‘This is a disaster’

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Provincial government’s decision to cut film tax credit threatens to force film students out of province after graduation

Kyle Leitch
Contributor

Students hoping to get a job in film production in Saskatchewan after graduation may be forced to move out of province to find a job in their field.

When Finance Minister Ken Krawetz tabled the provincial budget on March 21, it was revealed that the government plans to cut the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC), a tax credit that industry professionals believe has kept Saskatchewan’s film industry alive and flourishing, and wouldn’t be able to survive without it.

According to the government, the termination of the credit will amount to a savings of $3 million this year and will save another $8 million dollars annually after existing credits are honoured.

But numbers from the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport as presented in a government fact sheet issued on Monday, March 26, reveal that, while government support for the film industry has totalled $45.5 million over the last three years, the film industry’s total economic impact in Saskatchewan over the last three years has been $93.7 million, a net profit for the province.

The SFETC was established in 1998 in conjunction with the province’s growing film industry.

A decade and change later, the message of Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party, according to Danielle Chartier, opposition critic for culture and sport, is that the industry is no longer welcome.

“The message it sends to film students is that ‘we want creative, industrious, and entrepreneurial young people, as long as you don’t work in the film and television industry,’” Chartier said. 

Along with aspiring filmmakers, the removal of the tax credit will drive established professionals to provinces with established tax credit programs.

“People who are already working in the industry have already told me they are actively thinking about leaving,” Chartier explained. “The tax credit is a huge way to support the industry and, without the tax credit, there isn’t much future here.”

Rory Dunn, a second-year film student in the University of Regina’s film program, as already noticed that people are giving up on the province and are picking up and moving elsewhere in search of work.

“I have friends that, as soon as they heard, had to put their house up for sale, because they can no longer afford to live here without the work that this is potentially eliminating,” Dunn said.

Mark Wihak, head of the department of media production and studies, director of the Genie-winning film River, and one of the producers of the locally-popular film I Heart Regina, said the whole thing just doesn’t make any sense.

“What makes this baffling is that Saskatchewan is actually losing money by cutting tax credits, because for every dollar the government provides in a tax rebate, the industry produces six dollars in revenue, most of which comes from outside of Saskatchewan,” Wihak explained.

Since 1998, the SFETC has cost $100 million and has generated $600 million in revenue, according to SaskFilm.

“Everyone has a connection to the film industry, whether it’s through working for SaskFilm or the [Saskatchewan] Filmpool [Co-operative],” said media production and studies lab instructor Ian Campbell. “Everybody is impacted in one way or another. I think the biggest thing about this is that it doesn’t make sense.”

Though the most recent, Saskatchewan is not the first province to attempt to eliminate its tax credit incentives. Provincial governments in both Alberta and New Brunswick attempted to seize their film tax credit programs as well, but because of the backlash, the cut didn’t last long.

“They realized what a mistake they made, and they reinstituted film tax credit programs because they make money for the jurisdiction,” Wihak said. “If Saskatchewan drops its tax credits, production is going to stop here.”

Indeed, the announcement of the removal of the tax credit has dumbfounded established industry professionals. Virginia Thompson, producer of the CTV comedy and Saskatchewan favourite Corner Gas, was left reeling after the announcement. The tax credit helped with roughly 15 per cent of the production budget on Corner Gas.

“I can’t replace that financing,” Thompson said. “That financing is available in British Colombia, in Alberta, in Manitoba, Ontario – everywhere.”

Thompson added that the removal of the credit means her latest project, the CBC comedy InSecurity, will have to move to another province, taking acting and crew jobs with it.

“If the tax credits are restored, production will come back here,” Wihak explained. “But my concern is if it takes the government a year to realize the mistake they’ve made, a lot of our professional crew will have left the province, and that makes it very difficult to rebuild the film industry.”

Future job prospects are not looking bright for budding University of Regina filmmakers if the proposed cut goes through.

“I think we’ll go back to the situation that existed before the growth of the film industry in the 1990s,” Wihak said. “Our film program can provide excellent educational experience for our students, but most of them will have to leave the province to pursue careers in film and television, and that’s really disappointing.”

Ron Goetz, president of the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association (SMPIA), has urged the people of Saskatchewan to express to the Premier, in any way they can, how important the film industry is to them.

The SMPIA website encourages people to volunteer, to tweet, to send letters to the media, and to get their personal stories heard in any way they can.

But despite the hope, Chartier still believes that the end of the tax credit is a poor move by the government and will have ramifications reaching further than the government can currently see.

“From a cultural perspective, this is a disaster,” Chartier said “The tax credit meant that the province invested a little to make so much more. This is incredibly short-sighted and just nonsensical.”

According to his office, schedule changes prevented culture minister Bill Hutchinson from being available for comment to the Carillon before press time.

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