Many will already be aware of the devastation caused by a Nova Scotia Provincial Budget unceremoniously dropped on the film industry in this most beautiful part of Canada this spring. The following is my article from the Summer Edition of PAL’s THE NEWS.
CLIPS FROM THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
Without consultation, and singularly lacking in logic, the Nova Scotia Government’s budget of April 9th ripped the carpet from under the feet of our film industry. Producers immediately cancelled productions and artists scrambled to create enough work to remain in the province. Crews and technical workers spoke of moving elsewhere, young families were left wondering how to cope with the sudden loss of expected gigs, even some home-grown production companies questioned remaining here and all were left scratching their heads at the stunning and obvious stupidity of destroying a growing and successful industry that had been contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Provincial Treasury, and incomes and spin-off benefits to citizens throughout Nova Scotia. The refundable tax credit cost the government $24 Million in 2013-14, but contributed about $155 Million and supported 2,700 needed jobs.
The NS Government continued shouting their mantra about cutting spending, refusing to understand how immediate and devastating their action was, even quoting incorrect and biased information to justify it. The arrogance of their position and the public eruption of support for our industry throughout the province -regular citizens as well as outraged artists- failed to elicit a review of the act’s damages or consideration of a number of amendments put forward in Legislature sessions by the opposition. Instead, government held fast to their position that all spending must be trimmed, indiscriminately, and the film industry was probably one of those areas able to be slashed without too much backtalk. Boy, were they wrong!
The industry immediately organized to demonstrate the strength, support and financial benefits of its presence in the province, especially by mounting a record-breaking, day-long protest of 5,000 people circling the Legislative Assembly block, peacefully but loudly disrupting political dialogue with slogans, music, excellent speeches, plenty of emotion -and NOISE, lots of noise- and with well organized, disciplined and involved participants. The governing Liberals were forced to see they had attacked a hornets’ nest of anger and frustration.
Screen Nova Scotia, an all-disciplines advocacy group quickly emerged to spearhead the defence of the industry. Talks were eventually forced and Government came to the table, though still led by a recalcitrant finance minister, Hon. Diana Whelan, and backed by a bobble-headed caucus.
A new programme, the cumbersomely worded Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive Fund, was proposed to keep Nova Scotia’s screen industry competitive. Unfortunately, it was modelled on a not-too-successful incentive programme from elsewhere and contained many provisions deemed by much of the film industry to be unworkable, if not ridiculously disruptive, only serving to further demonstrate the government’s lack of understanding of the basic practicalities of film production. Sections of the industry were ignored and the arts community quickly zeroed in on missing funding for developing filmmakers and digital media support. And, there was a rumoured “cap” on the Fund amount which, at approximately $10 Million, would not go far to support the quality of feature filming being created in the province and could lead to early funding exhaustion and possible squabbles amongst producers for any workable financial involvement. Of course, there was the major question of stability of the industry. Despite the government’s apparent opinion on the subject, films are not slapped together over a few beers in a bar à la Mickey Rooney’s, “We have a barn, let’s do a show”.
Ongoing during these discussions were myriad administrative problems caused by the government’s lack of foresight in closing the efficient and knowledgable Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia office and turning the whole mess over to the completely unprepared Nova Scotia Business Inc. NSBizInc had to rehire many of the just-fired Film and Creative personnel because they were unable to answer producers’ questions. Not surprising considering there was no film production expertise in their ranks and items as basic as application forms and new regulations were unavailable. In fact, regulations regarding the new Incentive Fund were still being argued over. Producers were finding it impossible to consider working in Nova Scotia and fled to friendlier places.
Meanwhile, Premier Stephen McNeil ignored the problems, insisting he would pay no heed to objections from opposition parties, the industry nor the growing howls of protest in the province. Not to worry though, we were assured a “critical priorities” list was being developed (didn’t happen!) and when the Incentive Fund came into play on July 1st all would fall smartly into place (didn’t happen!).
Today the number and value of productions falls far short of previous summers with many cancellations and delays recorded, and almost each day we hear about another film family considering moving away. Some hope the move is temporary, others, however, have thrown in the towel and are lost to Nova Scotia permanently.
It is interesting to note that, short days ago, a Liberal cabinet shuffle relieved the Hon. Diana Whelan of the Finance portfolio. This suggests the blustering Premier was not pleased with her handling of the film crisis after all. Unfortunately, it also suggests that McNeil and his cowed caucus were willing to destroy a successful industry rather than admit to having moved too precipitously on a film tax programme which had been improving each year, profiting Nova Scotia financially, culturally, physically and touristically, while spin-off benefits were shared by areas throughout the province.
Well, we had a good year for lobster, and we do live in paradise when the sun’s out. We’ll survive! A pity we have to start rebuilding a 20-year success story, but we will. Things will be better next year!