PART I: THE BREAKDOWN
On Feb. 8, the Saskatchewan government announced a new agency to help market the so-called “creative industries” — film, music, theatre, visual arts, crafts, publishing and digital media.
Creative Saskatchewan will apparently launch in the fall of 2013. The Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport said they could offer little in the way of details around how the new agency will work (what kind of funds will be available, how it will be allocated, and who will adjudicate).
Until then, the Saskatchewan Arts Board will be responsible for a Transition Fund, with $1 million to allocate across the “creative industries” in the province, and a grant cap of $60,000 per project. The $1 million will be coming out of a Flexible Loans Program that was introduced to the Arts Board in 2008.
Kevin Doherty, Minister of Parks, Culture & Sport, acknowledged that the new agency won’t function the same way as the Saskatchewan Film and Employment Tax Credit (SFETC) — which his government killed without warning last year — but said that the funds under the new agency aren’t meant to service the film sector alone.
“The big-budget Hollywood productions [are] probably not going to come to Saskatchewan to film with [this] kind of financing available,” he said. “But what we’re trying to do, in response to what the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association [SMPIA] has said to us, is that we need to focus on our indigenous producers in this province, most of whom are quite small-scale.”
In response, SMPIA president Holly Baird said that the organization was clear that the industry would not be supportive of a transition fund such as the one offered.
“When we saw a draft of their plan, we made it very clear that it didn’t reflect our discussions or meet the industry’s needs,” she said.
An irony not lost on many is that the Saskatchewan government cancelled a refundable tax credit program — calling it a grant — only to replace it one year later with a fund that actually is a grant.
“It’s hard to comment on an organization when we have no idea exactly what this is going to look like,” said NDP culture critic and Saskatoon MLA Danielle Chartier. “But the fact is the government cut a program that worked for the film industry a year ago and has led many people to believe through these [creative industry] consultations that something would be coming. [The transition fund] will not support real jobs in the industry.”
It looks like SaskFilm’s days are numbered too. Part of their mandate to allocate government funds towards film production will be at least temporarily taken over by the Saskatchewan Arts Board. As for SaskFilm’s other functions — location services, and courting international productions to shoot in Saskatchewan — they won’t be able to those without a working tax credit in the province.
As for the Saskatchewan Arts Board, whose function has changed somewhat in recent years — with the introduction of the Flexible Loan and Creative Industry Growth and Sustainability programs — they’ve at least temporarily been brought into the fray of an area typically serviced by industry organizations such as SaskFilm and SaskMusic.
The question of who will adjudicate funds under Creative Saskatchewan and what, if any, Arts Board involvement would entail remains unanswered.
“I think someone used the term ‘the devil is in the details,’” said David Kyle, executive director of the Saskatchewan Arts Board.
“It’ll be up to two things: the legislation that enables this entity, and the board of directors that’s created. Those will really help define the mix of programs and how they’ll operate. We certainly hope that they’ll follow an Arts Board model of independent adjudication, and we’re certainly willing and happy to provide those services should they be needed or called upon.”
PART II: THE FALLOUT
There’s no nice way to put it. The Saskatchewan film industry is dead.
In the past few years, the Government of Saskatchewan made two fateful decisions. First, in 2010, it announced plans to shut down the province’s educational broadcaster, the Saskatchewan Communications Network.
SCN made it possible for producers of indigenous documentary, drama, and children’s programming to sell their productions to national broadcasters, bringing Saskatchewan’s stories to the rest of the country, and money back into the province in the form of broadcast licences and funding from the Canadian Media Fund. After strong public outcry, the government decided to sell the broadcaster instead — at a fire sale price. One year later SCN was flipped and resold to Rogers/CityTV for significantly more than the original price tag. This was the beginning of the end.
The coup de grâce was the cancellation of the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC).
SCN’s demise marked the end of indigenous feature film and television production in the province. The cutting of the SFETC last spring was the end of the service industry — the piece of the Saskatchewan production puzzle that brought us Corner Gas, The Tommy Douglas Story, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, and the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Just Friends, among many other productions. It’s the sector that employed hundreds of people, and dispersed money to other businesses in the province — like hotels, caterers, lumberyards, banks, rental car companies and retail outlets.
In the intervening year, there’s been something of an exodus of those who work in the industry — a good number of whom left for the greener pastures of Manitoba and Ontario, where tax credits have actually increased in recent years. Of those in the film industry who remained in the province, many held out hope the government might offer something to help repair the damage, and get the industry back on track.
This hope may have been bolstered by consultation sessions held with members of the “creative industries” this past fall. But the announcement of Creative Saskatchewan — and that “whopping” one million dollar Transition Fund — won’t do anything to save the film industry.
“From a production financing point of view, it’s not very helpful for producers who are doing regular-budget shows,” said SMPIA spokesperson Shawn McGrath. “If they’re doing small personal works, there might be some access to that fund. But if we were doing a low-budget feature film, [this] transition fund is certainly not any kind of replacement for the lack of SFETC.”
“I’ve now lost the way that I made my living,” said filmmaker Daniel Redenbach. He graduated from the University of Regina’s Department of Media Production and Studies two years ago, but has been working in the industry for several years. “So maybe I can squeeze out one more project with this transition fund, but in terms of the long-term — seeing myself staying here — it doesn’t change it at all.”
Redenbach is among the younger generation of filmmakers and producers who had every intention of making a career for himself in this province. His web series, Gunderson, was acquired by BroadbandTV in Vancouver for exclusive YouTube distribution, and it’s now fully monetized. He also has a feature film script in development that has been short-listed by Telefilm’s micro-budget production fund.
“It’s a project that takes place in Saskatchewan and it’s very much about Saskatchewan, so if there was more progress on that, I would stick around here,” he said. “But if that goes away, I would probably go away as well.”
Filmmaker Robin Schlaht has produced films and broadcast television shows such as the documentary series A Few Good Men and Women and the feature documentary To Be Romeo and Juliet, with the help of both SCN and SaskFilm. He’s unsure what Creative Saskatchewan will mean long-term — mostly because so little information is available beyond the Transition Fund.
“I guess it’s the best we have,” he said. “It doesn’t really mention the programming and the make-up or its objectives. Or how it’ll be assessed.”
“There is some value to it, [but] it’s not like the tax credit. The tax credit — first of all, there were no deadlines. So, when your project came together, you had access to the fund. And it didn’t require a market trigger. You could go to another funder and say, ‘Look at this: I’m able to provide 40 per cent based on tax credits and a little bit of deferral.’ And it was scalable. So it would never get oversubscribed. Who knows how much they’re going to be contributing to this fund ultimately, when it’s permanent.”
Meanwhile, Redenbach is considering a move to Toronto to work in that city’s film industry. He says being in a province that supports his industry is essential for his career’s future.
“The value (of moving) is that I can work and have a job and I know that there’s someone in charge that supports what I do, whereas here, I can’t trust them,” he said.
“And really, this whole thing shows the true character of who’s in charge of this province. Why do I want to put my eggs and my passion in the basket that they’re looking after?”