Leo Awards facing tough times

Winners of the recent B.C. film and TV Awards won’t be getting their trophies — unless they are wiling to fork over their own cash.

Faced with a deficit for the second year in a row, the Leo Awards, which celebrate the best in B.C. film and TV, have announced they can’t afford to buy trophies for recipients who were honored over two nights in early June at gala ceremonies.

‘Maybe we should have seen this coming. But right up until the event we were negotiating with a potential sponsor that we hoped would be the saving grace and it fell through,’ Leo Awards president Walter Daroshin tells Playback Daily.

Last year, trophies were handed out to winners in the weeks after the event. Recipients assumed this would be the case again this year until Daroshin sent out a letter after the awards stating that they could not afford to buy the 100 odd trophies – a crystal lion’s head – which cost about $500 each. Certificates will be handed out and recipients have the option of buying their own trophy at cost.

Sponsorship revenues have decreased by close to 50% over the past two years, according to Daroshin.

‘Last year we bit the bullet and borrowed against this year’s revenue,’ he explains. ‘We have been carrying a considerable debt over the course of the last number of years figuring we would make it up next year. But this was no longer sustainable…it was a choice between offering trophies, or not paying the hotel bill.’

Producer Cynde Harmon of Really Real Films, whose pilot Wolf Canyon won five Leos, admits it was a shock when she found out she’d have to come up with around $2,500 in order to get her trophies.

‘I am very supportive of the Leo Awards and think everyone does a wonderful job putting on the show but as a production company we don’t have that kind of money,’ she says.

Brendan Woolard, who won his first Leo for editing the short film Savage, says organizers should have planned better to ensure the trophies were budgeted for.

‘I don’t see how you can run at a deficit for two years during an economic downturn and not see this coming,’ he says. ‘That’s bad management. The Leos should operate within their means and if they can’t afford statues, then they should have a scaled down ceremony.’

The awards program is governed by a not-for-profit society, the Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Foundation of British Columbia, which is overseen by a board of directors, elected annually and currently chaired by Bernie Melanson.

Daroshin is secretary/treasurer of the board and his company Troika Productions is contracted to produce the awards ceremony for a fee. But Daroshin says he does not take the monetary payment for organizing the awards because of the lack of financial resources. Under the terms of Daroshin’s contract, his company is also liable for any debt incurred by the awards and currently carries the deficit.

Daroshin says he hopes that by not giving trophies this year to reduce the debt load, the awards will go ahead as usual next year.

‘I hope we can return to the levels of sponsorship we have had for many years,’ he adds.

But Brian Hamilton, a partner at Omni Film Productions, says the tough times facing the B.C. industry aren’t over yet.

‘Last year we saw a 40% decrease in B.C.-owned projects and this year we are on track for a further 15% decrease or more,’ he says. ‘So this isn’t a one year blip. It is going to take a lot longer for our local industry to rebound.’

Liz Shorten of the Canadian Media Production Association – B.C. is calling for a reevaluation of the awards program.

‘As a sponsor of the Leos we will be recommending that an independent industry committee work with the board to review the viability of the awards going forward,’ she says. ‘The [organization] totally supports the showcase and recognition of our talent, but the question is what shape and form does that need to take in 2011 and beyond.’