Vikas Bhalla, director of IndoWest Films, says Indian filmmakers have plenty to gain by choosing Canada as a filming destination. In an interview to Rohini Nag, he reveals how his company is designed to assist Indian productions to get easy, expert and dependable access to the locations and tax incentives that Canada has to offer
How was IndoWest Films conceived? How does the company help film producers?
I have been an actor and a singer in the industry for two decades. About six years ago, I ventured into production with my company called Rat Race Media and we have been producing prime-time content for many leading channels. We have produced close to 600 hours of programing for these channels. So we have done a lot of programing for television.
Last year, we learnt that a treaty was to be signed between India and Canada, which would facilitate production activity and I happen to be a Canadian citizen. So it made a lot of sense to leverage that and set up a new company in Canada, which would facilitate production for Indian films as well as television producers to shoot there and take advantage of the locations and tax credits that the country offers. So using my experience in the industry along with the contacts in our industry, it made sense to set up IndoWest Films, which provides a host of production services to help Indian producers with all production logistics in Canada. We have it all covered – from production management to tax credit preparation to debt financing and all other production requirements. We being a Canadian production company can also co-produce with an Indian producer and make it an official Indo Canadian production.
IndoWest Films is primarily a line production company and the company is founded by two Indo-Canadians, one is me and the other is my partner in Canada, Sam Chandola. We have a core team of six players who specialise in their work here in Canada. There are line producers in Canada but our USP is that we have one leg in Mumbai and the other in Canada, which levels up the comfort and confidence of a film producer. They have someone in Mumbai who is accountable.
What is Canada’s USP as a filming location?
Canada is the second largest country in the world, and its size and diversity of locations are the main USPs. There are three territories and 10 provinces in Canada and each province has its own tax rebate schemes for filmmakers. There are four main provinces which specialise in production activities and are the most production-friendly of all the regions. On the west coast, there is British Columbia and Alberta; on the east, there is Ontario and Quebec. Canada has been attracting Hollywood film shoots for many years due to the variety of locations and its incentive structure. I don’t think any other country offers the kind of diversity in locations that Canada offers. The west coast is filled with look-and-feel places, the Rocky Mountains; it is a total rainforest area. In the east, the locations are modern-day American cities.
The good part about Canada is because the dollar is cheaper and because the vast locations, a lot of Hollywood films and televisions series are shot there. Almost 40 to 50 per cent Hollywood films are shot in Canada to save costs. Toronto can double as New York; Vancouver stands in for many international places such as Chicago; and Montreal has very European architecture and can double as many European cities including London and Paris. Canada is a very production friendly country and this helps filmmakers to enjoy a smooth shooting experience. And if you have Canadian content or culture in your film, where you are promoting Canada as a country, the incentives and rebates are even higher.
There are about 10 provincial film commissions in Canada that offer different incentives and rebates. How different are these rebates from one another?
Due to the different provincial incentive structures, we had to do a thorough study of each province. For example, British Columbia (BC) has 33-per cent cashback on labour spent in the region. Alberta, on the other hand, doesn’t have a tax credit system but it has a grant system where it offers up to 25 per cent of your expenditure. But you have to apply for this before your principle photography starts. Similarly, on the east coast, in Ontario and Quebec, one offers 25 per cent and the other offers 20 per cent. And it is not as simple as it sounds, it gets complicated as BC offers only on your labour cost and Alberta on your entire expenditure. Ontario doesn’t give a cashback on air tickets and hotel accommodation but Quebec does. So there is a lot of variation in incentives that different regions offer. Other than these provincial tax credits, there is a federal tax credit that Canada as a country offers – 16 per cent of your labour expense.
Another route is for producers to tie up with a Canadian producer and have a co-production. So an Indian producer can invest between 20 to 80 per cent and a Canadian producer can organise or invest funding from the government of Canada. The Canadian government has Canada Media Funds, where there are separate funds for television, films and documentaries and so on, which is only for Canadian producers. So when you co-produce with a Canadian producer, you can avail these funds.
When a filmmaker needs to shoot in two different provinces, how are the incentive schemes of both provinces calculated for the producer to avail the tax credits?
It is a combination of the shooting schedules. Say, if a filmmaker shoots 50 per cent in BC and 50 per cent in Ontario, he will get 33 per cent of the labour cost only for his shoot in BC and 25 per cent total spent excluding air tickets and hotel accommodation cashback for his shoot in Ontario along with the 16 per cent labour cost which the federal government provides. The ratio you shoot in the said region will be calculated and you can avail rebates accordingly.
How can an Indian producer approach you for their film shoots in Canada? Can you name some projects you are currently handling?
We have a pretty comprehensive website which elaborates on how a producer can approach us. In fact, we are getting a lot of enquires and have finalised two major productions for summer 2015. One is a 40-day shoot and the other is a 25-day shoot. What is very exciting is that this is the first time in the history of India television that a television series will be shooting all 260 episodes of a Hindi soap in foreign land and in Canada.
Are you focusing on Hindi films or international projects as well?
My USP lies here as I have been part of this industry. My Canadian partner has done many Hollywood as well as Canadian films and television series. Eventually, I would like to take this to even Pakistan as our cultures are very similar.
Phase two of our operations would be for Canadian films to come shoot in India as we have our infrastructure here and I have been doing television production here in Mumbai.
When a filmmaker gets these rebates, what process does he have to follow to avail them?
You have to file an application before you start shooting in Canada. After that, the filmmaker will receive a certificate which tells him whether he will be receiving the rebate or not. Once you get that government certificate, it is as good as money. You actually get that money in the financial year when you file your tax returns. When you pay the taxes, the rebate will be deducted. If you do not have to pay taxes, you will get a cheque in hand, which will be applicable for Indian producers as they won’t be filing taxes there. And we organise and take care of all these formalities. In fact, we also arrange it so that you don’t have to wait for the financial year to end to get your money. We organise everything once you get the letter from the government. So we can discount that money upfront. There is a certain cost involved but a lot of producers opt for the quick way.