Thursday, October 09, 2008


Canadian Artists Stage Rally

TORONTO, October 9: In the wake of government funding cuts, a range of writers, actors and other artists took to the streets of Toronto yesterday to rally support for Canadian arts and culture, a few days ahead of the general election on October 14.

Organized by ACTRA and the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC), the rally took place at Simcoe Park beside the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto.

“Today we’re showing all parties that culture lives in Canada,” said Rebecca Schechter, the president of WGC. “It’s 1.1 million ordinary people doing millions of extraordinary things, but together we generate tens of billions of dollars for the economy. We’re here to let all Canadians know that they can vote with their hearts and their heads in this election—by voting culture.”

ACTRA’s national president, Richard Hardacre, stated: “In this federal election, the economic value of culture and the worth of creative artists have not only come into question, they have come under attack. We’re asking Canadians to find out which of their candidates are the strongest supporters of culture, who will reverse the cuts to cultural programs, and who will stand up for Canada’s creative and economic well-being.”

Among those that addressed the rally’s attendees were screenwriter Suzette Couture (Conspiracy of Silence), performer/writer Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall, Slings and Arrows) and actor Eric Peterson (Corner Gas).

—By Mansha Daswani
How do the Tories measure up on the arts? - entertainment
October 08, 2008

This week the Toronto Star is taking a look how seriously the various contenders in the election take arts and culture in this country, and we're getting their promises and assessments on the record.

Today the Conservatives and Liberals have their say. Tomorrow, it's the NDP, the Green Party and the Bloc.

In the past two years the federal Tories have cut almost $45 million from arts and culture programs administered by Heritage Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Half of these cuts, totalling about $23 million, were made a couple of months before the federal election was called.

The cuts include:

The $4.7 million ProMart program, a demonstrably effective artists' travel support fund operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs;

The $9-million Trade Routes program that has for decades successfully kick-started export sales of Canadian films and music, run by Heritage Canada;

$300,000 formerly set aside for the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, which archives, restores, and makes available for digital distribution, Canadian film, television and musical recordings;

$1.5 million from the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund, which helps top up the budgets of independent Canadian films and triggers private investment in Canadian films of up to $120 million;

$2.5 million from the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector.

The Harper government's arts funding cuts followed its introduction of Bill C-10, which artists and producers branded as censorship, because it would have allowed government-appointed bureaucrats to withdraw or withhold tax credits from Canadian films deemed too violent or pornographic.

Bill C-10 will now be killed, according to the Conservatives' platform announced yesterday.

"Although these proposals were approved unanimously by the House of Commons, we will take into account the serious concerns that have been expressed by film creators and investors," it says.

The Conservatives would also create a new, refundable tax credit of up to $500 of fees for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts or cultural activities, such as music lessons, drama or art classes.

Other arts and culture funding issues were not addressed in the platform. Heritage Minister Josée Verner was too busy campaigning to comment, a spokesperson said.

The Canadian arts community is also concerned about the Conservatives' belated introduction earlier this year of long overdue and seriously flawed copyright legislation that, industry experts say, provides no real protection in the digital world for the Canadian creators of music, films and other forms of intellectual property, and threatens non-paying consumers of that property with litigation and fines.

The fallout over these issues has been intense, particularly in Quebec, where culture is identity.

In recent weeks, formal and informal protests across the country against Harper's arts funding cuts and his avoidance of a concrete cultural policy in the election campaign have been mounted on performance stages, at press conferences and on the Internet almost on a daily basis by musicians, actors, film industry workers, and other stakeholders in Canada's arts and culture industries on whose survival government investment depends.

The Prime Minister's recent characterization of artists as "people ... at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough" and somehow removed from "ordinary working people" has only inflamed passions. The reaction has suddenly made federal investment in the arts a hot-button issue.
New media fears financing collapse

Cultural Funding Cuts

Grant Surridge, Financial Post Published: Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Apprehension is spreading among Canadian digital media companies about future sources of financing as government funds for the nascent industry threaten to dry up.

So-called new media includes online video games, television Internet sites, social networking sites and videos that can be viewed online or on devices such as cellphones.

