TV

N.S. film, TV industry anticipating another banner production season

When Mallory Glenn packed her bags for Los Angeles in March 2015, the hair designer planned to return home later that spring to continue her busy career in the Nova Scotia TV and film business.

“It wasn’t a situation where I wanted to leave Nova Scotia,” said Glenn. “I was really successful and always had plenty of work.

“I was able to make a good living, stay close to my family.”

Those plans took a dramatic turn just weeks later when the government of Stephen McNeil tabled a budget that killed Nova Scotia’s film tax credit. The governing Liberals were worried the $24-million cost of the credit would continue to grow, eating into revenue needed to fund education and health care.

“We simply cannot afford to maintain the credit in its current form,” said Finance Minister Diana Whalen in 2015.

“It was heartbreaking,” recalled Glenn, who heard about the move and its impact on Nova Scotia’s film and TV industry from social media posts by friends and colleagues.

“Even people in L.A., industry folk, were hearing about it as well and [saying], ‘Wow, what’s going to happen to you?'” she said.

Returning home

Rather than come home, the 31-year-old spent the next five years living and working in California, returning to Nova Scotia periodically to work on local productions. She moved back to the province in 2020.

“Now, there’s so much work,” said Glenn. “For the past year or so it seems like it keeps getting busier and busier, yet we just don’t have the numbers, we don’t have the crews anymore because so many people have left.

“I look at the show that I’m working on and then you have another four coming to town and it’s like, oh wow, how are we going to crew up?”

A man in a baseball cap, a black face mask and glasses poses for a selfie.
Shawn Kilpatrick, a set carpenter, moved to Nova Scotia in 2017 and struggled to find work in the industry. Today, he said it’s ‘basically steady, full-time.’ (Shawn Kilpatrick)

Set carpenter Shawn Kilpatrick moved to Nova Scotia in 2017, after the tax credit was cut, and struggled to find work.

“For the first year (there) was nothing and I found myself working for Neptune Theatre,” he said.

Kilpatrick managed to find work in the film industry again three years ago, and said things have been “basically steady, full-time, since that point.”

“From show to show to show to show,” he said. “It’s been fantastic.”

“I certainly do see a strong future and I don’t have any immediate concerns in terms of moving forward because it seems to be growing at a pretty steady rate.”

The industry has rebounded thanks, in large part, to changes to the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive Fund and the creation, last year, of a $15-million Nova Scotia Content Creator Fund productions. Although the budget for the incentive fund is $25 million per year, the current provincial government has twice topped it up to $41 million to meet growing demand.

“We will continue to take that kind of approach,” said Chris Shore, executive director of Culture and Heritage Development with the Nova Scotia government. “At some point we’ll have the discussion about maybe we should permanently raise that number up, but that’s a separate discussion.”

And film productions continue to come to the province, he says.

“Three years ago, we had approximately 48 projects that were supported in the production fund. Last year that number went up into the 80 range and right now, as of this year and we’re not finished this fiscal year yet, we are tracking at about 105 projects supported.”

Meantime, Screen Nova Scotia, the organization that speaks for the industry, is optimistic about the coming production season.

Diggstown, a CBC legal drama starring Vinessa Antoine, was shot in Dartmouth and Halifax over its four seasons running from 2019 to 2022. (CBC)

“There’s just a tidal wave of production that’s been coming across the country and now that we have a competitive incentive, we have infrastructure available, we have a deep pool of incredibly talented crew and performers, people are starting to take notice and we’re we’re starting to see some of that tidal wave of production landing out here in the East.,” said Laura Mackenzie, Screen Nova Scotia’s executive director.

“The last numbers that I have are $150 million back in 2014 and last year we recorded $180 million in production volume,” said Mackenzie. “Last year was one of the busiest years we’ve ever had and this year is really looking like it’s going to be a similar year.”

Province eager to help

That money is helping fuel local economies which is why the province is eager to continue to help the industry, whether it’s a Nova Scotia film or TV series or a larger scale production from elsewhere.

“You’ll see projects in Louisbourg, you’ll see them in Lunenburg, you’ll see them in Chester,” said Shore. “They’re supporting food services, they’re supporting hotels, car rentals, labour.

“You know when they’re building sets, [they’re buying] construction material so it’s kind of a broad investment that they’re making when they’re coming here.”

For Mallory Glenn, there’s some irony in what happened to her. During the 2009 provincial election, she was hired by a local production company working for the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia.

A film adaptation of the Canadian novel Washington Black began production in Nova Scotia in 2022. Actors, from left, Sterling K. Brown, Iola Evans, executive producer Selwyn Sefu Hinds, Dwayne Provo (associate deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs), director Waunuri Kahiu and actor Ernest Kingsley Jr. are pictured at an event at the Halifax North Public Library on Sunday, June 12, 2022. (Adams Photography)

She recalled a conversation she had with then opposition leader McNeil as she was working on his hair for a public appearance.

“He asked me do you ever plan on leaving Nova Scotia or is there a lot of work for you here?” said Glenn. “I said. ‘No, I have no reason to leave.’

“I have all the work I could ask for. I’m always busy. Skip to however many years later, now I do have to leave.”

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