Bronfman to Ontario gov: ‘You guys saved our proverbial butts’

Major Ontario production players gathered Thursday night to launch the $20 million William F. White Centre in west Toronto and celebrate their local industry getting its mojo back.

There were old friends, well-wishers and glad-handing politicians, all cheering Toronto’s return to big-league filmmaking with high profile local movie shoots like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and Columbia’s $200 million Total Recall remake.

“We’re growing up. We’re exploding. There’s an energy here. It’s in the room,” Canadian director Norman Jewison told the pep rally audience.

But when William F. White International head Paul Bronfman came on stage to talk about his new production support facility, he pointed to the big budget Hollywood shoots that almost never made it to Ontario.

“You guys saved our proverbial butts,” Bronfman told Ontario culture minister Michael Chan and Liberal Etobicoke/Lakeshore MPP Laurel Broten as they looked on from the audience.

He recalled June 14, 2009, when William F. White was drawing up plans for a new Toronto studio complex and news arrived that Quebec was making its 25% film tax credit an all-spend, rather than for local labour costs only.

Never mind a rising Canadian dollar, or competition from U.S. states with their own generous tax credits – the threat to the survival of the Ontario production industry had come from a neighbour.

“We thought we were in deep trouble,” Bronfman remembered.

So the William F. White boss and a host of other somber local players huddled at Film Ontario to assess the crisis at hand.

They were told a slew of Hollywood service shoots then in pre-production in Toronto had suddenly been told by bean-counters in Los Angeles to pick up stakes and relocate trailers and crews to Montreal.

The Quebec film tax credit had doubled in value overnight. The savings were too much to pass up.

“What are we going to do? We approached the [Dalton] McGuinty government,” Bronfman recalled of those dark hours in the third week of June 2009.

To get the U.S. service productions to remain in the province, the Ontario industry needed to convince McGuinty’s government  to match Quebec and make the Ontario Production Services Tax Credit an all-spend incentive.

It was a bold ask, even foolhardy. The provincial government a year earlier had raised the value of the Ontario Production Service Tax Credit to 25% from 18%, and in February 2009, had made its foreign and indigenous film tax credits permanent.

Now Ontario film and TV producers were returning cap in hand to the McGuinty government to ask yet again for their film tax credit to be sweetened.

To back their case, industry representatives secured estimates of what the American producers intended to spend in Ontario and stove-piped those budgets to key bureaucrats close to McGuinty.

And in a formal meeting with finance ministry officials, local film and TV players argued a generation of gains by the province’s production sector stood to be lost overnight if Ontario did not match Quebec’s 25% all-spend tax credit.

As Bronfman recalled Thursday night to a room full of local producers, directors, cinematographers, writers, editors and actors, on June 29, 2009, McGuinty’s government announced it would expand the Ontario Production Services Tax Credit to include all qualifying production costs incurred locally.

“No one was going to eat our lunch,” Bronfman said of the victory for the Ontario production sector that enabled this week’s launch of the 338,000 square foot William F. White Centre.

And with that, the evening’s emcee, Royal Canadian Air Farce cast member Alan Park ended the speech-making and brought pop-rockers The Midway State onto the stage to get the tribute to a restored Toronto production sector into party mode.