Government funding -- often tied to a mandate of promoting Canadian culture -- has been a major source of capital for the domestic industry to this point.

The federal Conservative government is vague about its plans to renew programs such as the $14-million Canada New Media Fund, and a looming recession and credit crisis will make already scarce venture capital harder to come by.

"There's a lot of fear right now," said Mark Bishop, chief executive of Toronto-based Marble Media said yesterday after an industry gathering. "We see government funding as a sandbox that we can't play in forever."

The biggest problem facing new media companies is that while traditional media companies recognize digital media as the future of their industry, no one has figured out how to make money with it yet.

"There are a lot of unproven business models right now," Mr. Bishop said.

Andra Sheffer, executive director of the Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund said that despite the huge potential of new media, venture capital firms still see the sector as a risky investment.

The Bell fund gets its money from Bell ExpressVu LP, which is mandated by the CRTC to commit money to a fund of its choice.

"Television producers and broadcasters see this writing on the wall," said Ms. Sheffer. "They see this is where their audiences are going."

According to the Canadian Interactive Alliance there are more than 3,000 firms engaged in interactive media in Canada generating revenue of over $7-billion.

Most of that revenue is being earned by multinational companies and the number of Canadian firms dedicated solely to new media is significantly smaller.

Worldwide, the gaming industry is a US$55-billion industry, and in Canada it is only $1-billion.

The potential is huge. For example, the World of Warcraft online game is pulling in about $100-million a month around the world, and about 25% of that comes from China.

"Some of the big gaming companies are more successful because there are significant returns to be had," Ms. Sheffer said.
This item goes quite a way toward giving a glimpse of the American mentality when it comes to the motion picture industry. To them its their world.

Media & New Media
October 2008

The New Screen Test

Despite a bumper summer spearheaded by a record-breaking Batman installment, the film industry might not be as recession-proof as once thought. Colin Brown reports

Among the truisms that infect film-business thinking, two have endured longer than most. First, when making movies, always spend someone else's money. And, second, cinema is as close to recession-proof as it gets: when money's tight, there is nothing quite like a darkened movie house to provide a cheap, diversionary fix.

So ingrained are these beliefs that both played a big part in the ruinous film financing binge of the last couple of years. At least $12bn of institutional capital was shovelled into the studio movie-making maw via profit-sharing structures designed to spread the risk across large portfolios of upcoming film titles. Such largesse did not come from starry-eyed US hedge funds alone; a large chunk was underwritten by such sober European investment banks as Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Kleinwort, Royal Bank of Scotland and Société Générale.

Reinforcing this rash of investment was the long-held assumption that movies were, to use Wall Street speak, "non-market directional" and "non-correlated" i.e. immune to fluctuations in the equity markets and to the economy as a whole. No matter how badly the rest of the market behaved, these investors could still count on an internal rate of return of at least 8%-9% from their movie slates.

Ever the mercenaries, Hollywood's studios happily played along with this delusion as they sought to deflect the enormous costs involved in making and marketing films. And who can fault the studios for exploiting others' money when such deals were largely tilted in their favour: most got their 12.5% distribution fees even before any box office or DVD spoils were divvied up between investors.

On paper, at least, such shared profits were all but guaranteed. After all, box office gross takings rose during five of the last seven economic downturns, including the 1970s oil crisis and the burst of the dot-com bubble. And look at the Great Depression in the US. The 1930s occasioned both America's rock-bottom low in terms of living standards but also Hollywood's high in terms of admissions as millions sought escape in Marx Brothers comedies, musicals and monster flicks.

Of course, in those days a movie ticket bought you a cartoon, a newsreel and a supporting feature - four hours of entertainment for the price of a gallon of petrol. And let's not forget that during the last recession in 2001 there was no streaming video, no iPods, no Facebook, or text message twittering and no 60-inch high-def plasma TVs bought on maxed out credit cards. There was no LoveFilm to keep us glued to those in-home cinemas, with its 58,000 film rental offerings; and no freely available love films to decimate the porn industry. There were no video games like Grand Theft Auto IV to generate first week sales of $500m; nor camera-equipped mobile phones to entertain ourselves making shoddy films for YouTube.

