FACED with the prospect of losing its "Hollywood North" title to Ontario and Quebec, the local film business is calling on the province for assistance.
But so far, the movie makers haven't been getting a lot of reassuring signals from B.C. decision makers.
Heading into 2013, "We've been down three years in a row," said Paul Klassen, spokesman for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents many people who work in the local movie business.
Peter Leitch, president of the North Shore Studios, Mammoth Studios and chair of the Motion Picture Production Association, agrees it's been a tough go for the industry recently.
"We struggled last year with feature films we'd usually get that went elsewhere," he said.
A decade ago, B.C. was considered the third top location for movie making in North America, earning it the title Hollywood North. That year, movie projects spent a high of $1.4 billion in the province. Local studios became known for work on productions like Stargate and Smallville.
The last three years haven't been nearly as good. In 2010, spending was
down $400 million to just over $1 billion and it was only slightly higher in 2011. Numbers for 2012 aren't yet available but they aren't expected to be cause for optimism. "We're probably around number five or six right now (in terms of locations)," said Leitch.
Both Leitch and Klassen point to a change in 2009, when governments in Ontario and Quebec hiked the tax credits being offered to foreign movie projects.
In those provinces, movie productions now receive a credit of 25 per cent of everything they spend on a project. That compares to the B.C. film tax credit of one-third of labour costs only. That makes it about 10 per cent cheaper for movie companies to shoot their projects back east, said Leitch.
In 2009, 12 feature films were shot in B.C., said Klassen, compared to portions of only six made in the province last year. "That's a radical change," he said.
B.C. is starting to be knocked out of the running before decisions are even made, said Klassen.
He said he's seen small businesses in post-production movie work, suppliers and those who build props shut their doors.
Some of his own union members have had to move to Ontario just to stay employed.
Among those pulling up stakes are local producers. That's especially concerning, said Klassen, because "They often are the key element that brings work to the province."
Currently there are about 25,000 who work in the industry province-wide, including about 5,000 on the North Shore.
They are part of a current lobbying effort - including an online petition and meetings among industry leaders - to secure more government help for the movie business.
The industry has asked the B.C. government to consider boosting its own tax credits to put the local industry on a more even footing with those back east.
So far, that's met with a chilly response, with the cash-strapped government indicating that it's not interested in a "race to the bottom" by trying to match eastern tax breaks.
Leitch said even if B.C. can't match what eastern provinces offer, giving movie projects a bigger break would make a difference, even temporarily. In the long run, Leitch said it's a business that the province should be embracing. "Everybody's got a couple of screens or more these days," he said.
"It makes sense not to give up on an industry we've invested so heavily in."
Klassen agrees. "If we keep having slower years, at what point do we lose more critical infrastructure and talent that we cannot recoup?" he asked. "(Hollywood North) is not an overnight sensation. It took a lot of work to get there."