Crazy Enough To Be A Movie
Five short essays on the Saskatchewan Party’s weird sneak attack on film
It was a hell of a surprise. When the government announced the end of the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit on budget day, the province's film patch was collectively flabbergasted. "Well, they killed the film industry," one insider told me in the rotunda. It was a common sentiment. The mood was not good.
Film people weren't the only ones who were angry and baffled. In Regina, The Leader-Post's Murray Mandryk and Bruce Johnstone, hardly a pair of shrill, screeching radicals, both blasted the government's move. The story made national news too, as people like CBC's Jian Ghomeshi took a stand against the cuts on his popular morning show Q.
Even favourite son Brent Butt, the King of Dog River, after asking for opinions, pro and con, on the tax credit, announced he hadn't heard a single argument against the program that made any sense.
What the hell happened?
One school of thought is that the Saskatchewan Party and its leader, Premier Brad Wall, emboldened by an overwhelming mandate in last fall's election, are finally beginning to publicly show their true face. Where the arts are concerned, that face is not smiling. The Saskies have always seemed at best indifferent and clueless, and at worst outright hostile, to arts and culture. Plus they used to just hate the film industry - seen as pro-NDP - when they were in opposition.
They've become overconfident, this theory holds, and payback time has arrived. And if they can gut the film patch, maybe all those dirty Saskatchewan reds in neighbourhoods like Cathedral and Nutana will move away and/or drop dead.
If this is true, it sure is an indulgent waste of political capital for minimal gain.
Another school of thought, perhaps even less flattering, is that the Saskatchewan Party is packed with idiots who don't have a clue about any economic development that doesn't involve selling discounted resources like oil and potash. Cancelling the film tax credit will literally cost the province jobs and lose business money. They did it anyway. Investment? Economic diversification? Jobs? Anyone? Hellooo?
And sure, after a week of backlash and public confusion (our government is doing, um what? Why?) now they're talk about finding new ways to "support" the industry. It's lame.The tax credit worked, and it sure sounds like ego-tripping goofballs who cancelled it are trying to make themselves feel better about a bungled decision.
The Saskatchewan Party just dismantled sound public policy that, OH NOES! happened to have been developed by the hated NDP. God forbid your opponents could do anything right. Hey, is that the phrase "Made In Saskatchewan Solution" I hear marching toward the marble palace with its chest puffed out and distraction on its mind?
I could go on and on (and on) about this, and probably will in future issues and on our blog. In the meantime, a bunch of our writers have penned short essays on the end of the SFETC and the future of culture in this place. I hope they give you something to think about.
This should be the start of a conversation, not the end of one. /Stephen Whitworth
Hey Film Industry: Don't Slam The Door On Your Way Out
When Regina South MLA Bill Hutchinson took CBC along while he met 'average voters' in the Southland Mall's food court last fall, he had a trick up his sleeve. Turns out the people he chatted up weren't 'average voters' at all - they were Sask. Party campaign workers, as Geoff Leo and his CBC colleagues quickly figured out.
In that fake world that Hutchinson (who's now the minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport) and his campaign staff created, everything was very safe. Nothing was left to chance. It was all as scripted as John Carter. So on the surface, one would think Hutchinson would be more comfortable in the film and video world.
And that's what makes his government's decision to kill the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit even more baffling that it appears on first glance.
Forget that the Saskatchewan government has offered - and will continue to offer - tax breaks to almost every business looking to set up here, this side of grow-ops and whorehouses. Forget the fact that in the past six years, the film and video tax credit brought into the province more than six times the amount of money in economic activity - that means, counting personal income and sales taxes, that the film industry provided more money to the provincial treasury than the province provided in grants.
This is the same government that sold the educational television channel, the Saskatchewan Communications Network, for $350,000 to Bluepoint Investment Corporation, who then sold it to Rogers for $3 million not two years later. Evidently, these are people with the business sense of a rock.
