Beleaguered domestic film sector scores small wins

Additional Canadian content dollars from BCE, Shaw deals helping homegrown productions
New Vancouver TV series Motive, a Lark Productions and Foundation Features co-production, is a recent win for local producers

While B.C.’s film service industry is lamenting lost Hollywood work, the province’s indigenous film and TV sector is making a small comeback, according to the province’s domestic film association.

“We’ve seen a return of some of the television drama which is a great economic driver because of the creative talent and the crew that a dramatic television series needs,” said Liz Shorten, spokeswoman for the B.C. branch of the Canadian Media Production Association.

“So that’s a healthy indicator of the return of production to B.C. in the B.C.-owned part of the business.”

While 2012 film activity stats have yet to be released, Shorten said key wins for the local industry have included new TV series Motive, a co-production between Lark Productions and Foundation Features, and Thunderbird Films Inc.’s Package Deal.

Shorten attributes the rise in Vancouver’s B.C.-based television sector to millions of dollars of “benefits money” earmarked for Canadian content flowing out of BCE Inc.’s (TSX:BCE) $2.45 billion acquisition of CTV Inc.and Shaw Communications Inc.’s (TX:SJR.B) $2 billion takeover of CanWest Global Communications Corp.’s broadcast interests. Both deals were done in 2010.

Under a Canadian Radio- television and Telecommunications Commission benefits policy, 10% of each deal’s value – more than $400 million – must be used to provide benefits to the Canadian broadcasting system. That includes buying Canadian content.

“There’s now some new money for independent production in the system,” Shorten said, “so we’re talking of tens of millions of dollars over the course of the next five to seven years. So that has certainly helped kick-start production.”

Without that money flowing into the system, Shorten said she doubts the industry would be rebounding from “challenging” 2011 levels, when domestic film spending dipped to $209 million – just over half the $408 million spent in 2007.

“I don’t think it would have improved because [the benefits money] is really the only change since 2008-09,” Shorten said.

She noted that B.C.’s domestic film industry, like the film service industry, has faced a cost disadvantage since 2009, when Ontario raised its film tax credits.

However, if Shorten believes the “benefits money” is boosting Vancouver activity, Motive executive producer Rob Merilees said it doesn’t feel that way.

“I certainly don’t feel like there’s more money out there,” said Merilees, who is also president and founder of Foundation Features.

Merilees said he hopes the additional Canadian content money will show up but that, for now, times remain tough in Vancouver’s domestic film and television.

“I hate to be so blunt, but there’s really not a lot of reason to be in Vancouver right now,” he said.

“There’s limited support because of limited budgets from [B.C. Film + Media], we don’t have a provincial agency that supports us in any big way like they do in Ontario and Quebec.”

Merilees added that industry heavyweights have left Vancouver and gone to Toronto in the past few years during industry consolidation, which adds to the challenges Vancouver producers have in getting projects made.

Merilees said that in his bid to get approval for Motive he moved his company to Toronto in 2012 to be near industry decision makers.

“About four months after that move and being physically present in Toronto, we got a greenlight from CTV to make the show.”

Merilees currently deems his company to be “bi-coastal” and said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll maintain a presence in both cities.

He said that, if it’s to grow, B.C.’s indigenous film sector needs a new organization supporting film with substantial budgets, like the Ontario Media Development Corp. or “like BC Film was 10 years ago.”

“I’d really like to see a viable provincial agency with a budget that could help B.C. producers develop in a meaningful way, as well as develop projects in a meaningful way so they sell more television and, even more so, film.” 

Creative BC takes its cue and mandate from Ontario – but not funding

Creative BC, the just-announced agency to drive the province’s creative industries, attempts to mimic the successful Ontario Media Development Corp. (OMDC).

But while the B.C. government has given the new agency an OMDC-like mandate, the province has not matched the OMDC’s funding.

Creative BC adds just $1 million in new funding to B.C.’s creative industries.

B.C.’s film industry believes the new entity will absorb the functions and budgets of the BC Film Commission and BC Film + Media, which had budgets of $1 million and $3 million, respectively, in 2012-13.

However, that total is still only a fraction of the OMDC’s $24 million in 2012 provincial funding.

Liz Shorten, spokeswoman for the B.C. branch of the Canadian Media Production Association, called Creative BC “a great first step” for B.C.’s creative industries.

“However,” she said, “in order to achieve the stated mandate, the organization is absolutely going to require additional resources.”

Karen Thorne-Stone, OMDC’s president and CEO, was cautious in her reaction to Creative BC: “We do not know enough about B.C.’s proposal to comment on it right now. But the cross-media economic development model delivered through OMDC has been very effective for Ontario and we look forward to working with our new counterparts in B.C.”

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