By Austin Davis
Shawn McGrath picked an unfortunate time to start his own film production company in Saskatchewan: two months before the province’s Film Employment Tax Credit was slashed.
He wanted to produce films since he was 18 years old and had been making connections in the industry in the province since 1999.
“I started my own company and was starting to produce just as the tax credit announcement came down. I had a project immediately go away because of that – which would have been my first solo producing project,” McGrath said.
McGrath, 47, is a board member and spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association.
When the announcement was made, McGrath knew Saskatchewan wouldn’t have the incentives that the project needed. He suggested that the feature film be made somewhere else, and it was.
Nearly a year has passed since the Saskatchewan Party announced that the program would be winding down to save $8 million a year.
On Feb. 9, Creative Saskatchewan was announced as the agency that will eventually replace Sask-Film. Everything within the creative industries in the province will be encompassed by Creative Saskatchewan.
Until the new agency is launched later this year, a transition fund of $1-million is available. That means artists, writers, performers, producers and musicians will all be looking for cash from the same pot.
“On the face of it, it looks like a considerable amount of money,” McGrath said. “When you start spreading that around amongst hundreds of people, it gets used up awfully quickly. And fair enough, it is called a transition fund. I guess we have to wait and see what happens with the rest of it.”
McGrath said that the cap on that transition fund for filmmakers is $60,000. He said that’s enough to hire a writer for a feature-length script – and that’s all.
He said he’s had friends move since the announcement last March, and people within the industry continue to leave Saskatchewan.
“It’s one thing to make a business decision to move on your own. It’s another thing to have it thrust upon you,” McGrath said.
Without production incentives, there are no reasons to bring a project to Saskatchewan, said Clark Donnelly.
His company, Westwind Pictures, produced Little Mosque On The Prairie and maintained an office in Regina until a couple of years ago.
It moved to Toronto before the cancellation of the tax credit.
Though the interior shots of the TV series were filmed in Toronto, the exteriors were shot in Indian Head.
“One of the reasons that we shot there was not only because it was supposed to be ostensibly a prairie town – Saskatchewan was perfect – but there was a healthy tax credit as well,” Donnelly said in a telephone interview from Toronto.
“If we were to do the same kind of show again, we would go to Manitoba or Alberta now.”