So often in life, we must look back and assess in order to look forward. 2015 was a devastating year for the film/tv business in N.S. But it was also an invaluable learning experience for our industry. In one day, the N.S. Liberal government, led by Stephen McNeil, catapulted our hugely successful industry into chaos and destruction. But in the face of this crisis, our community came together and launched a grassroots rebellion that will go down in the Nova Scotia history books as the most organized counterpunch a government has ever seen. Look at what we accomplished together:
6000 people rallied outside Province House – the most organized, creative and fun protest in living memory.
35,000 people signed an online petition against the government’s proposed changes to the Film Tax Credit.
70 million plus Twitter impressions of the hashtag #NSFilmJobs.
50 out of 57 questions posed on one particular day during Question Period were related to the Film Tax Credit
Hundreds of articles and interviews in local and national news, resulting in unrelenting media coverage
Thousands of people called, wrote to and met with their MLAs across Nova Scotia
As a result, a majority government did something unheard of: they sat down and worked out a compromise during the tabling of a budget. They negotiated. The wolf was at our door. We faced it, and although we didn’t get McNeil’s government to reverse its decision, we did force them to make changes which will serve as a stepping stone to a workable solution.
The outcome, thanks to Screen Nova Scotia (SNS) and everyone in this industry, is the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive, and the Digital Animation Tax Credit. SNS also helped re-establish funding, at least for this year, for AFCOOP’s Film5 program. And it accessed funding for a strategic plan, creation of a web portal, and the hiring of administrative staff (which is incredibly important as volunteers cannot maintain the current workload).
None of these accomplishments in any way diminish the wrongs which the McNeil government foisted upon us. But they are successes. They are our important successes, and looking back on a year which still feels like a loss, it’s important to remember our accomplishments. It was a depressing year for all of us. Live action production dried up. Big budget series and features which couldn’t shoot under the old tax credit went elsewhere. Most small budget shows couldn’t close the financing gap and pulled out. Talented people moved away. Cornerstone companies like PS Atlantic and Filmworks shuttered their windows and closed their doors. The impact was felt by everyone except those lucky few productions which shot under the old tax credit, and a few low budget shoots which forged ahead with smaller budgets than projected.
No one knows what 2016 will bring. But none of the major producers have pulled up stakes and left. Everyone is working hard to keep production in this province. And SNS and its tireless volunteers continue to lobby government and have behind-closed-door meetings. Both opposition parties support us. All of this, because of what, together, we accomplished in 2015. We made our voices heard. We did what we do best: communicate.
Marc Almon, head of SNS, feels we’re in a stronger position to regain our footing than Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, two other provinces that cut their tax credit and saw their industries collapse. “We are not rebuilding from scratch,” he says. “We’re building on an industry that is one of the most established in Canada. The numbers haven’t been published, but our industry generated $151 million in economic activity in 2014, the highest ever. 80% of Nova Scotia’s film and television was created as local production. That’s the highest rate of indigenous production in Canada.” All this to say, we punched well above our weight and will continue to fight back.
The last economic impact study conducted on the N.S. screen industry was commissioned in 2008 - by the government. SNS will soon have its own up-to-date study. The PricewaterhouseCoopers study which SNS commissioned is nearly complete.
Our biggest problems are the loss of confidence in our industry, the $10 million budget allocation on the incentive fund, and the lack of equity financing for smaller, indigenous production. We continue to speak to provincial government, at every opportunity, about these pressing issues. And already this year, SNS reps met with federal MPs to discuss federal support for our industry.
Producers here are not giving up. We are fighting hard, but we continue to need that wonderful collaboration we experienced with every film worker inside and outside of this province. There’s no longer a FCINS to lobby on our behalf, to administer key programs, to support our emerging filmmakers. We have to do it ourselves.
What’s ahead for 2016? SNS has been busy even though the year is young. “We’re embarking on a strategic planning process, launching a national and international promotional campaign, creating a top-of-the-line web portal, hiring staff, and setting the wheels in motion for a revived industry infrastructure,” says Almon.. “Be a part of this process. Be a member. Join committees. Participate in the planning. Continue to press your MLAs for their support of Screen Nova Scotia’s efforts.”
We have talented cast and crew, low rental costs, beautiful locations, and successful production companies here in Nova Scotia. We have a low loonie. We must continue to pressure the government to make those small but significant changes we desperately need. SNS needs your help, so let’s work together, keep up the pressure, and change the messaging until we get what we need. To join a SNS committee connect with us on Facebook or email Tara McClair at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winston Churchill perhaps said it best. “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” That is our film industry challenge in Nova Scotia for 2016. Find the opportunity. We are story tellers. We are culture. We are valuable. And we contribute to the economy. Together we are a powerful voice. So let’s continue to use that power to educate and right the wrong. Our #nsfilmjobs are worth the fight.