In hindsight, the investment community should have known better than to trust in false precedents, especially since the performance of any given slate of films directly hinges on the studio's management team and its execution of production, marketing and distribution - factors that have very little to do with any historical financial data used to rationalise film investment decisions.

When odds are so stacked against them, "co-finance equity investors are not the studios' 'partners' at all... they're prey", says Ben Waisbren, CEO of Continental Entertainment Capital (CEC) a trans-Atlantic merchant banking business that has committed some $400m in film financing. "But don't blame the scorpion; blame the frog."

With the markets long since mired in red ink, and the global consumer spooked by fears of a recession, institutional investors have wised up and are retreating from such billion-dollar slate financing deals just as quickly as they came in. In July, Deutsche Bank shut down its film-funding unit after failing to corral other investors willing to shoulder the senior debt component on a $450m fund for Paramount Pictures that would have shared the cost of making 30 films, including Tropic Thunder and a proposed sequel to Transformers. At MGM, there have been struggles to put together a $1bn "franchise fund" to help bankroll such eminently marketable properties as a two-part adaptation of Tolkien's The Hobbit, remakes of Robocop, Death Wish and Fame, and the next James Bond movie to
follow the $230m Quantum of Solace.

In the face of such adverse conditions on Wall Street and Europe's capital markets, is it any wonder that film studios are busy grooming exotic, new funding apprentices? Indian moghuls, Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern potentates have become the latest marks.

A dwindling cadre of European film financiers are still in the game, but even the most resolutely committed are questioning whether the cinema industry can weather the economic squalls. They see in the recent worldwide box office takings of The Dark Knight, and the phenomenal success in France of the €10m Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (€130m in revenues and counting) evidence not of a persistent appetite for cinema-going, but of growing discrimination on the part of ticket-buyers. Both films may be chasing Titanic on various lists of all-time box office champions, but there is no real reason to believe the same tide will lift other boats as well.

"The recession-proof nature of cinema is a myth that the industry likes to perpetuate," says Andrew Hildebrand, a London film-financing specialist. "Most of Europe's independent film industry is dependent on television underpinning its funding. Over the last few years, with broadcasters suffering acute market share fragmentation due to new competitors, TV licence fees have dropped. Worse still, many non-studio, non-quota films simply don't get bought. With a recession hitting TV advertising, these problems will only be exacerbated. So traditional sources of indie film financing will likely be hit even harder. What gives the myth some credence, however, is that film is cheaper than other forms of entertainment including videogames and restaurants. If you look at supermarkets, special offers are doing well and so are the luxury items. Sales of beef fillet have gone up exponentially since it beats dining out - it's the middle that suffers in recessions."

And it is that middle that is of concern right now for a conflicted French film industry. A group of industry professionals led by filmmaker Pascale Ferran, director of Lady Chatterley, published a damning 194-page report earlier this year that decried the disappearance of mid-budget films by experienced filmmakers. These so-called "films du milieu" are being squeezed out by a combination of public funding preferences and commercial pressures. The report's title said it all: "the middle is no longer a bridge, but a fault line."

The undue influence of big multiplex chains and TV broadcasters that subsidise so much of French cinema has led to a demand for simplistic, big-budget, star-driven, formulaic fare geared for prime-time viewing. Meanwhile, the state support mechanisms favour experimental films by novices. More than half the 227 films made last year in France were first or second time efforts by their directors. The problem is that few bother to see such avant-garde visions: 150 of the films made in France were watched by fewer than 100,000 people last year; their box office grosses covering a pitiful 2% of their production costs.

In so many ways, France is a perfect example of the contradictions that beset the industry across Europe. On the one hand, the country has never seen such success. Marion Cotillard won this year's Academy Award for Best Actress for La Vie en Rose. In May, The Class won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first time a French film had won the top prize in 21 years. For the first five months of this year, French-made films accounted for a remarkable 59% of the national box office take. And investment in French films reached a record-breaking €1.2bn in 2007.

And yet, if current trends continue, France is in danger of stubbing out the kinds of artistically adventurous, commercially accessible films that made its cinema among the most exportable in the world. Were he still alive and making films, François Truffaut would no longer be certain of finding French backing - unless he signed on to direct a Ch'tis sequel, or, better still, its American remake.

