Alberta may have been where celebrated movies like Unforgiven and Brokeback Mountain were shot, but its film and TV industry is failing to attract similar big budget movie productions and is in danger of collapse, according to the production community.
"It's almost like being in the unemployment line. After 30 years of being in the business, all of a sudden there's no business," Emmy Award-winning sound technician George Tarrant, who lives just south of Calgary, told CBC News.
"We're not competitive with the rest of the provinces or any of the states and — let's face it — it's an incentive-based industry and people are going to go where the incentives are best."
The industry veteran noted that the Alberta government continues to spend $20 million a year on film funding incentives — just a tenth of what Ontario and B.C. now offer. In the past five years, the value of productions shot in southern Alberta has dropped by 50 per cent.
David Valdes, one of the producers of the Oscar-winning Unforgiven and subsequent Alberta-set films, echoed the sentiment.
"If I had another western or even one of those westerns that I previously made, I'm not sure I could make it in today's market in Alberta because I need to chase the incentives," he said.
British Columbia, for instance, has recognized the value of the film and TV business and provided attractive tax breaks, according to Dean Goodine, a propmaster who recently moved from Alberta to B.C. in order to take a job on a Fox TV series filming in Vancouver.
According to Goodine, B.C. says it generates $7 in economic activity for every $1 invested in film and television production.
"[Film and TV production is] rated one of the nine key businesses in the British Columbia economy. That's the mistake Alberta is making: Alberta thinks it's arts and culture. It is big business and they can't see past the tarsands," Goodine said.
Blackett rejects incentives contest
Alberta Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett said he doesn't want to be caught in a back-and-forth incentives battle with the other provinces and rejects simply boosting the government's current film fund.
"Every time that one jurisdiction raises their incentive, another one goes and matches it," he said. "It becomes a race to the bottom."
Instead, Blackett is proposing tax credits for corporations and private individuals who invest in film, TV and digital productions — for instance in building studios specializing in new technologies.
"Obviously, we need to bring business here, but we [need to] look at HD and 3D technology," Blackett said.
"Some of the people that were, for instance, were [involved in] Avatar were from Calgary and have left. We've lost a lot of people, but we think we can be competitive [with] that."
Blackett said the Alberta government is in the process of sending out to private partners a request for proposals for investment in a state-of-the-art creative hub and studio development in Calgary.