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“When Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in California in 2003, he pledged that he would bring jobs back to California in every sector. So far, he has been unable to pass a film-tax-credit bill.”A line from some anti-Arnold campaign literature in this California election season, perhaps?No—a line, instead, from an article on, which, despite its domain name, is neither a dating site nor a web page owned by fundamentalists seeking to “cure” people, or any other manifestation of fabulousness.Instead, is the website for The Georgia Straight, a once radical ’60s era paper in British Columbia and named for that area’s aquatic Straight of Georgia. As with other such ’60s/’70s papers—think LA Weekly and The Village Voice—the Straight has become, well, straighter, a little more genteel, and now finds itself writing about summer blockbusters as well. Especially those filmed in British Columbia. Which is a lot of them.Straight writer Ian Caddell kicked off June with a piece headlined “B.C. Serves as Set for Summer Blockbusters,” in which he writes about the economics behind big American movies filming there. The article’s worth digging up, and Caddell provides a follow-up to one of last month’s items here about the surging Canadian dollar (still hovering at 90 US cents at press time on the strength of Canadian resources like zinc and oil, which continue to ratchet up in price).Caddell mentions the effect of the slowly rising Canadian loony, going back a couple years ago: “(Schwarzenegger) and others, such as the Screen Actors Guild, however, have made enough noise that when the Canadian dollar rose against its US counterpart, things began to look bleak. Production numbers plunged in 2004 in BC, Quebec and Ontario.”The provincial government’s response? “To offset studio guilt and the dollar, Quebec and Ontario raised their tax credits from 11 percent of crew costs to 18 percent. BC followed suit within a few months. Tom Adair, the executive director of the BC Council of Film Unions, says that California becomes less interested in Canada as (our) dollar rises. ‘The rise of the (Canadian) dollar has dampened much of the discussion. They are now more interested in the fact that television is moving to other states. We seem to be moving off the radar a bit.’”Though not really. Canada still represents a bone of contention for American film workers seeking to keep jobs stateside, and a tightrope for IATSE, which represents workers all over North America, and beyond.The question, really, is whether our species is so insatiable for entertainment that there will always be a “need” for someone, somewhere, to be busy at work filming something for the eventual distraction or edification of somebody else, when it appears on a screen. Certainly, governments are acting as if this will always be the case: states and cities across the US are busy working on tax packages to lure not only features but TV shows.Indeed, in a recent study FilmLA decried the very success of such initiatives, by claiming the amount of TV pilot shooting in LA had fallen by almost 25 percent—with mostly the Big Apple and Canada gaining the ostensibly errant productions, but even states like Tennessee and Rhode Island clocking in with a couple of productions.If so, that may throw the spotlight back on features, since the salve for the loss of movie work in Hollywood was always that commercials and TV shows were still shot in LA. But within Canada, the competition among provinces continues. A producer friend of mine, herself a native of Canada (though an ex-pat to LA) was going back for a summer trip to her native land, and while there, was treated to a fam tour of a new sound stage facility built on the abandoned remains of a once state-of-the-art fish processing plant in Newfoundland. The fishing industry collapsed due to the usual ecological recklessness. However, the province decided that film and TV could be the next great thing after cod.So the big factory is now a slew of spiffy soundstages, and the local government insisted she be their guest in giving it the once-over. She laughed as she told me this, however, because she noted there weren’t really enough hotel rooms there, nor was there very good airport access.But that doesn’t matter; build stages and tax breaks, and they will come!We’ll see—as more and more cities and states get on the “film incentive” bandwagon, whether this turns out to be better financial planning for municipalities than all those ’80s and ’90s property tax schemes for car dealers, which will soon go the way of the cod processing plants when peak oil hits.Meanwhile, if you’re waiting for California to come with film incentives of its own—as per FilmLA’s suggestion—you’ll have to wait a little longer. It’s election season, and it’s very dubious that the Democrat-controlled legislature will want to give incumbent Arnie a “feel good” victory by assenting to a tax-break package for Hollywood producers at ballot-counting time.Meanwhile, we’re going to press some hours after it became clear that SAG member Arnie’s main challenger for the governor’s job will be current state treasurer Phil Angelides, and not controller Steve Westly. Westly tried to position himself as more of the maverick candidate, hoping to play off his self-made, techno-savvy background as an early eBay executive.Angelides had lined-up more of the traditional Democratic constituencies, especially labor unions, including Hollywood’s own IATSE, as part of a broader AFL-CIO endorsement. After the defeat of Schwarzenegger’s initiatives—including the specifically anti-union one—a year ago, Angelides’ win means labor is, at the moment, on a small roll in California.The real test will be in November, though, and the challenges for unions will be to actually get people to the polls in far greater numbers than the mere 20 percent who turned out to vote in California’s primary.Exceptionally large numbers of pro-labor voters will be required all over the country, if the now-routine oddities of electronic voting machines—oddities which, without exception, favor only one side of the political spectrum—are to be overcome, as well.Labor activists may have to do more than just distribute door hangers. Imagination is called for—the very stuff that’s supposed to go into the incentive packages that attract or keep productions in a town or state, and when we’re very very lucky, the same stuff that goes into the show and script, too.May your summer idylls be…idyllic, by the way. Write Union Roundup when you come back from that berry-gathering trip to the cabin: [email protected]

Written by Mark London Williams

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