What a time it's been for the Nova Scotia film industry. On September 13, at the Atlantic Film Festival opening gala screening of Shake Hands With The Devil, premier Rodney MacDonald announced an increase in the provincial tax credit for filming in Nova Scotia, from 35 percent to 50 percent (60 for rural productions and an extra five percent for "frequent fliers," producers who make three or more projects in two years). The credit gives Nova Scotia a leg up over the competition from other provinces such as Manitoba, as well as the American states.
This is especially important right now, since a strike involving the writers and actors' unions in the States is looming in the next six months, and other regions are seeing a spike in American production as a result. The studios want to have a backlog of product available to ride out the potential work stoppage and now, Nova Scotia is in a position to welcome that spike as well. Also, with parity reached with the US dollar, the industry needs all the help it can get to attract Hollywood.
But that tax credit rise didn't just come out of the blue. It was the result of a campaign partly orchestrated by members of the new film business organization, the Nova Scotia Motion Picture Industry Association, which had its first meetings in the months prior to its launch, at Ginger's on September 12, just before the tax credit announcement.
The NSMPIA is a group of producers, union representatives and service providers, who want to see the Nova Scotia film industry flourish and uses its collective power to lobby the government for changes to encourage and maintain a healthy industry. Film business organizations such as this have proved to be quite effective in Ontario and British Columbia.
"This would be an organization separate from the"—Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, whose mandate it is to encourage the film business in Nova Scotia—"so that we could lobby the government, whether it's the tax credit or location permits or whatever the filmmakers feel needs to be addressed," says Rob Riselli, general manager of Production Services for Atlantic Canada and a NSMPIA board member.
The tax credit was at the forefront of the NSMPIA agenda and the group was thrilled to see it instituted. But now, a new challenge: the dispute between tenants Halifax Film and landlord Nova Scotia Power over Electropolis, one of only two film studio facilities in the province. NDP economic development critic Howard Epstein commented that the studio was developed from its original use as a power station with the province putting $1 million towards its new function, an investment that would be lost if NSP takes it back.
"Studio space is an issue NSMPIA is certain to be dealing with in the near future," says Tim Storey, the business agent for the Directors Guild of Canada, also a NSMPIA board member.
Despite the tax credit, there remains an off-the-record frustration with government bureaucracy and the NSFDC, another reason for the formation of an industry group. And the frustration stays off the record because no one is in a rush to criticize a primary funding source.
But it does happen: In an article in the September 12 edition of The Chronicle Herald, local producer Steve Mayhew went off on the "ineffectual government waiting for the next election," words he had to eat at the Academy luncheon days later in the wake of the tax credit announcement, when he stood at a podium in the Lord Nelson and gushed about the great job the NSFDC and government is doing.
Steven Brandman, an American producer on the Jesse Stone pictures with Tom Selleck, isn't on the board of NSMPIA but has been active in campaigning for the tax credit increase. While praising the hard work of NSFDC CEO Anne Mackenzie, he points out that "there's not a single person who sits on the that works or has any experience in the business. I would have thought, given their job description as I understand it, they should be first and foremost loyal to the filmmaker I think they are ultimately somewhat hamstrung and have to serve, and answer to, the government. And that's unfortunate.
"Which is why there was a need for the collective forces to band together to be sure their voice is heard."