So when Premier Wall announced, after a late March meeting with representatives of Saskatchewan's film industry, that he would work with them to come up with ways to help the industry, you can bet there were more than a few derisive laughs.
Wall was an economic development officer in Swift Current between his jobs as a backroom guy for the now-moribund Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan and later a Saskatchewan Party backroom guy. Anyone who knows anything about economic development knows full well that businesses - whether a potash mine, machinery manufacturer or a film shoot - will go where their input costs are lowest.
And input costs include tax breaks and grants from governments - which every other jurisdiction in North America offers.
This is why anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows that the provincial government's decision to eliminate the film tax credit was based on nothing but pure politics. It makes no economic sense. It's not something other governments are doing, and it gives the North American movie industry - a group that, you know, really influences Western popular culture - the perception that our province is closed-minded, petty, and generally a bad place to do business.
In short, the perception Wall's decision has created is about as devastating to Saskatchewan's public image as Premier Allan Blakeney's decision in the 1970s to nationalize the potash industry was alarming to the national business community.
This mess brings to mind what Bertolt Brecht said after losing his faith in his political belief. In June 1953, East German troops brutally put down an anti-government revolt in East Berlin. In the aftermath, Brecht, one of the world's leading playwrights, caustically opined that since the government's ruthless putdown of the public's desire for change illustrated that the government had lost confidence in the people they were governing, then it was time for the government to get a whole new group of people to govern.
As the face of the Wall government's dumb politics and even dumber economics, the Culture minister is hinging his political future on the idea that the Sask. Party can replace Saskatchewan voters with somebody else. /Stephen LaRose
It's Not Me, It's You
I knew things were not great between us, but I thought you were just being distant. That's probably good, in a marriage like ours.
Why are you killing the film industry? Do you really want people like me to leave? Because that's sure what I'm reading between the lines of this cut. Without saying a word, you have told me and everyone like me that you would rather we leave the province. It doesn't matter who we are - directors, electricians, carpenters, actors, hairdressers, caterers - if we want a career, we should do it elsewhere. And take our families with us.
And if anyone else doesn't want to live in a place without creative industries, well, they can go too.
This is what I don't understand: over and over the cultural sector has tried to prove its benefits to you. We've tried the intangibles - quality of life, the intrinsic good of creative expression to the human spirit and all that. When that didn't work, we tried to explain it in financial terms. We came up with all kinds of multipliers and offshoots and trickle downs, but now it turns out you didn't care about that either. Our money's no good here, apparently.
What exactly do you want from us? Do you truly want all the creative people to leave the province?
It's almost as if you don't want anyone to think or talk about or remember Saskatchewan. Why else would you cut the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit and neuter Tourism Saskatchewan?
And the Archives Board? Really, Brad? Your cuts there cost 14 jobs and leaves the lights on a mere 18 hours a week. Why don't you want us to look backwards? Are you afraid Saskatchewan will turn into a pillar of salt on your watch?
If I didn't know better, I'd swear you're jealous. Why else would you go after the things that remind you of the NDP?
Funny thing is, no one was thinking about them before you cut the tax credit. Even in boom times, we're still in Saskatchewan: we dance with the one who brung us. And like it or not, that's you, baby.
We want to stay, you know, even though the cost of living now outweighs any benefit to being here. We want to stay for the community, the only thing Regina really had going for it. We would have kept dancing.
Is this it? You want us to pack our bags and get out? I don't think you'll like the Saskatchewan you'll get after we're gone, you know.
Of course, no one will know what that will be like, because there won't be anyone left to record it. Not that there will be much to record.
Let us know how it all works out. /Carle Steel
These Taxpayers Don't Like Movies
Working for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in 2012 is probably as maudlin an occupation as being a Maytag repairman. The anonymously funded, self-styled watchdog group teeters on the precipice of redundancy as right-wing governments hold office at federal and most provincial levels.
It used to be different. During the Romanow/Calvert and Chretien/Martin administrations, the CTF righteously howled about profitable Crowns and the mollycoddling of citizens through social programs. But now - when the country is run by people who agree with them and in some cases, such as federal Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, used to work for them - what's there left to fight?
