On March 23, 2012, the provincial budget was tabled by Finance Minister Ken Krawetz. Amongst the items announced in the budget last year was the removal of the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC). The subsidy provided a tax credit of up to 55 per cent of the labour costs involved with film and video production. It was because of the SFETC that local productions like Corner Gas and Prairie Giant: the Tommy Douglas Story were possible. The film credit also made it possible for foreign filmmakers to shoot in Saskatchewan. Since 1998, Saskatchewan has played host to the likes of Terry Gilliam, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater, and many other name directors, casts, and crew.
The reason for the removal of the tax credit was laid out in very simplistic mathematical terms. Since the SFETC’s operation, the government reported that they had spent $100 million in credits from a program that cost taxpayers $8 million per annual operation, and they simply decided that enough was enough. Upon this announcement, there was a massive outpouring of support on social media sites. Rallies were organized by Ron Goetz, Executive Vice-President of the formerly Saskatchewan-based production company Partners in Motion. Crowds often packed the Legislative Building during question period. Kim Coates, star of the FX show Sons of Anarchy even came back to his home province of Saskatchewan to give a speech in front of the Legislative Building. All of these efforts, valiant as they were, were ultimately in vain. Premier Brad Wall has said many times over that the film credit will not be returning. A mass exodus of filmmakers and artists alike ensued. Many bemoaned the death of the Saskatchewan film industry.
Less than one calendar year after the “death” of the film industry, the folks at B. E. ZEE Productions have recently wrapped production on the Bread Thieves, a feature-length crime drama. Already, the film has garnered itself a lot of attention for being the first feature-length film shot in Saskatchewan that has not had any incarnation of a film tax credit to fall back on. Recently, the cast and crew of the Bread Thieves freed up some time to speak to the Carillon about their experience on-set, and their feelings about being involved with such a ground-breaking project.
“At first I was confused. Then I was pissed,” explained writer and executive producer Rick Anthony when asked about the removal of the SFETC. “But that was only a short term setback for me, personally.” Being a writer by trade, Anthony could sell his projects anywhere and to anyone. Others were not so optimistic.
" I felt thoroughly disappointed in Saskatchewan," said Jerran Fraser, who plays the lead role of Simon in the film. " I just feel frustrated as if the arts are not supported here and that is not good for the creative people of this province."
Producer Dawn Bird was the most optimistic of those that were interviewed. "Honestly, I wasn't really worried," Bird said. "I felt they just hadn't really done their homework, and that they had clearly made a mistake, and that when our people in the film industry came to them very kindly how wonderful it's been having the film industry here, and how much money we've brought into our province, they would rescind what they had said, and everything would be fine." The days quickly turned into months, and the deadline for applications for the SFETC drew nearer and nearer. The government, it seemed, meant business. Despite the rallies, talks, petitions, and projects, the Saskatchewan film industry was left the only jurisdiction in North America without a film tax incentive.
"I knew we had a great crew, and was confident in our actors’ abilities, but I knew putting all of it together on such a tight budget and timeline would be a challenge. In the end, I think the footage we captured actually surpassed my expectations. It’s beautifully shot and the performances are stellar." – Rick Anthony
The recent announcement (date?) by the Chamber of Commerce regarding the true cost of the tax credit to taxpayers came as a cold comfort to those that remained in the province following the tax credit's removal.
"It didn’t surprise me," Anthony admitted. "It also won’t surprise me if the government recognizes this as a mistake and re-instates some (useful) form of a tax credit again some day."
"We that worked in the film industry already knew those figures," Bird acknowledges. The figures to which she refers are that the tax credit cost taxpayers roughly $1.3 million per year of operation, instead of the $8 million annually that the government was purportedly going to save upon the tax credit's removal. The tax credit also brought the province no less than $44 million per year it was operating.
“When [those figures] finally came out, thanks to the Chamber of Commerce, I was tickled pink,” Bird laughs. “Now the public will see that we're not hurting their pockets like originally claimed!” Although the true figures have been made public knowledge, the filmmakers in Saskatchewan have still had to make due without any tax incentive in the province. In many ways, the Bread Thieves is a result of having to make due.
"The cancellation of the tax credit was directly responsible for tanking a movie I wrote called WHITE, which was supposed to be produced in Saskatchewan with a six figure budget," Anthony recalled. "I wanted to write a script that could be produced with very little investment, which meant keeping cast, crew and locations very lean. The crime-drama genre works very well for these types of movies and it’s one I really enjoy."
"Rick Anthony is a writer, so he's probably got a hundred stories on the back-burner," Bird laughed. "But a few of them stand out more than others, and he just felt very strongly about this film. He thought based on the type of setting that the film requires, it would be very easy to shoot on a budget of $10,000."
Although the Bread Thieves was to be a genre-film, Anthony was adamant that it stood out from its peers.
"I didn’t want to write the typical, generic, crime-drama where the squeaky clean school kid is thrust into the underbelly of society and has to claw his way back out, so I tried to create a cast of characters that were quite the opposite – they’re poor and start out in the underbelly of society, living in a world that requires a certain moral flexibility just to survive." With a shoestring budget, and a Saskatchewanian cast and crew assembled, the project was underway.
"We had our first table read in September and then the project carried into October right when it was getting cold, which sucked," Fraser laughed.
The film was shot beginning on Sept. 29, and finished shooting on Oct. 10. This ultra-quick turnaround for shooting meant many long days on set for the cast and crew.
