Unemployment dogs Saskatchewan film/TV industry: report

The Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association says 73% of those polled in its survey said they are trained and experienced but simply cannot find enough work.

By Regan Reid

Saskatchewan’s media professionals are suffering from a lack of available work in the province, according to the Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association’s (SMPIA) 2016 Media Production Industry Report.

SMPIA’s survey included 176 respondents from the screen industry, the overwhelming majority of which (73.39%) said they are trained and experienced but simply cannot find enough employment.

In fact, of the 157 respondents who indicated that they still live in Saskatchewan, nearly 39% said they are unemployed or working in another industry, with 26% anticipating that they will be forced to leave the province within the year.

As it did in 2014 (and in years prior), the SMPIA’s latest report paints a bleak picture for the future of Saskatchewan’s media production industry. And the report points to the industry’s funding structure as the root of its problems.

The province’s industry tax incentives, which were cancelled in 2011 despite loud objections from members of the industry, were, in effect, replaced by Creative Saskatchewan, a funding agency that provides $5 million in grants to the province’s creatives.

Survey respondents said this simply isn’t enough funding. Almost 36% of survey respondents said that the current funding available isn’t sufficient or isn’t the right kind of funding to support their business.

The report also found that Creative Saskatchewan’s budget limitations and the fact that it does not align its standards and guidelines with national funding programs were two major factors contributing to the lack of investment being brought into the province.

One industry respondent commented, “The current funding model does not fill the void left after the demise of the SFETC [Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit]. The amounts available now just don’t match the kind of investment needed to attract a major film/TV production that in turn would bring dollars into the province.”

But to retain Saskatchewan’s workforce and infrastructure going forward, the report states that the province needs to attract these large- budget productions. While it found that industry activity is actually increasing in the province, it is largely in the form of small- budget productions. These productions struggle to pay employees industry standard wages and, in some cases, rely on outside-of-province labour.

Kevin DeWalt, president and CEO of Regina-based Minds Eye Entertainment, says the province’s industry is at a crossroads.

“The bottom line is if Saskatchewan doesn’t change its film and TV financial support programs and make the industry competitive with other provinces like Alberta and Manitoba it will be difficult to recover from the loss of hundreds of skilled personnel and their families who have left the province since the tax credit was eliminated,” he says. “If there is not a positive change in the current guidelines in the next six to eight weeks, we will lose another year of opportunity, the balance of our crew and cast base and continue to be known as the ultra low budget ‘has-been’ industry.”

To tackle the impressive challenges facing the industry and to help ensure that Saskatchewan’s media production professionals can find the regular, well-paid employment they’re in need of, the SMPIA says there are at least 12 recommendations that Creative Saskatchewan should implement.

Most urgently, the SMPIA says Creative Saskatchewan needs to focus on healthy industry development. It states that the funding agency should consider “special incentives or initiatives to increase the attraction of large investment from outside the province and projects that offer high-value work.”

The agency also needs to offer competitive programs so that working producing in Saskatchewan makes economic sense to investors. One way to accomplish this is to remove the $600,000 project threshold, which the SMPIA says “creates uncertainty, confusion, subjectivity and delays for large- budget projects.”

The report also identifies the lack of a dedicated Film Commissioner as a major problem. Survey respondents indicated that marketing of Saskatchewan’s film industry outside of the province is one of their top needs. Creative Saskatchewan, therefore, needs to increase its promotion of Saskatchewan’s infrastructure, facilities and workforce and begin actively soliciting business.

Updated March 16 at 5:22