If you’ve spent any time channel-flipping between CTV, W Network, or perhaps Pluto TV’s All-Christmas movie channel (Yes, it’s a thing!), there’s a good chance you’ve seen some content produced by the Vancouver-based Front Street Pictures. From their production office on 1950 Franklin Street, the company produces holiday-based romances, family-friendly adventures, and action-packed thrillers. A little something for everyone and almost exclusively crafted by BC-based talent (Full disclosure: I myself have worked for them as both Film Editor and Assistant Film Editor over the years).
With multiple titles at various stages of production on any given day, Front Street president and prolific producer Charles Cooper usually doesn’t usually have time to feature in the local media, but a recent open letter from him published in the Aldergrove Star caught my eye. In it, Cooper writes about a clerical change to BC’s tax credit incentives which help allow our local film industry to remain operational (other provinces and states ruthlessly compete with each other for Hollywood’s business). This change resulted in the loss of tax incentives to various Front Street productions produced from 2020-2021, a particularly challenging time given the COVID-19 pandemic.
I recently had a chance to talk to him over Zoom to chat about the details of this change, the effect it’s had on his company, and on the local industry at large.
A Front Street Pictures film shoot in Pitt Meadows
Photo courtesy of Front Street Pictures
I saw your open letter in the Aldergrove Star regarding a film tax credit issue between Front Street Pictures and the BC Provincial Government. Can you explain the issue for our readers?
One of the programs that we are relying on for a number of our productions is the Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC). In the spring of 2020 there was a new requirement introduced for productions trying to qualify for the PSTC and that was ultimately a planning tool called the “pre-certification process”.
We hire predominantly BC individuals, companies, loan-outs, who are all tax-paying residents of British Columbia to perform the lion’s share of functions throughout the prep, production, and post-production periods on a number of our productions. Those, under the production services model, are all certified as has been the case since the introduction of the system many decades ago. Effectively, this precertification requirement is that we as a production need to let the government know what we anticipate applying for in terms of the tax credit over the course of the production.
So that in and of itself is no big ask. The issue is that there was no communication around this requirement and in effect, they made it very punitive. It (effectively) said if productions don’t apply or don’t provide this pre-certification, then you’re not getting any of the tax credits. These productions just wouldn’t happen in the absence of the incentive.
We work with a number of partners: Hallmark, Lifetime, Paramount, etc., to bring these productions to life and we rely on that incentive. These networks and studios that we work with (also) rely on incentives in any jurisdiction they work in. Effectively, this new rule was not communicated by the government at all. It was deeply embedded in legislation.
So no one was aware. We moved forward as we’ve done for two decades by employing a number of very talented local people to work with us on producing scripted live-action entertainment. This (new rule) was introduced in spring of 2020 and at the end of 2021 they said that everything we’ve done for the past 18 months as production service, you’re not getting any tax credits on because you didn’t do these precertifications. So we said “Wait a second, all of this labour is certified. You’re saying that all these folks’ labour qualifies, but because we didn’t fill out a form that you didn’t tell us about, you’re not going to give us the tax credit?” It makes no sense.
Also, the time that they introduced this new precertification system was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic period. I was personally interfacing more with Creative BC and the government at that point in time than I have in my whole career because we were trying to figure out what this looked like for the industry, what the protocols were, how we would get people back to work safely, etc. There would’ve been ample opportunity for them to say “By the way, there’s this new certification rule.” It’s no big issue for us to comply with it if we had known about it.
So here we are, trying to figure out a way to get everybody back to work and get the industry back up and running. Front Street was one of the first, if not the first (film production companies) up and running. We got a lot of accolades and appreciation for doing that, but now some of those very same productions are not getting tax credits, despite the fact that no one in our industry was working, or at least very few were in the spring and summer of 2020, and we found a way to get people back to work with the appropriate protocols and everything else.
Because of this arbitrary precertification process of which there was zero communication on, those same productions on behalf of the networks and studios that were supportive of us coming back and being able to employ people and restart productions, we’re all being penalised as a result.
A night shoot for a Front Street production on a Langley backlot
Photo courtesy of Front Street Pictures
You referred to the Production Services Tax Credit. Did this precertification in any way affect the Film Incentive BC (FIBC) Credit?
At Front Street, we broadly produce under two production models. One is the Canadian content production model where we control the underlying IP both creatively and financially. The other is the production service model where the project is owned by a network or studio and we act as a production service company.
So the latter is the incentive that’s at risk here. Those were a big part of the projects that came back in 2020 and 2021 because we at Front Street are in control of the Canadian content productions because the IP sits with us.
But the service projects are very mobile. They could go anywhere. They could go to Toronto, Winnipeg, the state of Georgia. Because we as BC collectively were doing a very good job of getting things back up and running and keeping people safe on set, cast and crew, through that pandemic period.
That period, from 2020-21, we were, for lack of a better term, winning a lot of business from other jurisdictions. It was a good thing for everyone because we got people back to work quickly and we kept them working at quite a vulnerable time when a lot of the other jurisdictions in the industry were not working. Again, it’s those same shows that the government is turning around and saying we’re not getting a tax credit on.
To clarify, does this precertification issue only affect shows produced during that period from mid 2020-end of 2021 and not current shows?
No issue (with current shows). We didn’t know to do this precertification. If you look at the Creative BC website, they’re generally very good at communication and very good at putting up notices for deadlines or changes in legislation. There was zero (communication) on this and it was hugely punitive.
A Front Street Christmas movie shoot on Vancouver Island
Photo courtesy of Front Street Pictures
Have you had any ongoing communication with Creative BC, government and MLAs regarding this issue?
We’ve interfaced with Creative BC and unfortunately there’s not a tremendous amount of change coming out of our conversations with them.
We’ve had a number of MLAs, some of them in cabinet, come visit us on various Front Street sets across the province, on the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. They’ve all listened and heard the issue, some more attentively than others. Ultimately, that has not yielded results at this point in time. We’ve also engaged opposition ministers from the Liberal party to bring up this issue again.
We’ve tried to go through the industry channels when we first heard about this, unsuccessfully. We’ve tried the government outreach channels and while they were receptive and listened to us, no change came out of that.
So now, there is very much this public outreach on my personal and Front Street’s behalf to speak to people in the film industry and (in this case) your readership in the sense that this is a real problem and will impact, certainly at a time when the industry is at an inflection point in terms of activity levels, it will impact BC’s reputation and BC’s ability to attract production.
Have you spoken to any other local production companies that have had this problem?
There are many, but for their own reasons, they are choosing not to fight this publicly. I can’t say if they’re fighting it privately or not, but we have canvassed the industry and ultimately, this is something that we take very seriously on behalf of our partners that have hired BC film workers and companies. Per the system, if that’s certified as BC labour, they should get tax credits on it.
That just doesn’t sit right with me because there’s a lot of networks/studios/streamers that have been very good to the people who work in this industry in this province and we should fight on their behalf.
Front Street Pictures is currently circulating an online petition to Provincial MLAs on this issue which can be found HERE