Thursday, October 09, 2008

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...

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