Canucks try to lure biz

Ailing B.C. on offensive to bring back Yank business

VANCOUVER — With business down one third this year, massive unemployment and bleak prospects, British Columbia’s slumping film and TV industry is campaigning to get tax relief and to raise its profile.

Almost half of all foreign location production in Canada takes place in the province, and the industry here is highly dependent on now-elusive U.S. service work. There is widespread agreement that a turnaround will be a difficult task.

B.C.’s film and TV production industry is facing the rising Canuck buck, increased competition for its U.S. service work from other provinces and from abroad, an onerous sales tax and the continuing decline of its movie-of-the-week business.

Over the weekend, 150 members of B.C’s Motion Picture Production Industry Assn. finalized plans at an emergency meeting to boost awareness of the B.C. industry’s capabilities in Los Angeles. They also decided to lobby the provincial government for a higher cap on tax credits, an expanded tax credit base and relief from the sales tax on production expenses.

MPPIA will also mount an advertising and public relations campaign in B.C. that will include bumper stickers that read “The film industry feeds my family.”

About 15,000 are directly employed in the industry. Although there are no hard numbers available, thousands of industryites are now unemployed per Cheryl Nex, exec VP of EP Canada, a Vancouver payroll firm that services the industry.

“We do know that the gross payroll of those who have worked this year in some sectors of the industry is down 32.4% compared with the same period last year. With this much unemployment, we’re approaching crisis,” she said.

Some workers and suppliers are taking matters into their own hands, fleeing the industry, or forming local theater troupes, and even shipping production equipment to Los Angeles.

“We’re beginning to watch our infrastructure slide away,” said Howard Storey, prexy of the Union of BC Performers. “That’s hugely significant. We need a well-developed infrastructure to be viable.”

B.C. is capable of supporting about 45 film and TV productions at once, but there are only about 20 now under way.

Len Chan, owner of Starr-Tech Productions, a supplier of mobile dressing rooms and other location trailers, said he is seriously considering sending a new C$500,000 ($414,079) Starwagon to Los Angeles and retiring from the business.

“I have one Starwagon that has been rented out for just one feature in the last 18 months — ‘Paycheck’ starring Ben Affleck. I know people who have trailers that never went out at all last year. This whole thing is hurting a lot of people.”

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