Summer film business picks up | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Summer film business picks up

Thanks to an increase in the provincial tax credit and no strikes in sight, the Nova Scotia film industry is well on its way to recovery.

By its very nature, the movie business is a mercurial beast. No more so than in Atlantic Canada, far away from the traditional centres of "the biz"---Toronto and Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles. For the American productions, our weaker dollar and crack crews---along with incentives such as provincial and federal tax breaks---attract the attention of Hollywood and other international investment. So we have a dichotomy: The lower-budgeted local Canadian productions share available crew with the service productions, TV movies and the odd feature film.

The past few years have been up and down. Though 2007-08 was the worst year in a decade due to the writers' strike in the US and a strong Canadian dollar---the industry brought in just $76 million in service and domestic production earnings, far lower than the over $100 million average of previous years---fiscal 2008-09 saw a great recovery.

"We did very well," says Ann McKenzie, president and CEO of Film Nova Scotia. "We haven't officially released the numbers yet, but it's around $150 million." McKenzie credits the 2007 increase in the Nova Scotia tax credit as a primary reason for the upswing. "A lot of things were able to move forward in our direction," she notes. The recent ratification of the Screen Actors' Guild agreement, averting a strike in the US, will likely benefit us in the year ahead.

Service productions that shot locally in the past 12 months have included the remake of the ice-skating melodrama Ice Castles, and I, Darwin, the first docudrama from the National Geographic Channel, locally produced by Michael Mahoney's Magic Rock Productions. Fingers are crossed for the possible return of Tom Selleck this fall to make another Jesse Stone MOW for CBS.

Last summer's The Sea Wolf (from Germany's Telemunchen and David MacLeod of Chester-based Big Motion Pictures) kept people busy. A new version of Moby Dick from the same production companies is scheduled to go to camera soon. Studio Hamburg is now shooting two German-language TV movies in Nova Scotia, adaptations of Joanna Trollope novels, Two Sisters and Second Honeymoon. Chris Zimmer of Halifax-based imX communications is the local producer.

In the local indie scene, things are quieter. Chaz Thorne's new project and Jason Eisener's feature-length Hobo with a Shotgun are still in the pipeline, as is Thom Fitzgerald's Cloudburst. The feature has US financing but has been delayed. "The financial sector crisis is affecting the industry," says Fitzgerald. "In a period of uncertainty, the banks hardly need another reason to not lend."

Fitzgerald says that Telefilm Atlantic, typically a first funding stop for local filmmakers, has a new mandate for talent development, and as a result of Fitzgerald's many features, his talent is "too developed," so he can't rely on them. "My projects would need to be financed through Telefilm's national program, which tends support to more commercial fare." But he says Cloudburst, about a same-sex couple on a road trip to get married, with Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker attached, doesn't fit into genre expectations. "It's not Bon Cop, Bad Cop."

But Fitzgerald is a veteran filmmaker and producer with many resources, so cautious optimism is the order of the day---as evidenced by his final word on the matter: "It looks like the delay will be a normal push of a few weeks that happens all the time. We are hopeful about Cloudburst happening soon."

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