Tax policy a horror show for Victoria filmmaking

TV and movie production revenues fall as program excludes region

While movie and TV production spending increased in B.C. in 2008, the capital region's share dropped significantly -- a decline being blamed on its exclusion from a "distant location" tax credit that's steering producers elsewhere.

Production revenues in Greater Victoria last year fell to $7.3 million -- less than half the $15 million generated in 2007, and down from $28 million in 2006.

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Overall production spending in B.C., however, exceeded $1.2 billion, an increase of more than $250 million over 2007, according to figures released yesterday by the B.C. Film Commission.

But in Victoria last year, only one major project was filmed -- the $14 million sci-fi miniseries Impact.

"If this goes on much longer it could be the end of the film industry here for us," said Greater Victoria film commissioner Rod Hardy.

The six-per-cent distant location tax credit, which complements another regional labour expenses tax credit, is for producers who film outside the Lower Mainland -- north of Whistler, east of Hope and on Vancouver Island, except Greater Victoria.

The distant location tax credit was created after a 2007 review of tax incentive programs by the Regional Film Commissions Association of British Columbia. It recommended that the B.C. Ministry of Finance implement more tax incentives for filmmakers who shoot outside the Lower Mainland in "distant" locations such as Victoria to help offset additional expenses producers would incur.

"That was our attempt to level the playing field," Hardy said. "We were seeing shows that could shoot in Victoria end up in Langley or Maple Ridge because they don't have to pay to travel crew there. They just show up for work."

Hardy said southern Vancouver Island has been put at a competitive disadvantage because producers cannot get a distant location credit here to offset expenses such as transportation of equipment and crews, per diems and accommodation costs.

He said it's "absurd" that Greater Victoria would be regarded as a "nearby" region since it's nearly impossible for crew members, many from Vancouver, to travel to Victoria and back to the Lower Mainland "studio zone" in a single workday.

The industry has also been affected by a downturn precipitated by the U.S. writers strike, sweetened tax incentives elsewhere, and the threat of a U.S. Screen Actor's Guild strike.

Consequently, the region's support services for movie-making are eroding since crews are leaving to seek work elsewhere.

"You can notice a trend here," Hardy said. "We went from 16 shows [in 2006] to one."

The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has written to the ministers of finance and tourism expressing concerns about how the tax credit was imposed, chief executive officer Bruce Carter said.

"We've had assurances they're going to look at it," he said. "The nature of the statistics punctuates the point that if filming is up around B.C. and down in Victoria, there's a problem. And it's relatively easy to fix."

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Bill Bennett was not immediately unavailable for comment.

Recent projects filmed here include 2007's Normal, And She Was, The Egg Factory and Hallmark's Sissy Spacek vehicle Pictures of Hollis Woods. The year before was particularly busy, with production of Cleaverville, Imaginary Playmate, Murder on Spec, Scare Tactics, The Mermaid Chair, The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker and The Last Trimester.

So far this year, the region has attracted one production -- producer Ted Bauman's Stranger With My Face, a thriller starring Catherine Hicks and Alexz Johnson. It's slated to air next fall on Lifetime in the U.S. and Superchannel.

mreid@tc.canwest.com

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