Nova Scotian Harvest Begins

Traditionally, the four Atlantic provinces at the eastern tip of Canada have not been prolific film and TV production centers, and the Canadian biz continues to be dominated by the large companies in Montreal and Toronto.

The Maritime region’s small population base, weak economy and distance from the country’s major cities always has made life difficult for East Coast producers.

But things are looking up for at least one Atlantic province – business is booming in Nova Scotia and the other three provinces are hoping to emulate the Nova Scotian success story. A few years back, Nova Scotia was generating a few million bucks worth of production, but last year, Atlantic Canada’s most populated province drummed up C$40.5 million ($30 million) in production activity and it is likely to hit the same plateau again this year.

Homegrown films

Even more encouraging for the indigenous Nova Scotian industry, which mainly is based in Halifax, there are even more homegrown films and TV series being lensed this year. Last year, foreign shoots accounted for the lion’s share of the total thanks to big-budget Hollywood productions such as “The Scarlet Letter” and “Dolores Clairborne.”

In 1995, though, locally produced fare will likely hit the $22 million mark, in large part thanks to a new tax-credit program introduced by the provincial government. The tax credit, inspired by a similar program in Quebec, refunds as much as 30% of labor expenditures, with a cap at 15% of the total budget. The government handed out around $2.2 million worth of tax credits this year and expects the total to rise to $11 million after 10 years.

The Nova Scotia tax-credit program is open to foreign coventures, with the local producer only having to control 25% of equity in the production.

“It’s a renaissance going on right now,” says Roman Bittman, president of provincial funder, the Nova Scotia Film Development Corp. “We have entrepreneurial producers. The timing is right. The government was convinced that this was worth a shot. The fact that there’s financing has made the difference. We’re quietly going to grab a little share of the pie. To me, it’s more important that we develop the local industry, then we’ll have the crew base and infrastructure that will attract co-ventures and foreign shoots.”

The highest profile feature to come out of Nova Scotia this

year was director Mort Ransen’s coal-mining drama, “Margaret’s Museum,” the Helena Bonham Carter starrer that has picked up numerous awards on the fest circuit, including the top prize at San Sebastian. Halifax-based Imagex Films produced the pic with a number of Canadian and British partners, and Imagex is currently in post-production on another Canadian-U.K. co-production, “Sweet Angel Mine,” being made with HandMade Films of London.

“That’s really the trend we’re setting with the company,” says producer Gilles Belanger from Imagex. “It’s dealing with international stories that appeal to people everywhere. People in Vancouver deal more with the Pacific Rim and it’s natural here for people to do a lot of business with England, Scotland and Ireland. We call it the Atlantic Rim.”

Salter Street Films is another Halifax company mining European co-production. Salter Street, which produces the popular CBC satirical series, “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” is in the midst of lensing a series of four TV movies titled “Dark Zone,” a Canadian-German co-production set to air on Showtime that Salter Street prexy Paul Donovan calls “the evil twin of ‘ Star Trek,’ or ‘Alien’ meets ‘Beavis and Butthead.’ “

Salter Street also developed the Popcorn Channel in partnership with Torstar and the New York Times, and the movie-guide specialty channel has just been launched in the U.S.

“Two or three years ago, we felt the future of the film business was changing,” says Donovan. “We felt we had to be more export-oriented. In the Atlantic provinces, it feels like it’s changing from a cottage industry to a real industry.”

Halifax now has a number of solid, local production companies, notably Citadel Communications, which co-produced the French-lingo feature, “The Secret of Jerome,” and Cochran Entertainment, which is producing its fourth season of the preschool series, “Theodore Tugboat,” and also has the “Life on the Internet” series on the Discovery Channel in Canada, soon to be on PBS in the U.S.

Newfoundland

One of the major problems in the other three Atlantic provinces is the absence of provincial agencies dedicated to boosting local production.

The island province of New-foundland has spawned a couple of critically lauded features over the past few years, the two best-known being helmer Michael Jones’ “Secret Nation” and the same helmer’s earlier “The Adventures of Faustus Bidgood.” Due to the lack of infrastructure in the Newfoundland capital of St. John’s, the island’s top talent – like the writers and performers responsible for the popular “CODCO” and “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” shows – have had to migrate to Halifax to find steady work.

“It was a very disappointing year for all of us,” says John Doyle, president of the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Cooperative.

“It’s extremely difficult to finance films now. You just have to keep kicking at the can. But the Newfoundland government is coming onside. They’re beginning to see that small amounts (of cash) will lever large amounts.”

New Brunswick

The New Brunswick government is just months away from setting up a film commission, according to Moncton-based producer Pierre Bernier. He works for the National Film Board of Canada, which has its French-language center for the Atlantic provinces in Moncton and accounts for a large chunk of the film production in the province. A third of New Brunswick’s 600,000 residents are French-speaking; more than half the films lensed in the province are in French.

“We train people and then they leave the province,” says Bernier. “But there are changes on the way. Halifax’s boom is due to the Nova Scotia Film Development Corp. The government is very important. It’s the key to attract outside investment and to convince foreign companies to embark on co-productions in New Brunswick. It would allow us to revitalize the industry.”

Prince Edward Island

The small province of Prince Edward Island is home to little film and TV production. Film veterans in Charlottetown, the island’s capital, ruefully mention that the hit TV series, “Anne of Green Gables” and “Road to Avonlea,” both set in Prince Edward Island, were shot almost entirely in Ontario.

“We need to create more awareness,” says Berni Wood of Enterprise P.E.I., the provincial government’s economic development agency. ‘We have a small industry, so we have to build our structure to develop a crew base.”

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