Speech by Jan Blackie-Goodine

Here is a guest post from award-winning set decorator Jan Blackie-Goodine who also spoke at the March1st film industry gathering in Calgary. This is Jan’s speech.

Hello and thank-you for taking the time to come today.

Long before a movie or television show starts filming, there is a large component of Alberta craftspeople employed in pre-production; Location Managers, Office Staff, Art Directors, Construction, Paint, Costume, Property, and Set Decoration departments… all busy budgeting, hiring crew, and spending large amounts of money locally.

I started working in the Alberta Film and Television industry in 1979. In the course of my career, I have spent in excess of 10 million dollars of production money on purchases and rentals in my department alone.   That figure does not include crew salaries, truck and car rentals, fuel costs, hotels, food, etc.   Of that 10 million dollars, 95 percent was spent in Alberta.   In Set Decoration alone we also hire upholsters, drapers, carpet layers, seamstresses, furniture builders, refinishers, welders, sculptors, artists, graphic artists, sign painters, plasterers, carpenters, painters, electricians, and blacksmiths to manufacture set pieces.   

When I am prepping a film like “The Assassination of Jesse James” or “Passchendaele” I shop all over Alberta.  On “Passchendaele” my crew and I spent two weeks in Fort McLeod staying in local hotels, eating in local restaurants, and shopping in local businesses while we turned their main street into Calgary 1917.  Once the rest of the crew arrived, the local hotels were all full, and the local businesses felt the impact of over 100 people living in their town spending their per diems.

To illustrate the economic impact of our industry, I want to share a personal experience:

While prepping Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”, I had 28 days to buy a whole town of antiques.   After shopping at all the Calgary antique stores, I started shopping in small towns in southern Alberta.  I went on the road with a 5-ton, a cube truck, and four crew members. We were spending money so fast I had a Teamster driver just for taking receipts to the accounting office and bringing back cash.   My crew and I entered a store in Nanton, and we started pulling assorted antiques and placing them by the cash register.  The elderly owner of the store asked, “What are you doing?”   When I told him we were shopping for a movie and that we were taking the antiques with us that day, he shakily asked me, “How do you plan to pay?”  I said, “cash”, and at that point he started crying. I’m not exaggerating: crying.  I found out that he was planning on closing his store due to lack of business.  We spent over 20,000 that day, and over the next two weeks we spent an additional 17,000.  Our movie got made and his business was saved.   For many years after that I continued to buy and rent antiques from him and his wife until they passed away.  The shop is still there under new management.

Once a film ends, whenever possible, productions donate large amounts of left-over stuff; building materials, furniture, linens, clothing, food, and more to various charities, including Habitat for Humanity, Women in Need, The Mustard Seed, Interfaith Thrift Store, and the Salvation Army, just to name a few.   On “Jesse James” the crew adopted two families in need at Christmas and Brad Pitt matched the crew donation.  Our two adopted families split 6000 dollars worth of hampers.  Movies aren’t just movie stars; we are good citizens of our province.

I have seen this industry grow from almost nothing in 1980, to celebrating the best picture Oscar for “Unforgiven”.   We have seen the celebrations of the crew involved on the Oscar-nominated “Brokeback Mountain”.   We were happy for all of our friends and co-workers in their celebrations of multiple Emmy wins, and nominations.   Recently we celebrated in Ottawa when “Passchendaele” won Genie Awards in five categories, including best Picture.  We have heard countless Producers, Directors, and Stars rave about the work ethic and talent of Alberta crews, and in so many cases… call them the best they have ever worked with.

Unfortunately that was then, and this is now.   We are now being passed over by productions going to other provinces or US states that have better incentive programs.   New Mexico has basically taken over “The Western”, the type of film we excel at.

After losing the 100 million dollar Dreamworks film “Cowboys and Aliens” to New Mexico, my husband — Property Master Dean Goodine — phoned our friend,  Producer David Valdes, to get a better understanding of what is going on.  For those of you who don’t know him, David has brought three films to Alberta.  He was the producer on, “Unforgiven”, Open Range”, and “The Assassination of Jesse James”.  During Dean’s phone call with David the following things were discussed:

The business has changed; when “Unforgiven” was shot in Alberta, it was location-driven and Clint had the freedom and the budget to shoot anywhere he wanted.   “Open Range” was a picture that clearly benefited from a 67 cent dollar, and “Jesse James” had a limited budget and needed to tap into the local producer component of the Alberta Film Fund to raise every dollar it could.  What’s changed? Now producers are told by the studio which state or province they are filming in.   It is so competitive that the Studio Heads now phone the film commissions to get it put into writing by that state’s government what the incentive payout will be.  Then that money can be borrowed to put into the production.   For example: The 100 million dollar budget for Cowboys and Aliens became 120 million dollars.   Why do other jurisdictions do it?  Because all of this translates into good middle class jobs for the citizens of these states, as well as the huge dollar multiplier benefitting the local business economy.

