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Taxing time for movie-makers

For the last five years, Richmond has seen a steady increase in filming, in terms of both the number of productions and total revenue.

For the last five years, Richmond has seen a steady increase in filming, in terms of both the number of productions and total revenue. ABC's hit show, Once Upon a Time, which has taken over Steveston since the summer of 2011, is just the most recent success story.

But some filmmakers fear the provincial government has hit the rewind button on this small but thriving industry by lowering tax breaks for the film industry, making B.C. less appealing for producers, who are now taking their projects elsewhere.

"This means less work for everyone in the industry" said Michael Goyert, a Richmond filmmaker who has been working in the industry for the last three years,

"It's especially tough for younger guys, like myself, who won't get called up if the older guys aren't working"

There's always the option to move to Ontario, where that province has more generous tax breaks than British Columbia, but Goyert doesn't believe that's an option.

"I don't want to restart my life in Toronto. You're starting over both professionally and personally. All the contacts I've made in the film industry are here in Vancouver. The people who are helping me with my film are all people I've met and worked with here. Moving to Toronto would force me, in many ways, to start over from square one again"

Premier Christy Clark believes that B.C.'s $285-million per year in tax credits is a generous enough contribution by the taxpayers, and believes that Ontario is "in a race to the bottom" with its more generous tax credit plan.

Putting a more onerous tax burden on the residents of B.C. isn't the best course of action, according to the Premier. There's only so much money to go around, and when attempting to balance an unbalanced provincial budget, cuts need to be made.

However, those in the film industry aren't necessarily buying what the Premier is selling.

"I completely disagree with the Premier's statement that Ontario is 'in a race to the bottom,' regarding the tax breaks given to the film industry" said Ashley Mendoza, another emerging Richmond filmmaker.

"More productions are heading to Ontario because they get more 'bang for their buck.' Ontario gets a 25 per cent tax rebate back to the production, while B.C. gets 33 per cent rebate for labour costs.

With PST and GST coming back to B.C. in April, productions here will also suffer another 7 per cent in taxes, while Ontario has adopted the HST with no issues"

In 2012 alone, residents working in the film industry earned a staggering $12 million of income - a figure that illustrates how impactful the industry is for the local economy.

Ted Townsend, spokesman for the City of Richmond said the city is cognizant that production costs are a major driver for where producers decide to take their projects.

"From a municipal standpoint, our philosophy is to be a film-friendly city" says Townsend.

"And that means, doing what we can to make sure our fees are reasonable and competitive, as well as being responsive and helpful to film companies. We encourage our community to be welcoming and responsive, recognizing the economic impact it has on our city. We do what we can to make Richmond an attractive place for filming, but there's only so much we can do."

Both Richmond filmmakers fear they may not find work as a result of the new tax structure, and they believe their fears are shared amongst the thousands of film industry works in the province.

For Goyert and Mendoza, their passion lies in filmmaking. Both work on film sets and are part of film crews to financially support their own filmmaking.

With less work, it makes it that much harder to make their films and pursue their desired career path.

"I mean, you could always work as a server and make money that way, but that's not the point," said Goyert.

"Working in the industry lets you meet people in the industry. Film industry jobs are knowledge-based jobs. You're learning new things on the job every day. Losing this work is going to be tough."

With a provincial election due in May, an NDP win may provide a glimmer of hope for the B.C. film industry. But as it stands today, Goyert and Mendoza both realize that this is a taxing time for their industry.

Much like our Steveston visitors, Snow White and Prince Charming, the film industry and city of Richmond are both holding out hope for a happy ending.