Are city taxpayers getting their fair share from the multi-billion-dollar Hollywood entertainment corporations that close public streets, bridges and buildings for their productions?
Vancouver claimed a record 2015 with 353 film, TV and commercial productions over 1,518 film days but reported only $710,000 in revenue for film and street-use permits. The biggest, Deadpool, grossed almost half-a-billion-dollars globally for its first two weekends in theatres, a box office record for an R-rated flick.
When asked, a city hall spokesman said he was unable to provide the dollar figure for how much the city collected from Deadpool’s producers for use of the Georgia Viaduct and other city property.
“We are currently collecting this data, due to a number of re-shoots that occurred, and will be able to report out on it by the end of the month,” said Tobin Postma.
Key scenes shot on the Georgia Viaduct forced extensive early morning to mid-afternoon weekday closures throughout the first half of April 2015. The only payment publicly disclosed so far was a $5,000 donation by 20th Century Fox to Motivate Canada’s Gen 7 Program. Postma described it as “a legacy giveback and strategic tie-in” for last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. Fox began its FIFA rights contract in 2015.
The city’s 2015 master contract with TCF Vancouver Productions Ltd. (a Los Angeles-based subsidiary of 20th Century Fox Film Corp.), released under Freedom of Information, mentioned daily prices to shoot at Vancouver Art Gallery ($3,000), city hall ($1,500) and Mountainview Cemetery ($1,000). Guidelines say major streets shall not be closed during rush hours or other high volume traffic periods and when traffic cannot be effectively diverted onto other streets, traffic shall be stopped only intermittently and for no longer than three continuous minutes during each 10 minute period.
City required TCF take $5 million insurance and abide by all applicable civic, provincial and federal laws. It granted the right to use city property and depict and refer to it by fictitious names, but permission is required from the city to use real names.
The Motion Picture Association - Canada said Deadpool, which was headquartered at North Shore Studios in North Vancouver, spent $40 million over 58 days. Almost half the spending was on payments to cast and crew of the movie, which stars Kitsilano secondary graduate Ryan Reynolds.
Parent 21st Century Fox Inc. reported US$8.37 billion net income on almost US$29 billion revenue last fiscal year and boasted about a record-setting $5.5 billion in global box office receipts for the 2014 calendar year. As CEO, Rupert Murdoch, was paid almost US$28 million for the fiscal year. City hall says Warner Bros. is Vancouver’s biggest TV client with seven productions. Its parent, Time Warner Inc., reported US$3.8 billion net income on US$28.1 billion revenue for 2015.
Deadpool is one of numerous productions to have benefitted from both the slumping loonie and generous tax credits from the provincial government. But the provincial government, which estimates the industry is worth $2 billion, is taking another look at the program. B.C. film tax credits are expected to hit $493 million this fiscal year, more than the US$330 million of tax credits in the US$17 billion California industry.
“The film industry has never been able to produce a credible report anywhere in North America showing that treasuries get back anywhere near what they put in for tax credits,” said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. “Who cares how much money gets pumped into the economy, it’s how much money gets back into the treasury through taxes. That’s how we know if taxpayers have won or lost on the deal.”
Bateman there could be a bigger benefit to the economy if the film subsidies were instead tax cuts for the general public or expenditures on healthcare and advanced education.