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Stephen McNeil's spin won't revive the film industry his government destroyed

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Photo: Anne Ruthmann/flickr

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To hear him spin it, you'd think Stephen McNeil lived inside the fantasy bubble of film and television instead of outside, systematically decimating the real-world industry that creates screen magic.

In January, two of Nova Scotia's most successful production companies announced they were shuttering their businesses here. Since 2001, Special Effects Atlantic had provided "physical special effects co-ordination and supervision, as well as highly trained crews with state-of-the art special effects equipment" to close to 60 film and TV productions. During that same period, Filmworks, a Halifax-based casting agency whose owner boasted two Gemini Award nominations, had chalked up more than 80 production credits.

Both closing. What happened?

Last spring, McNeil's government killed off a 20-year-old, industry-nurturing film tax credit that had transformed $24 million in provincial investment into $150 million worth of production in 2014 alone. He'd replaced it with a clunky "incentive fund," whose process was so slow and whose outcome so uncertain it could barely manage to spend a third of its now-capped $10-million annual funding.

You might think that would spark McNeil to sober second thought. You'd think wrong.

Less than a week after those businesses closed, McNeil declared, in his best my-words-make-it-so Orwellian triple-speak: "We believe there's an industry there, and there are people who continue to believe there's an industry..."


Last week, McNeil was at it again.

After a startling report from the Directors Guild of Canada showing "an almost 50 per cent drop in film and television business in just one year," and in the wake of his own business minister's on-off-on-again, "scuppered" non-press conference to not announce no changes to the not-working film incentive, McNeil doubled down.

This time he claimed the film tax credit -- which had spawned an industry employing 2,700 people -- didn't create permanent, full-time employment.

The next day, John Wesley Chisholm called "an existential press conference" to prove his 32 full-time Arcadia Entertainment employees do indeed exist -- for now. His documentary production company, which already had to lay off one-quarter of its staff, is completing work on projects contracted before the elimination of the tax credit. After that...?

Not to worry. Stephen McNeil has a dream. For him. A nightmare for our used-to-be film industry.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Anne Ruthmann/flickr

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