The Hidden Benefits of Nova Scotia Film Tax Credits
Recently Nova Scotia Finance Minister Diana Whalen mused about the possibility of cutting Nova Scotia’s tax credits for the film industry. I’ve been asked numerous times whether that worries me or whether it would have any impact on the software and video game industries. When I graduated there were no video game studios in my home province of Nova Scotia. For me there was no choice but to move out of province to begin somewhere else. I stayed away until years later when a single small studio opened up in rural Nova Scotia and I immediately came home. That studio opened and thrived with the help of various incentives and organizations like ACOA. I watched it grow from 12 employees most of whom were hired from out of province to over 100 at its peak.
Most recently I had been working for Electronic Arts in Vancouver, Canada when I received a call inviting me to come back once again to help build a new studio around an exciting new project. You might imagine when building a new studio there’d be some discussion about the best place in Canada to seed it. There wasn’t. Nova Scotia offers the single most generous tax incentives of any province in Canada for my industry. We have internet, reasonable real estate costs and access to huge talent coming out of all of the various universities and colleges in the region. Financially and otherwise, it just makes sense. Tax incentives work.
Interestingly, many of the people with whom I used to work in management, production or even development roles are currently in the process of either setting up their own businesses, or have broken off to form other unrelated businesses using experience acquired during their time in games. Out of that single studio, many more are either beginning or benefitting.
The answer is Yes. There would be a giant impact to my industry and arguably to others if there were cuts to the Nova Scotia film tax credits. Absolutely yes. Our tight Nova Scotia industries are knit together within our communities like a wool sweater. Unlike many other cities in Canada, Halifax has a frequently noted ability — indeed a cultural tendency — to pull together. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, “A rising tide raises all ships.”
Allow me to illustrate.
One of the first meetings I had when I returned to Nova Scotia again in January, 2014 was with a director from the Halifax film industry. He and an associate had an idea for a digital media project and he needed some advice. I hooked him up with a few contacts I’d made. He is not just an idea guy. That director is currently making a film as I write this — benefitting to some extent by government incentives.
The current head of the Nova Scotia Game Developers Association, Kirsten Tomilson got her start in Nova Scotia films, went on to form her own video game studio and gave rise to the organization which is just beginning to represent our collective interests. She said of her time switching to games, “When I was first approached by HB Studios to produce a soccer title I thought it might be a bit out of my league but when I was told that video games were trying to emulate that whole television experience it became clear to me that the skills were transferable.”
In its first year, our studio worked closely with an IT company which was physically located in, and introduced to me by associates at Egg Studios — a local film production company.
Two of the writers who worked on our project began writing on Nova Scotia television shows.
The game studio with whom our company partnered for our recent production of Sons of Anarchy: The Prospect is a very successful Halifax mobile game developer and it’s run by two people who got their start in film and television production.
Our current Development Director, Stephen Segal worked in Canadian television production before he began his career in video games in Nova Scotia which now spans numerous projects and two successful game studios.
I’ve sat down at the table with people in the film industry where the conversation takes the form of something more than the usual polite exchange of information about our workplaces. There’s a fire there. There’s a recognition of commonality. It’s not only possible but probable that we could and might work together on something. The game industry benefits from film productions staff, their sound engineers, their editors. There is creative and professional crossover wherever you look for as long as the game industry has existed in Nova Scotia. They could cut our promotional trailers, design our logos, and spearhead our marketing campaigns. Saying that there is overlap feels like an understatement.
In his book Who’s Your City, author Richard Florida talks at length about the effects that “creatives” have on a local economy. It’s not just speculation, I’ve seen it and lived it. In the time I’ve spent in Lunenburg and Halifax I’ve witnessed productions in both games and film draw people in — people who earn and spend their money right here in Nova Scotia.
The production of the movie Deloris Claiborne (1995) on the South Shore of Nova Scotia many years ago had a visible effect on my home town as did the numerous productions which followed it. It introduced film industry folk to the charms of our rural South Shore communities not just as film sets but places they might want to hang their hat one day. Many of the staff that came here to make the movie stayed or returned in the years since. They now continue to do creative work here in our own economy.
To say that talk of cuts is short-sighted would also be an understatement. The cumulative positive effects of a tax credit which goes to productions who “don’t pay taxes” have ripples which stretch across industries and go far beyond tax income — particularly because we’re all so tightly knit. If there are credit cuts, there are productions that will never get made, cafes which will not sell lattes to would-be writers, and graduates who will find work elsewhere. Inspiration and innovation are born out of collaboration and that only happens if your governance is incentivizing reasons to be here.
You cannot easily measure the ripple effects of one industry on another, especially if you’re not intimately familiar with either. However, one of the greatest strengths of the creative industries in Halifax and rural Nova Scotia is that you don’t need to go far to reach across the table and ask someone about it. I’d encourage our Finance Minister, Diana Whalen or anyone who questions the benefits of industry tax incentives to do exactly that.
You can also sign the petition.
Darryl Wright, Technical Director, Orpheus Interactive