"We are seeing a polarisation in the types of films being made" agrees Yann Le Quellec, the Paris-based chief of CEC's European operation. "There are fewer €5m-€10m films that have the ability to draw in audiences. Traditionally, Europe derived its international appeal from these kinds of films. Now they are disappearing for financial reasons."

This is not just a French problem: there seems to be a general acknowledgment that, without a plausible shot at a Best Actor/Actress Oscar nomination, films in the €5m-€10m budget range are operating in a dead zone and are harder to recoup.

All this is happening at a time when a strong euro has made European films harder to sell around the world - and when Hollywood cost-cutting has seen the closure of two potential US distribution homes for European films: Warner Independent Pictures (which released March of the Penguins) and Picturehouse (La Vie en Rose; Pan's Labyrinth).

Both fell victim to an unsustainable glut of pseudo-indie movies that have been churned out by Hollywood studio offshoots chasing the next Juno. Fierce competition among these speciality labels - many of them involved in European cinema either as financiers or distributors of films shot on the continent - has seen them all spend more on production and distribution, further eroding their profitability and cannibalising the adult marketplace. With a finite supply of time and eyeballs to fight over, more casualties are expected.

So brutal is the US marketplace now that international players are turning their back on what was once the world's most coveted film territory. Among them is Canada's Entertainment One (E1). Instead of being tempted south of the border, its fixation is Europe and building a distribution network that already encompasses releasing operations in the UK (Contender) and the Benelux countries (RCV). "We still have very strong intentions to do more in Europe," says E1 president Patrice Theroux. "I will be disappointed if we are not in two more territories soon."

Fortunately, such overseas interest has not translated into the same wanton gold rush that has left the US film industry reeling from the after-effects of Wall Street's irrational exuberance. For that, paradoxically enough, Europe has the current credit crisis to thank.

Le Quellec recalls a 2007 London film finance conference in which Europe was trumpeted as the next great opportunity now that institutional investors had tapped out Hollywood. "Ninety per cent of those in the room were American. They saw Europe as the new Holy Grail, particularly since the break-even point for European films is lower than in the US. What worried me is that they were talking about Europe as if it were the US. It is more an aggregation of markets; a fragile landscape with many different forms of support. Any influx of money at that point would have created even greater inflationary pressures than in the US and resulted in a catastrophe. All the institutions were in the starting blocks - and then the sub-prime crisis happened and practically no one came in except us."

Le Quellec also sees a Darwinian upside to this thinning of the herd. "Some very good deals are being dropped as a result. This is an opportune time to consolidate market share through good long-term partnerships. Cash-on-cash returns from European films can be significant for revenue sharing partners. Even though distribution costs are increasing (the cost of prints and advertising in France has risen 300% in the last 12 years), we think European film is still a sound investment. The good news is the best independent producers will be left even stronger than before and in a better position to access the capital markets. Europe's cinema industry will be financially healthier as a result."
Artists happy with Tory decision to reverse plans to scrap film and TV tax credits


MONTREAL — Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's promise to reverse plans to scrap tax credits for productions deemed offensive to Canadian viewers came as a pleasant surprise Tuesday to those in the film and television business and a major blow to the religious right.

"The arts community I think can almost relax and unpack their bags," actor Gordon Pinsent said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.

Pinsent said he never would have expected such a change of heart from the Conservatives and wonders whether it means Harper may be open to other new ideas.

"This flexibility shows he can be flexible again."

Harper unveiled the change of heart as part of his party's much anticipated election platform.

While Pinsent suspects the decision, which came just a week before the election and with the Conservatives flagging in the polls, was largely political, he said he'll take what he can get.

Harper will surely be hoping the reversal will help his party at the ballot box next Tuesday, particularly in Quebec, where opposition to Tory cuts to cultural programs has been the fiercest in Canada.

The controversial changes to film and television tax credit eligibility were folded into a massive 569-page, highly technical tax reform bill that passed in the Commons earlier this year despite widespread protest.

The government argued the provision was needed to keep tax dollars from funding objectionable productions and Heritage Minister Josee Verner was to spend the next year consulting with industry to find a formula for assessing taxpayer-subsidized productions.

