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Last-ditch tax break out to stop runaway biz

Canucks sweeten pot

Proponents of a bill that would provide tax credits to California-based TV and film productions are making a last-ditch attempt to gather support for passage before the Legislature’s current session ends on Friday.

Among the strategies being contemplated is the grafting of the measure, Assembly Bill 358, onto another piece of legislation, a common tactic when proposed bills are in trouble.

The runaway problem was made worse — at least potentially — with the announcement on Wednesday in Vancouver that British Columbia’s already generous subsidy programs for film and television production have been expanded.

Under the new program, production companies that are established in B.C. would receive grants of up to $20,000 to match investments by broadcasters or distributors to develop a project.

The program would also provide advances of up to $10,000 to writers or production companies — as long as they are based in British Columbia — to develop feature films.

The incentives are aimed primarily at British Columbian writers and makers of films and TV programs as a way of establishing an indigenous development industry, but in some Hollywood circles they are seen as just another lure for U.S. producers looking for handouts.

“It sounds like a sham, like they’re trying to cover up what they’re doing,” said Jim Shanahan, a production designer who is vice chairman of the Film & Television Action Committee, which combats runaway production. “It certainly sounds like an incentive for writers and production companies to come up.”

But Chuck Slocum, director of strategic planning for the Writers Guild of America West, saw nothing sinister in the offering.

“Any direct work for American writers that comes out of these programs will continue to fit under the arrangement that the WGA and the Writers Guild of Canada have for cross-border writing,” he said.

The program is funded by British Columbia Film, which has a total operating budget in the current fiscal year of over $2 million from the provincial government, in addition to other funds.

Bright spot

Ex-premier Glen Clark, who resigned last month in the wake of a gambling license scandal, had championed the production industry here, one of the few bright spots in a flat economy. The new programs from British Columbia Film are an indication that the unpopular New Democratic government intends to continue its policy of generously supporting the local industry.

British Columbia Film was set up by the province in 1987, and operates as a privately managed, nonprofit society that administers public funding to expand independent film and television production here.

Development funding

“We’re offering development funding that acknowledges projects securing support from the marketplace while also offering an opportunity for writers and producers to fully complete their scripts before entering the competitive markets,” CEO Rob Egan said.

The program to provide advances to established writers or production companies to develop dramatic feature scripts is open to Canadians or landed immigrants who are B.C. residents or to firms controlled by B.C. residents.

Up to a maximum of $10,000 is available to an eligible applicant to complete a first-draft screenplay; up to $6,600 for a final draft screenplay; and up to $10,000 to complete a script polish and begin preliminary scheduling and marketing.

Applications for this program can be made only on one day, Nov. 1, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. “It’s a way of managing demand,” Liz Shorten, a spokesperson for British Columbia Film, said.

Prod’n companies

Applications for the development advances to established production companies will be accepted after Sept. 15 and must be complete to be given priority standing. The agency said this program will close without advance notice if demand exceeds available funds, but declined to disclose the amount.

The effort follows a vow last week by the California measure’s author, Assemblyman Scott Wildman (D-Burbank), to “fight to the bitter end” for the tax credits’ passage after Gov. Gray Davis indicated he would not sign a bill that amounts to a tax cut.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can to get this thing passed,” Wildman’s chief of staff, Greg Campbell, said Wednesday. “We want this issue to be addressed this year. This has been a public awareness campaign from the beginning. I don’t think a lot of people up here in Sacramento realized the severity of this problem of runaway production.”