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Feeling like I’ve been kicked by a cow
Periodically, I am approached by people probing me on the goings-on in my life: “We nut seein’ yuh on de TV, man! So, em, what you doin’ now?” I trot out the usual spiel about television production and local shows and get a curious, sympathetic grimace, which is usually followed by, “But how you does make money?” It is farseness thinly veiled as concern—but a legitimate question nonetheless.
Well-meaning people who follow the television shows I produce often vow to “support” the work done by my small team. Now, I love every single fan we’ve fought tooth and nail to earn over the years. That word “support,” however, I’d prefer if yuh cuss meh, and here’s why.
No one out there is “supporting” Dean Ackin when they pay thousands for a Tribes Carnival costume. You aren’t “supporting” Derek Chin when you take the family to MovieTowne and lay down a cool $300 to see Ironman and dem types kick some a-- with your bucket-o-popcorn between your legs.
It requires a profound cultural change to see the creative arts sector as a legitimate business. When production first began on our television shows Bush Diary with Robert Clarke and The Road Less Travelled, I hit the road trying to sell advertising spots in the programmes. Many of the early responses were laughable. One company offered me a case of water, in exchange for what, I’m not quite sure.
Another reply really stung, and it came from a major insurance company (not Clico). In a heart-unfelt apology, it was explained that they had already met their quota for community activities and they would not be able to give us a “donation.” That terse letter made me feel like I’d been kicked by a cow.
After years of governments past and present paying finger service to the diversification imperative, citizens trying to forge ahead in the creative sector are still nothing more than bedraggled buskers standing on a grimy sidewalk hoping for spare change. Each year we look up from our shallow hats filled with dirty coppers for the reading of the budget and the promise of some nod in the direction of musicians, television producers, filmmakers, writers and actors.
In the reading of the 2013 fiscal package, Finance Minister Larry Howai gave some hope. There was reference to tax breaks for sponsors and producers and, more importantly, a proposed provision to allow the duty-free importation of film equipment. There are several other measures that, quite frankly, are long overdue.
A commitment to the development of the arts is always welcome. I must point out, however, that without a functioning institutional framework to bolster the sector, none of these initiatives will achieve sustainability. I have personally experienced the myriad ways in which the system fails us.
After years of work, my small production team is finally ready to release our first Bush Diary DVD collection. At tremendous cost, we spent a considerable amount of time producing a true collector’s item. It is important that, if we are asking people to purchase local content, the DVD would be on par with anything produced by an outsider.
For the entire year, I’ve been searching high and low for information on how to secure a tax exemption for this product. You see, we wanted to package the DVDs in recyclable materials (given that it is a nature show), and this was only possible in the US. After an exhaustive search, I settled on what I thought was sound information from the Film Company.
As it turns out the intel was missing some critical steps and the upshot of that is $7,000 in duties has been levied on these local-content DVDs! I am a television producer, not a perfume importer, so this experience was quite new to me. Numerous e-mails and letters were written to the Ministry of Trade; none attracted a reply. As it turns out, there is a department within the ministry that deals specifically with television and film. But very few people at the ministry are aware of that!
How then, pray tell, can members of the public know this? Additionally, I’ve been trying to get my product available on Amazon.com, the largest online retailer on the planet. Navigating the actual Amazon rainforest is easier than hooking up with this web trader. While it is a path travelled by Trinis before me, the process of self-education involves useless googling and innumerable phone calls to government agencies where, typically, there is never anyone at the other end of the phone.
I’ve been trying to follow a path to a sustainable television production model, providing high-quality local content which folks will happily purchase as they would any other commodity. This is the key to creating an industry with longevity, one that can eventually wean itself off state support and thrive in a society where we already know there is strong demand. The creative-sector fillip in the 2013 budget is, unfortunately, all skin and no skeleton. In my next column, I’ll expand on what should be done to create that skeleton.
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