COLUMN: 'Lights, camera... inaction' gains little sympathy

Once upon a time, in my years in B.C.’s sometimes-thriving, sometimes-struggling film industry, I met some of the most bombastic, headstrong, self-aggrandizing personalities you’d ever want to share a shuttle to set with.

I also met the most creative, resourceful and selfless.

As often as not, they were one and the same.

These are the calculating individuals who spend their days – and nights – on set, surrounded by lights, cameras and, every so often, action.

They film – oops, dating myself since I left in ’07… – they “digitally record” our TV shows, feature films and (boo, hiss) commercials.

Long overtime hours, never-ending food and a thirst for making movie magic help inspire them to their careers of choice… makeup artists, FX technicians, script supervisors, performers, cinematographers and grips among them.

And these are the people – the estimated 25,000 locals who create our on-screen entertainment – who are asking for their audience’s help now that their once-prosperous industry is slipping away, series by series, blockbuster by blockbuster.

Last week, many noticed the provincial government’s just-released 2011 report on employment dismisses their industry outright: “Government has taken a close look at the screen-based entertainment industry as a possible focus for the Jobs Plan, and has not found a compelling case for any additional emphasis on this sector.”

So, in a disorganized fanout, they took to Facebook, Twitter and any of the “old media” that would pay attention.

Parsing through the rhetoric, what it seems they are asking for is additional tax incentives that make B.C. as financially attractive as other filming locations. What they got was flippancy, and their criticisms were repeatedly deleted from Premier Christy Clark’s Facebook page. (No, not form letters, but hundreds of unique comments from individual workers worried about their future.)

Truth is, the public has little sympathy. They see film workers as highly paid elite who hobnob with the rich and famous at the expense of a family life.

While the latter is true, the former is open to debate. Sadly, because so many, while pursuing their dreams, have justified to family and friends about the extent of their wages being Hollywood-sized, they get little sympathy from voters and thus politicians.

So now they’re angry – Hulk angry – and they’re starting to get organized… at least, as organized as creative, headstrong, bombastic, selfless people can be.

To be fair to the premier, I think my former colleagues’ initial reaction missed the mark.

They see Clark’s Jobs Plan as a huge investment to protect actual, well… jobs. I see it as a politician campaigning with millions of our dollars to protect only hers.

And I haven’t heard from anybody – not a soul – who privately predicts those efforts will be successful.

Hmmm. Clark’s “race to the bottom” comment last week, in which she seemed to be referring to competing film industries and governments, might soon come back to haunt her.

In fact, I suggest those who were once gainfully employed in film might want to try to ingratiate themselves with leading candidates, ensuring a friendly face or two come the May 14 election.

As well, they might want to spend more time educating both the public and themselves how tax credits actually work.

No, these are not the same as subsidies, but nor are they found money.

Done right, such incentives are our investment – yours and mine – in an industry that promotes services, supplies and employment in and around the Lower Mainland.

And, most beneficial to the province as a whole, it’s an industry that casts light on our tourism industry to those who have both cash and time to spend.

The math is out there. Both sides have yet to calculate it accurately.

Lance Peverley is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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