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Calgary film, TV workers ‘gobsmacked’ at cut to screen grant funding

Conversion to a tax credit was the lone upside to Thursday’s Alberta budget announcement, as Calgary’s film industry could face a crippling economic blow.

And Calgary’s film commissioner said limiting the number of productions that can access the tax credit sends the wrong message to the international film industry.

The budget, delivered to the Alberta Legislature Thursday afternoon, says the province’s current Screen-Based Production Grant will be turned into a tax credit. It’s something the province’s film and television community has been lobbying for over the past several years.

Doing so brings the support structure in line with other provinces.

RELATED: ‘Not a new thing’: Calgary film commissioner says grant delays typical

Funding, however, will be capped. And according to the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Alberta, it’s about one-third of what it was in past years.

The province’s budget documents show the cash available in the new program for 2020-21 is $15 million. It will increase in 2021-22 to $30 million and $45 million in 2022-23.

“Total support in four years is expected to be $180 million for commitments under the grant program and the new tax credit,” read the budget documents. A follow up from the province said they would honour prior screen grant funding of $90 million while it was transformed into a tax credit.

Tina Alford with ACTRA said they’d been working with the province – both the UCP and the prior NDP governments – on updating the program. She said the tax credit is the part the government got right this time.

“However, we were a little bit gobsmacked yesterday to see the numbers,” she said.

“The fact remains is we’re actually taking a significant haircut over the next three years on what’s available to fund and incentivize.”

Thought Calgary film could help diversify Alberta industry

Although specifics still need to come through legislation, companies can receive up to 22 per cent of eligible expenditures, up to a maximum payment of $10 million.

Alford said that $15 million could be chewed up by two series’ like the Canadian production of Heartland, instead of helping fund the 15 projects that went ahead this year. She said the roughly $40 million in film cash helped spur $236 million in local economic activity. Now, she said the reduction will mean fewer productions shooting in Alberta.

“It’s going to have a significant impact on our industry,” she said.

“We thought we were in a good position. And we thought that they understood that we could be a solution to a diversified economy.”

Billions of GDP in creative industries

Calgary’s film commissioner Luke Azevedo confirmed the economic impact of the creative industries saying a recent report shows billions generated annually.

He said Albertans understand fiscal responsibility. When you examine places to cut, you shouldn’t be looking at areas that generate a good return on investment.

“When we talk about being fiscally responsible and bringing our spending under the same levels as other provinces, then we also have to look at what is going to make us competitive with those other projects or provinces,” Azevedo said.

“Once we do that, and if we’re taking away the tools that allow us to be competitive, not only are we making cuts, but we’re also losing revenue that’s coming in from those potential opportunities.”

The Calgary Film Centre has been buzzing for the past 11 months. Booked solid, Azevedo said. That’s in jeopardy now.

Alberta is having one of their best film years on record, Azevedo said.

“But when a message goes out to the world that says we’re only going to be able to do this amount, we’re going to cap our opportunity for success in these industries,” he said.

“Then at that point, we don’t become a viable option anymore.”

Legislation, delivering the story to the province

Azevedo said nobody’s expecting Alberta to have the best tax credit program or provide the best incentives.

“But we do have to be competitive,” he said.

He’ll be trying to get that message across to Alberta ministers before the legislation comes out. He expects it will come up quickly.

“We have to have conversations that make sense and really do address not only the needs of the industry but the results that this brings to the province,” Azevedo said.

In the meantime, they’ll brace for film crews to migrate to where the film work is, sapping the province of local talent “that pay taxes, pay their mortgage and look after their families.”

“Obviously we have to be able to tell our story better; this is an industry that’s not just a nice to have,” he said.

“This is an industry that helps when people are making decisions on where they’re going to live. And the brightest and best are going to go somewhere that attracts the rest.”