A film about the sex lives of young singles entitled "Young People F**king" - which coincidentally comes out on DVD the day of the election - became a lightning rod in the debate over the bill.

Producer Steve Hoban called Tuesday's decision "good news all around" and a sound economic move given the worldwide market meltdown.

He said the plan would have ultimately killed the domestic film industry at a time when it's growing and generating billions in economic spinoffs.

"It would have been a really dumb move to do that to an industry that's actually contributing to our economy," he said.

"What this would have meant is that banks would not have known for certain whether productions would get that tax credit or not and if a production was not certain to get it, the bank couldn't guarantee it.

"If a bank couldn't guarantee it, it meant we wouldn't have that chunk of financing to make the films with in the first place.

"There would be 140,000 people thrown out of work immediately and there would be billions of dollars of economic benefit to Canada disappear overnight."

While the tax credit received for his last, highly controversial, $1.5-million film was just under $100,000, his next movie will benefit from a $1.3-million tax credit deemed integral to the production.

With a price tag of $26 million, "Splice," starring Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody, is among the most expensive films to come out of Canada. Hoban said $20 million of it was raised outside the country but will be spent locally.

"It's an investment in our economy, it's not a handout," Hoban said of the tax credit.

"I don't think (the Conservatives) will be more friendly to the arts but what (this experience) will hopefully have done is opened their eyes... Arts contribute not just to the culture of this country but to the economy of this country."

Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, of the Quebec directors' association, was pleased the tax cuts are being saved but predicted the move is coming too late to help the Conservatives in the key Quebec battleground.

"This will absolutely not appease the artistic community, which has suffered all these cuts without consultation and without reason," he said, referring to deep cuts to arts funding that were announced previously by the government and which have drawn fire in Quebec.

Still, the abrupt change in Conservative strategy did not please everybody. Prominent evangelical leader Charles McVety, who boasted last winter that his lobbying for "conservative values" had influenced the Harper government's decision to include the tax provision, suggested Tuesday's move was little more than a desperate play for votes.

"Unfortunately I think the prime minister is pandering to some vocal people and in turn abandoning his conservative base," he said.

"Now you have four parties that are all socially left so who do you vote for?"

McVety said Harper has repeatedly forsaken his social conservative values in funding the CBC and reversing his decision to support a controversial private member's bill that supported unborn victims of crime.

"When you abandon your principles on one issue, people don't believe you'll maintain other principles and Stephen Harper fought for these issues over an extended period of time and then the polling numbers go down and he rolls over," he argued.
How do we make this Industry work without Government involvement?

A repost: I wrote this for another Board

You made the comment "I'd be embarrassed to be paid by the government."

First a question. Do you enjoy watching a favorite TV show or two or three over the course of a day? If not then I stand down. If you do then I would suggest that there is a bit of hypocrisy involved here. Someone had to make that show that you enjoyed. Same goes for the theatre and plays, same goes for musical events. Due to the fact that we don't have a population large enough to exist solely on our own is why we need the breaks that we have been getting until now. The rationale is that the government is making an investment that it will profit handsomely for later on.

In my example of you watching shows that you enjoyed - just because you paid your cable bill do you think that you paid fair value for what you received? Most of it is after all "dumped" here by Americans who are savy enough investors to take a chance that you will watch them and that foreign governments will find it easier to let their cultural position be subjugated and ignored.

A big part of the problem is the Cable companies who are getting enormously wealthy by buying their shows from the Americans for minimal investment and getting back millions in ad revenue and government kickbacks for the money they grudgingly put out to make the minimum shows possible. The real problem is that governments like the current one relax the rules to allow for less and less new Canadian show creation, yet these same companies are making record profits on a continuing basis.

This is obviously harder to communicate than I thought initially, and perhaps this is the reason that we are having so much difficulty with getting this concept through the minds of the current government, that and I realize there are people who will simply never understand or agree with the point that needs to be made if we are to get the public support needed to make this work.

First of all - we aren't paid by the government in the sense that the individual workers get a cheque from the government instead of the production company.

We do however get a tax credit that we can go to the bank with and borrow against to get part of the money that we need to make the shows.

