The lights aren’t going out yet for John Wesley Chisholm’s business in Nova Scotia.
Last month the president of the Halifax-based production company Arcadia Entertainment expressed public concern about his outfit’s inability to find work for this year using the province’s revamped incentive fund for film and television.
Like many others in the creative industries, Chisholm has been critical of the change from a $24-million labour-based tax credit system to a new $10-million “all spend” fund to be used for costs incurred in Nova Scotia.
There was a glimmer of light in the darkness this week for Chisholm and his team, however, following a trip to the Realscreen Summit marketing and conference event in Washington, DC. For the folks at Arcadia, who have been attending for the past 12 years, this is where they get to meet potential customers from outlets such as the History Channel, Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
Running out of options for finding work to keep his business operating, Chisholm decided to try something different. Whereas in the past he pitched his services along with Nova Scotia as a location for work, in part because of the tax credit, this time he focused only on the former.
“Our old business model would have been to get a Canadian broadcaster on a project using the tax credit as bait to lure a commission away from central (areas) and then make the show here and kind of take it to the world,” Chisholm said in an interview.
This time, looking to American and international broadcasters first, the pitch was the folks from Arcadia would go wherever the work is based.
“We had great results,” said Chisholm. “We have some interest in some of our stories, so I can see doing some filming in Europe and in the UK and in the United States this year.”
While they likely won’t be filming in Nova Scotia, Chisholm said the results of the trip to Washington mean his company, which employs about 30 people, will be able to remain based in the province he loves – for now.
“I can tell you there’s just no place I’d rather be. So I will fight tooth and nail to stay here and work here if I can.”
Chisholm is something of an outlier right now in Nova Scotia’s creative industries.
As the dust settled following last spring’s provincial budget and people involved in various aspects of the film and television industries tried to understand what it would mean for them, many soon found themselves having to leave.
Like rig workers drilling for culture, many of the province’s actors, producers, crew workers and others have left Nova Scotia for Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, where work is booming thanks to a weak Canadian dollar and government support that is viewed as more secure and easier to navigate.
That’s not to say everyone is leaving. Some, such as Chisholm, remain here trying to fight the good fight, hoping things might yet turn around.
Screen Nova Scotia chair Marc Almon said one of the things that still gives him hope is that many of the people who were responsible for helping get the creative industries to the point where they were so successful, are still here.
“It’s particularly hard because it’s booming everywhere else in Canada so a lot of our crew, for example, are getting regular calls to pick up and leave and go work in other jurisdictions like Ontario and BC.”
Almon and his colleagues on the board are currently reviewing a draft version of an economic impact study commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers that they hope will show the government what they believe to be the true value of the creative industries to the province’s economy.
The ongoing debate between the two sides centres on whether or not the old tax credit should have been viewed in terms of the various ripples of economic activity it helped generate or if it should be viewed only in isolation of returns tied directly to the credit.
While a release date still hasn’t been set for the report, Almon said he’s encouraged by the draft.
“Initial reaction is I’m very pleased. It supports our argument that the film industry is very important to the province economically, socially and culturally.”
When it is finally released, Almon hopes the report helps change the conversation from the industry being a cost that needs to be managed, to it being viewed as “a wealth generator.”
“That’s really the most important thing.”
Almon, who has steadfastly attempted to remain positive about the situation even in the face of major challenges for his colleagues, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy.
“For a lot of us it’s been a whole lost year of economic activity. It’s been a lost year in terms of our hopes and dreams and a lot of us were set back by this.”
To date, nine productions have received a total of $1.7 million in funding through the new film and television production fund, which is administered by Nova Scotia Business Inc. While there was trepidation about NSBI overseeing the fund, Almon said there are positive signs, including his own experience with the new fund. Screen Nova Scotia also has a good working relationship with Business Minister Mark Furey, something Almon said has been helpful.
Still, tweaks need to be made to the fund, he said. Screen Nova Scotia remains hopeful the value will be revisited, particularly as it is closer to being completely drawn down. Almon said the production incentive seems to work for smaller productions, but there are problems trying to attract bigger productions to the area, which is significant considering the exchange rate right now.
“Clearly somethings not quite working right.”
For Chisholm, the story right now is a good one. What it means for the future of Arcadia, and specifically where Arcadia’s future might be located, remains a bit of a cliffhanger, however.
“There’s more money out there than every before. We have as good equipment and people as anybody in the world, so we’re just going toe-to-toe about what stories we have and why should we be the ones who get to tell them,” he said.
“We came home [from Realscreen Summit] with all the pieces in place to find a way forward for ourselves. Whether that’s in Nova Scotia or not is going to take six months to work out.”
I always find it interesting that whenever a government program does not meet the acceptance of many people, the first thing they want is someone fired or the government booted out of office. If all businesses worked that way there would be an even greater economic crisis than there is today. People seem to forget that the previous government got the boot because the public was not happy and the government before that fared the same way. We are on a merry-go-round of political entities running our governments and if anyone truly believes the next one will not get the boot after the present one does, they are a poor student of political history.
What is the solution… beats me… we keep electing human beings… many who are our peers, not experts in running a government. When someone makes a mistake in your business, do fire them or work with them to correct the problem? Certainly the biggest change that this and all governments need to make is to engage the public and commercial stakeholders prior to enacting key legislative initiatives that have the potential to have a significant impact on the public and businesses. There needs to be a greater willingness to negotiate legislative changes so that they actually represent what the public and commercial stakeholders would like to see…. isn’t that what all representative governments should strive to do anyway? Sure, we can give them the boot; but really we need to change the way that governments do business and make critical decisions; because present and past history has shown that existing methods of policy making are not meeting the public’s nor commercial stakeholder’s expectations.
The loss of the tax credit for production here in Nova Scotia continues to be a negative factor in trying to rebuild this industry. It is as if MacNeil and his government assassinated the industry and hung the corpse in the town square as a deterrent.
JWC is a skilled entrepreneur and could find a way through any crisis so it is not surprising that he has found a niche for Arcadia. Our film and video production industry is still just an obituary.
In a world where there is more content and more demand for content than ever before it is SO sad that the McDickhead government has chosen to shoot the creative industries in the head.
Hopefully the report can lead the way out of the wilderness once the present government gets turfed from office.
Good on Arcadia and everyone else who stick it out. It will get better?
This piece seems a bit too “upbeat” in tone. But I had trouble finding any actual good news. . . I do wonder about the difference in economic boosts for the province — so Arcadia gets work — good for Chisolm — but NOT for productions in NS according to this: “While they likely won’t be filming in Nova Scotia, Chisholm said the results of the trip to Washington mean his company, which employs about 30 people, will be able to remain based in the province he loves – for now.” and ““We came home [from Realscreen Summit] with all the pieces in place to find a way forward for ourselves. Whether that’s in Nova Scotia or not is going to take six months to work out.” So — glad that thirty people keep their jobs, but this does not seem particularly good for film employment in NS and using all of the talent that is leaving. . . Who is is it good for, and why didn’t Gorman explore that? Happy to see him writing for the examiner but was hoping the questions might be different than they were for the Herald. . . (HTU deserves more respect though!)