The Canuck film industry is split over whether new California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will use his political muscle to stop U.S. production from fleeing to the Great White North.
Some here believe the cash-strapped state can’t afford new film tax incentives, while others are far more worried that the rising Canuck dollar will scare production away.
Generally, they think it’s more likely that the Governator will use his considerable power as a movie star and politician to strong-arm the studios into shooting less often in Canada.
Schwarzenegger personally intervened to move the shoot of “Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines” from Vancouver to Los Angeles because he wanted to encourage filmmakers to bring shoots back to California.
“Anything can happen in California, as we’ve seen,” said Ken Ferguson, prexy of Toronto Film Studios. “I think what Arnold can do is use his peer pressure and his patriotism to embarrass other actors to do what he did (with ‘Terminator 3’) and stay in California. And that would worry me.”
That opinion is not shared by all, however.
“The ‘T3’ decision was all about trying to please the folks in the gallery,” said Montreal film commissioner Daniel Bissonnette. “But he can’t do that all the time. California has a huge deficit, and the state has to reduce expenses. To do that is not going to be easy. If he wants to bring film shoots back to California, that will take tax incentives, and that costs money. …Talking is one thing, but doing something is another.”
The much bigger worry is the rising Canadian dollar.
The loony, as its known here, has soared from the low 60¢ to 75¢ in the past year, and some economists say it might hit 80¢ within months. The rising dollar already is convincing many American producers to look elsewhere for locations.
“The fact that the Canadian dollar is going up is much more significant than the arrival of Schwarzenegger as governor,” said David Reckziegel, co-prexy of Montreal-based Seville Pictures.
“I don’t think runaway production will disappear because of the dollar rising, but there will be less of it.”
Foreign shooting is already down significantly in Toronto, mostly as a result of concerns about SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Ferguson said his business has declined 10%. Overall foreign shooting may be down as much as 40%.
Business is healthier in Vancouver and Montreal, where SARS was perceived as less of a threat.
In Vancouver, where more than 30,000 people work in the film and TV production industry, there are fears that service work from Hollywood could decline sharply next year.
“The dollar is a concern,” said British Columbia film commissioner Susan Croome. She noted, however, that the Australian dollar has risen even more against the greenback.
B.C. has hosted 28 foreign feature films so far this year, and total film and TV production revenues are on pace to equal last year’s total of just under $750 million, down from a record $900 million in 2000.
The industry in Vancouver is surviving on the production of features, with TV movies and minis down sharply from previous years.
Currently winding down are “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which has 1,500 on the payroll, and “I, Robot,” with 1,300.
“Catwoman,” starring Halle Berry and Sharon Stone, is just getting under way there.
(Don Townson in Vancouver contributed to this report.)