What we get is philosophically no different than what is done for agriculture, fisheries, forestry, oil and gas mining, and several other sectors. The concept is about economic stimulus. We're just higher profile and an easier target for criticism because there is a variety of individual out there that seems to delight in taking down what they perceive to be a bunch of self indulgent people who don't know their place in society. That, because they involve themselves with creative activities, somehow they aren't as worthy as the person who cut the wood or hunted the elk.

Lets look back in history - in all civilizations from the earliest times there were individuals in every tribe whose skill was telling stories or playing music. They generally received some accolade for their talents and weren't expected to give their work for free. The bard stood up with the gathering around him and he sang his ballad - a gripping tale of warriors and brave deeds. At the very least he was rewarded with a meal and as much as he could drink. His talents were recognized as both enjoyable and necessary as a diversion from the pains of day to day existence.

We have grown past this scenario in the sense that we don't live communally in most cases. I could liken the current scenario to I suppose, religion - a congregation brings in a pastor to say the nice things they want to hear every weekend, to inspire them for the next week. Many times he does nothing other than spend his week arranging and organizing events that further bring enjoyment to his congregation and the flock pays him for those efforts and the stories he tells every week. In fact so much so that perhaps some of these people start to believe that the stories that their pastor tells are the only stories worth listening to and everything else is useless and frivolous. None the less he is at least being paid to tell his stories to a ready made audience. That leaves the others out there who also have stories to tell, but the pastor seeing competition from the other stories is very brazen in decrying the "worldly diversions" and as a result some of the faithful flock follow blindly, ignoring and condemning any story that doesn't fit their mind set.

That's kind of where we have found ourselves. Its obvious that this flock will watch stories other than the ones the pastor tells, but only if they didn't pay for them to be created, they seem to feel less guilty this way about taking their pleasures and not being responsible for them.

Now, here's the rub. I have an investment package right now for a package of 5 movies. It is a limited partnership. It will do well ultimately by the time I get it distributed internationally - probably about five years to realize maximum returns. This has nothing to do with government money whatsoever. Will you invest in my movie package?

I suspect that I already know the answer to that. And that is the reason that the government provides a bit of support for us to get these stories made.

The other very real aspect of this debate is about money already invested by the taxpayer. Since the early seventies there has been millions invested in this fashion. There have been people trained all across this country to do the jobs necessary to create these movies and TV shows. These are highly specialized jobs, not just something that someone picks up on the fly. To learn them takes diligence and talent and commitment. Once they devote themselves to this endeavour and live that life it becomes difficult to do anything else even part time - due to the ebb and flow of the business. All individuals in this industry are freelancers and go from job to job as the projects come and go. When not working on a show they are looking for another - that too takes time and energy. Many aren't eligible for EI because of the way they have arranged their lives.

Bottom line is the person on the street - Jane Q Public won't take the chance and invest in these projects as a business. I for one would like to know what it would take to get you to put money into some homemade quality entertainment. That would solve this issue once and for all. Americans will do it. Why won't Canadians? Why do Canadians feel that it is okay to invest in Oil companies or Chemical companies or GM or Chrysler or IBM or Microsoft, but not to invest in entertainment? If we could get past that hurdle we could leave government tax incentives behind. We would prefer that because the paperwork is horrendous.

I would love to hear your views and comments on this since we are searching for answers and there are few coming. It seems to us that the public won't invest in anything unless they get a tax break for doing so. Isn't that hypocritical as well? Put down the arts for incentives but jump in themselves on a personal level in the investments where they get an advantage... the outcry about Investment Income Trusts... total hypocrisy there... all about companies avoiding taxes by placing their assets and income into trusts that you the public buy in units - all so the corporation doesn't have to pay taxes. Who are the real freeloaders here?

Just my thoughts folks...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Harper cancels controversial arts funding restrictions This is a red herring folks

Updated Tue. Oct. 7 2008 3:22 PM ET News Staff

The Conservatives are cancelling plans to restrict which film and TV projects are eligible to receive tax credits -- a move that had enraged the arts community.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced the party's full election platform in Toronto on Tuesday, one week before Canadians go to the polls.

