Actors, guilds wonder if incentives return enough back to local biz

MONTREAL — For years, many in the Canuck TV biz have argued that international co-productions are the best way for the country to participate in high-quality, pricey programming, given the relatively small size of the Canadian market.

But now some are grumbling that there are too many minority Canadian co-productions, such as “The Tudors” and “The Borgias,” that tap local incentives but don’t hire enough above-the-line local talent.

“The policy is supposed to promote a balance of majority and minority (co-productions),” says Kelly Lynne Ashton, director of policy at the Writers Guild of Canada. “It was designed to be a balance so that other countries wouldn’t be seen as taking advantage of our incentives. It’s starting to feel like we’re being used for our financing.”

A project under the co-production treaty can access provincial and federal tax credits for the Canadian portion of the budget. If it’s a 20% Canuck co-production, for instance, the rule of thumb is that locals should make up roughly 20% of the labor force on the project.

Adding fuel to the growing flames of resentment among TV unions and the guilds, TV networks are getting around the regulation that demands they air 60% of pricey local drama per day by buying these co-productions, which count as Canadian content.

There have been more minority TV co-productions than majority projects over the past couple of years. Clearly, the latter are better for the TV biz here, creating more jobs for locals.

But the local producers behind these projects say detractors are missing the point — that shows like “The Tudors,” “Camelot” and “The Borgias” hire hundreds of Canadians at every level, from technicians to actors to directors.

“The Tudors” is an Irish-Canadian project; “Camelot” and “The Borgias” are Irish-Hungarian-Canadian. Canada reps between 20% to 25% of the budget in each case, but none of the shows is shot in Canada.

John Weber, prexy of Toronto-based Take 5 Prods., which produced all three shows, says the decision to shoot elsewhere is due to the trend toward historical period pieces. “You can’t shoot that in Canada,” he says. “We don’t have 15th century castles here.”

Weber notes that two of the three lead thesps on “The Borgias” — Colm Feore and Francois Arnaud — are Canadian, as is director of photography Paul Sarossy. Weber also often hires Canadian directors for the shoots.

Weber says the Writers Guild is pushing the idea that minority co-productions don’t bring adequate returns to the local industry because its writers are not writing on these series. But, he adds, Canadians are contributing extensively on these shows.”

Weber says his company is developing two large co-productions that could shoot in Canada, though he wasn’t able to reveal details.

Other recent minority Canadian co-productions include “Pillars of the Earth,” “Titanic” and “World Without End.”

Canadian actors’ union ACTRA is concerned about the number of Hollywood stars in the co-productions, hired instead of local actors.

“When you see them bringing in American actors, there’s a problem,” says Joanne Deer, ACTRA director of public policy. “There’s plenty of Canadian talent that could be used to sell those shows.”

Canada does not have a co-production treaty with the U.S., so projects set up by companies north and south of the border can’t access incentives.

Meanwhile, all this may change; the federal government’s Heritage Dept. is reviewing co-production treaty rules.

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