Cuts to the Alberta Film Industry Hurts Small Business

Becky here. I’m the other owner of Calgary-based special effects company Bleeding Art Industries. I was one of the panelists speaking at a meeting yesterday March 1 about what the cuts to the Alberta film industry mean to a small business owner such as myself.  The government needs to realize that this isn’t about a bunch of union members whining. Doors are closing and people are leaving the province because of the lack of government support of this revenue generating, job generating, tourism generating industry. This is not an industry that affects a few individuals, it affects many individuals and many businesses. What we need is a grassroots, public awareness campaign about the benefits that are brought to this province as a result of films coming to shoot here, and the need to support local independent productions (if we don’t have the former, we won’t have the latter). As indicated in my comments below, the two go hand in hand. Here were my comments at the meeting:

As any small business owner here today knows, running a company requires unlimited reserves of personal fortitude and persistence, not to mention money and other forms of support. Those would be some of the key reasons that 87% of us don’t survive our first year in business and less than 5% make it past year 5. Small businesses account for over 90% of the business community, yet have access to less than 10% of available resources. Small and medium sized businesses employ about 55% of all working individuals in the country and are an integral part of the economic and social well-being of communities.

All levels of government in Canada say they support small and medium sized businesses, and that we’re “the engines of the Canadian economy”, yet here in Alberta the actions of the provincial government speak louder than words in that regard as the recent budget cuts attest.

As a small business owner, let me tell you some of our story. In 2003 we did the effects for approximately 13 different motion picture productions in Alberta. In 2009 we did the effects for one series. For a variety of reasons, the film industry here has been tanking, not least of all because the provincial government has never fully supported the industry and has barely paid lip service to the economic benefits the film industry brings to the province.  The big push for a while now has been the need for a studio.  Like others in this room, my partner and I both sat on one of the many studio committees that formed and then folded. The lack of support has gone on for so long that if and when a studio does get built, there will be no crews or businesses left in the province to use it or promote it.

We chose to set up shop in Alberta because this was our home and where our families were. Our goal was to set up a full special effects shop and production supply company that could compete across Canada, if not around the world. Over the years we had to diversify in order to survive. We never would have lasted this long, certainly not just in film, had we not moved into other areas – which are also again being cut – performing arts groups, museums, and other cultural attractions. With cuts to almost every industry we service, and nothing to help small businesses, our whole company is now in jeopardy.

Since incorporating in 2002, we’ve spent millions of dollars locally – buying parts from local suppliers, renting from local equipment companies, hiring artists and other contractors. Just 8 years later, many of those people we hired are living in other provinces or working in other industries because they simply couldn’t survive in Alberta. Although most of the suppliers we bought and rented from are still here, they are feeling the lack of film work, and may not make it, and some have shut down. In 2009, our gross income dropped by about 30% down to levels we hadn’t experienced since opening the company. We went from working in a thriving industry to one that is barely existent, while every other province is moving ahead.

Many small businesses will not survive these cuts. If and when the studio is built, where will the people and companies be that will use that studio and keep it functioning? Guaranteed, they won’t be in Alberta; they will have moved elsewhere or started careers in other industries, as so many have already done.

For the past couple of years we’ve discussed moving out of the province. We ask ourselves why and how we can live here when there is not enough work. We ask ourselves why we are trying to build an innovative and creative company in Alberta when the government ceases to take actions that will diversify the economy, as they say they want to do. If you want to diversify the economy, then you need to do what we have done as a small business, and invest the time, money and resources into supporting those other industries that create a diversified one. It doesn’t just suddenly happen.

I realize that we’re here specifically as concerned businesses and citizens working in the film industry but because our company works in a number of different industries, let me speak with just my small business hat on. There was nothing in this budget to help small businesses. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business – a lobby group representing small and medium sized businesses of which we are a member – recently stated that “…although now isn’t the time for heavy tax cuts, the government could have announced a new long-term plan to preserve tax competitiveness for small business. That didn’t happen. While Manitoba and British Columbia have both announced plans to reduce their small business tax rate to zero, Alberta is losing its tax leadership position. This is not good news for small business.  There were also opportunities to assist small business by easing the red tape burden.” That didn’t happen either.

There is another issue that needs to be addressed here that is connected to service productions coming to the province. Some argue that subsidizing productions that come from out of province is the same as giving money to large American corporations.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, service production activity will always reflect the up and down movements of the global market. But where other jurisdictions understand the value of supporting this industry, Alberta is heading the other way. And without the work and the business to keep film workers employed and at the top of our game, there will be no one left to develop and crew our home grown, grass roots productions. It is when a market is flush with work – as it was in 2003 – that it is time to act and begin to develop a local industry. Where the collective will exists for the creation and financing of these films the money will eventually flow into every corner of our industry.  As the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats”.  We need service production but we also need to grow the independent Alberta film industry. But it’s not either/or, it’s both. Disregarding the value of the film industry in general will keep producers away, and the rest of us will follow. To be clear; if the government does not support the people here who actually make the films it will lose that human capital forever.

We fully recognize that tough decisions need to be made, but at the end of the day, if we can’t make a living here, and the government does not listen to all its constituents – urban or rural, oil and gas or film – we will need to live where we can make a living, and where we are tangibly supported in doing so.

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One thought on “Cuts to the Alberta Film Industry Hurts Small Business

  1. Thank you, Becky, for your amazing commentary on the sad state of our industry. Hopefully letters written like this one will begin to make the changes that we so desperately need. Thanks again, and good luck to you all at Bleeding Art – it is a great company with great people behind it…If I was working I would be buying…

    Best to you all,

    Lynnette Kuchera

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