Tofino council debates film permitting fees

The Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Tofino are hoping to lure film crews to Tofino by encouraging the district to lower its film permit fees.

“They are requesting we review those film permits with an eye to reducing those where destination promotion is a significant part of a filming feature,” said Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne.

Tofino’s municipal council recently reviewed a letter penned by chamber president Jennifer Steven that requested the district reassess its film permit fees.

Council saw no problems with conducting a review but declined to put a timetable on the work and suggested the chamber should be responsible for most of it.

Coun. Al Anderson suggested the review of Tofino’s fees should not solely focus on destination marketing.

“That isn’t part of our strategic goals as a district, we certainly want to support Tourism Tofino in their efforts, and that is their specific job, and there might be ways to adjust these (fees) for a whole number of reasons but I don’t think destination marketing is specifically the job of the district,” he said. “It’s well-funded already.”

The district currently charges film crews an application fee of $150 to $3,000 and a daily location fee of $500 to $2,500 depending on crew size and filming duration.

Discounts are given to educational films.

These rates have fallen under fire before, notably in 2007 when they initially scared off producers of Elegy starring Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley, according to a Westerly News story penned by thenreporter Jennifer Dart.

Ultimately however Cruz joined Kingsley to film a scene at Cox Bay.

The chamber’s letter notes that there is no mechanism to provide discounts or waive fees associated with film permits “even in the event of significant positive destination promotion for Tofino.”

Tourism Tofino recently paid the fees for Portage Productions to ensure the company would feature Tofino as the setting for “the #1 ranked Canadian TV show,” which, according to the letter, cannot be identified due to a confidentiality agreement.

“Destination BC staff, on location for the recent Portage Production filming episode, repeatedly stated if Tourism Tofino had not covered these permit fees the production was prepared to go elsewhere,” Steven’s letter reads.

Coun. Cathy Thicke said she spent several hours researching filming costs in other areas like Whistler, Vancouver, Haida Gwaii and towns in California and in every instance fees were required to film for commercial use.

“Contrary to the letter, it actually was in my little survey between $125 and $500 for just the application fee,” she said adding her investigation revealed daily fees ran from $300 to $875.

The chamber is compiling comparative information to assist municipal staff with a review and Thicke said this should be encouraged.

“Because they’re initiating this discussion, I think the bulk of the work should be done by the chamber,” she said.

Osborne noted the chamber would be motivated to assist.

“The more they do the faster we’ll be able to tackle it,” she quipped.

Council directed staff to work with the chamber to review film fees and best practices and report back to council but did not put a timeline on the work.

Thicke had suggested a Sept. 8 deadline but district CAO Bob MacPherson cautioned putting staff on the case immediately would sacrifice other priorities.

“It’s not something that’s been identified in our work plan to date so we’re going to have to move some other things off if we want to make this happen within the next couple of months,” MacPherson said.

Council unanimously agreed to avoid putting a deadline on staff.

“I don’t see it as a high priority,” said Coun. Dorothy Baert. “Nobody’s knocking down the door, staff have a lot on their plate and I don’t want to see anything moved off.”

The chamber had also requested the money spent on Portage Production’s permit fees be refunded or reinvested back into Tourism Tofino but council unanimously threw out this request.

Council’s opposition to the refund was led by Coun. Ray Thorogood.

“It was a one-time deal, it was an anomaly and they felt it was worthwhile, but our fees were set, they knew what the fees were, and they accepted it,” he said. reporter@westerlynews.ca