For the last three months I have been working to develop ties between the Indian and BC (British Columbian) film industries. I have written about the research I did on the Indian film industry in previous blogs and talked about the potential areas for collaboration in another. I was back in India with the SFU India Initiative fund again in January, but this time I wanted to accomplish something more result-oriented because the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA) was coming to Vancouver.
The TOIFA is essentially a tourism package deal between the Times of India group and the BC Government. The details were that the BC Government would pay roughly 10 million dollars (one third of the cost) to host the first year of the Times of India Film Awards. In exchange, the province would see an increase in Indian tourists by getting promotion in the Times of India media as a business and tourism destination for one year, and having the stars of Bollywood come to Vancouver and tweet about their experience. (The actual deal is a bit more refined but this is what I know).
This seemed like a great idea for everyone and the deal was signed in December 2012. Unfortunately for the Christy Clark, leader of the BC Liberal party and Premier, the Vancouver press conference on January 19th fell in the same week that Wayne Bennett from the BC film industry started the Save BC Film campaign. Save BC Film is an awareness campaign that started because of the decline of business in the Vancouver film industry caused by competing tax incentives in eastern Canada. The goal is to lobby the politicians of the BG government to increase tax incentives to a competitive rate to prevent the decay of the Vancouver film industry and the loss of jobs, and also to raise public awareness of the importance of the industry for BC’s economy so that voters support the industry.
The announcement of TOIFA enflamed the Vancouver film industry, because the Liberals said that they could not afford to “subsidize” the Vancouver film industry – showing a complete misunderstanding of the tax credit system. Tax credits give a production a rebate on a percentage of the money they spend in the province. If there are no productions coming to shoot, the province is actually losing about 1.8 billion dollars in revenue/year. When the government announced the TOIFA, members of the BC film industry felt that the liberals were prioritizing getting the South-Asian voting community on their side in time for the elections in May over saving 25,000 BC jobs.
The BC-India Film & Media Initiative
The TOIFA controversy exploded while I was in India, and it was at about this time that I teamed up with Jamshed Mistry, an entertainment lawyer who was also the negotiating lawyer for TOIFA. Jamshed and I have both been keen to increase the relationship between the BC and Indian film industries since we met in November 2012 at Vancouver’s South Asian Film Festival. We decided to organize a roundtable discussion in Mumbai to brainstorm with Indian and BC film and media executives to find ways for the two industries to collaborate. Here is an excerpt from the invitation we sent out:
“Our Aim is to identify key benefits and opportunities, and to discuss/implement solutions to increase trade, coproduction, and investment between the British Columbian and the Indian film & media industries.”
Thanks to support from ICBC (Indo-Canadian Business Council) and Whistling Woods International, we held the roundtable on March 1st without any personal expense. Here I will mention that although SFU’s India Initiative grant was paying for my expenses, Jamshed and I were organizing the event on a voluntary basis.
The roundtable was attended by 16 invitees including Manoj Gursahani (Bollywood Tourism), Kiren Shrivastav (Molecule), Mannu Sandhu (Actress), Kavita Sharma (BC Trade and Investment), JD Majethia (AMPTPP), Sophy Vsivaraman (Indian Documentary Foundation), Michelle Poulin (Canadian Vice Consul), Rajesh Nair (Mukta Arts), Pawan Gil (Director), Patricia Gruben (Praxis), and Mel D’Souza (Bang Bang Films).
There was a presentation on Vancouver and the current tax incentives as well as a mention that the Indo-Canadian Coproduction treaty is still unsigned and that we were looking to search for alternative ways to work around it.
The discussion began with talking about the setbacks and challenges already encountered when Indian productions have come to BC and vice versa. The largest problem is the difference in how each industry produces films. The India film industry has a set hierarchy when shooting based on an apprentice-type system while Vancouver films work with the traditional western system of assistants. The roundtable concluded that this difference would be surmountable if there is more interaction and exposure between the industries. The other significant problem the roundtable reached is the cost of production and labor being much more in Vancouver.
This brought the discussion to tax incentives and a conference that is held annually in India called “Locations”. The Locations Conference is a meeting of Indian filmmakers and other countries who would like to have an increase in Indian tourism and film business. It is based on a concept, backed up with facts by Sudhanshu Hukku, that popular Indian films with stories shot in foreign locations significantly increase the amount of Indian tourism. Tourism boards, governments, and production companies come to India and present their locations along with incentive packages, and they meet with Indian filmmakers and negotiate individual deals such as Ek Thaa Tiger, a Salman Khan blockbuster of a film produced by Yash Raj Films. Tourism Ireland and The Irish Film Commission 2012 shared almost 30% of the production costs.