The controversial tax eligibility changes had been passed in the House of Commons as part of a larger omnibus bill. The changes allowed government to have the final say on which projects qualified for the exemption.

The Conservatives had defended the move by saying it was designed to ensure taxpayers didn't foot the bill for pornography or for films deemed offensive.
However, Harper appears to have changed his mind in an attempt to win votes in Quebec -- where opposition to the bill was most pronounced -- as poll numbers show a slide for the Conservatives in the province.

"We will take into account the serious concerns that have been expressed by film creators and investors," says the platform.

Here are some details from the platform:
• The total cost of the four-year platform is projected at close to $8.7 billion.
• The final year would be the most costly, at $2.8 billion.
• It projects a cumulative surplus of $8 billion over the four years.
• The platform pledges $20 million a year to help the forestry industry market its products abroad.
• It also promises $1.6 billion to help manufacturing and resource industries.

It comes as governments around the world take action to protect their economies and private investors amid the fallout from the U.S. financial slowdown.

Harper also put renewed focus on the economy during Tuesday's campaign announcement, saying his government began taking steps early and decisively, over a year ago, to protect against the slowdown currently hitting the U.S.

"Due to these actions we are not in the position of having to bailout our financial sector," Harper said.

He even quoted himself warning that the economy was headed for a slowdown.
Rather than release his entire platform earlier in the campaign, Harper has rolled it out one announcement at a time, saying the media is more likely to cover the individual announcements.

The Conservative's 41-page platform is dubbed "The True North Strong and Free: Stephen Harper's plan for Canadians."

An overlay on the front page of the Toronto Star on Tuesday showed Tory support sliding almost in tandem with the TSX.

While this is good news it only addresses the controversy over the banking bill that was being argued back in the spring. It was written to deny tax credit money to films they deemed didn't meet public policy. It does nothing to address the arts cuts announced between the beginning of August and the calling of the election or address the future of the industry and government support.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This is an item that I posted on another board. Thought it made a couple of worthwhile points.

Re: The Arts

Okay I shall take a deep breath, and prepare myself for what lays ahead...

I am a film maker. I am a writer. The question isn't really "should our tax dollars go to pay for 'the collective arts' but about whether or not we want a Canadian culture to survive the Conservative cultural holocaust".

The heart and soul of any country is its identifiable cultural differences with its neighbors. The short answer is really a question. Do you value our cultural differences enough to want to support it with tax dollars? Remember that we finance other ethnic multi-cultural activities and have for several decades in the form of direct grants to community based ethnic groups - at one time these were as high as 250 million per year - I have no idea where spending is at now.

We used to produce our own prime time television shows, now we watch American made TV almost non-stop. Is that your preference or do you believe that maybe we could benefit from a Canadian slant on the content there?

Bluntly the whole thing comes down to numbers. The USA has over 330 million people to consume whatever they put forward. We have about 33 million. We cannot financially support the making of shows that are of the quality that people want to watch on the 99 cent budgets that our available Canadian sales would allow. The average cost of making a one hour TV episode is about 1.4 million dollars. Using the Canadian yardstick we can garner about 400,000 from selling to a Canadian network. That's a big shortfall. As a result the government supports (or at least it used to) part of the production costs in order to help us be competitive and to produce material that you might like to watch. It also allows us to make shows that we can sell to the US if we are fortunate, and certainly gives us an advantage when we sell to other English speaking countries. Without it you get wildlife documentaries, endless HGTV shows, Big Brother type fare and other so called Reality shows.

To make things worse, the government didn't help when it allowed the mergers and buyouts of several possible markets that used to give us additional finance for production - now they are all part of a single conglomerate. With the CTV acquisition of the CHUM empire and the Global TV buyout of the Alliance Atlantis group we have thirty four less networks/outlets that we as content producers could get sales revenue from. To be fair about five of those channels were resold to Rogers or other groups due to market overlap which isn't allowed, so lets say that leaves us with a loss of twenty nine markets.

