When the McNeil government got rid of the old film and television financing system in April 2015, it eventually replaced the tax credits and equity investments that had formed the foundation of that system for almost twenty years with the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive Fund (NSFPIF). The NSFPIF, which was created in June 2015 and which is administered by NSBI, was capped at $10 million per fiscal year (although the government stated that if demand was greater than the $10 million in any given year it would consider putting in more money, which has done in the 2016-17 fiscal year), it was based on an “all spend” model of Nova Scotia costs, and it was designed to be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Through all of the controversy, one of the things that the McNeil government stressed repeatedly was that the new funding system would be more transparent than the old one. That was always a bit of a red herring, because the former system was as transparent as any government investment program (a look at any annual report from Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, or its predecessor agencies, would tell you exactly who was getting funding in terms of investment, although not the old tax credit). Nevertheless, the NSFPIF is indeed transparent, in that NSBI reports on a regular basis which productions have been funded, and for what companies.
The problem with the film and television industry, however, is that even transparency can appear opaque to the general public. Almost all funding is still given to single-purpose production companies, because that’s how the industry functions. That can make it hard for people who don’t have a scorecard to know who really has care and control of the money.
I was curious to see which companies (and which individuals) were doing the best under the new funding regime, as well as which types of production, so I did a bit of digging at the Registry of Joint Stocks. Had the veteran players been replaced by newer ones, or had the new system more or less worked to the benefit of the same folks as the old system had?
The answer is that the same people who were successful under the old system have been the same people who have generally been successful under the new system.
The government has committed $17,001,420 to film and television productions through the NSFPIF since it was created in 2015 (this does not include the $5,927,492 that was given for the production of the television series The Mist, a service production funded by the government outside the NSFPIF). Of that amount, 87.42% has gone to eight groups of single purpose companies (in three cases, these are sole single purpose production companies), which have each received at least 3% of the overall funding and which can generally be classified, in the case of the groups of companies, as having the same command and control in terms of the individuals who operate them.
Based on the most recent reporting from NSBI, they are:
1. The “Trailer Park Boys” Group, which includes TPB OTP Productions 2 Inc., SV Shoals Inc., Sunnyvale Productions 11 Inc., and TPB OTP Inc., all of which produce programming related to the Trailer Park Boys franchise. The directors and officers for each of these companies are Michael Smith, Robert Wells, and John Paul Tremblay, i.e. the Trailer Park Boys themselves. The total amount of funding given to these companies has been $3,521,129 for four productions, which amounts to 20.71% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF.
2. The “David MacLeod” Group, which includes Seawalker Productions Inc. and Pure Season 1 Inc., both companies where Chester-based producer David MacLeod is one of two directors and officers (in each case, with a different partner – Dartmouth-based writer / producer Michael Amo for Pure, and LA-based producer Fernando Szew for Seawalker). The total amount of funding given to these companies has been $2,980,444 for two productions, which amounts to 17.53% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF.
3. DHX-Hour Productions (NS) XXIV Inc., which is the single-purpose company owned by publicly-traded DHX Media for the production of the current season of the long-running CBC series This Hour Has 22 Minutes. The sole director of DHX-Hour Productions (NS) XXIV Inc. is Mark Gosine, who is also the President and Secretary (Gosine is the Executive Vice-President, Legal Affairs, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary for DHX Media). Steven Denure (the President and CEO of DHX Media) is listed as the Chief Operating Officer, and Anne Loi (the Senior Vice-President, Finance & Operations of DHX Media) is listed as a Vice-President, as is Tracey Jardine (the Vice President, Production, Live Action, for DHX Studios). The total amount of funding given to this one company for the production of the 24th season of This Hour was $2,200,346, which amounts to 12.94% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF.
4. The “Edward Peill” Group, which includes Tell Tale Entertainment Inc., Lunenburg Films Inc., Tell Tale International Inc., Horse Sense Films Inc., and Body Language Films Inc., all of which list Edward Peill as the sole officer and director. There have been 5 productions funded, and these include Curse of Oak Island Season 4 and Evil Outdoors. The total amount of funding given to these companies has been $1,823,865, which amounts to 10.73% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF.
5. Mr. D S6 Productions Ltd., which is the single-purpose company for the production of the sixth season of the CBC television series Mr. D. Michael Volpe is the sole director and officer. The total amount of funding given to this company was $1,640,533, which amounts to 9.65% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF.
6. The “Stevens” group of companies, which includes HOG Productions Inc., Hack Productions Inc., Love Food3 Productions Inc., Peacekeeper Productions Inc., Dignity Productions Inc., Hack2 Productions Inc., Moms Productions Inc., and Fence Post Productions Inc., all of which list Dale Stevens (the CEO of Clerisy Entertainment) and Annie Mae Stevens as the sole directors, and Dale Stevens as President & Secretary and Annie Mae Stevens as Vice-President. The funding awarded to this group of companies has been $1,079,221, which has amounted to 6.35% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF. The productions funded are series such as Love Food and documentary television, primarily for Eastlink TV.
