Sobering times for Nova Scotia’s film industry

With government tax credits under review, the party could be over for province’s motion picture producers.

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The morning after the Atlantic Film Festival’s closing gala is always one of strange beds, wicked headaches and feet sore from dancing. How to best cure that hangover? For film industry professionals, the province’s tax credit review could jolt them to their senses faster than even the strongest cup of coffee.

Back before the last election, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil promised to extend the province’s Digital Media and Film Tax Credit programs. But last winter the newly-elected government announced a broad review of the province’s tax system, with former Ontario cabinet minister Laurel Broten investigating regulations, fees and tax credits. That caused some concern for Nova Scotia’s motion picture professionals, who hold tax credits as crucial to their industry’s survival.

Marc Almon, award-winning local producer and chair of the Nova Scotia Motion Picture Industry Association, wants to stress he’s not at all opposed to the review.

“We're prepared,” he says, adding that his lobby group has already submitted a position paper to the Liberal panel detailing their arguments for keeping the program. “We're hoping that what we presented to Laurel Broten, that she takes that seriously. We feel confident the government will look favourably on extending the tax credit.”

Almon says an initial meeting between the review panel and film producers “didn't go well,” but since then the position paper has been taken into consideration.

Film incentives like tax credits have been coming and going over the last few years, with many governments and financial experts debating their merit. Saskatchewan ended its program two years ago after finding it had cost the province more than $100 million since 1998. New Brunswick also recently axed its credit, only to bring it back months later in a different form. Just yesterday, the state of California more than tripled their program, now offering over $330 million annually and extending those credits to productions with budgets greater than $75 million.

Nova Scotia’s Department of Finance isn’t too inclined to comment on the review before it’s completed. They’re bunkered down now, finishing things off before the report’s expected release in October. A rather terse statement by spokesperson Darcy MacRae bluntly reads in full: “The tax, regulations and fee review is looking at all aspects of our tax system including the film and digital tax credits. It will report this fall. Government has made a commitment to the creative industries.”

Positive or negative, any shifts in the program are likely to alter what films get made in Nova Scotia.

“We're trying to make sure they're aware of the ramifications of that,” Almon says. “If they were to make any change, it would have a damaging effect.”

I've spoken with more than a few film folks at screenings, parties and events over the last week and tried to ask everyone what their instinct is on whether the credit could get chopped. I'd say there is some concern, with rumours circulating about the project's economic worth, but the majority have said it's unassailable. Tax credits are too tied to the high-level economic shakers in town, they tell me. Michael Donovan will just get on the phone and start swinging his Oscar around. That kind of thing.

“Tax credits sustain an incredibly vibrant, sustainable economy here in Nova Scotia,” Almon says. “The producers here leverage those tax credits into a multi-million dollar industry that employs thousands of people and attracts attention from all over the world.”

Whatever the Liberals decide, just try to stay hydrated and avoid bright lights. Remember, the only real cure for a film industry hangover is time.

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