Really, when Alberta faces the Orwellian dilemma of deciding between the right-wing government they've always had or trying out a new right-wing government, there's not much for the CTF to do.
It's not that there's no government waste. Despite their claims that they hold politicians accountable for how tax dollars are spent, the Taxpayers Federation is noticeably quiet about big-ticket boondoggles like Tony Clement's $50 million spending spree in advance of the 2010 G8 and G20 Summits, or these magnificent fighter jets the feds have committed to paying billions for (whether they exist or not).
Instead, the CTF has chosen to devote its efforts - and its secretive funders' cash - to petty, ideologically driven campaigns against curbside recycling, climate science, Aboriginal rights and the very existence of a minimum wage.
And, oh yeah, video games in youth correctional facilities.
Last August, with no more than a single phone call to Brad Wall, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Winnipeg-based Saskatchewan rep effected a policy change within Saskatchewan's youth justice system. "In the grand scheme of things, the government didn't spend a lot of money - just $1,616.97 on the games over a four year period," said the CTF's Colin Craig. "But that's not the point."
Those really are Craig's own words.
So what WAS the point? To show kids - as young as 12 - who've already had everything taken away from them that conservative zealots can still make things harder on them?
Who knows? But it's no surprise that Craig emerged as the loudest cheerleader of the Saskatchewan Party's scorched-earth attack on the Saskatchewan film industry. As of the evening of April 1, Craig's amateur video, "Sask Film Tax Credit Briefing" had clocked in 720 views, 698 more views than his previous video, "More Cuts Needed in 2012 Saskatchewan Budget". Odds are, most of those were by flabbergasted film industry people.
Though the CTF, founded in Saskatchewan in 1990, no longer has any Saskatchewan staff -perhaps Mr. Craig finds it more prudent to do business under Manitoba's NDP government? - and claims that it is non-partisan, and that its staff and board members are prohibited from holding memberships in political parties, its website still asks for donations to be sent to #105-438 E. Victoria Ave. in Regina.
That's the constituency office of Gene Makowsky, Sask. Party MLA.
What's that all about? /Emmet Matheson
A Surfeit Of Subsidies
Two days after the Saskatchewan government delivered the death knell to the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit, Premier Brad Wall tweeted, "If an industry cannot survive at all without a permanent taxpayer subsidy, should the taxpayers subsidize it indefinitely?"
Yet, when you take a look at government spending programs, the lists of businesses that receive some form of government subsidization - and the number of industries eligible for some form of government subsidy or tax break - is far larger than those who don't.
(A thankful tip of the hat to Simon Enoch at the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives' Saskatchewan office for the comprehensive list.)
THAR'S SUBSIDIES IN THEM THAR HILLS! Take, for example, the oil and gas industry. Just how badly does it need money from the government? Well, it gets around $327 million per year worth of tax breaks and grants from the province. (Figures supplied by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.)
These subsidies and tax breaks range from incentives for drilling new wells and incentives to keep old wells going, to the royalty tax rebate and waiving provincial and federal sales taxes on chemicals and injection agents to enhance oil recovery.
WELL-FERTILIZED The potash industry also gets a few government dollars - like a 10-year tax holiday from base payments on expansions of potash mines that exceed productive capacity of 200,000 tonnes of potassium chloride (KCl) per year, retroactive to 2005. (The province provides this capital investment incentive to promote production expansion.)
There are also tax breaks for companies moving or keeping head office jobs in Saskatchewan. That's $100,000 a year for every new corporate office job created in or relocated to Saskatchewan for five years, retroactive to 2010, and a $25,000 per year deduction for existing corporate office jobs.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON How about small business? Never mind what agencies such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation say, here's part of what the provincial government actually provides: "The Small Business Loans Association (SBLA) Program provides business development opportunities to entrepreneurs that have difficulties in obtaining traditional and/or sufficient financing. Monies are disbursed interest-free to Small Business Loans Associations to a maximum credit line of $200,000." (That's straight from the Enterprise Saskatchewan website.)
