For many the idea that a province with just over a million people even has a film industry is surprising, but considering that I attended the film school at the University of Regina and lived in the province from 2002-2008, you could say that I was always rooting for the underdog that has been the Saskatchewan film industry. Last week it was announced that the provincial government was cutting the film employment tax credit from the budget, essentially crippling what had become a noticeable industry in the province over the last decade.
There's no question that this a complex issue, but looking at the basis of what a tax credit even is, the money that the government was rebating was often the result of projects outside of the province coming in to spend money. Cutting the credit doesn't mean that the government is suddenly privy to those full taxes, it means an even bigger loss because it won't be collecting any tax at all on productions that don't exist. This is emphasized by the fact that neighbouring Alberta and Manitoba do have these tax credits in place - as does pretty much every other region of Canada as incentive for this business to even exist.
I think what many tend to forget about the film industry in a place like Saskatchewan is that the money surrounding new projects isn't simply inclusive to that project. There is a direct impact on numerous local businesses who provide services to make it possible. Everything from catering, set design, print shops, etc. are bolstered by the influx of funds from projects shooting around the province. And more often than not, a great deal of these funds are sourced from places like Toronto, Vancouver, or the States.
I returned home to Alberta after film school and began working in corporate video as an editor, but one of the joys of attending the University of Regina was the belief that the film industry was really finding some traction. Shows like Corner Gas (one of the most popular Canadian shows ever produced) were in production during my time in school and I knew a handful of people who found opportunity there. Here are a few snpashots I took of the location if you're interested. Other films like the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Just Friends, Terry Gilliam's Tideland, and the CBC produced Tommy Douglas movie also shot in the city while I was in uni, and they certainly wouldn't have without the tax credit as incentive.
If you consider the loss of jobs for those already in the business, the fact that media students will have no choice but to leave the province to find relevant opportunities, and that eliminating the incentive created by the tax credit will put many existing businesses and production companies in the lurch, the expectation for the film industry to improve in any capacity seems unlikely. There's also a significant cultural loss involved. The frustration from losing SCN just a few years ago seems to echo this point.
One of my former film profs, Mark Wihak aptly addressed the tax credit issue on CBC Radio - listen here.
All and all, it's unfortunate because the film industry has shown a lot of promise, but simply won't find footing without the government nurturing it like it does with so many other industries. Global Regina reported that the government says it has spent $100 million on the program since 1998 and it isn't sustainable anymore. However, sources from the Canadian Media Fund say that for that money, the province has gained $623 million from productions and over 1200 jobs in that time. The decision to cut the tax credit then seems short sighted, and as mentioned above, negates the other revenue actually created by the investment.
It's really too bad. Cutting the tax credit comes with far greater implications than I think the government has considered with their cost cutting measures. Not to mention, this is a significant step backwards in terms of all of the strides that have been made in growing the industry in recent years. While I willingly made the choice to return to my home province of Alberta to find work in video after uni, it seems those who graduate from the University of Regina's film school now will have no choice but to look elsewhere - much like Saskatchewan can expect outside film productions to do now too.