The roundtable discussed many other potential areas of collaboration as well. For example, the Indian Television industry is growing even more rapidly than film with 15.5% just last year and the audience is also growing internationally. JD Majethia, head of the Association of Motion Pictures & T.V. Program Producers (AMPTPP) suggested that B.C. tourism also create relationships with Indian television channels to produce a series of television episodes in British Columbia to increase the visibility of B.C. as a tourism destination and service industry.
Animation, VFX, and Gaming are also huge areas where BC and India have their own strengths. Prime Focus Films is an great example of an Indian VFX production company which has a branch in Vancouver and is drawing upon the talent in in BC as well as in India. Along with an exchange of talent, there is also a huge demand for film education in India that is up to Western standards. Film or animation student exchanges as well as faculty could not only give Indian film students an exposure to Western film education, but also give BC students exposure to the Indian industry and methods of production.
Documentaries are shot in India all the time but seldom ever see an Indian audience. Documentary production and distribution is also a large area where BC and India can collaborate.
Finally, the discussion also focused on the wealth of Indo-Canadian stories which could be made into films. Almost every Indian I met had a relative in Vancouver or Toronto, proving that the ties between the countries run deeper than just business. The huge amount of untapped story material also leads into new markets for distribution. There is not a lot of potential for making Indo-Canadian films for an Indo-Canadian audience, but there is a huge potential to make films for a global audience.
The Roundtable Conclusions and Action Plan
The roundtable concluded that there are many opportunities for collaboration between the BC and Indian film industries that can be beneficial to both parties. However, to first take advantage of these opportunities, BC film and media must become more visible to the Indian industry and markets through increased films shot in BC, and an awareness of BC talent and expertise that comes with increased exposure and closer relationships.
The roundtable came up with five needs in order to improve the relationship between BC and India film and media.
- Across-the-board tax incentives to increase shooting in BC
- More awareness of BC as a location in India
- Promotion of Indo-Canadian stories for coproductions
- Consistent long-term Government strategy to increase relationship between Indian and BC film industries
- More Lawyers and Production Consultants aware of the differences between the industries
The Full Roundtable Minutes are viewable here: BC-India Film and Media Roundtable Minutes
The next steps were up to Jamshed and me to present our findings to the government in such a way that would be beneficial not only for the film industry, but the province as a whole. The method was clear: Indian film and Indian tourism are so closely related that there is a Locations Conference based on it. If the goal of the Times of India Films Awards is to increase Indian tourism, then increasing tax incentives for Indian productions is a certain way to achieve it and support the BC film industry.
I wrote up a report that Jamshed Mistry emailed directly to Christy Clark. The report outlined the roundtable conclusions and showed how increasing tax incentives could increase Indian tourism. It also suggested that the government take advantage of TOIFA to encourage film production. Here is the total list of suggested activities from the roundtable:
- Tour of the BC film industry and promoting the location, industry, and stories for selected TOIFA guests
- Promotion of Indo-Canadian stories at TOIFA
- BC Government increasing tax incentives
- BC Tourism to develop deals with Indian film and television producers
- Promotion of BC at FICCI Frames
- Promotion of BC at Locations Conference
- Promotion strategy in India by BC government
- Delegates of Indian directors and producers to BC
A copy of the actual report can be found here: BCIFMI Report
Unfortunately, there was no response from the BC government. TOIFA came and went with only a BC-India Film Networking lunch organized by BC Trade and Investment (who were present at the roundtable). Also the head of Vancouver-based Praxis Center for Screenwriters and roundtable participant, Patricia Gruben, managed to organize a screening of Gauri Shinde’s “English Vinglish” with the writer/director giving a Q&A period to the public for free. So despite the lack of government initiative, the BC-India Film & Media Initiative roundtable did have some indirect success in creating awareness of BC in the Indian film industry, and TOIFA did grab the eyes of both nations.
The key here is not to focus on TOIFA anymore and to look to the future. TOIFA can now only be discussed in BC for a political purpose, so now the government and the industry should look for ways to move the BC-India film relationship forward post-TOIFA.
With the huge wealth of potential projects and exchanges between BC and India, the first action that must be taken is to make a long-term strategy to increase awareness of BC as a viable film industry in India and of Indian film as an important industry for BC to work with. To create this awareness there must be contact, and to create contact there must be an incentive. Essentially, the first thing the BC government must do is increase the production tax incentives to compete with Ontario’s 25% back on total spend. It doesn’t even need to match it, but it should be close. BC’s film industry has enough incentives on its own to draw business once the cost can be justified.
Read more about my research in my previous blogs!