Local actor and producer Rob LaBelle was among the estimated 4,000-plus people who attended a rally at North Shore Studios Tuesday night in a united bid to save the declining B.C. film industry.
“I’m very pessimistic about the future of the industry here if the status quo remains,” said LaBelle, an Ambleside resident and executive in charge of television at Foundation Features, which is currently producing the CTV crime show Motive.
Like many B.C. film industry professionals, LaBelle is worried about the impact of a 2009 change, when the Ontario and Quebec governments increased the tax credits offered to foreign movie projects.
“These last three years were particularly disturbingly slow as an actor,” LaBelle said. “I know many actors who have moved to Toronto.”
Members of the B.C. film industry — which employs about 25,000 people — are calling on the provincial government to hike its own tax credits.
“There has to be a level playing field with Quebec and Ontario,” LaBelle said.
One of the speakers Tuesday night was Paul Klassen, a business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
“We have a lot of members unemployed right now. January is typically a slow time anyways, but this is a much slower January than we’ve seen recently,” he said.
Because the film industry has its ups and downs, Klassen said employees do try to plan for one bad year.
“But we’ve never had two (bad years) in a row and certainly never three,” he said. “With no changes on the horizon, we just don’t know if we’re going to be able to survive a fourth year.”
In addition to boosting tax credits, Klassen would also like to see the government grant the film industry a PST exemption when the tax is reinstated in April.
Bill Bennett, the minister of community, sport and cultural development, called the loss of film business “a very serious concern” but said the government has no immediate plans to increase tax credits.
“We can’t afford to throw another $100 million in tax credits at this to match Ontario,” he said. “There are quiet but important voices within the (film) industry that recognize what Ontario is doing is probably not sustainable,” he added.
Bennett said he is in talks with film industry leaders to develop other strategies to preserve business, whether it be creating a centralized agency to represent all the creative industries, or finding a way to exempt film businesses from sales tax.
Some film workers have questioned Premier Christy Clark’s recent decision to spend $11 million to host the Times of India Film Awards in April while the local movie industry is struggling.
But Bennett said the investment has more to do with trade than with film.
“Just as we have built a commercial trading relationship with China, we are attempting to do the same thing with the billion people in India, and what better way to do it that through film?”