Film industry on brink of leaving

Garry Brook, Michele Dutka, Sheree Fondeur and Don Emond have been affected by the tax changes in B.C. and Ontario. - Phil Melnychuk/The News
Garry Brook, Michele Dutka, Sheree Fondeur and Don Emond have been affected by the tax changes in B.C. and Ontario.
— image credit: Phil Melnychuk/The News

For Garry Brook, the crisis in B.C.’s film industry has reached the point he could pack up and leave his Maple Ridge home, a place where he raised three kids, who went through minor hockey and ballet, so he can find work in his occupation of running the lighting and rigging on movie sets.

For Michele Dutka, an assistant director who worked on Percy Jackson and the Olympians (shot two years ago in Golden Ears Provincial Park), the slowdown has already taken its toll. After selling her “baby sports car,” a 2007 Pontiac Solstice, she might have to leave her Maple Ridge home and move to Halifax to find work there.

Don Emond used to take his wife to Frogstone’s Grill restaurant once a week, or buy her flowers.

“I can’t do it anymore,” says the Maple Ridge resident.

He hasn’t worked since November, driving trucks and helping ensure movie sets get to where they’re supposed to so movie crews can start shooting.

All three say the disappearance of the Harmonized Sales Tax this April and the lack of response to Ontario’s new scheme that works out to a 25-per-cent, across-the-board tax credit for movie shooting expenses are killing the business in the place once named Hollywood North.

They’re trying to get the message out to anyone who will listen at a town hall meeting Feb. 27 at the Arts Centre Theatre at 7 p.m.

In Maple Ridge, the movie industry creates 700 direct jobs, says Bill Morrill, who builds movie sets.

For every day that a movie is shot locally, about $10,000 flows into the local economy, according to Maple Ridge’s economic development office.

The industry pumped $2.4 million into Maple Ridge last year, says the office, about the same as the year previous and up from the $1.9 million spent during the Winter Olympics year of 2010.

Provincewide, 25,000 people work in the industry, which Morrill said now has a 90-per-cent unemployment rate.

“The numbers are huge.”

Dutka said the industry isn’t asking the B.C. government to offer the same enticements as Ontario, just that it create a plan that’s competitive.

Currently, B.C. offers a 35-per-cent tax credit on labour costs, which combined with other incentives, works out to an overall tax credit of 7.9 per cent of filming expenses. Filming in far-flung areas such as Maple Ridge offers an additional 12-per-cent tax credit bonus.

The B.C. government so far has said it won’t try to match Ontario, although a meeting will take place Thursday between industry and Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett.

That gives Emond some reason for optimism. “This is the first time in the history of film that they’re starting to listen to us.”

Still, unless something changes, Emond says film studios in Vancouver will close and their facilities will be turned into condo projects.

He emphasizes the incentives aren’t subsidies, but are credits given to entice new money into the province that otherwise wouldn’t be here.

He says the B.C. government isn’t correctly calculating the revenue the industry brings to the province, under estimating it by as much as 45 per cent.

“We just lost nine features, billions of dollars, that went out the door in December.

“That’s billions in revenue that B.C. said goodbye to.

“We’re new money coming. We’re a green industry. We all pay our taxes and spend our money here in the community.”

Any time a movie shoots, thousands of dollars are spent locally, in coffee shops and restaurants and hardware and clothing stores to secure the stuff needed to get films shot.

The District of Maple Ridge also made about $80,000 in filming fees and permits last year, an increase of a third from two years ago.

Film liaison officer Marg Johnson says it may be too soon to see a slowdown. “I’m not seeing it yet,” she said.

So far this year is comparable with last year in the Maple Ridge film office.

“As far as filming this year, I would say it’s pretty well on par with last year.”

Two major feature films are lined up for filming in Golden Ears Provincial Park this spring, she said. A pilot series and two TV series (Continuum and Crime Stories) are also on the books. While spring is pilot episode season, which only lasts for six weeks, it still looks like a normal year, she added.

Emond said the average yearly salary in the business is about $110,000.

“We all make very good money, we’re aware of that.”

But he also pays about 40 per cent income tax rate.

Sheree Fondeur, also an assistant director, experienced firsthand what happens when a government doesn’t buy into the incentive game. When Saskatchewan cut its film tax credit last year, jobs disappeared and Fondeur came west.

Last year, she bought a home in Maple Ridge, which she may now have to sell.

The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce said the Saskatchewan government made a mistake and should have given the million dollars annually in tax credits in return for the net economic benefit of $44 million, according to a CBC News report.


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