B.C. film industry bailout an expensive ticket for taxpayers
Free is too much! — Desk sign at Hollywood film producer’s office, 1998
If there’s one thing both B.C. Liberals and New Democrats can agree on it’s this: giving money to Hollywood is almost irresistible!
So if you want to get literally hundreds of millions of tax dollars to subsidize your already highly profitable industry, just send movie stars and producers up to British Columbia, smile sweetly about how you love the place, and then threaten to leave.
Works every time.
And when a 1,000 rightly worried film workers meet Tuesday night at North Shore Studios for a Save BC Film information session, watch the pressure build on both parties to outbid each other with your money.
But things don’t change when it come to film moguls milking the government like a prize dairy cow while promising to make politician look like stars.
In 1998 I went on a “fact finding” mission to Hollywood representing labour, along with a B.C. government deputy minister and film industry representative.
Ontario had just introduced an 11% tax credit on film and TV production labour — excluding foreign actors — and B.C. was under pressure to match it or the industry would die hard with a vengeance.
In one producer’s office was a big sign that epitomizes the whole situation: “Free is too much!”
The penny — and several million dollars — dropped for me then.
The same producer said he would shift a $2-million TV movie from Vancouver to Toronto just to save $10,000.
B.C. paid up then, even when the dollar hit as low as 63 U.S. cents, and kept jacking the tax credit from 11% to an astonishing 33% today on all local labour costs, spending around $285 million a year to keep up to 25,000 jobs here.
But Hollywood has a good script and we now see the results of Ontario and Quebec starting a shameless bidding war for film industry jobs and investments with an incredibly generous tax credit hike that puts B.C. 10-13% behind them.
Both parties would be smart not to jump when Hollywood yells: “Action! Throw us big bucks and make it look sincere!”
With a more sensible strategy, B.C.’s film and TV business won’t fade to black and the hit movie Tax Credit Bandits won’t keep producing sequels.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BillTieleman