POLITICS

Film industry says deal reached on changes to Nova Scotia film tax credit

04/23/2015 02:03 EDT | Updated 07/20/2015 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - A tax credit at the centre of a dispute since it was changed in this month's Nova Scotia budget has been revamped following days of talks between the film industry and the provincial government.

A proposed cut that would see the credit reduced to $6 million from $24 million will proceed, however the structure of the incentive has been changed to a regime similar to one in Alberta.

Representatives from the province's film industry emerged from discussions with finance department officials Thursday, saying they believed the change proposed by the government would help Nova Scotia remain competitive with other parts of the country.

"Practically speaking it keeps us in business," said Scott Simpson, vice-chairman of Screen Nova Scotia.

"We will be able to maintain the industry to a certain extent."

However, Simpson said concerns remain because the long-term ramifications of the change still aren't known. He said the industry wants to continue discussions with the province to ensure the new incentive is meeting all of its needs.

Beginning July 1, the new Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Fund would provide base funding that is 25 per cent refundable for all production costs including labour. There would be an additional two per cent bonus for shooting outside of Halifax, another two per cent for indigenous producers who are shooting their own work and one per cent for series production.

Foreign-service productions would also eligible for the 25-per-cent refundable portion of the fund.

"Our industry is diverse, there are a lot of different interests," said Simpson. "Some of the mechanisms in this new plan may be beneficial to some and some may not be so favourable to others."

Government officials said ultimately filmmakers would be eligible to draw from a pool of $10 million in the 2015-16 budget when their portion of a new $6-million creative sector fund is added to the money available for the new incentive.

Officials said a cap of $5 million or less for individual productions is also under consideration, but that could be a potential sticking point for many in the industry.

"You can't grow with a cap," said John Wesley Chisholm, a Halifax filmmaker and producer. "We won't be able to accept a cap. We're not interested in caps."

Chisholm said although the change would enable the industry to get back to work, it's clear more talks are needed to convince the government of its economic worth.

Finance Minister Diana Whalen said she believes the proposed change can work for the cash-strapped government and the industry.

"It has more transparency, it's still competitive — it's fair and it allows us to be sure that the money is spent here in Nova Scotia," she said.

Pressure from the film industry has been relentless since the Liberal government announced the tax credit cut in the April 9 budget.

More than 2,000 people turned out for a protest at the legislature last week and luminaries, including the Trailer Park Boys and William Shatner, have spoken out against the change.

Prior to the budget, the tax credit allowed qualifying productions to claim up to 65 per cent of labour costs.

Nova Scotia and Manitoba had the highest subsidies in the country.