Org wants production incentives investigated

After a half-dozen years of fund-raising and assembling endorsements, the Film & Television Action Committee will file today a formal petition with the federal government against Canadian film production incentives.

In the petition, FTAC seeks an investigation into the legality of foreign government film and TV subsidies designed to attract American productions. The basic argument is that the Canadian incentives have been used illegally to cut into employment in film and TV in the U.S., forcing below-the-line workers to leave the industry.

FTAC, an org of below-the-line workers founded in 1998, has spent most of its energy since 2001 on prepping the North American Free Trade Agreement Section 301(a) petition asking the U.S. Trade Representative to initiate negotiations with Canada to remove its subsidies. Advocates contend the filing — backed by the threat of intervention of the World Trade Organization — represents the most effective way of putting the brakes on productions fleeing to less-expensive locations outside the U.S.

Canadian officials have long asserted that their subsidies are legal.

The notion of backing a federal investigation has received support over the years from an array of Teamster and Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees locals plus city councils in Burbank, Glendale and West Hollywood. And FTAC won a key endorsement last fall when the Screen Actors Guild’s national board unanimously backed the filing and donated $50,000 to Stewart and Stewart, the law firm representing FTAC.

But the issue has still been divisive in Hollywood. Orgs such as the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Directors Guild of America, the Independent Film and Television Alliance, AFTRA and IATSE’s leaders have long contended that such a strategy could backfire by leading to a trade war and further loss of jobs.

FTAC generated significant notice by drawing thousands of below-the-line workers to rallies in the late 1990s and through its controversial 2001 filing with the federal government seeking countervailing tariffs against producers who use Canadian subsidies. It withdrew the petition a month later and has not refiled it.

FTAC is urging industry professionals via its website to write to President George Bush, the U.S. Trade Representative and members of Congress. Part of a suggested letter reads: “My ability to earn a living has been deeply harmed by these unfair subsidies designed to entice American producers to film in Canada and hire Canadian actors for what would be my job if the project were made here in the U.S.”

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