April 10, 2012
With the announcement of the axing of the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit, we are effectively telling the rest of the film-producing world that Saskatchewan is closed for business. It’s a commonly known fact that film productions will not so much as consider a location that doesn’t have a tax credit program in place. In fact, even the ubiquitous Hollywood movie The Hunger Games, which made $155 million in its opening weekend, utilized a tax credit from North Carolina.
Being a movie lover, and writer / broadcaster in the province who is often identified with film, this makes me want to vomit with rage. I’d probably be working at 7-11 if not for the Saskatchewan film industry, which gave me my start and taught me how both the art and the business of how films work. This, in turn, helped my writing appear in places like The National Post.
In the early 2000s, I was green, but the industry itself was a fledgling infant. I remember shooting more than one music video where we ran into scheduling issues because the ‘good crew’ was working in Regina the week we needed them in Saskatoon. But over the last decade, I’ve watched this industry blossom to heights beyond my wildest imagination; Saskatchewan film producers recognized how special life in Saskatchewan is, so rather than moving to Toronto or Vancouver, they did what Saskies do: they dug in and pioneered a strong infrastructure right here at home.
Personally, I was most fortunate to write and co-produce the nationally aired Global TV documentary Stolen Sisters, directed by longtime Saskatchewan filmmaker Tony Hrynchuk (Fahrenheit Films). The film was about missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Stolen Sisters has aired nationally countless times, brought awareness to the struggle against violence, and it can be found in libraries around the world. The Saskatchewan Film Tax Credit was one of the reasons we were able to make this movie, able to tell this Canadian story.
And beyond the paltry body of work that is my resume, we are also talking about a ton of other productions that have put the province on the map internationally. You ever hear of a little show called Corner Gas? Productions like Corner Gas brought thousands of jobs to the province that we can kiss goodbye. A lot of talented people built their lives and their businesses here because they believed in Saskatchewan, and now we’re telling them that Saskatchewan doesn’t believe in them.
It’s easy to politick this into an arts cut, which is a tidy piece of misdirection, because everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, expects arts cuts, and you can easily get lost in that larger argument. But the fact is, this also a business cut. In my mind, the film industry should be the place where the left and right meet — because film is art that makes money. It’s estimated that every dollar of tax incentive has brought in six dollars in economic spinoff in the province. We are set to drive away an industry that has brought over $600,000,000 into the province in the last 14 years. That’s a lot of goddamn zeroes, folks.
Premier Brad Wall tweeted, “If an industry cannot survive at all without a permanent taxpayer subsidy, should the taxpayers subsidize indefinitely?”
First of all, though the credit is suddenly being sold to you as a ‘grant,’ it’s not a grant. It’s a tax rebate. There’s a universe of difference.
But to answer Mr. Wall’s question (and I’m surprised that the leader of the government doesn’t know this), pretty much all the other important industries in the province enjoy some kind of ongoing subsidization in one form or another; oil and gas, potash, manufacturing, small business, even fishing. (For a boatload of very specific examples, seebehindthenumbers.ca).
I’m finding it hard to believe that this is the same government that wisely said it would be foolish for us to take a bigger bite out of the potash royalty pie, or we’d drive business away. So why are we walking a $600,000,000 industry into the woods and shooting it in the back of the head?
The film industry it has made Saskatchewan a smarter, more cosmopolitan place. People don’t flock to hubs like New York because the business is there. They (and the businesses) head to NYC because of the culture. Film is a sexy medium, and a strong industry in Saskatchewan has made us that much more attractive to both our local young as well as outsiders looking for a place to put down roots. Losing this takes us back to a dark hillbilly era, where we’re content to be a bunch of illiterate racists, homophobes, and closed-minded troglodytes.
Corner Gas creator Brent Butt has publicly pontificated that it’s a political thing. Maybe it’s the sour grapes of getting rid of something the NDP put in place. Some whisper that it’s a great way to drive those left-voting commie filmmakers out of the province. I hope that’s not so. I hope it was just an unfortunate oversight and that the government won’t be obstinate about it.
There’s still time to reinstate this tax credit. If they won’t do it, then I hope that anyone who supports this cut won’t need to make any commercials or promotional videos in the province to promote their government or those elusive subsidy-proof industries — because in Saskatchewan’s future, it’ll be impossible to get the good crew to town to shoot anything.