice in the last three weeks on the creative industries to my (cabinet) colleagues and I'm going to present again this week on some ideas that we have that I think will help not only the film industry but the TV industry and digital media industry," Bennett said. "My mind is open to any and all solutions that don't cost a whole bunch of money that will help the industries."
Conservative leader John Cummins attended the event, but Clark was a no-show.
NDP leader Adrian Dix and culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert were both at North Shore Studios. They left Vancouver this morning for a two-day trade mission to Los Angeles to meet producers and promote B.C.'s creative industries.
"It wasn't just about film, it's about video games, it's about arts, book publishing, various creative sectors and that the creative economy is something we can't ignore," Chandra Herbert said. "But B.C. has been for years."