Manufacturing? "Saskatchewan-based manufacturing and processing firms can have their corporate income tax rate reduced to as low as 10 per cent depending on their allocation of income to Saskatchewan."
Fishing? "The Commercial Fishing and Freight Subsidy and Price Support Program provides financial support for the commercial fishing industry in northern Saskatchewan through two components: a freight subsidy and a price support mechanism."
How about agriculture? "Saskatchewan-based companies involved in the value-added processing of agricultural products can apply for project funding to a maximum of $50,000 over a four-year period for prototype and product development; systems improvements; marketing/marketing opportunities; and skills and training." (These quotes are all also courtesy Enterprise Saskatchewan).
Hell, even the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority offers a subsidy - a $50 rebate if you replace your old toilet with a low-flow model.
In comparison, Brad Wall doesn't give a shit about the Saskatchewan film industry. And that's a fact. /Stephen LaRose
Sound And Vision
Since the Sask. Party was elected in 2007, it's claimed to value the arts as an important contributor to our quality of life. Unfortunately, it hasn't backed that up with solid financial support.
Take the 2012-13 budget. After receiving a bump from $6.338 million to $6.433 million in the 2011-12 budget, funding for the Saskatchewan Arts Board was frozen in 2012-13.
Yes, in a year when austerity was the pre-budget buzz word, SAB funding wasn't cut. But with inflation running at over two per cent, a stand-pat budget amounts to a de facto cut.
For some Sask. Party supporters it's probably still too much. Especially when you consider all the pressing needs the government faces, like health care. But realistically, if you took the SAB's allocation and plowed into Health, with its $4.7 billion budget, all you'd buy is an extra 12 hours of medical care for the entire province.
That'd really put a dent in surgical wait times, wouldn't it?
For two decades now, arts advocates have argued that not only are the arts key to quality of life, they're also an important economic driver. Film definitely falls into that category. So does music, with it's with the pop culture cachet. But there too the government has failed to put the proper supports in place to allow the province's musicians to prosper.
SaskMusic head J.P. Ellson says that the model used to fund the industry is flawed. Traditionally, the focus has been on giving musicians the money to make and record music. But once bands get their CDs back from the factory, most lack the resources to really market and tour their work, so they just end up gathering dust in a box somewhere. (Saskatchewan's geography really works against touring - we're in the middle of nowhere, six hours from Winnipeg and eight from Calgary, and our two major cities have a combined population of less than half a million. It's tough to be a musician here.)
In an ideal world, Saskatchewan musicians would have access to money to both record and market their music. But we don't live in an ideal world. And Ellson would like to see us move to a funding model that provides top acts with the means to compete in a crowded marketplace. Once buzz about the Saskatchewan music scene has been generated, other artists would reap the benefits too.
When I last spoke with Ellson in September, the SAB had just axed the ArtVenture Music Recording Program. Unfortunately, he said, "the decision was not accompanied by any announcement that they are moving funds over to marketing. It was a straightforward cancellation."
Six months later, Ellson sent me an e-mail just before to leaving for Ottawa for the Junos - where he watched Saskatoon retro-rockers The Sheepdogs score two awards for New Group and Rock Album of the Year - that negotiations to develop a replacement program with more emphasis on marketing and promotion were still ongoing.
In the next year, Saskatchewan is scheduled host three major music events - in September, Saskatoon has the Canadian Country Music Awards and Regina the Western Canadian Music Awards, while next April Regina will host the Junos.
To capitalize on those opportunities, it's imperative that we give the music industry the tools it needs to market Saskatchewan's talent. It's called investment. And cancelling the SFETC is not a step in the right direction.
One of the biggest promotional tools musicians use these days, after all, is music videos. Having a pool of accomplished filmmakers and crew to draw on to produce a high quality video is a huge asset.