The way it works now, two years after the fact is that both Global and CTV buy a show once and recycle it forever amongst their endless layers of specialty channels - you might already have noticed that it is running material on the main CTV channels that originated on Discovery Channel or from other channels that it acquired. The same goes for their competitors. “By sharing programming across our multiple platforms we see opportunities for ratings growth which we expect will ultimately drive advertising revenue growth,” said Leonard Asper of Global TV. Global TV's purchase netted it 13 specialty channels with the Alliance Atlantis buyout.

From a CEO's position this is actually commendable thinking. If the goal were to reduce production spending you couldn't do much better than this - or was that what this was all about - allow the amalgamation of the channels then you don't have to put out as much assistance re: Government spending and allocations... hmmmm... I wonder... nah, they aren't that smart and forward thinking... are they??

Although good for the bottom lines on the CTV and Global balance sheets it further dilutes active production possibilities in Canada.

Right now its looking as though the Conservatives will likely open the ownership of our media companies to foreign acquisition. Something that will most probably kill the future for any aspiring local film makers since the majority of Canadian hopefuls are denied access to Hollywood, even though we have eagerly welcomed their projects here. One exception to that scenario is, if you arrive in Hollywood with a suitcase full of money. You are an instant member of the old boys club! At least until your money is spent!

Only after Canadian actors reach a modest level of fame are they welcomed stateside on H1 Visas - that carries a unique and distinctive clause regarding their work and recognition (and for any others of us wanting to work down there). That fame or notoriety was gained by working on Canadian films - the possibilities of which are likely dead now - unless the Americans open the border allowing us to work down there, you may have seen the last crop of Canadian actors in Hollywood.

Yes its that serious. I have spent my whole life working in the industry that Canada invested millions in developing over the last 35 years. Is it all to be for nothing? All of the sacrifices, all of the hardship now to be written off because of what appears to be misguided party principles?

Three years ago the industry was worth over 6 billion dollars a year. Last years figures show us just over 5 billion. This is not a fledgling industry in terms of the income that it brings back to the government in personal tax dollars. It is estimated by the government itself that for every dollar invested in the industry it gets back at least 4 dollars. In Alberta they have stated that it is closer to 8 dollars that they get back. That sounds like good business with more than adequate investment returns to me. To blindly ignore that fact smacks of blatant disregard for the viability of the industry and allows for bible belt vigilantism against their pet target - the infamous Hollywood Babylon.

To maintain Canada's cultural industries requires a deliberate act of public policy and is bought at a cost, just as a policy and a cost are involved in maintaining roads in good repair.

Government spokespersons have mentioned groups like “Holy Fuck” and commentator Gwynne Dyer or filmmaker Avi Lewis, former CBC host and husband of author Naomi Klein (joined Al Jazeera) or the movie "Young People Fucking". Department employees were forbidden to see the movie, but as it turned out it was a very tame show with more skin seen during CTVs prime time 'Desperate Housewives', the most controversial aspect being the title of the project itself. Fil Fraser, temporary Chair of Telefilm at the time funding was approved, said that the title was chosen in hopes that the buzz would generate an audience in the theatres. It certainly generated buzz but still didn't fill theatres. All this as indications that the recipients of support from the program may not reflect well on Canada internationally

There are two critical errors in this rationale. First of all the program is operated by public servants who make funding recommendations to senior officials and all such decisions are ultimately made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is not a case of some “wonky” peer assessment process deliberately trying to be outrageous or casting the Department in an unfavourable light. If the recipients appear controversial, it is not their fault – they did not jerry-rig the system to receive support. Secondly, it has been established that with a number of the “outrageous” examples quoted, recipients had not in fact applied for the travel grants (in the case of the international marketing programs) but had responded specifically to an invitation made to them by the Department itself!

A tempest in a teapot, but regardless, it does not bode well for anyone wanting to maintain a future in the content creation industry in Canada all because the current government decided to pull back on its involvement in the arts. It appears to be an internal religious fundamentalist streak that believes anything to do with Hollywood is the devils work.

Interesting how most of them have no problem watching American TV shows...

To be sure one can live on a diet of salt pork and biscuits but as countless sailors have discovered over the centuries, going without veggies causes ones teeth to fall out... just as a steady diet of Americanisms can cause one to start humming the Star Spangled Banner and be struck with a sudden to desire to invade Iraq.