"Originally, our weekends were going to be scheduled for twelve hours," Bird explained.
"During the week, because everybody had day jobs, we were going to film from 5:30 p.m. until 12 a.m. We gave people Thursdays and Fridays off. We were on schedule, but as the weather began to change, we had to make new arrangements for shooting to accommodate the weather." Industry standards dictate that a shooting day should not be any longer than twelve hours; however, this being a non-union film, the Bread Thieves had to take advantage of any nice shooting day that they could, and did not have to suffer from the costs of meal penalties or paying overtime.
"Some of our days ended up going from twelve hours to seventeen hours," the ordinarily cheery Bird got quite grim at this explanation. "And twice, we were actually there for twenty-one hours, which is just crazy. But we fed everyone well, and they all said that they'd work for us again, which was the important thing."
"In my opinion it is feasible, but difficult. There is a much smaller, limited market here than there used to be. That being said, if there is a new instantiation of the tax credit it may actually open up new opportunities for those just starting out in the province as many of the major players are now gone and someone will need to fill those voids, so I think there is still hope." – Rick Anthony
Even though it has not received a wide release yet, the film is already garnering international attention. The film's website currently has over 4,000 unique hits, many of which are coming from the United States. The film's success pre-release has been a pleasant surprise for the cast and crew.
"I knew we had a great crew, and was confident in our actors’ abilities, but I knew putting all of it together on such a tight budget and timeline would be a challenge. In the end, I think the footage we captured actually surpassed my expectations. It’s beautifully shot and the performances are stellar," Anthony acknowledged.
"I kind of like to use the same reference that Rick Anthony uses," Bird agrees. "We were all expecting the film to be good, but it turned out great." Ultimately, Jerran Fraser perhaps sums up the feeling amongst the cast and crew best.
"Nothing but good can come out of this project."
Being a relatively low-budget independent film, the cast and crew found that money tends to disappear rather quickly on a film set.
"We thought that, based on our budget of $10,000, we substantiated a budget beforehand that showed how much money we were going to put into marketing and post-production. We even had a contingency, so we felt pretty safe. But as with all films, we ran into some glitches, and before we knew it, all our money was used up. We were like, 'Uh-oh, we have no money left for post-production.’” Undeterred, the crew turned to the website Indiegogo to ask the online community for supplementary post-production funds.
“The way I would describe Indiegogo is it’s a hub for independent filmmakers to come together with new ideas and concepts, but that they don't have the money to make come into fruition, so they go out there and ask for people to contribute funds in order to make their project become a reality," Bird explained. The Indiegogo campaign has raised $470 of its $10,000 goal. The money raised from Indiegogo will be used for sound mastering, scoring and editing the film, digital distribution, and marketing.
Now that filming has wrapped, and with post-production on the near horizon, the cast and crew have releases to look forward to.
"Our plan is to release the movie on the film festival circuit first. When successful, this approach allows movies to build recognition, receive some critical acclaim, and potentially even score a distribution deal with a larger producer or distributor," Anthony said.
"We definitely will be focusing on the major film festivals for next year," says Bird. "It's going to take so long for a wide release because the criteria that these major festivals expect is that you can't have a public viewing of the show prior to submitting to them; they have to see it first. If they don't like it, then you can do whatever you want with it." The film will be sent to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, Tribeca, and Sundance. The film will also be sent to smaller film festivals in Yorkton, Saskatoon, and Prince Edward Island. When there is wide distribution, the film will be available on most major platforms.
"We plan to release the Bread Thieves at the Regina Public Library theatre, on Netflix, iTunes, and I am pretty sure on DVD," Fraser lists.
When asked about fond memories of the set, everyone had nothing but good to say.
"At one point I accidentally locked the keys in a Corvette we used for filming and blamed it on our social media guy," Anthony admits. "His reaction turned a bad day into a good one. Everyone on set was so easy to get along with and really committed to the project, so really I think I have a fond memory of the entire experience."
But, the question needed to be asked: following the initial success of the Bread Thieves, how feasible did the cast and crew find it that a film student from the University of Regina could find work following the completion of their degrees. The reactions from each interview were mixed, at best.
"In my opinion it is feasible, but difficult. There is a much smaller, limited market here than there used to be. That being said, if there is a new instantiation of the tax credit it may actually open up new opportunities for those just starting out in the province as many of the major players are now gone and someone will need to fill those voids, so I think there is still hope," Anthony admits.
"Before the tax credit got cut, there was no room for students, because the same people got all the big jobs. However, I'm not trying to be the devil's advocate, but since the tax credit got cut, and the big dogs have packed up and left, that opens a lot of doors for all of the students graduating from the U of R."
"As a film student, I am starting to feel the frustration that other students feel, school doesn’t feel passionate, you know? Our government doesn’t even support what I am studying and paying copious amounts of dollars for,” Fraser said. “Why would I stay/pay to be somewhere that doesn’t give a rats ass about my future desires and goals? Let’s say I do get my degree and move to Vancouver and my resume says degree at the U of R; if I was the employer I would be like
“You mean the only province in Canada that doesn’t support the film industry?" It's so frustrating, I am changing my degree because of it."
When asked for any final thoughts on the film, Rick Anthony was quick to point out how significant the film already is. Being the first feature-length film shot without the aid of a tax credit is no small feat.
“There is certainly a sense of pride and accomplishment. I really think we may have pulled off the impossible with this one.”
Photo courtesy B.E. ZEE Productions