Between commercial, corporate and low-budget feature work, Dan Dumouchel made enough to survive in the Alberta film industry. It took a few years, but he was getting regular work, and people knew who he was. Still, he wishes he would have left Calgary sooner.

When his wife moved to Vancouver for a new job opportunity in 2010, he joined her a few years later and had to rebuild his network in a new, bustling industry. Dumouchel isn’t the only Albertan to have left for the busy Vancouver media market either.

“I’ve had more opportunity in Vancouver than I ever did in the short amount of time in Calgary,” says Dumouchel. “I just complain, but it’s crazy busy here, and I’m crazy busy. I am getting tons of opportunities and lots of guys know me.”

Many have already left the province, and those in the industry say Alberta’s film and television business has potential to boom if only for better government support. This seems even less likely now that the NDP government have already announced a $3 million cut to the Alberta Media Fund in their new budget.

The film tax incentives in Alberta and British Columbia are similar yet very different. Alberta has a $157 million industry and British Columbia has a wopping $2 billion industry  Infographic by Thomas Bogda

“To come back, I’d have to have a serious offer on the table,” says Dumouchel.

The mild climate and two-hour flight to Los Angeles are some of the advantages Vancouver offers over Alberta — the B.C. government also decided to aggressively target Hollywood studios in the ‘80s with attractive incentives according to Charles Tepperman, professor of film studies at the University of Calgary.

The industry expanded, and in 2015, film and television productions pumped $2 billion into B.C.’s economy according to the Vancouver Economic Commission. In Alberta, film and television productions only spent $157 million, according to the provincial government.

But while the West Coast has a geographic and historical advantage, Alberta’s struggles come down to the limitations imposed by its own policies, say those in the industry. For years, American studios have been coming to Canada for its tax credits, particularly B.C. and Ont.

While most Canadian provinces have a labour tax credit, Alberta does not.

The Alberta Media Fund controls the money running into the industry. The incentives they offer give a percentage back on anything the producers choose, like hotels or transportation, says Tom Benz, an Alberta film veteran and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union business agent. Incentives for labour are not prioritized.

Combine that criteria with the Media Fund’s $5 million project cap — something none of the other big film jurisdictions have —and it creates a system that is easily taken advantage of.

“We have enormously talented individuals in the province that are able to make amazing films. It’s just more often than not, we’re not given the opportunity to.”— Colin Sheldon

“When you have a project that’s large enough and you meet that cap on materials,” says Benz, “it becomes an anti-Alberta incentive when you start hiring labour from somewhere else to cap out on your materials in Alberta. We learned that on Brokeback Mountain.”

“We’re doing as well as we are because our crews and the product we offer is that good, in spite of the incentives. Imagine if we were even moderately competitive, how Alberta would take off. We would double in size in no time at all just to meet the demand.”

A lack of enough work is forcing filmmakers to search elsewhere. Tight-knit crews in Alberta secure work on steady shows like Heartland and Fargo, and there are only so many projects that meet the Alberta location criteria.

Dumouchel’s business partner, Colin Sheldon, a producer based in Calgary, has sent numerous letters to the NDP government about what he says is their lack of support for the industry.

One letter, signed by other producers in the city, discusses changes that could help filmmakers who build projects from the ground up within the province. Some of the key issues Sheldon acknowledges include a policy ruling that productions must have distribution prior to filming, a lack of support in marketing, limited funding distribution times and unused Media Fund money.

“We have enormously talented individuals in the province that are able to make amazing films. It’s just more often than not, we’re not given the opportunity to,” says Sheldon.

He also notes the current incentive system is restricting a healthy post-production environment. Calgary-based Propeller Studios was relied upon for audio in the first season of FX’s Fargo, but Sheldon says audio production moved to Ontario in the second season so they could maintain their tax credits. The new Calgary Film Centre was built in-part to aid this area of production.

{advpoll id=’22’ view_result=’0′ width=’0′ position=’center’}

The Calgary Journal reached out to the province, but they were unavailable to comment.

Tepperman suggests it wouldn’t be a simple task for the government to make the big changes people are pointing to.

“Our governments can’t just offer carte blanch,” he says. “So, no more $5 million cap per production, but how much money should a government invest in a single industry?”

Tepperman adds that Alberta could look at the French-language film industry in Quebec as a potential direction; one shaped by domestic productions instead of the American runaway productions consuming Vancouver.

Either way, Benz believes something has to happen in order to move the industry forward.

“When Alberta competes behind the nucleus of Toronto, the cultural oasis of Montreal, the American export-port of Vancouver, for public dollars, we’re forced down the list,” he says. “If we don’t start being innovative, thinking of what’s good for Alberta on a global sense and on an industry sense, we’ll always be fourth place waiting for an oversubscribed system waiting to give us leftovers.”

“We create a lot of labour here, and it would be easy, in my mind, to figure out how to turn on the tap to give them the work,” says Benz.

tbogda@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Cassie Riabko and can be reached at criabko@cjournal.ca