7. The “Savoie” group of companies, which includes 3291627 Nova Scotia Limited, 3286993 Nova Scotia Limited, 3291627 Nova Scotia Limited, and 3286993 Nova Scotia Limited, all of which list Francois Savoie and Marc Savoie as the sole directors, and Francois Savoie as President and Marc Savoie as Treasurer / Secretary. The funding awarded to this group has been $970,987, which has amounted to 5.71% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF. It has gone to the production of French-language programming for RDS (“Trajectoires“) and Ici ARTV (“Pour l’amour du country“).
8. Vertical Productions Inc., which is co-producing, with Sven Woldt and Oliver Luer of Germany’s Ariane Krampe Filmproduktion GmbH, the television movie Harry’s Island, a German-language TV movie set in Nova Scotia that will air on Germany’s ARD. The directors of Vertical are veteran Nova Scotia producers Chris Zimmer and Ann Bernier, and the officers are Zimmer as President and Bernier as Secretary. The funding awarded for this production to Vertical has been $645,352, which has amounted to 3.80% of the monies committed through the NSFPIF.
There are a number of other one-off productions, or small groups of productions, but no other group of productions has received more than 3% of the overall monies allocated by the NSFPIF, and no other individual production has received more than 2% of the overall monies. Together, all of the remaining productions, which went primarily to established producers like Thom Fitzgerald, Geoff D’Eon, Bill Niven, and Bill MacGillivray, account for 12.58% of the overall amount allocated under the NSFPIF.
Folks can draw their own conclusions about whether the NSFPIF is working or not (in terms of speed of administration, at least, it seems to be working better than the old system, so kudos to NSBI for that), but there are three things from all of this that strike me as useful discussion points. For a change, these don’t solely involve ritualistic bashing of the McNeil government, but rather reflect a more broad-based, existential conversation about the type of industry we have built in Nova Scotia.
1. There is an overwhelming gender imbalance in terms of who controls the means of production when it comes to companies accessing the NSFPIF. The only one that is controlled solely by a woman is Fair Game Productions Inc. (Jessica Brown), which received $22,901 for the production of the documentary East Coast Fame Game, a grand total of 0.13% of the monies that have been allocated to date under the NSFPIF. In contrast, companies that are controlled solely by men have received $12,636,312, or 74.33% of the monies allocated under the NSFPIF to date. And this doesn’t include the publicly traded DHX and its 12.94% of the funding allocation, although perhaps it should given their self-described “highly experienced management team” is – you guessed it – all men. There are also virtually no minorities in command and control positions – only Corey Bowles and Aaron Horton with Black Cop qualify, and that amounts to only $60,840, or 0.36% of the total funding commitments. Saying that’s better than the figures for companies controlled solely by women is like saying that a living penguin has a better chance of flying than a dead penguin.
2. We call it the Nova Scotia “film” industry, to the point where the hashtag #nsfilmjobs has come to symbolize the industry on social media, but there is very little money being directed to filmmaking in the traditional sense. The vast majority of the money has gone to television production, to the point where the hashtag #nstvjobs would be more accurate. The amount of money under the NSFPIF that has been spent on local Nova Scotia independent films is telling – $1,029,458, or 6.06%. That includes Michael Melski‘s The Child Remains, Jay Dahl‘s Halloween Party, Ashley McKenzie‘s award-winning Werewolf, Corey Bowles‘ just-announced Black Cop, and the Nova Scotia – Ontario co-production Weirdos (the Nova Scotian producer was former Screen Nova Scotia chairperson Marc Almon). Given that independent film is often seen as a director-focused world, one could make an argument for taking Weirdos – directed by Ontario-resident Bruce McDonald – out of the equation, which would leave an even grimmer number of $709,055, or 4.17% of the allocated funding from the NSFPIF, that has gone to independent features films creatively controlled and driven by Nova Scotians. Independent filmmaking in Nova Scotia might not be dead, but it is certainly “pining for the fjords of Norway,” to borrow a phrase from Monty Python.
3. When the film funding system was created in the 1990s by the Liberal government of John Savage, the name given to the crown agency that was set up to administer the various funds was the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation. I worked there as the Program Administrator from May 1998 until June 1999, and we took the “development” part of our name very seriously, because we recognized that even as we were funding established producers and companies, it was just as important to be building up new producers and new companies at the same time. We implicitly understood that in the business world the Marxist perspective was fundamentally correct – that the most important metric was who controlled a company (i.e. the means of production). Even as we supported the growth of companies like Salter Street Films (the antecedent to DHX), we wanted to always be bringing new voices into the mix and helping them grow. When I look at the statistics today, of the people and companies being funded by the NSFPIF, I see a lot of names that were at the top of the food chain almost twenty years ago, but what I don’t see anymore are those new voices in positions of control. Of all the companies or groups of companies that have been funded to date, I count only three that could be classified as “new voices” in terms of controlling the means of production – Jessica Brown, Corey Bowles and Aaron Horton, and Ashley McKenzie and Nelson MacDonald. The total amount of money given to this group? $141,416, or 0.83% of the total committed to through the NSFPIF.
Now of course, these numbers do not present the entire picture. The ownership structure of these companies is not something that can be searched through the Registry of Joint Stocks website. But I know from experience that with film and television production companies, the directors and officers are almost always the same people who own the company, so the numbers presented above are, in my opinion, a pretty accurate reflection of where things stand right now in Nova Scotia.
I think it’s time to start asking ourselves, as an industry and as a Province, whether this picture is the one we want to continue to paint as we move forward.
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