Unfortunately, it's an asset Saskatchewan's music community is likely to lose unless the SFETC is reinstated. /Gregory Beatty
A Film Full Of Dollars
Actors and directors usually get most of the headlines when a film is made, but behind the scenes there's a whole gang of people working to make sure the production runs smoothly. Here's a breakdown of jobs people perform on a film set - all of which were covered under the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit. A lot of these jobs went to people living, working and paying taxes in Saskatchewan. Tough luck for them. /Gregory Beatty
Works with the director and cinematographer to create the overall look of the sets, costumes and the non-studio locations that have been secured by the location manager.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Handles various aspects of the film shoot, including consulting with the director on the film's visual look, working with the gaffer (see "Gaffer") and sometimes operating the camera.
Manages different aspects of the shooting schedule related to the various production departments, cast, crew and extras, freeing up the director to concentrate on the artistic side of the film or TV show that is being shot.
Working with the boom operator who holds the mike, the sound recordist records all the synchronized and ambient sound along with "wildlines" (dialogue spoken off screen) that are used in post production.
Working with technicians, grips and electrics, the gaffer plans, installs and maintains the lighting rigs that are used to illuminate the sets during filming. Works closely with the DP (See "Director of Photography").
The editor's proxy on set, and the true unsung hero of the film industry. The script supervisor makes sure that the scripted scenes are shot in sufficient detail and from enough camera angles that the editor will have plenty of quality raw material to work with when it comes time to edit the TV show or film.
Whether films are shot on location or on a sound stage, sets have to be built. That's the role of carpenters and scenic painters. Then set dressers round up whatever furniture and fixtures they need to create a realistic (and historically accurate, if it's a period piece) environment for the director and actors to work their magic in.
Researches and obtains props that actors use on set. If the budget is tight or they can't find what they need, they can even have a prop crafted. They also look after the props while the film is shooting.
The work done by costume designers, along with wardrobe supervisors, hair stylists and makeup artists, is indispensible to actors. It helps them develop the characters they portray on screen.
Picture editors take the raw footage and work with the director to create the final cut of the film or TV show. Often this involves weaving together snippets from multiple takes of the same scene to create the proper mood and pace. Other post-production jobs include the foley artist who uses a variety of inventive techniques to recreate background sounds that couldn't be recorded during the initial shoot, a composer who writes a score for the TV show or movie, and a sound editor who supervises the work done by a mixer to integrate all the different audio components.
For A Few Film Dollars More
Yes, Saskatchewan film and television production helps pay the mortgages and feed the families of hundreds of production professionals in this province. But wait! There's more! How about the other sectors that benefit from this tax credit-supported creative industry? /Vanda Schmöckel
The larger budget films that shoot here often bring in cast and crew from outside the province, and they need somewhere to lay their weary heads at day's end. That's extra business for local hotels. Not to mention all those landlords in town with furnished suites on offer for shorter terms.
That swishy dress and chaise longue you noticed in last night's Netflix movie? Somebody either bought or rented those. Film and TV productions have wardrobe and set decoration departments that spend big money in the community at local clothing and furniture stores.
Car Rental Companies and Gas Stations
Productions need cars. Many, many cars. Local car rental companies do very well by them. Cars run on gas, so gas stations make money too.
Offices and Supplies
Films and television series set up offices while they're in production (and pre-production). And they have a voracious appetite for office supplies.
Oftentimes, studios don't bankroll all the money needed for production up front, so films sometimes need bridge loans to get through production. Banks make money off the interest.
Lumber yards do extra business when film and TV productions set up shop here. All those in-studio sets are built from scratch and require lots of two-by-fours, plywood, paint, glue, hardware, etc. There goes more money into the local economy. Look at it go.
Restaurants and Catering
When you work in production, you keep long hours. And when you keep long hours, you probably don't have the time (or the desire) to shop for groceries or cook when you get home. Enter the restaurant. Not only do they profit from ravenous crews after hours, they cater on-set and provide convivial settings for end-of-day cocktails.