There is now a service in LA that studios and producers subscribe to. It gives instant updates on what every jurisdiction is doing with its filming incentive programs.   Example: Iowa has shut their program down, BC has raised their incentive to 33 per cent, and Alberta has cut our film fund by 15 per cent.

New Mexico commissioned a study by Ernst and Young on the economic impact of incentives in the New Mexico film industry.   You can read the results of this study at www.nmfilm.com.   Two things that I noticed in the study were: for every dollar of state funding put into film… there was a $1.50 return to the state tax rolls.  Their industry grew from 362 jobs in 2003, to 2,288 by 2007.  One of the slides in the power point presentation you saw earlier clearly illustrates the commitment that state has made to go after many projects that traditionally would have been shot in Alberta.  We have an opportunity to recapture some of these wonderful projects, but our government will need to take action while we still have the infrastructure

New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Michigan have used the film industry to jumpstart their sagging economies. All of Dreamworks studios greenlit films for 2010 are shooting in these 4 states.

Our current incentives — compared to New Mexico — put us out of the running.

David said that he loves filming in Alberta and knows the crews well, but the economics make it almost impossible for him to bring another film here. 

In Canada, the provinces of BC, Ontario, and Quebec understand how their film-incentives create jobs. On the same day Alberta was slashing our fund, BC was raising theirs.  

In 1984 in Calgary, we were excited that we could work out of a warehouse at ATCO.   The Industry then moved into Harvey Barracks, then CFB Calgary.  Every few years there would be a film studio announcement and we would all get excited, only to have our hopes dashed.   In 2009, yet another film studio announcement, and in 2010 the one production currently filming is back at ATCO.  The only difference now… is that the roof has more leaks.

In 1986 I was a part of a group of Albertans that went to Vancouver to crew a TV series.   Our offices and studios were housed at a vacant brewery called Park and Tilford.  In 2010 that site is now the state-of-the-art North Shore Studios, and there are in excess of 30,000 film and television workers in that province.  30,000. We currently have less than 3000 people, and few are making a living in this industry.   We are going backward, not forward!

For years we have heard the Alberta government say, “We have to diversify our economy.”  Yet they have ignored this award-winning hi-tech industry that is cash and people driven.   There is a perception in our government that to invest in film and TV is subsidizing Arts and Culture, but film and television – however good the project – is still a business, and it only happens with a level playing field.  Between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, British Columbia’s government invested 178 million dollars in its film and television industry.   For that investment they generated 1.3 billion dollars in film and television production, and that was without factoring in the benefits to the local business economy.  This report can be found at www.bcfilm.bc.ca .  I watched our Culture Minister in question period dated Nov. 19, 2009 responding to a question by MLA Laurie Blakeman, say:  “This government does not believe in tax incentives, we believe it is a race to the bottom”.   Well with 2500 people out of work, we are there.  What’s lower than the bottom? We have an industry that with the right incentives can pay for itself, as the governments of BC and New Mexico understand.   Our culture minister also proclaimed that our incentive program is the envy of Saskatchewan.   No disrespect to Saskatchewan, but we may want to aim a little higher. 

When asked, I cannot explain Alberta’s current funding streams, level 1, 2, or 3. What I do understand is this: in 2009 I did not work one day in film or Television.                                                                 

The Alberta Association of Motion Picture and Television Unions have produced great proposals that will help put us back to work.

Like that day in Nanton when we helped save a small business, we are all here today to try and save our business.

 Thank-you.

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One thought on “Speech by Jan Blackie-Goodine

  1. Well said. Not only truthful but insightful and what we all ( I am a producer here in Alberta , Edmonton- have made 2 features ) are feeling inside. We all are asking the question of why the cuts when in 2007 we had to turn down jobs and now not even 3 years later there are none to be had.

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